Glass talks to British artist Gavin Turk

Mind the trash – Glass talks to British artist Gavin Turk about his show Letting Go which explores the environmental consequences of human existence and what happened, and what needs to happen next

GAVIN Turk knows his rubbish. The artist has been dabbling in aesthetic transubstantiation of everyday products and household goods not least since his YBA days. And he’s still at it. He’s an avid observer of everything that goes in and out, and his latest solo show turns to mass produced and machine-made products, specifically training the spectator’s eye on the very nature of objects surrounding us.

With a whole new range of works including watercolours, bronze sculptures and large silkscreen prints, at his recent show Letting Go, in Amsterdam, is the artist’s investigation into the environmental consequences of human existence defined by a consumerist society.

There is an intriguing game of hide and seek going on here, passing for plastic what is solid metal, thereby posing questions about perceived and neglected value. The superficial gaze of art and everyday life collide. Yet the title is cue here, pointing towards the object and the dominant behavioural pattern in equal measure. Dysfunctional objects are being dragged under the magnifying glass here to point towards dysfunctional practices.

There is a big bold line between throwing away and letting go, and it’s high time whole societies cross the fence from the former to the latter, the message seems to be. Therewith Turk joins a long list of artists who have decided to support the cause of environmental activism, and Letting Go has consequently been staged in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Where has it been? What interactions did it have with its environment? What happens to them from now on? These are questions the artists weaves into the show’s fabric, as he parades a range of items to attract curiosity for the first time, and at its best making the profane become interesting.

Portrait of Gavin Turk. Photograph: Juliana Manara

Gavin Turk Painted bronze PET 2019. Photograph: Courtesy of Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk Water Bottle Bottle 2019. Photograph: Courtesy of Gavin Turk

Your work has long been looking at ideas of waste and circularity. But recently you are focusing in on climate change, and its causes, more specifically. Was there a moment that channelled your current work and practice in that direction? What happened?

I don’t remember a specific moment when this happened; even in the late 1980s I was interested in environmental resources. I suppose things have sped up now since the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported, in 2014, that there was irrefutable evidence that humans are having a seriously detrimental effect on the planet.

Tells us about your thoughts behind Letting Go, currently on display in Amsterdam. The title fluctuates between critique, statement, call to action, and observation. What was your mindset while making the works?
I like this idea of this fluctuation. The art in this show would be a success if it were able to challenge peoples preconceptions, be propaganda, a critique, and just a simple interesting thing to look at.

Art and activism, are they becoming two sides of the same coin for you?
Art is a cultural activity that can be seconded into political activity but they’re not inextricably linked.

How has environmental awareness informed your practice?
There is a separation between Gavin Turk the artist and Gavin Turk the person but artistic inspiration comes in from both sides. Art history and art precedence affects my work in much the same way that live and unexpected daily occurrences can. Art for me, however, is a sign of the times. It’s more of a reflection.

Gavin Turk Slumbering Bottle 2019. Photograph: Courtesy of Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk Green and Pink with Rubbish Bag 2019. Photograph: Courtesy of Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk Lying Bottle 2019. Photograph: Courtesy of Gavin Turk

What does environmental awareness mean for the art world? Which lessons have to be learnt in order to lead the way to a more sustainable future?
The main problem here is that the art world centres on individualism and consumerism and I guess in the future these models will have to be checked or stepped down in some way.

Does the idea of the art biennale need a rethink in the light of establishing a more sustainable model of making art? Thinking of hundreds of visitors, artists, curators, gallerists, and not least art works being flown around the globe…
The art biennale is a system of idea festivals so it seems only logical that ideas of the environment and sustainability will become paramount.

Are galleries and museums on the case?
Currently the art world is very slowly waking up to the idea that it needs to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

You’ve become very close to the activist network Extinction Rebellion. Does the recent surge of activity give you hope that the wider public takes note of the urgency behind the cause?
I am so pleased and proud of all these XR protesters making imaginative and powerful public statements to change the culture. (Also it’s gone global). I hope that XR manage to keep going and don’t get marginalised before the message really goes mainstream.

Are we about to see a new aesthetic paradigm in the arts, formed by environmentalism?
Yes, aesthetic and imaginative.

by Oliver Krug



About The Author

Oliver Krug is environmental editor at The Glass Magazine. His other topics include contemporary art, literature and photography, music, film and politics. As a travel writer he is interested in sustainability and ecology, and as a keen sailor aims to spend as much time on the water as on land. He is co-founder of Wavelength Foundation, an international circle of journalists, scientists, academics and cultural leaders who aim to advance the environmentalist agenda through the channels of arts and culture.

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