Category Archives: Art

Do y’ know Juneau?

Whilst Blowback was launching, Dan Jones from Channel 4 Ideasfactory came to see us. We struck a co-promotional deal: when it was deemed suitable, we would run a Blowback article and an alternative Ideasfactory version. The criteria for Ideasfactory was different to Blowback, the features needed to be made more midlands focussed, more about ‘access’ and traditional in style.

Whereas Blowback took stylistic flights of fancy, Ideasfactory was more a pragmatic, practical sister. Actually some of the IF articles are longer lasting than the BB equivalents. I may put their Blowback equivalents on-line for contrast.

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Dan Davies meets Ben and Phil AKA ‘Juneau Projects’, who first formed through doing casual work at the Ikon Galley, Birmingham. United through their love of music and art they joined art rockers ‘The Only Men’. At one performance for the ‘Grizedale Projects’ in the Lake District they learned about a series of residences and applied as Juneau Projects.

“The reason why we used that name was because we wanted something that wasn’t just our names. I loose track of the duos that are just artists names, they sort of all merge into one,” points out Phil.

The Projects

Though they didn’t get the residency, they were accepted for several projects. The first performance was part of a show called “The Great Escape,” based around a camping theme, with various Army Camp wardens, drills and axe throwing. Urban dance classics were strummed out on acoustic guitar around the campfire, sung by Ben and Phil and the local scouts group. Among the cover versions were Groovjet’s ‘Spiller’, Alice DJ’s ‘Better Off Alone’, The Fugees’ ‘Killing Me Softly’ and Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’.

“It makes you feel quite old because we choose tracks we thought everyone knew. But particularly with Massive Attack and The Fugees they’d never really heard it. With the Alice DJ track as well, obviously you were just repeating it so actually it was kind of mournful.”

Tragi-Comedy

Often what was intended to be funny in JP’s work comes across quite tragic.

“I suppose we like the pathos of that situation and also the amateurish edge,” admits Phil “Especially with the more technical work. A lot of the things we do are based on our ambivalence to technology. A lot of our early work was to do with breaking an element of technology. Like putting a walkman in a lake and recording its own demise.”

After a couple of minutes rowing out into the lake, the walkman is dropped into the water and then brought back to shore. The walkman refuses to die, popping and screaming scrambled Strauss strings all the way to the close of the film.

A Jubilee Piece they did featured a copy of The Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ being set alight whilst playing ‘God Save The Queen’. The needle jumps off the buckling record and swings back scraping against the side like a warped heart beat. The sound keeps playing for an eerily long time with the arm still burning. It’s the struggle of the needle, to return and keep playing which is almost sad.

This can prove more difficult with digital technology that just blacks out if you take out a main line. The piece they did using CD players (firstly drilling through the CDs then through the players themselves) had to be rehearsed. Not because of the danger element Phil explains, “It’s only 3 Volts! We had to make sure we drilled it in the right place so that we missed all the vital organs!”

Appliances Not Accessories

Although the electrical appliances are always as cheap as possible their destruction makes you think about how you view your own possessions. What they represent isn’t as precious as we think. So would Juneau Projects destroy anything that was dear to them?

“In a piece we did recently, two mobile phones are set up facing each other on two stands and played through a lap top and various effects. Because of their closeness they feedback and we kind of made them talk to each other.” Phil’s eyes light up, “Then we took a blowtorch to one of them! One of the phones we used was my girlfriends and even though it hadn’t worked properly for a while, we were sad to see it go.”

Playing Out

Another recent project involved touring a road show round the country with a few tracks they’d made themselves. Fanzines and personal CD players were laid out and kids were given the opportunity to write their own lyrics, then record them in the caravan. Each song was videoed and each kid got a CD.

“There is a weird kind of Karmic balance to the stuff we do. On the one hand we’re taking things out of the world, like Fax Machines and TVs and on the other we’re putting things back like kids on CDs!”

It didn’t stop there though, as the resulting vocals were lifted, remixed and played out live by the boys themselves at The Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham. In this age of high technology Juneau Project lower the tone but they also find something beautiful in that. Kids that innocently and effortlessly create something new, or electrical items that come to life as they’re about to break. There is something to be said about Lo-Fi.

“People are very sophisticated with how music and films are made. It’s the immediacy of the moment which gives it a genuine appeal. We’re not against that per se but it’s certainly an antidote to for example of the anodyne nature of the pop business or
Hollywood.”

Which is why the Juneau Projects’ projects are so special.


Chris Keenan

The following will appear in the forthcoming 4Talent site:

What is Prime Objective? 

It wouldn’t be fair to call Chris Keenan AKA Prime Objective just a VJ. In fact, considering his pseudonym, the man has many objectives. His projects range from photos with Holgas, SLRs and Lomo, to films using digital, stop-motion and Super 8. He’s also a notorious mandolin player.

