Friday, 27 February 2009


Eamon O'Kane, Plans for the Past and the Future, installation at Plan9, Bristol, 9 Jan-15 Feb 2009.  

Two different projects have recently got underway - in London and Bristol - each, in its own way, trying to explore interrelated notions of art writing, criticality and community. First, the London based New Work Network and art-writing organisation Open Dialogues have collaborated on Critical Communities, in which two groups of artists-writers (in London and Leeds) explore these notions through a series of meetings culminating in a Print On Demand publication.

This week I'm also taking part in Free Press, a collaborative project organised by Trade Union at the Plan 9 gallery in Bristol. As part of this project Karen Di Franco and Sophie Mellor - who comprise Trade Union - posed the question: what critical models are currently available to artists-writers? The following is an unpacking and development of a post I originally presented as a contribution to the projects preliminary online discussion:

... This is a thinking-through of some books/magazines lying around here to try and get some ideas together about available critical models, starting from the art-writing part of the spectrum and magazines such as Dot Dot Dot, F.R.David, and The Happy Hypocrite where "each piece should be at once ABOUT and AN EMBODIMENT OF its subject, and together ought to congeal into some overarching theme" (DOT DOT DOT 17,4)

One of the characteristics of this is that there is less preoccupation with writing about particular art objects than with using the methods and approaches of certain kinds of art production to produce written texts (this also applies to Bookworks Semina series, whose call for proposals almost asks authors to absorb a diverse array of experimental art movements resulting in their own contemporary prose). 

As might be expected from such an approach, original writing is one part of a strategy which also includes finding new spatial forms for existing texts, collaging, or transforming texts by placing them in new contexts...

We could also look at such examples as models of where criticism becomes an exhibition or event. Both Dot Dot Dot and Uovo made recent issues out of live events/ exhibitions/ or by turning the magazine's offices into a kind of open studio. As well as the specifics of such projects, they are useful in helping us think of critical as layered across different mediums, as a process of thought that has an unfolding trajectory through the forms of print, oral history, event, performance, internet...

The other advantage of this approach is that it is one way to think through the notion of criticism as project, which is perhaps the main insight that has emerged from doing this blog. In such a paradigm, the individual review or article acquires the status of the commodified, fetishistic object, and the project becomes a way of generating a more open economy, responsive to a broader field of both artistic and non-artistic cultural activity. That's the hope anyway. 

This is one way I respond to the work of the Russian collective Chto Delat. Moving on from this I also extrapolate the position of writing that is multi-positional: before, after, during, other action. It is also here that we I begin to sense criticism becoming a pedagogical strategy. 

However, I am also aware of the frameworks within which such activities are taking place and it's hard not to feel sometimes that Dot Dot Dot, F.R.David and The Happy Hypcocrite are performing a series of endless chess like manoevures within varying stylistic and institutional art world frameworks (in the latest issue of Dot Dot Dot they talk about how the magazine is now only financially viable through the obtaining art gallery residencies). 

What models are there for thinking through this situation? Are there critical projects that break out of this, have different relationship to audience, derive their text from - or place it in - a different web of relationships...

From TOP: Valerie Tevere and Angel Nevarez, Another Protest Song: Karaoke with a Message (2008); (BELOW:) The Center for Tactical Magic, Tactical Ice Cream Unit (TICU) (2008). Both commissioned as mobile projects for Democracy in America: The National Campaign. 

I've been looking at Creative Time's A Guide to Democracy in America book (edited by Nathan Thompson) and, although still the product of an arts organisation, it does seem to be seeking for new networks within which its critical acts both take shape and are transmitted. Different parts of the project adopt models such as town meetings or community centres, seeing writing alongside the work of organising libraries, workshops, and community bookstores.

How can writing and teaching can become coterminous? How can we obtain more direct, literal relationships of writing and location, where criticality obtains through subject and focus: a writing documenting local industrial sites and projects, for example. Or a simple shifting between different communities in addition to that shifting between mediums: between different communities, nationalities, urban and rural, art-world and not: a whole series of nested scales. 

