Editor’s note: This is the 17th and final in a series of interviews with artists , conducted without direction, outside any one person’s control. The artists were asked seven questions about their art and their ideas about art. The questions were blunt, but open-ended enough to be answered in any way the artist chose. The final question was a request for the artist to select the next artist to be interviewed. Here it ends as an unexpected return to the interview’s first question: “What is art?” is the answer, the question to which our artist sought an answer, the reason he is an artist at all.
It’s a pleasure to introduce Karen Eliot and Chus Martinez. They’re not two artists, but aliases for several, and that several were recruited into collaborative efforts of authorial obfuscation by Stewart Home, whom I interview here at the recommendation of artist Mario Mentrup. Home is one of today’s most inventive “institutional critique” artists, always finding new ways to game the game that makes art what we assume it to be.
The Artists Pick Artists series was designed to take readers — along with me and Hyperallergic — on an undirected journey through the art world by artists, on their own terms, collectively and individually, without an end in sight. Home, as an artist and anti-artist, expands the art world directly by opposing its economy of meaning; it must adjust its own self-composition to accommodate what Home creates.
Rob Colvin: Why did you become an artist?
Stewart Home: As a way of experimentally testing whether my understanding of the institution of art was correct. I thought people became artists through a series of bureaucratic manoeuvres, so I wanted to test this thesis by transforming myself into an artist in this way. So in 1982 I began advertising myself as an artist in flyers and classified advertisments. I also produced manifestoes and gradually worked out how to involve myself in the London art scene and the global mail art network of that time. I became an artist in order to discover just what an artist was, and as a critique and “deconstruction” of this identity. I felt that art was whatever those in positions of cultural power said was art, and that in order to become an artist one had to attain cultural power by getting those who already possessed it to endorse what you did. Since I have successfully operated as an artist for at least thirty years now, we can conclude that my reasonings about such matters were (at least substantially) correct.
RC: How would you describe your development and what you’re doing now?
SH: Art about art can become tedious after a while, so I’m always keen to include other content alongside so-called “institutional critique” (since my practice is considerably more left-field than that of most artists who are described as working with this trope, it doesn’t fit me too well). So there was a lot of work involving collective identities, including getting as many people as possible to produce work using names such as Karen Eliot, and more recently Chus Martinez. I followed a logical trajectory suggested by an anti-tradition encompassing Dadaism and Fluxus, but eventually I expelled myself from it and these days I’m more interested in attaining altered states of consciousness by standing on my head for long periods of time as a type of live art.
RC: Have you been influenced by anyone or anything in particular?
SH: I’m influenced by everything I encounter in both positive and negative ways. Ann Quin for her craziness. Gustav Metzger for embracing destruction. Ben Morea for ways of escaping the institution of art (and his involvement with peyote rituals). Andrea Fraser for representing everything I should avoid in order not to turn into a careerist. Anna Biller for her revival of Technicolor. Ben Patterson for his”‘extremism.” And not forgetting the layout of supermarkets in London, New York and Valencia! Or the 21st century! Or the rhythms of rebellion— I’m listening to “Cry Tough” by Alton Ellis right now! As well as books about exercise and my developing practice of hand balances and inversions.
RC: What challenges are unique to your process?
SH: I try to be as unoriginal as possible. To reproduce not only what is already produced but what is completely overproduced and unwanted. Sometimes I have to postdate my lack of originality; this can be achieved through my work being plundered and/or plagiarized by others — thereby making it less original in retrospect. Back in 2002 my anti-novel 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess was published by Canongate in both the UK and the US. There was nothing too original about the title since I’d arrived at it by adapting the name of a cartoon book called ‘101 Uses for a Dead Cat’ by Simon Bond. I was pleased when earlier today as I was scouring the internet for news of what was happening on the Filipino art scene, I discovered Jeona Zoleta from Makati City in Metro Manila has a piece entitled “69 Things To Do To A Princess” in the feminist show “Girls, Girls, Girls” currently running at the Project 20 Artist Space and Gallery in Quezon. Zoleta using that title for her piece — which is a hand painted bra with a Polaroid image of a female vulva clipped to it — makes my book title sound even less original than it did when I coined it! However, I wouldn’t say Zoleta was only riffing on me, since she’s fascinated by the internet and it seems she’s invoking Gustave Courbet’s painting “The Origin of the World” (1866), which was the subject of controversy not so long ago when Facebook banned its use on their platform. According to Esquire Mag (Philippines): “Jeona’s art is just her, all of her, vomited out and splashed on the canvas, exposed for the world to see.” Which makes Zoleta sound rather like Tracey Emin. A few years after I started showing my “Art Strike Bed” (1990-2012), Emin made “My Bed” (1998). I knew Emin in the 1980s and in fact the second time I showed my “Art Strike Bed” in the show “Yerself Is Steam”, curated in London by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard in 1996, she had a work hanging opposite it. Emin’s “My Bed” looks very much like the various versions of my “Art Strike Bed” and therefore this recuperation makes my already unoriginal piece appear even more hackneyed. That said, I’m not sure if the challenge of producing work that others will plagiarise to make me look less original is unique to my practice — but it might be!
RC: If you could own any work of art, what would it be?
SH: One of Ben Morea’s paintings. But if I can’t have one of the three thousand classic modernist abstracts by Morea still in his possession, then maybe something from Jeona Zoleta’s show “Forced Farts Cartoon Pain and Daddy Issues or Accident by Voodoo While I Masturbate in the Ghetto Under Water ‘Til Hell Freezes Over is a Freak Show” that constitutes her contribution to Art Fair Philippines, 2017.
RC: So what is art anyway?
SH: Art is whatever those in a position of power within the institution of art say is art. See my answer to your first question!