Paris, Jun. 2012: I met Matt Darbyshire at the opening of his first solo show in France. As an artist whose work shows not only a formal sculptural sensibility but also defies easy categorisation, his combinations of objects retain a delicious ambiguity. It's not simply critical or aesthetic but also combines the quotidian and the iconic in a way that brings out both the tackiness and the poetry of the things we find ourselves surrounded by. It is many things at the same time, and as such it's no surprise that he is beginning to gain recognition on the international stage. We stood on the street outside the Jousse Entreprise Gallery in Paris trying to simultaneously smoke cigarettes, catch the last of the sunshine and conduct an informal interview. I was interested particularly in his relationship with objects and how he understands his own work. What you see here is an email exchange that took place on his return to England following on from our first conversation.
Matthew Darbyshire, Welcome Columns, 2009, Contreplaqué, mousse, vinyle, Chrome, Dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist and Jousse Enterprise.
James Thompson: You’ve spoken previously about an ‘exhibition structure’ for your work, how does this relate to this show in Paris? Also what's your criteria for the selection of the objects, which have previously also had a structure?
Matthew Darbyshire: I often adopt some sort of notion or environment as an armature upon which I can place the elements (ie. A two-bed appartment in Kennington, London; an entrance hall in Stalin's Palace of Culture, Warsaw; a building site hoarding in Bethnal Green, London etc.) however in this instance I, for the first time, decided to use the galleries physical architecture as a structure within which to present more of an overview. Being my first exhibition in France I felt I should offer some sort of overview or introduction to my practice before launching in to one of my larger scale ‘environments’.
The show encompasses works from installations at Gasworks, London (UK); The Hayward, London (UK) and The Miro Foundation, Barcelona (Spain) and each work tries to acknowledge the architecture in both it’s selection and arrangement (ie. the rotating colums at the entranceway, the ethnographic stools in the shopfront, different colour schemes in each separate room, the ‘accessorised columns’ in relation to the supporting columns in the back space, the differing lighting in each room etc.)
JT: How do you see the development of your work since your Gasworks show? Is there a conflict as you yourself become more successful ?
MD: I don't feel less qualified or hypocritical as a result of now having a vague profile if that’s what you mean. There is no difference in attitude or aproach since my Gasworks show in 2008 or in fact since starting to make art whenever that was. It was and still is born from attitude and desire - a way of seeing and interpreting that which surrounds me. The work might have honed a slightly stronger personality since 2008, just because it’s four years older, but it still all comes from the same place. However as events and circumstances change, so too does the content of the work of course.
JT: You’ve been categorised as 'anti-consummerist', your work offering a critique, yet you’ve also stated that you don’t want to be didactic. Can you say something about critique, how you reconcile these two things, how you find a valid position for comment?
MD: I’m wary of consumerism – particularly the agendas of those who abuse it; sometimes the aspirations of those who are slave to it; always its effects socially; and of course the repercussions environmentally. But who isn’t? I don’t set out to make work that is 'anti-consumerist'. I make work in response to that which surrounds me -- that which most interests me and that which I am drawn to. It’s probably a combination of formal attribute, social and political implication, personal association and whim…all of which roll in to one I guess.
With regards to its critical dimension, of course it has one but it’s probably only as pronounced or seemingly overt as it is due to my own inhibition rather than intention (ie. like many I long for the poetic and the ineffable but get snared on the cerebral and literal). The work, or the process through which it is made, eventually offers up a critique but I don’t deliberately focus on this aspect from the outset. Most upsetting of all is when the work’s interpreted solely on its perceived social claims…I hope it’s more oblique than that.
Sorry to ramble on but I think the critique surfaces through the combining of various personal traits and for me these seem to be the social, the poetic, the satirical and the formal. This was highlighted in my recent Tramway show that dedicated an antechamber to each and I’m since consciously trying to incorporate and reconcile these four traits in every work.
Matthew Darbyshire, Untitled: Furniture Island No. 7, 2012, tapis Eliterank , lanterne globe chinoise, Tabouret Tam Tam Branex, table ceintrée, figurine Jesus, miniature Panton chair edition vitra, bang en verre et Nike Air Force 1, 200 x 200 x 200 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Jousse Enterprise.
JT: Your work is or seems focussed on a particular design aesthetic that became prevalent under the new labour government, do you feel this is changing in our current times, in the new austerity?
MD: Yes certain projects I made pre 2010 Tory takeover in the UK did focus on the New Labour lobotomised frivolity whereby everything was reduced to a day-glo padded kids zone and most works I’ve completed post the Cameron and Clegg sharing of vows does indeed adopt a much more sombre or austere palette of more corporate Big Bang greys, blues and blacks (ie. Resource Room, Miro Foundation, Barcelona; Dwell, Taro Nasu Gallery, Tokyo; and T Rooms, Tramway, Glasgow). With regards to the aesthetic tropes we saw New Labour conceal everything under amidst the millenial frenzy though, ex-PR man Cameron is certainly savvy enough to know never to let these things go – they’ve proved far too effective in disguising all manner of off-loading and deceit in the arts sector and he’ll hold on to that for his one-term duration I’m sure.
JT: For you what is meant by 'democratisation of design'?
MD: It means the advent of complete superficiality and an all out lack of authenticity. It means we can all be spoon fed fashion faux pas we don’t ever deserve to live down; that we’ll fall off our knock-off Jacobsen chairs and shater our coccyx when the leg snaps; and that the lucky ones amongst us will be cryogenically preserved in a hermetically sealed cedar clad shoe box overlooking some toxic brownfield site on the east side of every ex-industrial town and city.
JT: The aesthetic you work with seems associated with Anglo-Saxon [a French way of saying English/American] commerical design; how do you feel this works in a European context? Particularly here in Paris where the structure of the city hasn’t changed significantly in 150 years?
MD: I think the aesthetic language I use is pretty commonplace on both sides of the channel. There’s a few UK-specific motifs but I make no apology for that. I think more offensive would be if I turned up and tried to mimic for the sake of popularity.
JT: More personal, how do you feel about your work? Do you enjoy what you’re doing?
MD: I don’t know. I don’t know any alternative. I’ve always felt very grateful to be able to do what I do. Since being at art school I’ve sat there on the rare mornings I’ve got an uninterrupted studio day ahead and thought this is surely as good as it gets. But then I must admit that when I have those days when art administrators are firing emails back quicker than you can write them and asking the same questions that you’ve answered fifty times already I do crave the end and I do wonder if I’d be happier in a shed in Margate. I think I have enough happy or contented moments to warrant continuing for now though.
Matthew Darbyshire, Untitled: Shelves No. 11, 2012, divers objets chromé, étagères, et plexiglass, 140 x 110 x 30 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Jousse Enterprise.
JT: A couple of interviewers have asked about your personal design choices, trying to avoid what’s basically a pretty cheap question -- how do your personal choices relate to your work? Do you discover pleasure in design?
MD: I don’t have a fetish for any particular period or designer but I do feel incredibly unhappy wearing the wrong shoes, sitting in the wrong chair, working under the wrong light etc. I suppose I’m anti-design in that deep down I prefer straightforward utility but have come to realise that that utility is also manifest in a ‘thing's’ formal makeup (ie. all objects elicit meaning and thus are worthy of consideration etc…and sometimes the worse the design the more worthy!).
I prefer things that breathe; things that are genuinely willed; things that aren’t trying too hard to please.
JT: Finally, a question from my girlfriend, do you sit on the stools before you exhibit them?
MD: No absolutely not. I’d find it really frustrating having to look at them upside down!
ArtSlant would like to thank Matthew Darbyshire for his assistance in making this interview possible.