I'm not sure I can think of writing and magazines which do this. But here are two examples of text which seem to provocatively relate to what I have presented here: 

Emily Jacir's Who Said it? questionaire (in A Guide to Democracy in America) presents a lot of statements and asks readers to choose if they are by George Bush or John Kerry. This seems a great way to reveal and critically explore exactly what is at stake in language, and inculcate a process of thought and choice within the structure of a text.

I'm also struck by Paul Chans pornographic re-working of Gertrude Stein's Composition as Explanation for its combination of fidelity to and transforming of its source text by bringing to the surface or translating a particular quality of its own tensions... 

I don't have any conclusions at this stage but maybe, looking at all this, the tension is between different ecologies: an institutional infrastructure of the art world, a broader network of cultural relations, and how a certain history of experimental art techniques and attitudes can navigate around and between both these categories.


More texts related to both these projects will be posted on More Milk Yvette as they unfold. Critical Communities also exists as an online forum, freely viewable, although only members of New Work Network can contribute.  As an introduction to the Critical Communities project I posted the following short text:  

When I started writing about experimental film several people said "oh its really important to have critical writing about new work." Which I enthusiastically  agreed with, but I find this question more puzzling 18 months later, partly because the audience for any writing is so random and dispersed, and peoples needs (or not-needs) of such work so varied, that I'm not sure how this "important" actually works. Maybe it's better to be unimportant?

Do I feel I am making work accessible or creating an audience for this work? To a degree, yes, and to do stuff on the internet is, of course, to create some sort of international audience for writing about London events. Is it about responding to and for the artists themselves, or contribute to building some "artistic culture" in London? Sometimes I feel yes, whatever that means.  I am presently trying to work with the randomness any critical act seems to have, as well as the notion of a blog almost as a character presenting its own cultural model. 

I am increasingly practicing criticism as a kind of contextualising, which really overlaps with curating. Often I think of this as quite physically working with material - be it objects, words, ideas or jpegs, moving them around, finding new spaces and arrangements for them ( I think the journal F.R.David is a great example of this in terms of language).   

I'm interested in how to do this "critical" not within an academic framework. So the historical models become New Journalism or Rolling Stone or Interview magazine or zines combined with a kind of scholarly research and detail and scope. Not sure these always go well together - in Amy Newman's oral history of Artforum  (which is a gloriously bitchy self-presentation of one fractious critical community!) there's lots of raucous falling out over whether Clement Greenberg, French structuralism or Rolling Stone magazine is the way to go. 

But I do like the idea of trying to write about things as if they are exciting cultural events - which they may well be - and doing so with exciting writing. Guess there's also the issue of whether exciting writing about boring events, or boring writing about exciting events, are ever good strategies...

Stewart Brand has a diagram about the different aspects of a society that function at different speeds (see below - it's also part of Hans Ulrich Obrist's Formulas for Now project), the idea being that a successful society works on all levels.  

Intuitively, this resonates for me at the moment when I think about criticality-  I've become interested in how to try and write about things as a way of recognising and creating a culture that operates on all six levels. Not sure what that means at all but it seems related to why am taking part in Critical Communities...

Also the creative-critical boundary, which maybe dissolves if you have this kind of broad based approach. But maybe it's not good for it to dissolve. Anyway-

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Shaun Gladwell, Approach to Mundi Mundi, 2007, production still. HD/DVD. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

My essay on experimental film and ecology has just been published online as part of the RSA Art & Ecology magazine. Starting off from Figuring Landscapes - the festival of artists' film and video at Tate Modern (6-8 Feb 2009), organised by Steven Ball and Catherine Elwes, it attempts to figure out how ecological and environmental issues have come to be part of a particular approach to the moving image. 

