PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS is an exhibition curated by collaborative artists Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson at AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. The exhibition explores the evolution of the manifesto in contemporary art and works inspired by the manifesto format. Driven and defined by a multitude of vibrant interpretations, the exhibition is a rare chance to observe diverse, artistic thinking in one immersive and engaging assemblage. Celebrating the variance and freedom of contemporary art practice, this exhibition features an impressive gathering of over fifty nationally and internationally renowned artists, including Sarah Lucas, Billy Childish and Jessica Voorsanger.
Tim Barnes interviews Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson to find out more about the nature of this project.
Tim Barnes: The sheer breadth of this collection is immediately striking. Each artist’s interpretation blazes with gusto, as though in lively debate, unapologetically asserting an individual point of view. How did such an eclectic and diverse exhibition develop?
Shaun Doyle: Right from the off we didn’t stipulate any criteria, there was no brief as to how the invitation to contribute was to be interpreted. We tried to pick artists who we knew would have something to say and accept the invitation for what it was.
Mally Mallinson: PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS was originally conceived as a Doyle and Mallinson solo project, a failed attempt at transcribing manifestos into large wall reliefs. As the project floundered we had a rethink. There seemed to be a dearth in manifesto writing in contemporary art or at least in what we, historically, consider a manifesto to be. We thought it would be interesting to see what we got if we invited fellow artists to respond to the concept of the manifesto. We hadn’t seen the majority of the work until it was unwrapped in the gallery which was both exciting and slightly concerning as fairly quick decisions had to be made in the placement. Hopefully this excitement and anxiety is reflected in the way the show is hung and received.
TB: Printing a series of manifestos as a newspaper is an intriguing act. It seems quite socially charged, everybody can take ownership and it even gives a sort of disposable, everyday quality to the works in the exhibition. Is this a project you plan to continue?
MM: Yes we probably will continue for a few more issues…
SD: I think the newspaper idea has still got a lot of life in it. At the minute the newspaper feels like some artists sharing something amongst themselves. The next issue needs to talk to a new audience.
MM: It seemed the logical first step if somewhat quite traditional in the way that artists used newspapers as a vehicle or political agitators used pamphleteering, we could have used social media but we both liked the idea of something physical and yet somewhat disposable. The papers are free I like the idea of someone coming across one left on the train amongst a pile of metros! And of course it’s also a fairly cheap way of disseminating information.
TB: Why do you think many contemporary artists have abandoned the manifesto?
MM: I’m not sure if artists have abandoned the manifesto or that it has evolved into something we don’t immediately recognise. All artists work to a personal ethos and probably don’t find it necessary to declare their intensions in a manifesto-type format. Abigail Lane stated in an email that she doesn’t really work to manifesto principles but if she did her drawing ‘Make your misery earn its keep’ would be the one! Manifestos seem to be more covert and the exhibition exposes that.
SD: In some formats a manifesto could be nothing more than a millstone around your neck.
TB: Leaping outside the ranks of conventional genres, this exhibition celebrates, in a very democratic way, the manifesto as being a diverse and energetic format of expression in its own right. Some works even seem to form a symbiosis with others, the gallery becoming almost like a habitat or ecosystem, nurturing and developing threads of thought. Can the gallery really be a suitable environment for the manifesto to thrive?
SD: That’s very interesting that some of the works formed a symbiosis, sometimes in very unexpected places. I think that happened because we decided that the work would dictate the format of the show to a degree. What we didn’t want was to have a fixed, preconceived idea of how the show should be and then shoehorn people’s work into that format. We also intended that the show should be bigger than the gallery itself. We wanted works outside and in off-site locations too but because of time and money that didn’t happen. We’re really glad that the performances were such a big part of the show’s opening, especially Alexis Milne’s outside in the yard. We’d seen him perform at New Art Gallery Walsall and although that was fantastic, I thought it worked better in the yard, it felt more raw. Having the window hatch wide open was an important decision too. It made sure that everyone who walked past could see the show even if they didn’t want to come in.
MM: What we didn’t want PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS to be was a academic genre defining survey show, that would be way too dry, the exhibition was conceived as an installation and not a run of the mill group show.
