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-april lacheur, artist
august 8, 2012
Walking into Haunch of Venison's Eastcastle Street outpost feels a bit like stepping inside a giant sketchbook at the moment.Simon Patterson has filled the place with photographs of equestrian monuments, loosely hung on the walls as if hastily pasted on the pages of a notepad. Most of the images are blow-up, old-fashioned slides, the names of sculptor and subject hand-written on their enlarged mounts. They are presented in pairs or small clusters, with blue and red neon arrows going from one to the other, suggesting equivalence between the likes of, say, Castilian nobleman El Cid and military prodigy Joan of Arc. On the floor, an "extra" picture propped against the wall seems to be waiting for the next exchange.
Patterson belongs to the generation of artists that graduated from Goldsmiths in the late 1980s, and went on to radically transform the perception of contemporary art in the UK. His1992 "Great Bear" — a tongue-in-cheek version of the London Underground map, its stations replaced by the names of celebrities and historical figures — is a landmark piece from the period. Since then, Patterson has relentlessly put the process of naming under scrutiny, undermining nominative systems, including star maps, periodical tables, and film credits. He met up withARTINFO UK to talk history, sculpture vs monument, and the comforting qualities of a diagram.
Could you tell me about "Under Cartel," your title for the exhibition?
Originally the idea [for this show] was a very dry proposal for an exhibition in Manchester, "Unrealised Potential," for which they bought an idea from various artists for a year, for a nominal amount of money. My proposal was an exchange of equestrian monuments, and it was just titled "International Heroes." My partner Patricia has been reading a lot about the Napoleonic period lately, and when I was trying to think of a title [for this exhibition], she was the one who suggested "Under Cartel." Under cartel is a written or verbal protocol to do with an exchange of prisoners. You might swap a general for several colonels. Before the Geneva Conventions, it was a way of having some form of civilization in war.
How did you link this to the equestrian sculptures?
Although it's a fairly arcane military term, I was trying to find a nice way of conveying the idea of an exchange. There were logics between the exchanges of the monuments: some are more left-field, some fairly obvious. There are two George Washingtons in New York — one in Union Square, and one in Williamsburg, near the Brooklyn Bridge — and they are exchanged for the George Washington in Paris. It seems quite strange that there is a George Washington in Paris, but I just like the idea of two-for-one exchange.
Mostly, I've taken these pictures of equestrian monuments in different countries. I've been collecting them over the years, not quite knowing why. It's one of those things where artists tend to be quite taxonomical. The idea of using photography seemed quite a nice analogy to something being outmoded, analogous to bronze or marble being fairly outmoded materials. I wanted [these works] to be an intermediate stage between a written proposal, which was the original idea, and it being actually done.
How did the idea of using your archive in this particular way come about?
It came about because of the pressure of doing this show. It was just one of many works that you have sitting in your drawer, if you like. There's always that pressure for artists — particularly if they are making public works or if they reach middle age — to work with "proper art materials," oil paint, or bronze, or marble. For me, the neon was sort of an equivalent to that. It's now an outmoded material and it has such heavy associations. I always think of Nauman. I was also thinking of Fiona Banner — I didn't really want to tread on their toes, but I had always wanted to use neon. This seemed like a nice opportunity to use it in a very casual way, to animate the images and make explicit that exchange by having arrows as if quickly drawn with a pencil.
It really changes the nature of the material. Because of movement introduced by the neon, the still images become a piece of kinetic art.
Yes. The images themselves at first seemed quite dry. Some are found images, stuff that was thrown out from art school libraries like the Donatello and the Verrocchio. Before the show, I went to Cherbourg to photograph Napoleon, to Burgos to photograph El Cid, back to Paris to photograph more monuments, like Joan of Arc, which was exchanged with El Cid. You realize how terrible some of these sculptures are. The Verrocchio and the Donatello are great pieces of Renaissance art, but some are very kitsch 19th century art, or simply not very good sculptures.
Some like the Gengis Khan are preposterously large objects and sort of beyond sculpture. It's the way sculpture has been going in Western art, making things beyond what you can really call sculpture — things that become architectural. It's not just a question of monuments, of the way we have them all around us and don't really pay attention to who they are. It's all very funny to say: if you exchange these monuments, how many people would really know? But what is more interesting to me is the idea of working with bronze and marble, and dealing with that.
How do you place this series in relation to your concerns with taxonomy and classification?
In a way, that doesn't feel like a work by me, that feels like a work by somebody else. But it does fit very much with the spirit of the way I make things. It has become quite unfashionable in the teaching of history to talk about individuals, kings and queens, dates and so on. What interested me was the idea of bringing back individuals — not necessarily the subjects of the sculptures, but the sculptor, who is the person you have to look quite hard for, his name or her name might be on the hoof of the horse, or the photographer. Although I took most of the images, some were found images, and some were taken by other people. So it's partly the idea that anyone could make the work and anyone could rearrange it — hence the photograph resting on the floor. It's meant to be an open system.
I don't think I'm particularly interested in taxonomies and so on, but I think a lot of artists work that way. It's always very pleasing when you see a grid, it's reassuring.
Yet you have been working with lots of systems of classification: the tube map, the periodic table, the alphabet on a keyboard to name but a few.
You feel comfortable when you see, say, a diagram. There's a certain authority or order to it, but then it's just a means to draw [viewers] in. It creates a kind of authority. The periodic table is something that is constantly added to, it's an empirical system, which is also open to interpretation.
So you use them to draw viewers in before pulling the carpet from under their feet.
Partly. In the same way people might create a very seductive image, but then you suddenly realise that it's not what you thought it was. It's a kind of hook to hang the ideas on, and it's also a hook in the sense that it draws you in. This particular show appears to be chaotic, and it was very free the way it was hung on the wall, but there is a rationale. Once we decided which works would go together, there's a very simple but approximate logic to where they are placed to do with distance, and geographical positions.
You mentioned openness, I was wondering if this isn't one of the first times you so openly invite viewers to appropriate the system, at least mentally?
I think a lot of other works have been that way but they look more closed. But then, as you examine them, suddenly it starts to fall apart, in a good a way. Some works are about that impossibility of control, which is what we like to do: we like to arrange things in an orderly fashion for the purpose of understanding them.
"Simon Patterson, Under Cartel," July 13 - August 31, 2012, Haunch of Venison Eastcastle Street, London
via: art info
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