Tim Noble & Sue Webster: ‘You do art because you have to’

The Post-YBA duo on gentrification, punk and why they’re upcycling old works for their sculptures

Tim Noble and Sue Webster have seen the light. That much is evident from their latest works; lofty, stick figure-like sculptures that feel loose, liberated and – dare we say it – fun. In fact, it’s as though the post-YBA duo has freed themselves from the shackles of the foreboding shadow forms that made their name, and adopted a playful, more fluid mindset. While they are no longer romantically involved, their creative practice remains symbiotic.

SLEEK joins them for a tête-à-tête ahead of their new exhibition at Blain Southern London.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Sticks

Have your reasons for making art changed over the years?

Sue Webster: You don’t choose to make art. It chooses you. You do it because you have to. When Tim and I started out, there was no “I want to become an artist”, because it wasn’t a career choice then. The only icons we had were in the music business. It was unimaginable that you would consider this to be a lifestyle.

You weren’t directly part of the original YBA movement, but you’re so often associated with it. Why?

Tim Noble: Because it was a necessity. We needed to be part of it, get verbalised, be a contender. There was no other way. We had to find a place to do a show, invite people round, receive loads of criticism and get beaten up. It was an explosive time.

SW: It was one massive party, with lots of fights. Now everyone’s made loads of money. The good ones are still around. Time is a good test, isn’t it?

Your latest work is a significant departure from your trademark light and dark sculptures…

SW: I was messing around with this tiny maquette that Tim had made from electrical wire while we were doing a residency in St. Bart’s 10 years ago. It was a self-portrait of us. Suddenly, I wondered what it would look like blown-up three metres high.

TN: Something started to resonate. Those pieces had been thrown away and squashed. Hundreds of people had probably walked past them in that studio.

SW: I told Tim that I really believed in the idea and thought the world would be a better place with these sculptures in it. I think the art world needs them right now.

Sue Webster, Sticks

There’s a fluidity and volatility to the works that, given their three-metre tall stature, is quite an achievement…

SW: The original maquettes are hand- made, so we were effectively drawing with the wire. It’s got all of that spontaneity. Even though we scaled them up in bronze, they’ve still got that freshness.

TN: That’s the essence of it. To have that raw, handmade, human feel. Fabrication and production can re- ally kill things. These stick figures are naked; they’re having a laugh.

What did you find most challenging or surprising about the works?

SW: They started off in neon, but during production we had problems. So we tried them in bronze instead, and suddenly it started to work. It started off quite pop and ended up feeling traditional. We used the lost wax process – an ancient method of casting – you make the sculpture in wax, it gets wrapped in a shell and then the wax gets replaced by molten metal.

TN: We got a structural engineer to help us figure out how to make them massive, without endangering anyone. We pushed it as far as we could. At first I thought they were really odd, then they took on their own identities.

Did this time of political upheaval act as a creative catalyst?

TN: Not directly, but I feel as though artists have always thrived in adversity, so I think it’s an interesting time in that respect. It might really sharpen and shake up the art world.

SW: That’s why the UK has always produced such fantastic creative people, because we’ve always had the royal family – something to kick against.

A new punk movement, perhaps?

TN: Obviously punk only exists during a certain time. But, maybe that’s now. Maybe you and I are part of it. Maybe it’s getting pent up and ready to explode!

Tim Noble, Sticks

STICKS WITH DICKS AND SLITS” is on display at Blain|Southern London from 3 February until 25 March 2017

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