There were many different takes that could be followed through a fascinating programme of films, but I found myself most taken with the approach of Semiconductor, whose All the Time in the World (2005) used data of seismic tremors on the Northumbrian landscape to create an animated image of normally imperceptible rock movements. Moving out from their work to the festival as a whole, there was a group of work engaging with an image that was in some way imperceptible, and it is the nature and implications of this which the RSA essay explores.

As the characteristics of this type of image became clearer, I realized that it proposed, too, a particular type of response from audience and critic. Reading a film of coastal erosion as being about human fragility, seemed redundant. Such an image had already absorbed into itself different readings and responses, as, too, it absorbed past, present and future. This complexity and imperceptibility became visually present - not without paradox - in a distinct, literal image.

After writing the essay I realised that I had been unconsciously attempting a low-budget re-make of Susan Sontag's 1963 essay Against Interpretation. Going back to Sontag's essay was a good way both to acknowledge that source, and to identify the differences of our own contemporary moment. Interesting in this context, of course, to note Sontag saw film as one of the best equipped mediums for evading interpretation because of how it had a formal language that could be identified and discussed in lieu of discussions about meaning:  

Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there. This cannot be taken for granted, now. Think of the sheer multiplication of works of art available to every one of us, superadded to the conflicting odors and sights of the urban environment that bombard our senses. Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life - its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness - conjoin to dull our sensory faculties. And it is in the light of the condition of our senses, our capacities (rather than those of another age), that the task of the critic must be assessed.

I quote this at length not to highlight Sontag's contemporaneity, forty years later, but to highlight her differences. If, as in Sontag's conclusion to her essay, the "imperceptible image" is a recognition that "In place of an hermeneutics we need an erotics of art," it is an erotics increasingly involved with the idea, with its own impossibility, and which has taken conventional critical interpretation into itself to make it a transmuted part of its own content. 

Semiconductor, All the Time in the World, 2005, 5 mins.

In the RSA piece I leave unexplored what measuring ourselves against, rather than interpreting, such images practically involves. It's a hunch. However, something of how these tensions might unfold seemed evident in the final section of Luca Cerizza's ongoing, transforming essay Nothing to See, Everything to Hide: Power to the Imagination in the Era of the Digital Revolution (re-printed in its latest version as the opening to the latest excellent issue of Uovo magazine):

The very use of a certain type of language, even intentionally old-fashioned and technologically very modest (Super-8 screenings, black-and-white photos, handwritten or typewritten texts) should not deceive us: the often vintage-style look of these works is in actual fact the medium for talking about a reality that is present, and that will certainly be increasingly present in the future, in which technology alters and will radically alter Nature, and the nature of images, information and stories. 

I believe that these and other artists... are fully aware of a modernity that is increasingly "liquid", to use the sociological term employed by Zygmunt Baumann. A modernity that is made of bodies and images and stories that are continuously and easily reproducible, transmittable, and deployed/deployable, in which "original" and "copy" are ever weaker concepts, and in which our sight and identity are increasingly deceived and deceptive. 

Some artists contrast the dominance of images, which is increasingly common but less and less reliable, with a "light", malleable art turned into stories and legends, and "oral" whenever possible, that can be conveyed in a manner similar to file-sharing. (27)  

I quote this whilst aware that it is by no means a wholly close fit with Figuring Landscapes - which, for example, has relatively few works exploiting Super-8 or otherwise old -fashioned, obsolete technologies. But like Figuring - and also like the very different work in the Altermodern Tate Triennial - Cerizza notes conjunctions and simultaneities of space and time and suggests what kinds of action and art work result. 

All of which, from an ecological point of view, may offer something of an indirect, emergent answer to questions like the following, from which the RSA essay begins, noting the parallel development of an environmental movement and a trajectory of experimental film out of New American Cinema: 

If one looks across a century of experimental films is there a discernible change in the representation of the natural world, and human relationships within it? How did awareness of environmental issues become part of these films?  Did film makers incorporate or remain oblivious? Is there an affinity between such film makers search for new methods and ways of seeing and the environmental movements own calls for new paradigms of looking and thinking?