Check out any of his work or projects he’s involved with and you’ll see that there’s plenty of overlay. Perhaps, most telling is the work he has done with Southern Comfort. Originally invited to New Orleans to take photographs for Blowback magazine, Chris was commissioned by Southern Comfort to extrapolate his film making skills; which in turn led to VJ sets at Southern Comfort’s Fat Tuesday’s tent across some of the best UK festivals.

We’re sitting by the Fat Tuesday Tent at the Big Chill festival, Chris is snapping merrily away – whilst inside his visuals are scrolling out on the screens. It occurs to me that there is a connection to these shots and Chris’ short films. Chris’s Super 8 style, from his first film ventures to Fidget is always about catching snatches, quick glimpses and moments of stillness. Always loosely edited to music.

“The music gives the films a flow and something to edit to. I guess my other work VJing and making music feeds into that. I’m putting an extra layer of myself in there.”

Chris actually began VJing before he had a Super 8. Using his home-made skate videos and youth archive footage, he manipulated the footage through V-Jam software. Chris even managed to convince a local bar: Browns in Coventry to buy some equipment so he could play there

“One of the best times was at Christmas 2003. Me and a friend Mick did a six hour set taking it in turns to DJ and VJ. We spent weeks getting it together, it lots of fun but there was no real money in it.”

I ask him whether the preparation factor is intrinsic to his VJ gigs

“Well you build up an archive. Some VJ’s I see use simple, but effective material; graphical stuff and simple animation. Then for the live version they add effects – through certain bits of software. Video turns out to be a lot more time consuming – especially when it’s original.”

We slurp at our Soco Cocktails; whilst plastic alligators (put there to fit in with the New Orleans theme of the tent), goggle at us open mouthed.

“Sometimes visuals are done really well at big gigs. When it’s more of an event they take on more of a shape,” says Chris “It often works really well at festivals. The Big Chill has had some great work on the main stage this year. Incredible.”

Chris’ favourite gig was for Exposure Film Festival’s closing night at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. He was invited by Rant Magazine to VJ with DJ outfit Iacon.

“There was a long table with 5 decks: MPCs and Kaos pads. Then me stood at the end with a lap top – vision mixer and DVD players. It was amazing.”

Recently, Chris Keenan found himself another objective: to direct an MTV style video for My Alamo.

“I’d helped out on ones before and worked on treatments but this was my first proper music video. I directed a camera man, assistant director and a producer. I worked with a prod company Antidote. I edited it all as well – over several days! We’ve had a really positive response from it which is pushing me to do more.”

It’s Chris’ hope that in future he can develop an array of projects from photographic reportage exploits in the state’s to further Super 8 fun and mandolin madness

“A style and passion for your work is what makes people take notice of you. The small projects you set yourself can often be time consuming and costly but occasionally they snowball and can generate new work and even revenue. This is something I haven’t forgotten and I’ve got a load of other projects planned , you know, seeds to sow… which will hopefully bear fruit as they grow and develop. ” 


Jo Waterhouse

Grinding The Bar

 

From Concrete to Canvas to Spine to Wobbly Eyes with Jo Waterhouse  

When you meet Jo, or even read her book, you realise that she’s devoted her whole life to art, skateboarding and those who do both. A few years ago when she developed Crohn’s disease, she had to give up her day job and unfortunately her boarding. However, she was determined to do something which kept her mentally active and she set about establishing a website which combined the two passions.  

“I basically did all the content for it – tracked down artists, did interviews, did reviews and ‘what not’ on those two subjects: skateboarding and art. It was from there that I was looking at other books and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be really good if there was one book about artists who were skateboarders?’ I had a contact with Laurence King whose books I was reviewing anyway. They said ‘Do some sample spreads, summary of content etc.’ Also, I had work on the website which backed-up that I knew what I was talking about.” 

Laurence King gave the green light and Concrete To Canvas came out to muted reviews from the skate industry – but had a sensational reaction from the general public. 

“The majority who have picked up the book have liked what they’ve seen. It was in Amazon’s 1000 best sellers list at Christmas, which was amazing!” 

It’s gone so well in fact that Laurence King are falling over themselves to get Jo to write other books. She’s stuck to what she knows, and next Autumn Concrete To Canvas 2, hits the streets.  

“They asked me if I wanted a bigger format or more expensive paper but I want to keep it the same. The book was aimed at a really wide audience which included students and artists. Some design books can be about £25-£30, it was just £12.95.”  

After the writing deadline for the book is out of the way this December, she and her boyfriend (Chris Bourke from The Outcrowd) will launch Ours – housed in Chris’s skate shop, Spine in
Worcester.
 

