David Shrigley

Alice Bradshaw talks to David Shrigley about his current show How Are Your Feeling? at the Cornerhouse in Manchester.

AB: How Are Your Feeling? is loosely based around art therapy and the condition of the human mind?

DS: Yes. The proposition for the show originally was that it would be participatory so that the audience could participate in the work and I suppose that’s the therapeutic aspect to it. Also the book is called How Are You Feeling? and the remit for that was that it’s a self-help book and about some kind of psychological therapy. It’s purported to be a self-help book but it isn’t much help on that level and even if it was I’m not qualified to write it. If it’s a critique of anything it’s perhaps a critique of the fact that there’s too many of these books exist and their only raison d’être is to make another self-help book – not really to help anybody.

AB: Did you have to research these kind of books?

DS: Not really, no.

AB: Did you try and avoid them?

DS: I looked at some. Just in airports, waiting for planes – there’s loads of self-help books in WHSmiths at Heathrow Terminal 5 so I’ve looked through a few of those. In a way it’s a vehicle for another book. It had to have a theme and this ended up being the theme as it is a strand I’d identified in my work.

AB: What was the process of making the book and the chapter structure?

DS: I decided on the theme and made a lot of drawings around that theme, then once I felt like I had enough stuff I wrote 10,000 words and whittled it down to 3,000 words and put it together. I don’t want things to be contrived and once you have a starting point for book it inevitably is going to contrived to a certain extent. But I tried to avoid that by making texts that didn’t describe the images and images that didn’t illustrate the text, so there’s still an ambiguity to the book and it doesn’t quite make any narrative sense. I think in a way the exhibition is a lot more cohesive in terms of an idea than the book. It’s my idea of what therapy should be to a large extent.

AB: Do you think you’d make a good therapist – is that something you’d like to do?

DS: In a way yeah but it’d make me question why I’d want to do it. I’m sure there’s many therapists in the world and there doesn’t need to be any more, plus other people are qualified to do it and I’m not. I’ve got a degree in fine art which qualifies me to do precisely what I’m doing now and nothing else. I like the idea of therapy and the idea of talking to people and I think it’s good to talk and listen, but not as a job.

AB: Do you think fun is an important part of mental health and well being?

DS: Yes. I’m sure that enjoying yourself is therapeutic and of benefit to everybody.

AB: Should fun be on prescription, instead of pills perhaps?

DS: Yeah, but it depends. I guess this is just my idea of fun – not necessarily everybody else’s. Other people might like doing paint-balling.

AB: Can you say more about the participatory element of the exhibition and the performances? Do you perform?

DS: All the pieces are interactive and there’s also a play in the gallery that people perform from a script. I’m not there so it’s not really directed – there are just stage directions so you can interpret it however you want. It’s very short. There’s another piece which is a sculpture that the gallery staff carry around, so I suppose that’s a performance but I’m not a performer. I’m don’t perform very much.

AB: Is performance and being in the spotlight in that way something you’re not keen on?

DS: I have to do it sometimes. I do telly and public speaking where you have to be interesting and entertaining and I can do that on my own terms but I’m not a performer like a comedian or anything. To be honest it’s a skill that I don’t have enough time to acquire. There’s lots of things I’d like to do. I occasionally play music in bands and have done some performance before but I don’t have time to do it any more. There’s only so much time to make things and there’s certain things I want to make. It feels like a bit of an ego thing if I was to perform and I only have time to be the director and the writer. I think other people are better at it.

AB: What makes a good collaboration?

DS: In a way this show is a collaboration but then it’s not a collaboration in the same sense as when I did the opera project last year [Pass The Spoon at Southbank Centre] working with a classical composer and a director. They made a lot of the decisions and all I did was write the script and even then it was structured by them. With this show I came up with the proposition and people filled in the gaps and it took slightly different turns. There are elements of this show that [curator] Mike [Chavez-Dawson] did; the bread and the cakes for example with the anti-psychotic ingredients [on sale from the Cornerhouse cafe bar].

AB: Is control important to you?

DS: Somebody has to be in charge and if I’m not it begs the question why not? It’s my name and my art work and you can only delegate so much to other people. I delegate a lot of things to other people and they make some of the creative decisions but there are certain things that I have to decide otherwise it ceases to be your artwork. It’s important to collaborate with people that can do something you can’t do and they’re really good at and you’re not, and you do something you’re really good at, and it’s a good collaboration.

AB: On drawing; is this a ritual for you and what is the best environment for drawing?

DS: It’s something I like doing. I find it easy and very enjoyable. In a way my life would be much easier if I just made drawings but when you start making big exhibitions like this it gets complicated and stressful. I don’t get stressed when I’m drawing. I don’t do it all the time because I don’t want to get bored with it. I like to go back to it and be really enthusiastic about it. The last group of drawings was probably in May/June. Next week I’ll sit down for about 5 weeks because I’ve got an exhibition coming up and that’s something I really look forward to. Being at home is very pleasurable and it feels very efficient as well.

AB: Do your sculptures originate from drawings?

DS: Some things do. For the gong piece upstairs [Gong (2012), Gallery 1] I did a drawing and gave it to a friend of mine and asked him to make it exactly like that, we discussed it, I decided what colour to paint it and how to paint it, wrote a text on it and that was it. For the giant figure upstairs [The Life Model (2012), Gallery 3] I didn’t do any drawings for it. I made a clay model and my friend scaled it up and I finished the full size model. It’s a process of creative decision making that I make and everybody else does the hard bit.

AB: Do you have any upcoming plans you can indulge us with?

DS: Well, I’m writing a script for a live action short film with a friend of mine who’s a screenwriter and that’s a proposal for a TV thing. We’re just writing it because I’ve figured out a way of writing through collaboration; coming up with ideas and someone else doing the structural side of things. We’ll do that at the end of the month when I’ve finished my drawings but whether it’ll ever see the light of day I don’t know. I think it’s just an exercise and an excuse to hang out with my friend. Then I’ve got a few exhibitions coming up; commercial gallery shows in Copenhagen and New York where I’ve shown several times before.

AB: Are you looking for different, more challenging avenues to progress?

DS: Making the live action film is exciting. I shan’t be disappointed if it doesn’t get made but I’ll enjoy the process of doing it. I think this show has opened doors in my mind in terms of what I can do with exhibitions. I think I’ve learned a lot from it. I think it’s a good exhibition. I don’t necessarily think it’s good art work.

AB: What do you think makes a good art work? What are the criteria?

DS: Well I don’t know what makes a good art work really. I suppose for me it’s that it’s interesting and relative to the work I’ve done before. I don’t think you can make brilliant art work, in a way, or at least at the time you’ve made it you don’t know if it’s brilliant. I just try and make art works that are good enough to show. I think this show is good enough. The art work is good enough. I think it’s a good exhibition because of the context – there’s a theme to it. I haven’t done that before and I think that makes it better exhibition, albeit not necessarily great art work. A lot of it is dependent on the audience as well.

How Are Your Feeling? is on at the Cornerhouse, Manchester until 6 January 2013.

How Are Your Feeling? the book is published by Canongate and is available from Cornerhouse and online £12.99

Alice Bradshaw is an artist, curator, researcher and writer based in West Yorkshire.

Published 10.10.2012 by Bryony Bond in Interviews

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