Monday, 23 February 2009


The Strawberry Jam Critic demonstrating two different art-writing methodologies, London, February 2009 ( posed by model).


Because The Strawberry Jam Critic was trying to get a sense of the full extent of the critical task. It wasn't about Bethnal Green alone. It was about Aldgate East, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, and Mile End. Cinemas all, but what kind? Sometimes, too, it was about double-screen Leyton, a Gore Vidal let loose on the full extent of the 25 bus route. 

The gossip, they say, always funny, often salacious, is inseparable from the critical judgement. Treat subjects intimately, as colleagues in the business, mocking their vanities and weaknesses. Be quick to spot a nail where a screw should be...


At every full stop: Strawberry Jam critics jostling to get on and off. In every spoonful of jam, prose. 

Or was it proselytizing? Writing is different from life and doesn't have to be real fruit or organic. It's probably better if it's not, whereas with jam that is never prose the need for additive-free is clearer. 

Even so, having to construct ones own cinema building from scratch every day, ready for the evening shows, children's matinee on the weekend, was intellectually exhausting.


There was an academic frame that had hovered over all the Strawberry Jam Critic's pronouncements and SJC wanted to keep the best of this - the seeking to understand through dialogues of context, history, and discernment.

But SJC wanted to remove the way such a frame manifested in prose as power and authority, as the limit of cultural ambition, the curtailment of expressive freedom, and the lack of amusing punctuation. SJC wanted dust.

Dust, Strawberry Jam Critic liked to mumble to themselves. Dust for its avoidance of incomprehension leading to nonsense. Dust of obscure hierarchies and vegetables no one knew how to eat. Dust of nonsense itself could be comprehended by avoidance. Dust. Although -


Strawberry Jam Critic needed to maintain some sense of discipline to avoid becoming a pure babble of street sound. The police called to ask if there were still social order problems in the street. Maybe, thought Strawberry Jam Critic, maintain the academic framework by metamorphosing into a small pile of boiled sweets filling up the corner of the room.

The Strawberry Jam Critic turning into pure light, London, Feb 2009 (posed by model).


Because, too, it was the range of the culture and forms of expression that all SJC's writings were beginning to articulate.  Strawberry Jam Critic felt it was a big step to write about things as if they were interesting. Especially boring things.  

Not that the interesting things weren't interesting, of course, but interesting wasn't the right word. It was a shift to try and write out of the vibrancy of something's cultural presence, their event-ness, so that it became gossip, always funny, often salacious.  

Such an attitude, like the Strawberry Jam Critic himself, was constructively - if not unpleasurably - deluded. 


Perhaps it also involved inhabiting the gap between the artists intention - how it was presented in press releases, handouts, wall texts - and the experience. It might mean disregarding the former, going with the whim, seeing creativity in the interstice, wearing more than one pair of trousers.

This was why Strawberry Jam Critic had turned, not without some reservation, to New Journalism and Clay Felker as models, rather than Ancient Egypt. Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic, of course - like a lot of his writing -  was in many ways a spiteful, nasty piece of character assassination, from which - her children have observed - Leonard's Bernstein's wife never recovered. 

But Strawberry Jam Critic is ensnared by its energy, its perceptiveness and its sense, above all, of writing and culture interlocked in a certain vibrancy. If the culture is not vibrant and the writing is garbage then I don't know what happens. 

Pass the strawberry jam somebody please. 


There is a key text for The Strawberry Jam Critic. The Strawberry Jam Critic reads this text daily, and had it tattoed on their back by the finest calligrapher on all of Commercial Street. 

This text is from near the beginning of Adolfo Bioy Cesares' The Invention of Morel

An Italian rugseller in Calcutta told me about this place. He said (in his own language): "There is only one possible place for a fugitive like you - it is an uninhabited island, but a human being cannot live there. Around 1924 a group of white men built a museum, a chapel, and a swimming pool on the island. The work was completed, and then abandoned. 

