Interview between Simon Le Ruez and the publication Corridor8



Corridor8 profiles some of the UK’s most exciting and radical contemporary artists. Issue 1 featured eight emerging visual artists who operate along the SuperCity corridor, selected on the basis of the formidable reputations they are forging for themselves internationally and who are cementing the region as a cornerstone of contemporary art practice.

Published in July 2009 as part of the first issue – Art and the Supercity

What are you working on currently?
I am currently working on a series of works under the generic title of Colonia. The series includes new sculptures, drawings, photographic and neon works. The starting point for this work comes from an article I read some time ago about a number of distinctive buildings on the coastline of northern Italy. Now abandoned and derelict, they were built as holiday hostels for the children of industrial workers who were members of the Fascist party. Constructed in the 1930’s, these types of buildings were called a colonia, which literally translates as ‘colony’. The hostels had utopian aspirations and their purpose was to promote health and fitness in an atmosphere of sun, sea and regular exercise within spectacular settings of modern architecture amid panoramic views. What fundamentally interested me, aside from the beauty of the abandoned buildings, was the notion of derelict utopias and the challenge of giving this notion form. I saw an arresting contradiction, in that, free of their intended strict regime with its underlying ugly agenda, these buildings now facing ruin projected a real beauty, not unlike characters who had lived a rich but sometimes turbulent life and who had a story to tell.

Aside from this I am working on some new film pieces, some which I can directly relate to the layering of concerns present within the Colonia body of work and another piece ‘The sins of Andre’, which observes private pastimes. This is an empathetic portrait of André Mason, an elderly man who in his spare time immersed himself in a carved interpretation of the seven deadly sins.

Where did you study?
I studied in London and Winchester.

Who influenced your early years as an artist or art student?
My influences were varied early on, and remain so today. I saw many qualities in the work of Eva Hesse. I appreciated the tactility in the work, the play with materials and the fact that the work actually seemed to be saying something beyond this, something visceral. It made me aware of what was possible with sculpture. I also looked a lot at Franz Kline. His paintings were a kind of revelation for me. I liked the difficulties I felt with them but also the intensity. Robert Adams was someone I looked at early on, and he remains an important influence today. His photographs have always struck me as strange and austere. They operate on a number of levels, hinting at, yet refusing, narrative. I liked straight away the fact that I had to work as a viewer with his work to understand the level of experimentation, maturity and visual intelligence that was on offer. I would cite his monograph The New West as particularly influential.

Have you ever seen, read about or heard of an artwork or art activity (other than your own) that made you think art could be significant?
A lot of what Duchamp did struck me as significant because he saw the need at a particular time for deconstruction, liberation and rewriting the rules. Some of Joseph Beuys’s actions are hugely significant because for me they remain fresh and relevant. His work I Like America and America Likes Me (1974) is astounding in its ambition. With this work he managed to create something consistently visually interesting over a three-day period and simultaneously raise some politically poignant questions. He was an incredibly versatile artist and this work was another example of what art could be and what it could do.

In more recent times Rachael Whiteread’s House (1993), the cast of the inside of a Victorian house in the East End of London, had significance because it became (albeit for a brief period) a public work of art that really got a wide demographic of people talking. The most interesting thing for me about this work was its context, how it challenged the notion of boring and predictable public works of art sited in front of grand or not so grand buildings or in parks, and the questions it raised about the nature and definition of beauty.

Do you work on several things at once?
I am always working on several things at once. Aside from it being in my nature to be quite obsessive about things and it being useful to turn to something else when I recognise this, I like to try to get a dialogue going between works, to create an exchange or a kind of awkward conversation, and having different works on the go is conducive to this.

Do you enjoy making art?
Most of the time I enjoy it. I go through occasional battles where there is any number of places I would prefer to be than in the studio, but thankfully these tend to pass quite quickly. When things are going well and I recognise that the work is progressive I can feel a kind of euphoria.

How do you deal with titles in your work?
Titles have always been very important to me, to a point where I see them as an extension of the work. I have ‘post it’ notes all over my studio with little phrases on them that I have heard on the radio or read in a book and they tend to haunt me as potential titles. I see titling as another form of play and something that I shouldn’t have to work too hard at; when I have found myself doing this, it is when a work is left Untitled.

Where do you live/work?
I live and work in Sheffield

What is it like to live and work here?
I have lived and worked here for eight years now, and I sort of gravitated here as it felt like a less obvious place for an artist in the UK to be than in London. There is a healthy cultural side to the city with some interesting spaces and a diverse range of artists, and as I like the outdoors one can easily escape for long walks in the peak district.

Why do you stay here?
I stay because at the moment I don’t have to make too many compromises. I get to spend a decent amount of time making work, and I know that that might be a harder thing to achieve in another city. Also there are things that still surprise and amuse me here, the moment that stops it may be time to be somewhere else.

Who or what has made the biggest contribution to the contemporary art scene in the region?
I think there are some key, dynamic individuals who have instigated spaces and initiatives that has given a platform for work and simultaneously offered tangents and texture to the contemporary art scene. I would also have to extend a nod to the Arts Council for their support of individual artists, a few of which have gone on to realise strong bodies of work and present some great shows.

Who else should we be watching?
Out of artists working in the North, I like Rachael Goodyear’s drawings; the work seems to be consistently interesting and inventive. Maud Haya-Baviera, a French artist based in Sheffield, is one to watch. Working with film, photography and drawing her work is often imbued with cinematic and literary reference points, which she cleverly reinterprets in surprising ways.

What curators and galleries do you admire and why (locally or internationally)?
In the UK I admire Matt’s Gallery in London and its founder Robin Klassnik because of his genuine agenda to support the experimental side of an artists practice. I have seen some important shows at the gallery, and they work with some fascinating artists who include Mike Nelson and Fiona Crisp. The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds frequently stages some fantastic exhibitions; it’s a seductive space, and the display of work is always meticulous. Away from the UK, I have seen some courageous shows at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, in Berlin. It is a space that seems to have wide parameters in what it is prepared to show.

What are your plans for the future? If you had unlimited funds, what artwork would you make?
My plans are to continue to aspire to make strong work. I think it is important to make work that is relevant, but to always pursue an individualistic resolve. It is the clearest way forward for me, and my hope to leave fingerprints somewhere. I would like to diversify my practice to incorporate a wider tableau. I tend to see the sculptural potential in most art forms and I love materials and their possibilities, but I am intrigued by the discipline of film and video at the moment and maybe this medium is going to play a greater part in things. As for having unlimited funds, right now, I would indulge in the realisation of a series of text-based neon pieces. I would also like to play with scale a lot more and create a number of large derelict utopias the viewer could experience from the inside and outside. Perhaps some of the neon pieces would work on the inside of these, at the end of ambiguously constructed passageways.

If you could own any work of art, what would it be?
It’s incredibly hard to pin it down to just one but it would be a toss up between Douglas Gordon’s film Between Darkness and Light (1997) and Louise Bourgeois’ Red Rooms (1994). I saw the Gordon piece for the first time as part of his retrospective in Avignon over the summer, and it was the most affecting work I have experienced for some time.

If you weren't an artist, what job would you like/rather be doing?
I like gardening which dovetails neatly with my aforementioned love of the outdoors, so that would certainly be an option.

Do you have any advice for this year’s graduates?
It can take a long time to find an interesting language but in the meantime it is important to keep working and seeing work. Ambition is necessary, but it is more important to have ambition for the work.