“It’s a nice way of getting your own doodles and designs out there. We’ll do T-shirts, badges, stickers, little bags – whatever we think of really. The tagline: ‘It’s not much but it’s ours’ is about us carving out something for ourselves. We also want to do the catalogue as a zine and include artists. Coupled with that, we’re doing a wall of Chris’s shop; which is going to be the world’s smallest independent gallery!”  

If you look around Spine, you’ll also notice that everything from the PIN machine to the holes in the walls, has wobbly eyes above them. I ask Jo about them and her own eyes light up…  

“I’ve just got into the habit of sticking eyes above holes for my own amusement. Loads of people were telling me it was funny and then some artist friends suggested I do something with it. I’ve sent an e-mail to artists across the world and I’m getting them to send in photographs. I was thinking of doing an exhibition and calling it ‘objects are people too!’ I mentioned it to Laurence King and they just went ‘What?’ I’m just going to collect the photos and see what happens.” 

Jo Waterhouse is a true artist of modern times; promoting and pushing other artists but also living life as an artist herself. As I leave, she hands me some wobbly eyes. I take them with me and as I’m writing this I put them on my jukebox in my lounge. I hope she uses it in her exhibition… 

Useful sites:  

www.concretetocanvas.co.ukwww.thisisours.co.ukwww.myspace.com/concretetocanvaswww.myspace.com/objectsarepeopletoowww.spineskateboarding.co.uk 

 


Alicia Dubnyckj

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Paint The City 

Travelling with Alicia Dubnyckyj 

At a time when conceptual artists can employ a whole team to realise their vision, there is something special in knowing that a painting has come from one hand; the brush strokes on canvas are as unique as a finger print. Paintings still invite a human dimension to art, one fixed person perspective and direct emotional contact. It’s traditional, purist – with no trickery…   

Alicia Dubnyckyj’s subject matter is the modern metropolis, principally its buildings, often seen from new and exciting angles. Her process is also distinctly modern – with a flash of virtual magic. Photos are taken of the subject, scanned in to the computer, manipulated, then painted out. Conversely for Dubnyckyj this was an organic evolution, 

“I’ve always taken photos from when I was younger so this was just a natural process,” she takes a sip of her drink, her arms are flecked with paint, “For me it wouldn’t be enough to take the photos and just show them. I don’t show anyone the photos, not even the clients. They’re just the source material. Painting is what I do, it gets emotion in there. My mood when I was there affects the colours on the palate.”  

A striking thing happens when you take a closer look at Alicia’s paintings… you can’t! The way the image has been rendered by the computer means that up close, it’s just painted abstraction. Also, as Alicia points out, you end up seeing your own reflection in the gloss paint. 

“I just wanted give the painting its own personal space. Also, because my work involves cities, I think it was important to make them modern and urban, gloss seemed to suit that.” 

Part of the appeal for the public is that her pictures vividly transport the viewer to the  location. Often there is an personal emotional link, with the buyer frequently returning to a memory. In my opinion, this is why many of them don’t feature people at all. You can be alone in contemplation in a space. Over the years, Alicia’s attitude to this has changed,  

“I used to wait around until all the people had gone before I took my photos. Then I realised that wasn’t what the paintings were about – cities have people in. Gradually people got put back into the paintings…there’s one painting I did in Central Park. It’s a snowy scene and there’s this couple walking along. Quite a few people have thought it was them.”  

Alicia has now visited and covered eight cities in depth. November is her first retrospective show for Sarah Myerscough’s Fine Art gallery in London and will feature three pictures from each city. As her international horizons continue to broaden, so does international interest in her art. Her second group show will take place in Paris in October followed by a solo show next year. It will also be the first time she’s been represented by a gallery from outside of the UK. In addition to this, she will also be showing at art fairs in Strasbourg and Toronto. So where next on the painted map for Alicia? 

“There’s too many places! I really love Japan, I’d like to go back and explore more. I have got a list at home, it’s really sad!” 

As Alicia gets ready to fly back to the studio for some more furious painting to supply demand, I ask her whether she keeps a decent balance between work and vacation, 

“It’s always, always, research even if I want to go on holiday, it never ends up being that way. My partner Paul is always waiting for me and I’m like, ‘I just want to take this photo’ or ‘Can we come back at night?’ I always end up seeing the city through a lens.”  

 

 


Ron English (July 04)

I saw Ron English’s art before I saw his billboard work, but in the end it was this double identity that interested me.
A documentary about him was looking to do a UK festival tour and I contacted him through the site. A full two years before the Guardian Guide picked up on him

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English Translations

 

The double lives of Ron English

 

It’s 10.30 in the morning, New York time. Ron English got up, had his breakfast with the family, said goodbye to his wife, dropped the kids off at school then came to his studio.