I interrupted him; I wanted to know how to reach it; the rug merchant went on talking: "Chinese pirates do not go there, and the white ship of the Rockefeller Institute never calls at the island, because it is known to be the focal point of a mysterious disease, a fatal disease that attacks the outside of the body and then works inward. The nails drop off the fingers and toes; the hair falls out. The skin and the corneas of the eyes die, and the body lives on for one week, or two at the most. The crew of a ship that had stopped there were skinless, hairless, without nails on their fingers or toes - all dead, of course - when they were found by the Japanese cruiser Namura. The horrified Japanese sank their ship." 

But my life was so unbearable that I decided to go there anyway. The Italian tried to dissuade me; but in the end I managed to obtain his help.(10)

The Strawberry Jam Critic demonstrating the similarities and differences of writing and reading, London, Feb 2009 (posed by model).


Oh strawberry jam, strawberry jam, strawberry jam, strawberry jam, strawberry jam. Oh more jam of the strawberry variety with extra strawberry oh oh indeed. I have read other novels recently, too, amidst my very personal excess of cinemas. 

It's true what bloggers say: like the love child of D.W.Griffith and Andy Warhol I play on this mix of isolation, wonder, and something grimmer, fishing X out of the jam-bog with nothing but a sharp enough strawberry-witticism. 

Note, too, in conclusion, that within a paragraph Cesares is asleep on his island of death, and is noting how, when it comes to combinations of writing and film:

And yet suddenly, unaccountably, on this oppressive summerlike night, the grassy hillside has become crowded with people who dance, stroll up and down, and swim in the pool, as if this were a summer resort like Los Teques or Marienbad. (10-11) 


The origins of The Strawberry Jam Critic were at Jennifer West's show at Vilma Gold last year, after-pondering the relevance of her method of making films through the application of various smeared and treated substances. 

The second paragraph beginning "The gossip.." is derived from Jonathan Raban's review of The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal (New York Review of Books, Dec 18-Jan 14 2009, 67). New York Review books publish Ruth L.C.Simms translation of Adolfo Bioy Casares The Invention of Morel ISBN 978-1-59017-057-1. 

The phrase "other novels recently, too, that play on this mix of isolation, wonder, and something grimmer" is a reference to Stanley Crawfords splendid The Log of The SS Ugentine, recently reissued by Dalkey Archive Press.

Friday, 20 February 2009


Juneau Projects, Sewn to the Sky (2007). Commissioned by Media Art Bath.

Juneau Projects'  The Principalities at the Stanley Picker Gallery in Kingston-upon-Thames (3 Dec 2008-7 Feb 2009) saw the gallery become event space and owls become musical instruments. An installation during the day, it hosted music and comedy nights taking place amongst a carefully choreographed environment of cardboard forests, papier-mache toby jugs, grunge heraldry and bottle-top tambourines. 

Drawing on pub culture, folk traditions, and the aesthetics and ambiance of music festivals, it was a hugely pleasurable example of how those concerns have become mediated through contemporary art via projects such as Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane's Folk Archive and the recent Experimenta Folklore exhibition (to which Juneau Projects contributed). There were suggestive connections, too, to the art-design fusing of Jorge Pardo and the spaces and events of Rirkrit Tirivanija.

Juneau Projects was formed in 1999 by Phil Duckworth and Ben Sadler. The following interview took place by e-mail in Jan-Feb 2009 and includes revelations about Bjork and Goldie's secret offspring, Ruskin's rock xylophone, and the tragic story of the Relational Aesthetics audio book that never was...

DAVID BERRIDGE: There's a lot of cardboard in your work. Tell us about your relationship to cardboard. What kind of materials attract you?

JUNEAU PROJECTS: We used cardboard for this exhibition as a development of previous pieces where we made sculptures from machine cut plywood. We used this process as it allowed us to turn computer drawings into wooden folky-looking objects. For the show at Kingston we wanted to make something with a bit more energy and grunginess – so we used cardboard to create a more immediate handmade look.

