Dominic Watson

Please can we discuss the way your work occupies different spaces, from the open to the studio, via sculpture parks, football stadiums and bars?

I think a good place to start briefly is in the studio, and how my understanding of what a studio is changed when I stopped trying to make sculpture. My relationship to object making was always slightly conflicted. I couldn’t handle making something for a purely aesthetic purpose or merit. With sculpture that seemed to always be the case for me, I couldn’t ignore that part of the conversation I just kept returning to it. I found myself in a situation where I was trying to make objects that undermined themselves as artworks, which is such a tricky position, kind of an oxymoron, especially when trying to develop a practice around it. It felt conflicted.

So I started performing with public sculptures, fundamentally I think just to try and figure what my relationship to sculpture and art was. The tangible link of making a physical thing had gone, so there was this empty space that needed filling. I think in hindsight it had something to do with the politics of object making, how I addressed and thought about sculpture, how I valued it and how an audience thinks about it. So I confronted it head on in the form of Tony Cragg’s ‘Versus’ sculpture.

Appropriate Response No.1 from Dominic Watson on Vimeo.

From that moment the studio shifted from a private physical place of labour to a completely open public stage. In this first instance Exhibition Way in South Kensington where Cragg had a series of his sculptures on show in 2012.

Encountering art in public is a very different exchange than when it’s in a gallery. It’s not a voluntary meeting for a start or it has the potential not to be. It’s subject to a democratic form of taste and value, which the gallery normally keeps at arm’s length. This raises questions surrounding the responsibility of Art, what is its purpose? Does it need one? Do or should our expectations of art change when everything’s out in the open? It’s quite a vulnerable position for a sculpture in theory, out there all alone exposed without Art’s comfy rhetoric there to protect it. Admittedly South Kensington might not be the best example of the harsh realities of ‘everyday life’. It’s hardly kitchen sink drama stuff, but symbolically it’s a step in that direction, even if that step is tiny. Having adopted the vernacular of a football hooligan the character of the performer imposes a completely different value system onto the art object. This slight exposure is a potential threat to art, just by the fact it is situated in a location with blurred or less concrete boundaries than the gallery or the museum. I know South Ken is as close to being inside the museum without actually being inside it, but the odd shady character can and might just find themselves there. I wanted to use these different personifications of high and low culture to test the statues worth, to see if it could hold its own, to antagonise it and bluntly undermine it.

Which I think brings us to a really key point which is hovering somewhere around the idea of irresponsibility of a given participant in any context. Context so often dictates a prescribed mode of behaviour which is inevitably linked to a much wider cultural body. I always think we learn more about any one thing by exposing it to something completely alien. Or it’s at least the bluntest, most crude and direct way of doing so, which personality wise fits quite well with me. These types of exchanges, which are essentially relational, between conflicting ideas act like simple ways of telling a story, seeing something succeed where it was always doomed to fail, or failing where glory was all but guaranteed. You can use the product of one context to expose the structure and workings of another, and vice versa. The simple idea of misbehaviour or any action that is deemed ‘not appropriate’ is definitely beneficial to giving us a better understanding of what we’re looking at.

If you imagine I take a walk out of the museum past Tony’s “Big Shiny Spinny Sculpture”, which is just to left on the grassy bit of urban development. I plot a course past my studio, then onto a bar, then to a football stadium getting further and further away until eventually I’m out in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. The further away I get from the museum, the more the ground I stand on begins to shift. The definers of value and taste in the initial context of museum, which potentially feels something like an authoritative voice, begins to move from being an external environment to becoming embodied by me. Even if I don’t actually believe it, the further away I get from them the more I am defined by them. One moment I’m sticking my fingers up at a Tony Cragg sculpture, the next I am the bloody Tony Cragg sculpture trying to get all colloquial at the football. By the time we’re in the wilderness we’re left doing our best Casper David Friedrich impression, and terms like taste and value have absolutely no meaning anymore, they have nothing to hold onto. My point is that depending where you choose to momentarily exist as an artist you can find yourself operating from opposing ends of the same spectrum, or at least I do. One minute you’re supposedly looking up, the next you’re supposedly looking down. With this shifting platform I think there is a shift in responsibility, or at least there has to be an awareness of that shift. It’s not an artist’s job to be polite and democratic necessarily, that would be pretty boring.

So I guess what’s interesting to think about when making work from this sliding position is, how can one intentionally misrepresent the museum the further afield they get?

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