Gavin Turk Interview
The following interview clippings didn't make it into our Gavin Turk book, so we have made them available here...
DAVID BARRETT: Is your piece 'Slide Glasses' also about the framework that surrounds art?
GAVIN TURK: When someone was chasing me for slides of my work for a publication, I got the idea of seeing the whole world through the slide - as if the slide itself was fixed to your face. The joke of course being that if the slide was that close to your face, you wouldn't actually be able to see it because it would be out of focus. It was a kind of 'You want slides? I'll give you slides!' moment. It's like giving children too many sweets: they want sweets, so you give them too many in the hope that they'll get sick and won't want any more. But in my own personal experience that never quite works!
DAVID BARRETT: Your works are very precise and pared down, and yet you also have the 'Gavin Turk Museum'. How do the two relate?
GAVIN TURK: The museum is an archive of items that relate to the artworks, whether used in the construction of the works or objects that have inspired the works. I suppose I'm conscious of the fact that artworks are often seen in spaces that are quite abstracted from the artworks' origins, and that can make the works quite inaccessible. So the museum is an attempt to show my workings. As someone who believes in the communicative element of art, it's important to show where things have come from and why you might have made something.
This has its own problems as well though. Putting all the ephemera in a museum cabinet - which is how I display the 'Gavin Turk Museum' in galleries - can simply make all the items around the artworks iconic too. Then you've created another situation where, yet again, you can't see the wood for the trees. So it's not an ideal solution, but I think the piece makes sense as part of my practice.
So the environment surrounding the work when it was made is important to you?
Yeah - its original context carries a lot of the meaning of the work. For example, when I talk about my work I usually try hard to remember the environment within which the work was made. I don't ascribe a particular meaning to each work, and I try not to be too prescriptive, not to be too narrow-minded about how the work operates. You have to accept that the work will go into a wider and more institutionalized area where you can't govern how the work is being seen. But certainly the works are born from a particular set of circumstances.
DAVID BARRETT: Speaking of identities... in researching your biography I really had to dig around to find out about your pre-Royal College life. Do you deliberately omit this from the historical record?
GAVIN TURK: Not really, I just feel that prior to graduating from the Royal College of Art I hadn't really been an artist. In terms of art history I had no identity. It's something of a coincidence that 'Cave', the first piece I made that I really thought was successful as an artwork - that I considered to be a real work of art - was actually about constructing an identity. Quite a useful coincidence, actually.
It's as if you popped out of an egg, fully formed, at the end of your studies.
It's simply that I don't find it useful to talk about times prior to that.
DAVID BARRETT: On a specific point, I've always wondered why you gave 'pipe' a title with a lower case 'p'.
GAVIN TURK: Hmm... I think because it was a sort of lower-case pipe! It was a pedantic thing to do, but I was trying to name the work without giving it a 'Name', like a person's name. I wanted its title to be more like a noun in a sentence, as if it was by the bye - just chopped out of some invisible sentence.
DAVID BARRETT: What about the politics in your work? The revolutions, the recycling, the homeless figures, the community events?
GAVIN TURK: There's politics around it, but in terms of being politically accountable, it's difficult to know where to place it. And that's probably how I feel personally. I feel quite politically motivated and politically involved, but I'm not very Party Political. Trying to be involved in cultural change, or to communicate through an art platform, certainly has a political element to it - whether you choose to take that on board as an artist or not.
There has always been a political undercurrent within how art is seen, used and manipulated in order to visualize or fix society. I've always felt that somehow I wanted to put an awareness of that into the work.
But I use revolutions in my work because they are about how a culture is defined. The revolution is a counter-cultural moment at which an existing culture is defined and overthrown. Defined by the Other, by what it's not doing, or by how people would rather things were done. Revolutionary characters serve to define the Other.
I'm a firm believer in the underdog. Maybe that's a cultural guilt.
Is that a British thing?
Maybe it is. I've tried to make work that will allow me to take part in culture as something that has a political element.
So is that your motivation for making art?
DAVID BARRETT: So the signature stamps are like branded logos?
GAVIN TURK: Yeah. A lot of companies use signatures as their brand logos.
I've always thought that branding was a bit of a red herring in your work, because you've never taken the branding idea to any real extreme.
The whole area is very turgid, very well-written about - it's a multi-billion pound industry, after all. It can really bog you down.
Let's avoid it then!