Generally we are attracted to materials in terms of their inferred references and cultural resonances. They offer a short-hand language within the work.

DB: I found myself responding to your show on two levels. On the macro- scale there is the events you host and the broader categories such as music and nature and folklore. Then there was a more micro-level: the specific designs of the mugs, the musical instruments, or the stages. Are these two levels equally important? How do they relate?

Juneau Projects, (TOP:) The Principalities (2008), installation view, Stanley Picker Gallery; (MIDDLE:) The Principalities;  (BOTTOM:) Traditional Grip (2007).

JP: The exhibition was intended as an installation which also functioned as a live venue. It could host events and bands but also had elements such as handicraft objects like the homemade beer mugs and painted tambourines with bottle-top jingles which exhibition goers could look at.

The macro and micro scales within the show is perhaps representative of our working process. We talk to each other about specific objects or images that we are interested in, often developing overlying themes for works and shows through these conversations. In this sense both levels have equal importance, feeding each other in the production of a piece.

DB: The stages, you say, are based on those at music festivals, while the show overall is called The Principalities. Is the music festival some sort of model or microcosm or utopia? And what kind of space do you hope to create in the gallery?

JP: We wanted the feeling in the gallery to be like being in a club or bar after hours – except when the events were on, when we wanted the feeling to be like being in club or bar… We liked the idea that the space would be 'activated' by events and the aftermath of the events would be evident in some way too. 

The music festival was a starting point for thinking about how the show could be laid out and conceived. We made a piece of work last summer as part of the Art Trail at Big Chill Festival. We arrived before the festival opened and saw the stages and tents being installed. It felt like watching a series of Islands being created, different territories coming into existence. Much of our work straddles a number of different artistic fields: the principle of the music festival seemed to be an apposite solution for organising this.

Juneau Projects, (TOP:) The Principalities, photo: Ellie Laycock. (MIDDLE:)  Sewn To The Sky   (BELOW:) By The Paths Of The Flint Men

DB: Related to this, many of your cardboard designs evoke crests or emblems - all of which evoke some sense of clan or belonging. What kind of community are you asserting?

JP: We are interested in what role heraldry might have nowadays – how it loses its meaning and maybe gains a new meaning in a society that doesn't understand what virtues or qualities the animals or wavy lines represent. If we are making symbols for a new community, perhaps it is one built on a DIY approach to creative activity.

We have no strong desire to assert a model of community; we tend to use existing imagery to reflect overlooked or forgotten conventions.

DB: Your work spans music and art worlds. What are the differences in the cultures of each? What issues arise in working in both? What differences between the figures of artist and musician? 

JP: We have been trying to address how music can fit into our artwork and vice versa by making our own sculptural instruments which we can play at live gigs and that will also act as artworks in a gallery. On the whole an art audience is probably more receptive to this – a music audience seems to think we have toy instruments or are pretending to play to a backing track.

We are not grounded in the music world. We have trained as artists and conceive our work as art work. We are artists exploring our interest and attraction to the music world. 

Juneau Projects, Where I Lived And What I Lived For (2008).

DB: Would you rather be Matthew Barney or Bjork? What are the models and inspirations for your kind of music-art spanning practice? 

JP: We would rather be Bjork's son to Goldie if she has one.

Christian Marclay's 'Guitar Drag' was a big piece for us when we started working together. We like Leonardo Da Vinci's silver horse skull lute and Ruskin's rock xylophone. 

Most of our inspirations come from folk art or vernacular art where people have made objects for their own sake with no intention of exhibiting them.

Juneau Projects, (BOTH:) The Principalities. Photo: Ellie Laycock. 

DB: How did you come to work together? Where did you begin and how has your work evolved? 

JP: We were in a band together originally – which is where the use of music in our work comes from. We had made artwork at University which shared some common ground and we began to talk about ideas for projects which involved creating sound by putting walkmans in lakes or drilling cd players. At the beginning we didn't want to make objects so we mainly made live pieces and performances but we have come to terms with the fact that we enjoy painting and making objects which is central to our work now.

