Sometimes you see art and chat with the artist and you still just don't know what to say. That's certainly my experience with London-based artist Alex Bunn www.alexbunn.com. His work is definitely not for the faint of heart, but I don't think he would have it any other way. He pushes the boundaries of "what is art" and creates raw, all too real works that almost force you to look at them. Here's my chat with Alex.
MICHAEL: Hey Alex. I find myself both intrigued and repulsed by your work. What moves you to create it?
ALEX: I'm not in the game of grossing people out. It's not incontinent judo! The repulsion is a natural consequence of using organic or ambiguous materials. I'm embroiled with these readymade materials for lots of reasons other than disgust. It's their complexity, turgidity, volatility and because of their innate sub-structures. I could go on and on. Though, the fact that it sometimes puts people a bit ill-at-ease is welcome. I'd expect that to heighten the whole experience for the inquisitive and ruin it for the dullards. None of this is about my motivation, but it's probably enough.
MICHAEL: Intriguing. I'll get back to your work in a moment, but first, you're just back from a trip to the Moroccan desert. What were you doing there? Was it an art trip?
ALEX: Everywhere is an art trip. Morocco is astonishing for the perception of time. The Atlas mountains raise up over epochs, situated within them, the mud-brick architecture is slowly reclaimed by the environment so the new sits beside older dilapidated buildings, beside vestigial ruins spanning centuries. The rivers flood and become parched according to the seasons. Different sized cogs in a larger immutable clock are all evident at once. Even the dunes are colored visibly different at different times of day and they swell and ebb over months or years like gargantuan egg-timers.
MICHAEL: I think people would have a much greater appreciation for art if they saw art in everything as opposed to merely a painting on a wall. What do you think about this? How is this reflected in comments that you hear about your work?
ALEX: I agree. I really like attempts some artists make to fuse art and life; to lark around boundaries between art and general experience. A lot of my experience is like that - art is everywhere. Even so, the idea of everything being art is terrifying - it sounds like heat death - inescapable equilibrium for culture. I tend to try and distill experience in pictures, but for the purpose of filtering the world or understanding things I know no other system with which to iterate or clarify. Mental feedback or kicks. It's only midway to production that it becomes possible to be framed - becomes viewable - a digestible chunk - something discreet on the wall. Have you tried putting everything on the wall at once? Or is it like holography ... that it doesn't matter which part of everything you choose to isolate? What do you think?
MICHAEL: I suppose you're right. You can't hang everything on a wall. I guess that's your job ... to capture at least a piece of something and call it art. It makes sense. Judging by your website, you seem to be really concerned about the functioning and connectivity of things. Is this the case?
ALEX: Most definitely. They play lots of roles in my work, but for the sake of concision, I'll mention an obvious one. We are avid pattern finders - you found one. In fact, we are so fucking good at it that we project patterns on to everything - hence we can spot Mother Theresa and the Bay City Rollers in the spattered lumps of a road omelette or the words "OBLONG TWAT" in the retina of the Mona Lisa. Because there are hints of functions and connections in my work, it allows instant resolution of an image which means you can take liberties with everything else. You can tear your wig off and throw your poo around. I enjoy both function in form and form in function, but especially on the cusp of where there ceases to be either.
MICHAEL: You're a self taught artist, but how do you think you'd be different if you had attended art school? I'm asking because art schools in Britain seem to be in trouble right now.
ALEX: I had a very clear idea of the art I wanted to make at college age and would almost certainly have pursued it with or without tutelage. My experience on a diploma course was of bully wanker tutors stealing my work and fucking the students, so the choice to continue on my own was easy. Plus I had a very damning reference.
MICHAEL: I sense a bit of a rebel in you. Are you a rebel or a loner ... or just someone who has his own mind and uses it?
ALEX: As it's multiple choice, I'm going to go for loner. I felt as my arrogant, younger alter-ego, that too much exposure to a clique, school, scene, movement or whatever, or the insidious need to please would contaminate my art and ideas. Habits accrued from thinking this way have carried over without much scrutiny. It works for me. Arrogant is the right word. I don't think pompously in non-art related matters, but I have a conviction in my artistic endeavors that's quite possibly disgusting. I am foul, wretched and brilliant, so the only mutually acceptable course of action transpired; Ill make my art in benign solitude as long as you don't keep clapping your trap, and soiling my mind you horrid little ninnies. (I don't mean you by the way, Michael, I'm sure you are a wonderful ninnie).
MICHAEL: Art is huge in Britain, specifically London. What's the art scene like there? Do you like it?
ALEX: Well, like I said, I'm not part of any scene. Grumpy old git. There's a few fairly distinct scenes I'd say, some delineated along schools, along the location of galleries, east, west and south and blocks of studio spaces. Not so much by concepts. I think there are quite artsy scenes that share their own areas, bars, favored dj's and cut of trouser, but I couldn't give an earwig's oily arse bubble about any of that. It's true that art has exploded all over London in the last decade or so and it has captured audiences from every demographic. It's truly marvelous, but I have mixed feelings about the fact that now, every man and his mannequin is an artist. Even girls! On the one hand, it's true that art is not the creation of some kind of privileged guru and that anti-art movements are perfectly valid; Everyone is an artist. The itch I have in my blood is that there is a homeopathic dilution of quality going on. There seems to be a drive to occupy convenient niches other than reach for something incredible, to advance, to invent, to create anything of distinction (huge generalization of course). I suggest people stop being kind to their friends and studio neighbors and stop exhibiting their work ... unless they produce something truly astonishing. My worry is personal. I worry that I'm missing all the ART because it's obscured by the dross. Maybe I should dig deeper? There are however excellent grass-roots groups like Auto-Italia or LuckyPDF that propagate zeal of life. Art has penetrated London life so deeply that if it were to be extracted, it would leave a fragile husk of a city. Art here nucleates all sorts of spin-off culture that defies definition — it'll eventually become a kind of ethereal metropolitan pituitary system.
