Marc Quinn is plagued by the news. Not only is he experiencing the same pangs of guilt and worry as the rest of us on seeing events unfold in Syria and elsewhere, but it’s also the fodder for much of his current work. The YBA is perhaps best known for creating a sculpture of his own head out of his blood, but these days focuses his attention on blood shed for less artistic purposes. His series “History Paintings” on show at Box Freiraum for Gallery Weekend, comprises a group of tapestries, some displayed on the ground like carpets, woven with news images depicting recent cataclysmic political events across the Middle East and Europe. The works are on show alongside a sculpture of the familiar news image of a hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner standing on a box and his “News Cloud” paintings, that team the images of indifferent passing nebulae with the news headlines from the time they were captured. We spoke to Quinn as he installed the show about how all revolutions look the same and making art from the theatre of the news.
Tell us about the tapestries you’ve got on show here.
All of these tapestries are news images depicting grassroots uprisings – a different take on the usual “history is written by the victors” narrative. They’re jacquard weave tapestries, just made from threads, not sewn onto anything. They were made in Belgium, where tapestries have been made traditionally for centuries. Tapestries were really the first pixelated images, from the 18th century. They are made on a loom with punch cards with holes in, so, it is like a digital image where each pixel is a knot – like a sculpture of a picture. I like the idea that you can roll it up and pick it up – it’s a kind of on the hoof, revolutionary artwork in that way.
It seems like they are really calling attention to our image-laden culture.
Exactly – there’s some new image that’s shocking and terrible, until the next one comes along. So it’s kind of about that as well, how we’re bombarded with the “ultimate image”.
It’s about forgetting: as time goes on, people move on. So, as people walk over the tapestries, it’s erasing the image. Eventually the tapestries will end up white. It makes you think about the world we’re in now and how we react to images. By making these images into objects, somehow we can see them in different ways. I’ve never been to Ukraine – my idea of it is created by the images from the news.
So we end up with a fictionalized version of these events?
For example, the riots in London were a few miles from my house and I didn’t even know they were happening. You can look at the images and see “London is burning” but they’re so localised and yet, somehow, they have repercussions.
With the London riots, it wasn’t really about the killing of Mark Duggan – it was a general hatred, it wasn’t really about him. But then with the Ukrainian situation, it’s much more focused. But we still see the same images. The representation is the same.
The tapestries are very direct in their message. How do they relate to the cloud paintings?
It’s a kind of ironic take on history painting. They’re about contemporary history in a way. It poses the idea they’re commemorating and chronicling these great moments.
In this space, they’re particularly effective because they look like windows. This gallery could seem almost grizzly, it could be some strange torture chamber, even though it used to be a horses’ stable.
Why did you decide to make the Abu Ghraib image into a sculpture?
It’s such a strong image, but it was never seen as anything other than a grainy photograph. It had such a huge impact, so my intent is to make a physical manifestation of the image, to make it into a “real thing” again.
How does the insatiability of the news cycles affect our perception of these images?
The news industry needs things to happen – in one of the images, there’s a policeman about to hit a protester, yet in the background, all the faces you see are journalists, who are there to report.
Marc Quinn: History Painting is at the BOX.Freiraum, Berlin, until 17 June 2015 www.marcquinn.com
Interview by Josie Thaddeus-Johns
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