DB: How does nature figure in your work? Playing electric guitars in nature, guitars made of owls, a stage surrounded by cardboard trees. A nature-human hybrid. What's going on there? And what about the role of animals inparticular?

JP: Nature is a great source of emblems. We are attracted to the idea that society projects ideas about how we think we should live our lives onto the natural world. We seem to see ourselves as somehow outside nature or even against it in some way. At the same time images from nature are heroically over-used to the point where they become almost redundant, which is something that interests us as well.

Our main relationship with animals, beyond photographs and documentaries, is through pets, zoos and urban wildlife. The bird feeder becomes a restaurant for urban animals, a haven for the sparrow and squirrel. There's a joy to watching a pigeon eat a Quaver.  

Juneau Projects, The Principalities. 

DB: And the folklore elements. With Jeremy Deller at the Palais de Tokyo, your participation in Experimenta Folklore and so on, this is a current topic. But why is it relevant? How did your interest begin? Why is folklore engaging so many artists at the moment? 

Juneau Projects, The Principalities.

JP: We are interested in stories as a way of generating imagery, which includes things like computer hacker folklore, biographical stories and literature as much as traditional folklore. For instance a recent piece entitled 'Acorn Archimedes' takes the form of a wall based water-jet cut wooden panel depicting two squirrels with a data cassette forming a kind of emblem. 

Juneau Projects, The Principalities. Photo: Ellie Laycock.

We took cues for the imagery from a website which draws parallels between the rise of the Grey Squirrel in the UK and the subsequent demise of the indigenous Red Squirrel and the rise of Microsoft and the collapse of British based Acorn computers.

It's a bit chicken and egg maybe. Artists have always been interested in folklore and vernacular art. There is a spotlight shining upon that interest at the moment. This maybe leads to people being more interested in folk and also probably leads people to become sick of folk, which in turn will lead the spotlight to move somewhere else.

If anything perhaps folk is of relevance now in terms of its relevance to DIY culture. Skateboarding, with its self documentation and styling, is a good example of a folk DIY culture. Similarly the proliferation of affordable music recording technologies alongside the rise of promotional forums such as myspace allows for a new form of folk music to arise. This is equally applicable to digital art mediums such as video and photography.

DB: How strongly is what you create a critique of other kinds of culture? I'm wondering how you see the space you make as regards other art- or public spaces - alternative? eccentric? something else entirely...

JP: We both met working as technicians and invigilators at an art gallery and this experience made us sure about the kind of artist we didn't want to be.

We create spaces we are interested in seeing and using. We do not intentionally critique other art or public spaces, although this perhaps happens as a by-product. 

Juneau Projects, Aggressive Localism (2007). 

DB: Let's talk about the specifics of some of these objects. Your show at Stanley Picker contains a nice line in handmade mugs. Could you tell us about some of the specific designs and the process by which you come upon them?

Juneau Projects, Aggressive Localism.

JP: The mugs are made by covering existing coffee mugs with papier-mâché to form an absurd beer tankard shape. They are painted with crests and emblems which are a mixture of the cheveronels and wavy lines from heraldry which no-one understands and some natural imagery. One of the crests refers to the Westvleteren Brewery in Belgium, which produces what is often called the best beer in the world. It can't be bought from shops or other outlets, only from the monastery which houses the brewery.

We like the eccentricities of pub decor: the framed beer mat, the engraved pewter tankard, the jazzy chalkboard, the wooden spoon table number. The Principalities was in some way an indulgence for us, creating objects we might decorate a pub with.

Juneau Projects, The Principalities.  Photo: Ellie Laycock. 

DB: What kind of status do these objects have? Are you very careful about archiving/selling every cardboard cut-out, every mug, or are things more casual and disposable? Are there some things that are "works" and some things that are not? Is this important?