MICHAEL: Something about you reminds me of Andy Warhol. Do you like or dislike him? What artists do you admire?
ALEX: Is it my old hairdo? I'm against over-simplified iconography ... treating artistic development as if trying to reach some sort of platonic ideal of what constitutes an artwork. Warhol took what other people were doing and tried to distill it - now that seems to be the holy grail for a lot of weak-minded artists - or what is taught in art schools - to simplify - but if we apply Occam's Razor to culture we get Occam's mantwat. And instead of Ulysses we get a book full of "A's." Warhol languished in this state for hundreds of artworks - lurid rubbish portrait, another lurid portrait. The counter to that is that it was clever to make his production recursive; make it reflect itself and I suppose it was, but boring art about boring things is, well ... a bit boring. There are early paintings of his I really enjoy like his seemingly flippant black daubs and dribbles that featured a couple of lines of popeye or a car advert. These were trashy, but also displayed excellent intuition about what to omit and include in order to keep the image teetering on various axes. They were thin films of industrialization reclaimed by a flawed hand; a bit like cave paintings of consumerism. He came back toward this way of working very late in his life I think. He deserves a page, but he can shove celebrity worship in his gunwound orifice. Do New Yorkers deify him? I much prefer Rauschenberg. When it comes to artists, I stop short of admiration. There are some I greatly respect, mainly due to impressions they made on me when I was a wee dumpling ... Duchamp, Paolozzi, Picabia, Manzoni, Beuys, Ernst, Fluxus people, Artaud ... others. Then there were the people who turned me on to staging photographs - Boyd Webb and Tim Head especially.
MICHAEL: You're definitely the funniest and most fun artist I've ever interviewed. I don't know what to do with you. I love the fact that you're so candid and honest. Does your honesty ever scare away collectors or clients?
ALEX: Why, thank you Michael. Do you think that honesty scares people away? That people would rather be duped or pretended to? I don't know. I've not noticed and it's never been suggested to me. Let me know what you think. Negative feedback came back to me once in the form of "can't you do anything other than disgust?" which was daft. Another time someone said "I hate conceptual art." By the way, this conversation has inspired an artwork. It's a readymade inspired by the banter on "everything being art." I can't understand why it's only very prosaic objects that are co-opted as art. My new artwork could have been a precise region of inter-galactic void in the exact shape of Bill Cosby. But it seemed like too much hard work. Then I flirted with the idea of claiming that the Southern Hemisphere between 1709-1993 is my artwork or should I make it between 1709-1995? I couldn't decide (can periods of time themselves be art?). So, I've plumped for a beautiful readymade sculpture. It's a sphere of metallic liquid hydrogen the volume of 1500 earths. It's the interior of Jupiter. It is between 10,000 and 35,000 Kelvin. I'm thinking of calling it "The Duke," but I'll let you decide. "The Duke" has an imperial majesty and is also a nickname. Or I could call it "Sphere for Varla" for uber romance. My other choice was "H 345 GPa V-1.4313×1015 km3," to leave it on the margins of art, ordinance and data.
MICHAEL: Wow, that's very cool. I think you should call it "The Duke." By the way, most of your works are sculptural and one of a kind. Is the whole point to photograph them and make prints available to collectors? Or ... do you only make the works themselves available? Do you ever disassemble and discard them? Also to answer YOUR question, I think many people who don't know much about art equate truth with traditional beauty and not necessarily brutal honesty which is often ugly. Few people want to see or experience raw or blunt things.
ALEX: I have fragments left over from photo-shoots clattering about my studio. Some I throw over my acid-monster neighbor's fence to intrigue them, but half of it perishes. Albino clawed frogs, duck embryos, Jello, bleached lung, ice, crushed locusts etc., all disintegrate pretty quickly. Some melt (I sometimes shoot them in a freezer) but the disintegration is not the issue, they could be transient artworks. And it has nothing to do with making prints available - they ARE prints. Everything is made with the resulting end photograph in mind. I don't consider the props artworks anymore than the camera used - they're not uninteresting, but they play a role in creating a more interesting article. However, working this way has turned me on to the idea of exhibiting sculptures and I'll make art fit for that purpose at some point.
MICHAEL: Finally Alex, What are your hopes for the future as an artist? How do you want to be perceived or remembered?
ALEX: It's a bit daunting to start writing my own obituary. My hopes for the immediate future are to catch up with myself. At the moment, I'm producing works conceived from sometime back because I conceive of works much faster than I can produce them. Still, I can't wait to get around to tackling fresher, more exciting ideas. It may sound a bit strange "why not forego the lesser artworks?" However, I feel that I owe it to my former self not to stride over years of my life. I feel as though I'm sitting on a geyser of great art throbbing to burst. Further ahead — I'd like to claw into a position where I can make art without any constraints, push my artistic potential, up production, maybe get some assistance for ambitious projects and show to a wider audience. Isn't this what all artists want? And I'd like a different hair-do.
MICHAEL: Well, this has certainly been interesting. Alex, you do not disappoint! This has been fun. Thanks for chatting.
To find out more about Alex Bunn and his work, check out his website at www.alexbunn.com