Australia’s self-proclaimed ‘most stolen artist’, Will Coles, presents his latest solo show, Death Wish. His concrete castings of household commodities have long been spread out over the Australian suburbs, prompting people to re-evaluate their relationship with consumerism.
More jump off after the jump off…
As Coles explains, “Consumerism replaced religion & no one noticed”; iPhones are fast replacing religious iCons, with our next plastic god becoming an object of adoration at the altar of international companies like Apple. Coles continues, “We spend so much of our income on brand names to impress others, yet nothing shouts “I have no class” quite like insane displays of wealth.”
This new body of work includes some pieces too large to be left in the street, but Coles has long been of the opinion that if the people can’t see your art in a gallery, then you have to take your work to the people. “For too long contemporary art has become more exclusive to a small group & less relevant to the general public” says Coles, who tackles this head-on by dishing it out free.
Commenting on the increasingly disparate nature of our work-to-live society, Coles continues, “If the brands you own end up owning you then that’s the point where you’ve become simple demographic data. When that happens then the next decision you make has already been made for you.”
The show runs from the 22nd October until the 9th November at Brenda May Gallery, 2 Danks Street, Waterloo, Sydney, NSW 2017 Tuesday – Saturday 11am-6pm (02) 9318 1122. Or you can find his work scattered around the streets, glued to things…
We caught Will on the eve of his show for a few words, here’s what he ad to say for himself:
VNA: There seems to be a very image-conscious aesthetic in Australia, in Sydney in particular, what is your personal fascination with bodies?
Will Coles: I’m not sure if it’s true, at least, in that what we think we are is very far from the truth. They recently found Australians are now the second or third most overweight nation on earth (with the US at #1 of course!) We have an ideal, a fantasy of ourselves as beach bodies, as sports lovers and, therefore, very fit, and we also cling to the old idea of outback Aussie battlers, drovers, etc. The truth is, we drink a lot of beer, eat a lot of junk food, watch a lot of TV and spend a lot of time in our cars. Our lives are very easy, we have a very comfortable lifestyle, so we don’t protest much, even when politicians aim to lower that standard of living.
I love figurative art, we all have our bodies in common with each other, they may be different, but we all experience the world through them. Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’ is still one of the most awesome sculptures ever made, whereas a lot of modern art ages badly, like that dance track you loved ten years ago that now sounds clunky, slower than you remember and maybe quite derivative.
VNA: Can you summarise your main issues with the current economical ills?
WC: HOUSING BUBBLE! Australia has the second biggest housing bubble in the world, countries like Ireland, Greece, Spain, the UK and the US have to have public money thrown in the $Billions at private companies to keep them from going belly up, due to the incredible corruption at the top. What we know as Capitalism isn’t working; “the market decides”, well, it decided, but corporations and the politicians they pay didn’t like the answer, so they’ll spend our money to delay that decision. China is in slow ascendancy and the US is on the brink of a huge collapse. We either need real Capitalism or not at all, not this corrupted version that’s steering us off towards a plutocracy. (Rant over!)
I wish we could get away from this idea of houses as investments, it’s anti-progressive and simply gives insane amounts of money to the banks. A house is a home, to live in, socialise in, it should be functional, yet we now believe our houses to be worth two or three times their ‘real’ value and we feel good about that as if it was due to us, our hard work or our intelligence rather than what banks and real estate agents decree.
VNA: Describe the artistic process of the creation of your sculptures… What factors does an object have to have for you to recreate it?
WC: Usually it has to be easily identifiable, something people can relate to out of everyday experience, a TV, a car, a mobile phone, etc. Then there is usually a word, something that, coupled with the object, creates the message, the statement or the question.
Then I have to find the right-looking, existing object that I want, the right kind of car or suitcase or doll, and take a cast of it in dental plaster. Then I design the text, think whatever font woks with the word, the meaning of it and then the object. I carve that in, then make a mould that I can cast 20, 50 or 100 cement casts from.
VNA: Can you tell us about some of the pieces you’ve made for the new show?
WC: There’s the car, ‘Memorial’ – a monument to humans – there are several Buddha’s – a comment on how religious people often don’t practice their own religions that they impose on others – ‘Mad AK’ – the double ended AK47s; the modern concept of Mutually Assured Destruction – ‘Australiana’ – Chesty Bond, reworked to show the assimilation of working class culture by the young middle class – and ‘Property’ – helmets made for the soldiers that are owned by corporations, to steal for corporations – as well as various other small works.
VNA: Do you find Australia more, or less consumer-driven than other countries and cultures?
WC: It was much more consumer-driven than the UK when I arrived in the ‘90’s, because it had so much more disposable income then. Now house & rental prices have eaten into that ability to buy but the little fear that drives consumers still remains. You have to separate the embracing of technology from the fear of not being up-to-date. iPhones now represent more a fear of having the old model rather than increased technological ability. The ability to understand and operate different forms of hardware and software make the difference, not using one brand that’s made simple for simple people to buy more stuff.
VNA: How do you think we’ve arrived at celebrity culture and how do you feel as an artist trying to make a name for yourself in the current climate?
WC: We’ve always had that love of celebrity, but in the past that was mostly people famous for being actors, musicians, sports-people, even artists. Now there is the elevation of the ordinary, so people think they have a chance of becoming rich & famous for just being them i.e. talentless. The overwhelming trivia is a brilliant way of controlling people; people are now very easily distracted by pointless issues, whilst missing out on things that can massively impact on their lives.
‘Bread and Circuses’ is a very derogatory way of referring to what we have now but if people act dumb, then they shouldn’t feel insulted when corporations and governments treat them as such. The internet is probably more important than the printing press, you can find actual news if you try. The best source of unbiased news is the financial papers as their customers want to make financial decisions based on facts, not on news that’s twisted to suit their politics.
A lot of artists are currently trying to sell themselves as a brand, thinking they’re being all Andy Warhol without realising either what Warhol was doing, or that most brands have short shelf lives. The colleges have become brands too and, in Australia, sell an art theory that reigns supreme, but having one school of thought can make us look rather amateurish when we leave these shores.
VNA: Tell us a little more about your collaboration with Adam Hill…
WC: I love working with Adam, no egos at work, we can throw ideas at each other, twist them around, add to them, expand on them, or destroy them, and there is no claim to a part or whole of an idea on its physical realisation. Because we question the art scene, we’re rarely invited to be part of it! Maybe more importantly it’s creative fun. Most art institutions and self-proclaimed art experts dislike humour in art, probably because they fear of unwittingly being the butt of any joke. Besides, humour is often a great vehicle for a painful truth rather than lecturing and boring your audience.
I may be judged as being a foreigner, an ungrateful one, but at least that’s my choice, Adam is judged for his existence as being an original Australian in his own land. We’re both outsiders, to a greater or lesser extent, but if you can remove yourself from the situation then you can probably judge it more fairly, be able to see the strengths and flaws of each argument.
VNA: What would you like to achieve with your work and what kind of messages do you try to convey?
WC: I still have that romantic old-fashioned notion that art can make a difference. People have always tried to state that was bullshit, but works like Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ brought a horror to the world and tried to express that feeling of terror as an image. Peter Kennard’s collages for CND in the ‘80’s made a huge difference to peoples feelings towards being a nation that threatened others with nuclear weapons. I want to make art that makes people think, to question the things in their life and to have those works be appreciated for it.