I initially wanted to explore the way your practice inhabits a language of symbols, however after a period of time spent looking and reading I felt there was a sense, or tone, of loss running throughout much of the work. Please could we explore this a little?
I think ideas around loss inherently orbit that of objecthood and, thus contemporary sculptural language. Specifically additive and reductive sculptural processes, for example the loss of function in display and the loss of the original and mould in the casting process. I am fascinated by Michel Serres text Statues, at the centre of this absurd book is the idea that the corpse, the dead body is the first ‘object’ for man – transformed from an animate to inanimate ‘obstacle’ – objects, prehistorically signify loss. His quote frames these concerns, “The dead body lies there, cutting into space. Larger lying down than standing, more terrifying dead than alive. Also the first solid: stiff, hard, rigorous, coherent, consistent, absolutely stable, the first stone statue.”
Like most people, personally, I have dealt with loss and absence – a very exceptional experience – this impacts on my work, as it impacts on my life – lets call it a ‘motivation’ – I like that word. I think the idea of subject matter (in the act of making an artwork) can be restrictive but motivation is a much more generous term. Acts of transgression in my life are now incumbent, silent and orbital – but I am motivated. Working with objects allows me to tether relationships to formal losses, like those stated above, along with thinking about the loss of place and loss of time – multifarious and synchronous ideas.
The studio is a place where, through, selecting, generating and staging objects I can make work, addressing a broad range of interests (currently these include the work of Charles and Ray Eames from the mid to late 1950’s, British kids’ fantasy novels from the 1970’s, Ebay sales’ photography, faux pattern, form, surface, types of sticky tape, extreme UK metal and indeed loss). Last year I was thinking a lot about the contemporary word Losslessness – not least because it looks great written down, as it is so heavily compounded. Losslessness is a computational term relating to the stability of encoded data – acknowledging the pervasive and unseen loss in data reproduction. If we extrapolate this to think about tangible stuff in the world the word losslessness suggests presence, despite the capacity for loss.
Exploring the language of symbols is very prevalent in my work – I have worked with the logo for the supermarket Lidl, badges and pins, hippy iconography, ‘smiley-faces’, images and words hastily drawn into wet concrete – there has always been an act of slippage in the appropriation of gestures and signs within my work. And, I am interested in how the world falls apart for a moment when something is not what it suggests.
I can summarise this by quoting the last page of Don Delillo’s novel White Noise, where he writes about the utter confusion of shoppers encountering supermarket shelves that have been rearranged – creating pandemonium in the isles.
“The supermarket shelves have been rearranged. It happened one day without warning. There is agitation and panic in the isles, dismay in the faces of older shoppers. They walk in a fragmented trance, stop and go, clusters of well-dressed figures frozen in the aisles, trying to figure out the pattern, discern the underlying logic, trying to remember where they’d seen the Cream of Wheat. They see no reason for it, find no sense in it. The scouring pads are with the hand soup now, the condiments are scattered. […] There is a sense of wandering now, an aimless and haunted mood, sweet-tempered people taken to the edge. They scrutinize the small print of packages, wary of a second level of betrayal. […] In the altered shelves, the ambient roar, in the plain and heartless fact of their decline, they try to work their way through confusion. But in the end it doesn’t matter what they see or what they think they see. The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners, which decode the binary secret of every item, infallibly. This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living.”
This interest in signification has shifted in my work to foregrounding and thinking specifically about objects. These can incorporate something physically transmutable and somewhat evasive, like a logo, but making stuff – scratching, pulling, extruding, casting, solidifying, coating things has developed into a way of mediating these ideas. Stopping something, halting its semiotic advance or transformations is a pleasure and something like magic. I use casting as a type of reverse engineering of an objects’ form – often making the mould from scratch, without an original, often working quickly, thinking about what is the physical opposite or inverse of this thing in my hands.
The idea of authenticity is important, much like the shoppers in Delillio’s text checking the authenticity of the goods that had been muddled. It is evident that through film, music and art we are looking for signs of authentication in a work, in form, or experience – often creating fakes or replicas – acts of gestural cultural mimicry. Umberto Eco discusses a ‘frantic desire for Almost Real arises only as a neurotic reaction to the vacuum of memories, the Absolute Fake is the offspring of the unhappy awareness of present without depth.’ In relation to this I am interested in using my work to instigate a wider examination of various types of contemporary cultural loss – specifically, the loss of alternative modalities of cultural production. More simply, a loss, or mourning for something-like modernism’s cultural and formal ideal.
I grew up in the middle of nowhere, in the 80’s and 90’s surrounded by people who were genuinely living alternative life styles, with different monetary and cultural economies, hippies, addicts, land-workers. I recognized this in London too when I moved there around 2000. I don’t doubt that rural parts of the West Midlands aren’t still full of people living alternate life styles. However, I think that in the current late-capitalist conditions the opportunity to live beyond or aside is out of reach for a lot of people – we surveil and self-surveil and the monetisation of cultures is pervasive.
It is very easy to feel displaced. If parts of the internet, propagated specifically by social media, speak about transformation – body alteration, get rich quick, get famous, get infamous, one can begin to believe that anything is possible. Only its not, its really not – at the time of his death, look at the middle-class mourning for what David Bowie represented. I have a palpable feeling of loss for alternate modes of people living their lives. These themes were really important to the writer David Foster Wallace. When I began to think about addressing your question about my work, I thought a lot about Foster Wallace’s analysis of his time after writing his massive and critically acclaimed book Infinite Jest, summarised in the quote below:
“Look, a lot of the impetus for writing ‘Infinite Jest’ was just the fact that I was about 30 and I had a lot of friends who were about 30, and we’d all, you know, been grotesquely over-educated and privileged our whole lives and had better healthcare and more money than our parents did. And we were all extraordinarily sad. I think it has something to do with being raised in an era when really the ultimate value seems to be – I mean a successful life is – let’s see, you make a lot of money and you have a really attractive spouse or you get infamous or famous in some way so that it’s a life where you basically experience as much pleasure as possible, which ends up being sort of empty and low-calorie. But the reason I don’t like talking about it discursively is it sounds very banal and cliché, you know, when you say it out loud that way. Believe it or not this was – this came as something of an epiphany to us at around age 30, sitting around, talking about why on earth we were so miserable when we’d been so lucky.”
Foster Wallace made these remarks about 20 years ago and I really empathise with them – I am a British artist, living and working in Britain today and I understand and recognise this sentiment very clearly – a real sense of loss which is complex and dense and sad.
I have recently been thinking a lot about the ways I select, manipulate and make forms in the studio in relation to how you may view chains or waves of internet ‘research’. The way searches bounce around from dates, responses, tone, through hidden and exposed references. So, I am currently working on a project entitled After Living, centering on a bringing-together of items representing a dwelling – a collection, amalgamation, gestalt. Acting as the genesis for this is the film House: After Five Years of Living by Charles and Ray Eames. Their film presents details of a house, as the title suggests, 5 years after it was built in 1949 – and details what is magnificently possible in making a home. Michael Haneke’s film Seventh Continent is a kind of inverse of the Eames reference. Although it is one of the most desperately sad filmic narratives, the way everyday objects are transformed throughout the film is quite incredible – there is an image of a beach, which is an amazing counterpoint/foil – something I’d like to use in a video at some point. Through this project, as with much of my work, I am really trying to sustain a set of objects accumulative potential.
Jamie George is an artist living and working in London.