 

Most days he paints, creating modern day mash up pictures, Marilyn Monroe with Mickey Mouse breasts or fat McDonalds clowns – perverting modern icons so they carry a new message. Today we’ve got half an hour to chat before his crew come by and they do billboards. By doing billboards I mean, reacting to the subliminal buy messages and subverting them and exposing a new ‘truth.’ He’s not the only person doing this,
America has a whole billboard liberation network, Ron explains,

 

‘Actually the Billboard Liberation Front are in San Francisco. It’s kind of like I’m New York they’re San Francisco and the Californian Department of corrections is LA. We work together, I was in San Francisco the month before last to do a billboard with those guys. We think them up together over some beers and then do one over.’

 

Since moving from Texas, English changes his own crew on a weekly basis,

 

‘I have a waiting list of people who want to go out with me. So I try and use different people every time now. A lot of people just want to do it one time you know? It’s a lot better to have a hardcore crew because some of the stuff is really dangerous….There’s two I’m doing today and half the scaffolding has already fallen through. Usually in
New York city, the scaffolding is all metal. Broadly speaking, if you have a fifteen foot ladder you can get to any billboard in America – except the ones that are on top of buildings. Even 10 years ago people didn’t lock the buildings, you could go up the stairwell and climb up almost anywhere in New York. Now you have to make some kind of contact that will buzz you in.’

 

I fantasize momentarily about Fight Club style military operations, involving a three changes of clothes and various swipe card jamming operations. English brings me back down to earth.

 

‘I just wear T-shirts and jeans that’s what real billboard guys wear. They’re blue collar workers, you know?’

 

I imagine it must be a bit less dangerous to do it in New York as people are (generally) more liberal.

 

‘I found that the great thing about New York is that the media is here and if you’re doing the billboard to get a message out to people, they’ll amplify your message…I left Texas because I had a second degree felony out of there. I’d go to prison for a long time if I ever did anything else. That’s the attitude, when you doing someone’s billboard – that’s private property. They’re very into private property down there.’

 

I balk at this with a adolescent rant about how billboards invade my intellectual privacy and that New York must have billboard liberation because the shit you’re fed at any corner.

 

‘Yeah,’ agrees Ron ‘Also the billboards are always in impoverished neighbourhoods. You’ll never go to Belle Air and see a billboard, they’re protected from them. Since poor people don’t own their own buildings, someone will come and stick a big liquor add for their kids to look at every day.’

 

Ron has been quoted as ‘tickling corporate culture’s funny bone’ but it seems to me that there is a lot of anger present.

 

‘I would say it’s driven by a sense of civic duty, and the humour is necessary because you can actually transmit ideas through humour. It buffers the idea giving people a lot of time to absorb the idea instead of resisting it. People don’t like dogma and people don’t like being told what to do. Humour allows you to think about the other side for a second without feeling threatened and adopt the defensive posture.’

 

I wonder what Groening thinks about Homer Simpson being transformed into an intense abstract painter.

 

‘I’m actually friends with Matt Groening you know him? Some people are like “what does he think about people stealing his stuff,” he thinks it’s great, but he’s still an artist. The thing is an artist creates something, then it’s taken away from them by the corporations and the guy who’s not an artist isn’t going to understand where this stuff has come from. They’re not going to understand the creative process they’re just going to exploit it. Artists understand it’s like the old blues guys, everybody learns from everybody and everybody takes a little from everything. It’s an ongoing community.’

 

I burst into another rant about how, if The Simpsons was a plain sitcom it wouldn’t get broadcast but the cartoon element buffers the message.

 

‘Also if you realise The Simpsons is the most progressive show we have and it’s on Fox the most right wing station. Those guys don’t have news, just pure propaganda then they have The Simpsons because it makes so much money.’

 

How would you feel if corporations offered you money to do something?

 

‘I have no problem with that!’ laughs English ‘Obviously I don’t get many offers because people are really nervous of me. I had an incident with Camel around the time I was doing the Cancer Kids stuff. One day I get a call from their ad company in Chicago, they were saying they were launching a new campaign. I didn’t ask them why they were calling me, I just thought they wanted me to quit fucking with them, and they were paying me off. But they wanted me to work for them. I think it was because I was also known as a painter in
New York and they were looking for these down town celebrity painters. I don’t think they understood about this other side of me which was the billboard liberator.’

 

‘I didn’t know what to do then my wife just said “good let them pay for your bill boards!” What I did was, their new angle was to go for the trip hop crowd. There is this trick I used to do in my younger photography days, where if you take a skull and elongated it so you can’t tell what it is any more, if you stand sideways to it you can see the skull. I did all these streaky skulls, when you looked at it straight, it was a camel on top of a psychedelic pattern but if you went under the billboard and looked up you could see a skull bone looking at you. They were putting these billboards up all over the country until someone finally looked up and went “oh fuck!”’

 

English laughs and I laugh too. The crew swing by and English, dons his T-shirts and jeans and steps through the door – Mr Benn style – into another life.