Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane



The Women's Institute Newsletter scooped us - clinching the first interview with Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane before their upcoming show. But, the WI is a mysterious and powerful organization, so you can understand their choice.

I'm in Soho, meeting Jeremy and Alan. Jeremy has just been told he can't have a pint of Tetley 'because its horrible' according to the barmaid. Pointing at the jolly master of the hounds logo Jeremy says, 'Support the huntsman!' It's great hanging out in Soho with artists. We might go to the Colony Rooms like Francis Bacon, or the Groucho like Damian Hirst. On the other hand Nandos, that weird chain restaurant success story selling chicken and hot sauce is across the road. In the end we settle on a generic pizza place.

We're discussing their forthcoming show at the Barbican Curve Gallery - the Folk Archive. First shown at the Tate in 2000 as part of the New British Art Show. Five years later, they have updated it. They've been traveling the UK to find things they could buy, borrow, or document.

They say that the curation is a kind of ongoing process, related to the ephemeral nature of the subject matter. Though at the time we met the exhibition was still in a state of flux, they start to reel off a list of things that might be in it: A mechanical petrol driven elephant, trade union banners, an anonymous cock and balls formed out of clay perched on the edge of a skip. There are events, like the gurning championship. There are festivals like a crab fair and a Scarecrow convention. It is as broad in its media as contemporary art. There are fanzines, websites, performances, events, and videos.

Finding this stuff was 'a bigger problem than could be solved' according to Alan. Initially opening up a website (www.folkarchive.co.uk), they assumed they'd be flooded with submissions. Actually, it's been much harder. Jeremy explains that unlike artists desperate to show their art, most of these things already have their audience. For the people who make them, being part of the an art exhibition is 'something on top of what they are doing already'. 'They don't need us' says Jeremy.

They've been looking hard. One productive weekend saw them scouring Blackpool - a kind of British 'less' Vegas seaside resort - where they found a joke shop with coffin shaped display cases ('beautiful bits of conceptual art' says Alan) and secured a loan for the show. They also got some choice examples for a section of the exhibition Jeremy describes the 'most novelty novelty products'. That includes some Shit Spray: 'it's like party spray, but brown and smells like shit!' Jeremy continues, coining a fine tag line if Shit Spray ever decided to advertise. Later that weekend, they arrived at a village fete and ended up judging a 150 entry Women's Institute cake competition.

Looking through the black and white proofs of the catalogue, it suggests sound effects of generic village fete. At first glance, it looks like a portrait of the UK as a vibrant utopia of self-expression: a bit cute, slightly kitsch, and very charming. But peering a bit harder, it starts to look less utopian. There are fathers4justice in fancy dress outfits scaling landmarks in desperate protests at child custody laws. There are the beautiful sectarian murals of Northern Ireland. And there, the countryside alliance - the aristocracy cynically appropriating forms protest traditionally associated with the genuinley oppressed. These are things that are desperate and serious attempts to assert a particular groups identity and communicate specific points of view. The amateurish workmanship lends a kind of nostalgic feeling, but it's actually a nostalgia that is sometimes unsettling, sometimes aggressive.

Alan and Jeremy describe the Folk Archive as a collection of things that 'the individual, human spirit comes through'. It's about 'customising and taking charge', and the 'creative spirit'. While it's funny and ridiculous, it's also a serious examination of the role of creativity within public life. They explain that its important that the Archive works on different levels.

Folk art in the US is respectable. It has proper museums, historians and collectors who pay top dollar. Alan and Jeremy suggest this it is partly because of the brevity of US history, and partly because of its class-less structure. Which I guess means by implication that they believe British art is heavily infused with history and class. One function of the Folk Archive might be to open up the gates of Art to other influences.

British interest in folk has often been tinged with utopia and tainted with a certain wild-eyed fervour. Think of William Blake staring at Stonehenge, and imagining strange histories of ancient Briton. Or think of the Art and Crafts movement hankering after medieval life whilst in the midst of Victorian industrialisation. They drew on folksiness as a source of identity and as a way of imagining a better future. In William Morris' sci-fi novel of a future London 'The News From Nowhere', the streets are filled with happy people in hand woven clothes selling delightful handmade objects to each other. Making things, Morris fantasised, was part of everyone's everyday life. While Morris imagined a future society where everyone was happy, Alan and Jeremy see it here and now. These are miniature, everyday, creative utopias. They see it in the democratisation of manufacturing thanks to the increasing availability of technology. Alan cites combinations of Photoshop and vinyl cutting as displayed in Dalston Kebab shops. These digital and CAD/CAM pictures of Kebabs in front of biblical sunsets are the inheritors of Morris' vision of artisan production.