SD: I know what you mean about questioning whether the gallery can be a suitable environment for the manifesto to thrive but to say ‘no’ would be an admission of defeat, you’d have to ask what good the gallery was doing if you couldn’t do the show there. I’d also see it as a challenge. If you were to say ‘the gallery’s the worst place to have a manifesto show’, then I’d say, ‘right, that’s where its going to be then!’
TB: Perhaps it’s the bravado and absurdity of some of these manifestos or how the show is hung but it seems the spirit of Futurism, Dada and Fluxus is somehow present in the gallery space. How might this style of presentation, reminiscent of the Dadaists emerging in 1916, give thrust to these 21st century artworks?
MM: maybe those grainy images of the First international Dada fair of 1920 were in the back of my mind, but really the work dictated the way it was presented. It’s a curious hybrid of a fucked up group cum salon style hang, the way the pieces jostle for space gives the work an energy that would be absent in a more conventional hang.
SD: To have any sort of coherence the show had to be an installation, otherwise it would just end up looking like an overhung group show. We were against the idea of acres of white wall space being around works. There’s a lack of respect for some pieces that was deliberate in that we wanted works to jostle for attention. No-one makes work in a vacuum. To go for that white cube aesthetic would be ridiculous in a show like this. There had to be a real debate amongst the works and I think they’re stronger for being in that melee.
Some of the walls themselves become fields of vision where different ideas can move around, like collage on a bigger scale.
TB: Do you hope to open a dialogue with other artists and inspire others to reconsider and redefine the manifesto’s position in contemporary art practice?
MM: There is always dialogue going on between artists, what would be good is to is to forge relationships between artists that on the face of it seem poles apart but are actually approaching the same kind of concept from different positions, the realisation that there is some kind of commonality, whether this could lead to a redefining of the manifestos position in contemporary art is debateable, but it could be fun to try.
SD: There’s the danger that you’d be encouraging people to make art about art. Also, one of the strong points of this show is the spontaneity of the work. If we were to continue the project I think that we’d need to surprise people, including ourselves. There’d be no point setting out with the clear aim of redefining the manifesto’s position that would have to happen as a result of some other process. Maybe the next show should be a musical or an opera.
TB: PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS seems to yearn for something absent in 21st century art. Perhaps the exhibition reasserts the manifesto as a forgotten source of structure to the creative process, an opportunity to divulge those elusive, inner-most motivations of the artist and core values, however slippery, that reside closest to the bone. Could this exhibition be interpreted as a sort of healing process for contemporary art and its practitioners? By extension, could the entire exhibition be considered a manifesto in itself?
SD: I think there’s a lot of fear in contemporary art, fear of failure, fear of the consequences of making certain work. I think a lot of the work in the show has a sense of joy to it, some fuck you cheekiness, that feels like a huge relief but I don’t know if it’s the manifesto structure letting that happen, maybe it is. Yes, the show is a manifesto in itself but it might take another show before I can tell you what its saying.
MM: Maybe were opening old wounds, maybe the manifesto as we’ve come to know it is dead, maybe it’s an anachronism that has no place in the 21st century, or that’s evolved into something that we don’t immediately recognise. What the show hopefully does is celebrate the myriad of ways artists work and their motivations.
I think PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS, as a whole, re-asserts an element of the bombast of the manifesto but within this, some of the quieter works seem to exude the quality of an earworm, that incessant nagging at the back of the mind that you can’t quite escape.
TB: What can visitors expect when they come to see PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS and experience the programme of events at Airspace Gallery?
MM: A visual and sonic extravaganza! You could probably list every adjective known to man to describe the show but its best to just go and see it and get down and dirty with some glue, paint and paper in the workshops provided by the cultural sisters.
SD: What you wouldn’t get from seeing images of the show is how loud it is. I don’t understand why galleries become like libraries, as if you can only experience things meaningfully in silence. It’s an uncomfortable show because of that volume of sound but one that feels very much alive.
TB: What’s next for Doyle and Mallinson?
SD: I’m thinking about residencies and what they mean to artists.
MM: A rest! Putting together a show like this takes time so it would be good to concentrate for a minute on our own work and the various projects we have coming up. I think the very nature of pigdog means it has legs, quite a few in fact! It would be good to take the show to other spaces and see how it evolves see what kind of monster we have spawned.