For our first Transmission lecture of the new semester, visual artist and writer; John Russell was the guest speaker.
Usually, the first lecture of the new academic year is dedicated to discuss the theme/question for the lecture series, which we haven’t had this time. Instead we were informed this year’s Transmission series will be focused on ‘who is an artist?’ through guest speaker John Russell, who discussed his becoming of an artist and how he defines what it is to be an artist.
Russell first began by describing his current area of interest which is posting his writings and essays on an online blog accompanied with animated illustrations. He explained that he chooses to post online as he receives feedback and comments quickly. Russell proceeded to read out one of his writings about gender, the difference between a man and a woman physically and how surgery can change to from a man to a woman, which was all illustrated by his animated images/gif type media. I found it difficult to keep up with this but I enjoyed his mode of delivery – like an art performance.
After finishing his art piece, Russell explained that his father had recently passed away and his mother is ageing and he had realised he didn’t know his parents’ backgrounds or history, so he was now compensating for this by finding out and discovering his dad was an artist.
This then began the discussion of who is an artist? Russell’s father never went to art school as he had no confidence in himself, and he wouldn’t be considered an ‘artist’ in the art world. So, his dad became an illustrator for the daily mirror, radio times creating images in places of photos. Something I found poignant is he explained how upset and frustrated his dad was because he wasn’t allowed to sign the illustrations and he was refused to ‘mark his existence on the world’. The thought of not being able to put your name on something you have created distressed me, it was as though his dad was never acknowledged as an artist or human by refusing his signature, this point made me question who is an artist?
John Russell then discussed his early exhibitions post art school with other artists where they would create adverts and invites for non-existent exhibitions, he did this so people from art school would be shocked at how successful they were as artists and they were an attempt to become a part of the YBA (Young British Artists)movement, which he now explains how naïve they were as at the time they didn’t realise the YBA’s were backed by millionaires. He also mentioned how the most important part of this process was the name of the exhibitions, everything else came after – which was an interesting approach.
After the fake exhibitions, Russell then had a series of exhibitions; the first he mentioned was ‘Zombie Golf’ in 1994 where he turned a room in the bad part of Shoreditch into a crazy golf course that had a theme of zombies; which he was a big fan of at that time (movies). He then invited artists to display their artworks in this space. He asked artists whose works would ‘juxtapose with the zombies’, this was an exhibition that dealt with artists’ egos and pretentious attitude – Russell knew they wouldn’t want to exhibit in such a space, and in doing so removed their ego and created a spectacle.
The next exhibition/art work John Russell discussed was one that was in response to discovering the economical and corporate aspect that made the YBA’s so famous and how Russell wasn’t part of it. He named the exhibition ‘Fuck Off’ and these were a series of adverts in newspapers and invitations to a non-existent exhibition. It simply saw the exhibition name in huge letters in the newspaper – very anarchic.
Russell’s work is clearly driven by what makes you an artist and how artists become powerful and known. His work ‘The Bank’ shows this as he creates a newspaper that picked on powerful people in the art world and through this became a hypocrite – Russell creating art and wanting to be known but bashing the people who make you famous and the obvious unfairness in the art world. He gained interest from this and in so received many press releases which he corrected in an anarchic way – by removing the pretentious aspects. He explains it as correcting them like a teacher would to a student working and giving the press release a mark out of 10. It’s quite interesting to see someone so against this hierarchy and process to becoming an artist yet they clearly want to be well known.
John Russell finally presented his most recent works, much like the animated images at the start, yet these were large scale prints created in photoshop and were exhibited with back lighting behind them. Below is an example of this where he has recreated a ‘Jackson Pollock’ piece using meat. These works to me, appear quite garish and they are a big contrast to all the works he had mentioned previously.
Overall, this was a really great start back to the Transmission lecture series, John Russell made a really interesting guest speaker and brought up some great points for the question ‘who is the artist?’ and also what it is to become an artist.
John Russell – http://www.john-russell.org/index.html