JP: It's a bit of a mixture – some pieces are made as stand-alone works and some as part of projects. Both methods produce some works which are made available for purchase through our gallery, fa projects. We have often made new or re-worked versions of pieces, particularly installation type works, and have re-configured and combined elements from past work. There is never a plan or catalogue of elements from an installation and if they are shown again they always change.

When works and objects are used by us as part of an installation they are there to serve the overall work primarily.

DB: I guess I'm thinking how difficult it is to keep things casual and improvised in an art world setting. One moment you're making hand-made objects from cardboard that are casual and home-made, the next you're Jorge Pardo. Or there's an "interactive environment" in a gallery space that no one is allowed to touch. 

JP: We have always tried to make the works we want to make. The art world can be bewildering. We try and muddle our way through it, figuring it out as we go along. I think it is understandable that people's concerns change and shift. We find it useful to remind ourselves sometimes that this is our job, not necessarily our way of life.

DB: There was a schools workshop going on when I saw your show at Stanley Picker gallery. The teacher emphasized the hand made and lo-fi aspects of your work. Are those good categories for thinking about what you want to produce? Are you against more industrial systems of production, or artists commissioning others to construct their objects for them?

Juneau Projects, Trappenkamp (2008). Installation in the Sculpture Court at Tate Britain as part of Art Now (7 Jun-26 Oct 2008).

JP: Not at all. A number of the objects we produce are made through industrial processes. Our work Trappenkamp is a good example of this: the structure was designed by us in Google Sketch Up and built by a team of carpenters and the the panels were drawn out by us in Adobe Illustrator and cut out by a robot-controlled water jet. 

One of the most fun parts of making art work for us though is the actual production side of things. We like making stuff. We enjoy looking at hand made objects. We have often had to employ lo-fi means to produce work, particularly earlier on in our career. We like to understand the processes we are using as it gives us a feeling of independence. Figuring out how to make or do something with the knowledge and skills you have can be a nice puzzle.

DB: The Stanley Picker installation is designed for events. But it is also open normal gallery times, sometimes for school groups, sometimes empty. What is the space when it is empty? How do you see the visitors experience of the empty space?

JP: The space when it is empty is still the space. It is as important to us when nothing is happening as when something is happening. If the space is unfulfilling to the visitor when there are no events on then we feel have failed somewhat in the creation of an interesting space. Our aim is to make an installation that does not need to be activated by performance but that is already active and can incorporate performances and events within it. 

Juneau Projects, (TOP:) Noise machine (with Ed Bennett); (BELOW:) Where I lived and what I lived for.

DB: When you create an event - what are you aiming to do?

JP: We hope to create events that are entertaining. We hope to make events that explain some of the reasons we do what we do in a way that we cannot necessarily put into words. We like it that events are live and immediate and finite. We like it that only a few people might see them. We like it that people might be frustrated by the fact that they cannot see an event that has already happened in the space. At least it shows they're interested.

DB: Making such events central to your work evokes the participatory aspects of "relational aesthetics." Are that generation of artists - such as Pierre Huyghe and Rikrit Tiravanija - an inspiration for you or do you feel you are doing something different?

JP: Both of those artists are unavoidable. We've installed exhibitions by both of them and seen a lot of their work. Neither of us has read Relational Aesthetics. I think we're worried it might destroy the magic. It's also not available as a book on tape, our main reading format.

Juneau Projects, Where I Lived and What I Lived For.

DB: What are you working on right now? What key issues or subjects are you obsessed about at the moment? 

JP: We've been thinking a lot about making little interactive video sculptures. We've also been trying to develop a new grunge aesthetic, or at least figure out what a grunge aesthetic might be. 

We have recently started a blog called Compliment Sandwich which is also a platform for our new podcast called 'Compliment Sandwich'. We like podcasting, particularly the fact that there is a specific term, platform and audience for people talking into a machine. 

We are enjoying remote control model boat makers. We like punk houses. We are interested in the possibilities of starting a 'night' as well as considering how we would live as the sole survivors in a post apocalyptic world.