littlewhitehead is the working persona of Glaswegian artists Craig Little and Blake Whitehead. Key to their collaboration and their work is an idiosyncratic sense of humour. This peculiar factor fuels conversations, where with an encyclopedic range of references, from movies to witnessed events to art history, they construct absurd scenarios to subject to viewers. Their work often adopts a visual language...[more]
Interview with littlewhitehead
London, Jan. 2010 -- I first encountered artist duo littlewhitehead's intriguing work entitled 'littlewhitehead playing dog' at Gimpel Fils in June 2009, where a surrealistic installation drew one into some haunting story telling,. I caught up with the artists as they installed their latest exhibition for Arcan Mellor, 'The Gilt Hole Complex', installed in a top floor space at J&A Project Space in Clerkenwell. While the work was not yet assembled at the time of the interview we pieced it together in a conversation about their ideas and history.
Playing Dog, Installation View, Gimpel Fils , 2009; Courtesy of the artist
Nicholas James (NJ) Blake Whitehead (BW) Craig Little (CL)
Nicholas James - I'm here with Craig Little and Blake Whitehead, who form littlewhitehead. Can you tell me how you started working together?
Blake Whitehead - We studied and graduated together at Glasgow School of Art.
Craig Little - We both studied illustration.
NJ - You didn't want to move forward with an illustration practice?
BW - No. When we were half way through the course, after the second year, we realized we didn't really like it, we preferred sculpture. We decided to wait until we finished and once we graduated we could do anything - everything (laughter). We both felt we didn't want to work in the commercial illustration field.
CL - Yes, we didn't enjoy getting briefs, telling us what to do.
NJ - Had you been looking at any particular artists?
BW - Most of our sources we looked at were fine artists, whilst studying illustration. The illustration course is very good at Glasgow, very broad. You can work in any kind of graphic media you want. There were people doing traditional drawing for editorial work but others were working in sound or animation. We both began to work in three dimensions during our undergraduate projects for the degree show.
The Smoking Gun, Pen on paper, 2010; Courtesy of the artist
NJ - Fill me in about your first steps beyond college, what was the first project together?
BW - First we found a studio together in Glasgow, which was a rarity then, there aren't many studios out there. There's an extremely long waiting list for available spaces. We managed to sublet one from a friend of a friend, in the basement of a dress shop next to the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow. The first thing was to make a body of work.
We made a piece for 'Close Project 2007' entitled 'Last Evening'. The Close Project utilised tenement closes as a venue to showcase art. We didn't have a tenement close but a really nice property developer came to us and said he had a tenement in a posh part of Glasgow. He offered us the space to make something, so the first thing we made for him was a dead body for his front doorstep.
Most if his neighbours didn't mind having it there, but another neighbour threatened legal action. I don't know if it was the piece or just him him being stubborn, but we managed to get round it.
The next thing we did was to apply for the New Contemporaries. We made some work in the studio that hadn't been exhibited, and we got accepted. That was our first big exhibition.
NJ - As you continued to work together, what kind of ideas evolved between you? You gather the things that grip you, and obviously you want to surprise your audiences?
BW - I think the collaborations is a key part of the work. The work evolves more from our own conversations with one another. Because we've known each other for so long now, I think we've developed a very idiosyncratic sense of humour. Our humour often annoys the people around us, but that's where a lot of the ideas come from. The constant discussions and jokes are often the starting point for work.
Sentient Orbs, Mixed media sculpture, 2009; Courtesy of the artist
NJ - What is this piece (refering to Sentient Orbs 2008)?
CL -Sentient Orbs 2008. We first made it for a gallery in Milan, which had a nice high ceiling. The main gallery space was on the first floor, the reception was downstairs with its ceiling the same level as the first floor. so it was really high. We made the piece specifically for that space, then we showed it at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh, and Saatchi bought the piece via email.
NJ - Have you shown at the Saatchi Gallery?
CL - Not in London, but we showed in the Newspeak exhibition in St.Petersburg, Russia, at The Hermitage. I think it's traveling to London this summer.
NJ - The piece at Gimpel Fils was very strange; it was like, full of enigmas and secret story lines that the viewer can engage with. Part of that work were the tiny little peep-holes onto snowbound landscapes and intimate interiors. There was a very strong sense of voyeurism.
BW - The act of witnessing is not a passive one, especially when something's moving; the audience can feel compelled to join in in some way. There was a man in a fur suit slamming his head against the wall, but he only did that in the presence of viewers, an audience. Without the audience there wasn't any suffering, because as the audience left the room he stopped hitting his head through a motion sensor. As soon as the audience arrives it begins.
NJ - In another piece there was an eerie finger coming out of a trunk, it was kind of mock ghoulish. Do you monitor people's reactions or do you just move on? You must have some fairly intense reactions.
CL - Yes, the show upstairs at Gimpels was landscapes; quite traditional oil paintings. A lady, about 70 years old, ventured downstairs and almost immediately came back up and said to somebody, "You don't want to go down there, there's no art there for you."
NJ - As you're still putting the installation together, I don't know what the exhibit is going to be?
BW - There's only two or three sculptures here; one is figurative, then we've got two different sets of prints. The show presents various things we've been working on in the last couple of months.
NJ - The bodies in your work appear like derelicts or victims. But there is humour there, it's not totally gloomy.
Winners, Defaced portraits from Retail New's Annual Award Winners Dinner, blown up to lifesize, 2010; Courtesy of the artist
BW - We always try to move away from...
CL - ..death
BW - But it just keeps catching up.
NJ - Is it like playing a game with death, with images of death?
CL - I think death will win that game.
NJ - Tell me about the prints. (Referring to Winners, 2010)
BW - They're a series of nine images printed from the Retail News. It's of annual award winners, two or three pages of them. The original photos were 7 x 7mm, and they were then defaced and blown up to life size. These are framed like corporate portraits in an office
The Thing, 200 year old bible, battered and deep fat fried; 2010; Courtesy of the artist
NJ - Opening a carton - This looks like a cake. (Referring to The Thing, 2010)
CL - It's a two h undred year old bible that's been covered in batter and fried up in deep fat.
NJ - How funny, so that's going on its own plinth. What's the title of this exhibition?
BW & CL - The Gilt Hole Complex.
BW - This is a cut out from an obituary page from the Glasgow Herald published on 5th January 2010. We submitted an obituary for the death of He-Man, the comic book character. We've blank ed out the rest of the days obituaries and show it in a window mount.
NJ - The images are certainly creepy, and the platform - gesturing a raised area- here will serve what?
Spam, Mixed Media Sculpture, 2010; Courtesy of the artist
CL - These will be three diners with only one figure: a child, and he's sitting at a table wearing a Darth Vader mask.
NJ - It's forming a great bleak environment.
CL - I guess so.
NJ - What's coming up next?
BW - We've got ARCO Madrid next month. We have another group show at Gimpel Fils in March. There's a book coming out around May, published by Lawrence King; 'One Hundred Emerging Artists'. The Saatchi exhibition opens in London in the summer.
ArtSlant would like to thank littlewhitehead for their assistance in making this interview possible.