In fact, you can draw a direct line through the history of British Art connecting the Arts and Crafts to Punk. Folk art revolution could happen though wallpaper as much as learn-three-chords-and get-on-a-stage DIY attitude. Punks anyone-can-do-it culture is certainly resonates in the Archive. Folk can often suggest the mystical or magical. But Alan and Jeremy aren't telling us fairy stories. 'Its Anarchy, not Alchemy' they say.

What connects Alan and Jeremy's Folk Archive to these predecessors is a dissatisfaction with bland mainstream culture. They describe how the idea took shape as a reaction to the Millennium Dome. That government sponsored celebration of Britain, which actually consisted of large corporations like Ford and British Telecom combining with overblown architects and terrible brand consultancies. Unsurprisingly, it was awful. Nigel Coates designed something called the Body Zone, a large human-shaped thing that you could climb inside. If the Dome was capable of irony, you might assume it was a portrait of those responsible: hollow men and women. Tap them and the sound echoes in the hole where their sole should be.

The Folk Archive represents another Briton. Jeremy keeps mentioning the rural, which Alan consistently disputes. What they do agree is that it is that the Britain the Archive is drawn from is anti-metropolitan. It takes a stand against the tasteful urbane monoculture, against life edited by Sunday supplements, policed by style magazines, and enforced by fashion. It is against 'taste imposed from above' as Jeremy says. It shows that contemporary culture is vast and broad and endlessly surprising. By comparison it reveals how parochial and conservative mainstream culture is.

The title of the exhibition is important. They say that it's not Folk in the traditional sense, and it's not an Archive either. In fact, they are more specific about lots of things that it isn't than what it is: scientific, anthropological, outsider art, definitive, objective, original.
If it's not those things, then is it art? And if it is, then which bit is art? Is it the pieces themselves? Or the curation? Or the juxtaposition? Do these things have an intrinsic artistic value? or is it something that happens when it is carried through the doorway of the Barbicans gallery? Actually, does it matter?

Most of these things are unusual enough to stand up on their own terms. But they are only being exhibited because Alan and Jeremy choose them. 'We are looking at it from the perspective of artists' says Alan, 'looking at it as art, and it satisfies the same thirst that looking at art does. We are saying, 'Isn't this interesting? It reminds me of an art experience'. We are asking 'where does that leave us as artists?''

Jeremy isn't sure if he has been described as a modern day Hogarth, or if it something he'd like to be described as. Alan suggests that he is more like Robin Hood. So Jeremy casts Alan as Friar Tuck. I think they are trying to explain their relationship to art and to the rest of the world. Hogarth, I guess, because he represented through art bawdy, gin soaked everyday life. Robin Hood because he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Maybe they feel like they are redistributing the cultural value of Jeremys recent art prize.

They are certainly conscious of their position in relation to the things they like and the art world. Jeremy says that they are at the 'epicentre of the art world'. Alan describes their role as being a bridge to the rest of the world. I pass them a pen and a piece of paper so they can draw a map. Alan goes first, drawing something that looks like a ring doughnut, then a bridge between the central circle and the outer circle: That's us' he says. 'But what's that?' asks Jeremy pointing at the centre circle. 'Its art, its an island' replies Alan. Jeremy draws his version: two islands, joined by a bridge (looking like a pair of specs). 'That's art' he says pointing at one island. 'And that's everything else', pointing at the other. Alan's is clever-er graphically, while Jeremy's is more didactic. Alan's shows art like a castle, with a moat, defending itself against the surrounding rest of the world. Jeremy's shows art and everything else as separate continents, which suggests expeditions mounted between one and the other, like Columbus, Darwin, or maybe Ellen McArthur.

'We are defiantly not outsiders, and we are not iconoclasts either' they say. 'If we didn't respect art, we wouldn't be putting this stuff in art galleries'. The Archive has a positive, pluralist view. One that would rather embrace than reject things. Its challenge is its wide screen vision of creativity - from white cube of the gallery to a white cube of sugar dropped into a teacup during a Women's Institute cake-off.

Alan describes the British Contemporary Art Champion meeting the British Gurning Champion as a 'tromboning of culture'. Which is a great phrase suggesting the coming together of distant things soundtracked with a comedy brassy slide sound effect.

With that, the Robin Hood and Friar Tuck of the art world hop on their bicycles, clad not in Lincoln Green tunics, but fluorescent green safety jackets. They pedal out of metropolitan Soho, towards the exciting and mysterious suburbs.

first published in Moden Painters



Posted by anothersam at April 4, 2005 6:51 PM.

2 Comments

Mary Brown said:

apparently my gate features in the folk archive book of the u.k, it would've been nice if they'd let me know(alan kane & jeremy deller)

Mary Brown said:

apparently my gate features in the folk archive book of the u.k, it would've been nice if they'd let me know(alan kane & jeremy deller)

Leave a comment





Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

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