Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Art Space Talk: James Robert Ford

James Robert Ford is a contemporary British mixed media and installation artist. James attended Goldsmiths College, London. His artwork is often based around social interaction and include elements of game play, participation, communication and humor, and is recognizable in form by its heavy use of the Internet as a means of creating, displaying and promoting artworks.

I am not a fridge, Fridge door, magnetic letters, 52 x 80 x 11 cm, 2007

Brian Sherwin: James, you studied at Goldsmiths College. Who were your instructors at that time? Where else have you studied art?

James Robert Ford: When I was at Goldsmiths my tutors included Gerard Hemsworth, Jemima Stehli, Milly Thompson and Andy Harper, among others. I also studied at Nottingham Trent Uni for my BA and Winchester School of Art for my Foundation.

BS: James, it has been said that your work is concerned with the loss of innocence and the "endearment of the loser". Would you like to add to that description?

JRF: Those terms are based around the notion of replaying childhood past-times, pursuits and obsessions. Endearment of the loser infers that we should feel compassion towards the "losers" of society but also acknowledge that everyone is a bit of a loser. We all have a hobby or interest that we do not openly talk about for fear of ridicule. I openly display my regressive interests in my art and hope that the "loser" aspect of collecting toy cars, filming my cat or jumping around a house will allow the viewer to get past the pretension barrier of art and see the work in a new light.

BS: James, can you go into more detail about why you infuse your work with humor and a sense of play? Would you say that people need to remember that art can be fun and serious at the same time?

JRF: Exactly - as I was saying before, there needs to be a way into the art for the audience. Be that collective memories, humour, playfulness or some other connection. This "key" is very important. Without a way to unlock the door to a piece of art, you can't begin to see all the other levels it may be operating on.

BS: I understand that you made a British version of the General Lee... can you tell us about that? How did you create it and what was the motive behind it?

JRF: The piece was called "General Carbuncle" and it was an assemblage sculpture - 4,500 toy cars glued to a 2nd hand Ford Capri, made to look like the General Lee car. This work was 3 years in the making, way before there was any talk of a Dukes of Hazzard film. It took a long time to build because of problems with finding the right Capri, storing it, sourcing and buying all the toy cars, receiving donated toy cars and applying for funding. At the time (and still now) I was annoyed that American TV seemed to be wanting our successful British comedy shows but re-casting them and re-scripting them for an American audience. Shows like Absolutely Fabulous, The Office, etc. So I wanted to make a clumsy (as Americans stereotype the British as bumbling idiots) British version of an American screen symbol. Hence the General Lee and all it's accompanying non political correctness.

Six Degrees of Smoking, social interaction, web project, 2005-present

BS: James, some of your other works have involved Bond film plot structure, tracking the lives of lost cigarette lighters... can you discuss a few of these works and the motives behind them?

JFR: A lot of ideas in my work come from childhood experiences or everyday peculiarities. For the lighter project, I noted that I was constantly be asked by fellow smokers if they could borrow my lighter (because they had lost theirs). I would then sometimes forget to ask for it back, and hence loose my own. One day in Italy I lent my lighter to a girl from Finland who was flying home the next day. I never got it back and this got me thinking - I'd traveled with a lighter from England to Italy, and now the lighter was on it's way to Finland, all through getting passed on between smokers. So I set up a website and labeled up 250 lighters with instructions for the smoker to photograph themselves with the lighter, email or text the photo to me and then pass it on, to see where the lighters all ended up. Inevitably, many of the lighters never made it past the first person and were instantly lost down the back of a sofa or dropped in the street on a night out. I remember one instance in particular where I received an email from a participant in the project saying he wouldn't be passing the lighter on as he wanted to keep hold of it in case I became famous and he could sell it!
9 Rotating Rainbow Cranes, Animated screensaver

BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give us any details?

JRF: At the moment I'm working toward a group show in January and my first solo show in London in May. It's at a relatively new gallery called FERREIRA PROJECTS in Shoreditch (www.ferreiraprojects.com). I'm producing a whole new body of work based around Origami cranes. It's a progression from the paper folding I've used in my work in the past - for example Homage to a Crap Capri was a 1/4 size replica of a Ford Capri folded from one sheet of cardboard, and Fortune Tower was an online animation based on the Fortune Teller object that you used to make and play with your friends at school. It's the mystery of these folded objects that intrigues me - even if you are given a folded crane, a car or a fortune teller, you won't be able to figure out how to make it unless you are shown.
Homage to a crap Capri, cardboard, resin, paint, 107 x 32 x 38 cm, 2007

BS: James, from what I've read you expect participation from people who view your work. Due to this you often utilize the Internet as a way to 'connect' people to your work. Would you say that you draw inspiration from viewer activity? Does the opinions of viewers give you a sense of energy that you take into the next piece?

JRF: The Internet is a great way to connect and interact with viewers of the work. Testament to this was the House Gymnastics project that I did back in 2002 that is still ticking over in the background. Created out of boredom from being jobless, myself and Spencer Harrison started to literally climb the walls of our house. We began to create positions and give them names. We'd show people at parties and they'd want to see more so we set up a website. Friends would tell their friends about it and soon we were getting images of strangers performing the moves we'd invented and even creating new ones, which we published online. This site turned into a cult hit and spored a TV pilot, a published book and some art exhibitions. Audience input and effective collaboration does create a lot of energy because it shows that people are interested in the work and their involvement enhances the art.
House Gymnastics, performance, photography, publication, sculpture, website, 2002-present www.housegymnastics.com

BS: James, how important of a role do you think the Internet will play in the lives of artists from this point on? Most people tend to feel that the Internet empowers artists... do you think it can harm artists as well? What is your opinion?

JRF: It's definitely empowered me and a lot of my generation of artists - we were graduating when the Internet first started being used for arts promotion so it was new, exciting and untapped. It can harm artists in the way that nowadays almost every artist has a website or online profile. It's harder for the viewer and potential buyers to filter through the drudge. Not saying that my work is better than drudge, but if someone thought it was good they'd have to sift through a lot of other artists' profiles to get to mine. And this process can be overwhelming for the viewer - take for example the Saatchi gallery website. A great idea that has allowed thousands of artist to exhibit there work online. But trying to find something "good" is like picking through a massive tin of Quality Street for the last elusive Strawberry Cream.

BS: What other thoughts do you have about technology and art?

JRF: Technology can enhance art but it can also be detrimental to it. "New media" art (I despise that term) can become too hung up on how new and clever it is. New methods and outputs for artistic practice need to be married with creativity and great ideas.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to tell us about your work?

JRF: The work I'm making now is some of the best I've made. Initially I started folding paper cranes as a way to escape - Origami to me was like what playing chess was to Duchamp, although I never intended to retire at this point.
You can learn more about James Robert Ford by visiting his website-- www.jamesrobertford.com. You can take part in his blog project by visiting www.33thingstodobeforeyouare10.co.uk. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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