in Interviews | 05 NOV 93
Featured in
Issue 13

Last of England

An interview with Gavin Turk

in Interviews | 05 NOV 93

You've recently been levitated by a magician and now you're going to provide an evening's entertainment in a Bermondsey pub. Do you think that it is part of an artist's job to entertain people?

Someone once asked me whether I would prefer five minutes on MTV every night for two weeks or a month-long exhibition in a national museum. I had to choose the museum, although MTV would give me a massively larger audience, because the museum environment is the environment for which I work. I think art actually has a very difficult job at the moment because it has become aligned with the entertainment industry and, as entertainment, art isn't particularly entertaining. The number of times I've been incredibly moved by art is very small, but when it's good, it's very, very good. The problem really is trying to make a successful piece of art. I suppose it involves making a work that means you don't have to make any more. Perhaps it also means that no one has to make anything any more - it's that cut and dried.

So you'll go down in history as The Man who Ended Art.

When art is put down in history it becomes allied to the culture that created it. If my work is kept for any reason, it will be seen through the filter of being English art. It's a way of trying to define a perimeter fence and people are still imported and exported on the basis of their cultural background. You read this at a very early stage of looking at artwork: this comes from England that comes from....wherever.

Your image in the newspaper collage is pretty ambiguous: you seem to be representing Britain, but it is hard to tell whether it's as a protector or an aggressor.

I could be wearing the beret as a soldier or as an artist. The picture is an altered version of a front page of The Sun from the time of the Gulf War. There is the idea that I am representing my country but there's a slight ambivalence...maybe I'm being represented by The Sun as a British artist.

Do you play up to that?

Kind of...flogging British culture perhaps. Flogging it as in whipping it and flogging it as in selling it. I think that I have quite a British attitude to making work and out a lot of American art at arm's length. American art is very seductive and powerful in terms of the amount of documentation that exists around it, but I find myself trying to work around it. It's cultural warfare in a way: you give us this and we give you that. It's a losing game in this country now because most people seem to feel fairly bewildered by things, unwilling to move or change. There is still a lot of cultural embarrassment about having had an Empire, but at the same time being sorry that it's gone. There's definitely a sense of nostalgia in my work but nostalgia as a theme, as a condition.

Some of the nostalgia doesn't seem to be real nostalgia. The waxwork, for example, is dealing with something that is before your time and the three people represented in the figure are blended into one.

Exactly - it's more of a cultural nostalgia than a personal one. When I originally thought of making it, it was a way to induce a kind of surreality. The waxwork is a self-portrait - it's the only one I've done - and the other personalities there are supposed to represent different aspects of my identity.

I think that it is interesting that you picked two particularly strong figures that were both destroyed by America in one way or another.

Well there are strange relationships between what Sid Vicious is wearing in the Way video to what Elvis is wearing in the Warhol painting: they both have a thong, they are both wearing boots and th