The a-n artist bursary has enabled me to develop a new collaborative project with Owen G Parry, culminating in a duo show in November 2018 at the new Transition Gallery run by artist Cathy Lomax: Transition Two. This artist-led space moved from its original location in February 2018; their programme now focuses on duo shows, often between artists who have not previously worked together before.
I originally contacted Owen after discovering his amazing project Fan Riot; he was generous enough to share his thinking about his project and some texts that he thought might be useful, as I was starting to think more about fan labour within art practice. Owen and I met in person at a Theatre and Fandom symposium in Bristol in early 2017, where we realised we had several overarching research interests within our practice: investigating fan creative practice, fan archives, and methods of subverting notions of a fixed narrative ‘canon’. I have since invited Owen to respond to my exhibition at the Northern Charter, Newcastle (which focused on fan narratives of Michael Jackson in Devon at the turn of the 21st century), via creative writing in a zine publication. As discussions around this grew, we decided to work together in a more ambitious and collaborative way; we put forward a proposal to Transition Two for a duo show. This blog will document our thinking and making towards this exhibition.
Some images documenting the collaborative work of myself and Owen G Parry at ‘PooR Life by dog people’ at Transition Two, November 2018, funded by an a-n artist bursary.
It’s just over two weeks until the opening of ‘PooR life by dog people’ at Transition Two Gallery, a two-person show of new individual and collaborative work by myself and Owen G Parry, funded by an a-n creative bursary 2018. This has enabled us both to test out new ways of working, including interrogating our ideas of fannish methodologies of making.
Our conversations and works have circled around some key ideas:
- the ‘poor’ – replications via fanart; via fan forums online; the tumblrification of pop culture icons; viewing art/film/images on small screens/on pirated or poorly streamed media; and, in another way – our precarious positions as artists!
- the ‘tentacular’ (after this Donna Haraway essay https://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67125/tentacular-thinking-anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene/ ) – tentacles as ‘feelers’; as networks (particularly internet based fan networks)
- ‘meme mutations’ – how pop culture icons’ connotations can change across years, as they are replicated and manipulated by different forces (e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger – first, an icon of hyper-masculinity, then of the american dream, then the political right)
- how our fannish interests can be sold on as marketing data, a hesitancy that these (maybe fleeting, maybe ironic – or not) interests are able in any way to represent us as individuals or consumers
- desire and fannishness – the desire to collect, the desire to creatively respond to, or just the desire for that character
Other stray points that aren’t overarching but still inform this work – the millennial avocado narrative; tween collections kept in childhood rooms bedside tables/under beds; animations as first crushes; ambiguity of ‘porny’ pop culture images that oscillate between desire/repulsion; cosplay and furries.
For more on this, and more on Arnie, please visit the show! It’s open from the 2nd – 25th November at Transition Two, with an opening event on November 1st.
Time Can Be A Villain or a Friend, Hank Willis Thomas, 2009
The initial use of the bursary has funded me to travel to London, where Owen and the gallery space are based. Being based in Plymouth, finding the time and budget to travel can be difficult, and as productive as email and skype conversations can be, it isn’t comparative to having the time and space of working together in the same place. On my last visit, Owen and I visited the Michael Jackson: On The Wall exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, as this linked to our previous work together around Jackson in Devon for my show Poor Copy at the Northern Charter, Newcastle. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the exhibition, as NPG’s shows are usually a bit conservative for me. However, On The Wall demonstrates the breadth of the relationship between Jackson and contemporary art, not only exhibiting work around the iconography of MJ, but of his fan community too.
The works that neither ‘honoured’ or condemned Jackson were of most interest to me. In Time Can Be a Villain or a Friend, Hank Willis Thomas appropriates an image from a 1984 edition of Ebony magazine, which gave an artist rendering of how they imagined Jackson to look in the year 2020. As Willis Thomas states, the work says so much about the distortion of identity through popular culture.
An Audience, Rodney McMillan, 2003
Also of interest to Owen and I was Rodney McMillian’s An Audience, a video piece which showed extracts from Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Special televised concert. By only showing the crowd reactions, and editing out the figure of Jackson, a portrait of the Jackson fan community and passions are revealed. This strategy of denying the viewer a clear image of the fans’ object of desire, in this case Jackson, is something I was playing with in a recent video piece raremjvideos1, which uses crowd sourced footage ripped from YouTube to offer one narrative way into Jackson’s 2002 visit and speech at Exeter City Football Club.
This work will be exhibited along with new work investigating Jackson fan archives at Jerwood Visual Art’s Staging Series programme in September. For more information and to book, visit: http://www.jerwoodvisualarts.org/exhibitions/jerwood-staging-series-2018/