Extra Bones - Andrew Kerr and Robert Bidder
with Katy Beinart, Jo Thomas and Frank Cartledge
at Hackney Wicked Festival
EB: I showed a film about spitting so I tried to get everyone to come on deck and spit. People said no! I was trying to get two bodies of water to collide- the saliva and the river Medway.
FG: So is a lot of your practice quite performance
EB: I feel like – I'm not an artist that has a studio or calls myself an artist if I'm not doing a show or making something there and then, I'm not that bothered about being an artist in a way. I always work with what I've got, I draw a lot, with black biro. It’s more circumstance that makes me an artist and I don’t go out of my way, I mean sometimes I’m like I really want some really good colouring pencils but generally it'll be something I can steal from work, or someone will be chucking away some clay or something. My practice is – quite often it’s not just for the hell of it. I don’t make a lot of stuff, I wouldn’t be like I'm going to make some sculptures...
FG: What's interesting is if you define yourself as NOT an artist, what do you think an artist is?
EB: Well I'd rather there wasn’t even a question, a lot of people would consider me an artist and a lot of people who I think of as artists wouldn’t consider themselves as artists. I guess for me to comfortably say I'm an artist would be if I've got an exhibition up –
FG: If that’s how you make your living?
EB: Yes, or if I'm doing an art project at that moment.
FG: It's funny because I think similarly and if someone says are you an artist? I say ‘I make things’.
EB: It’s less going against the idea of what an art is and more going against the perception of what an artist it. Because as soon as you say it you fall into so many traps, especially if you say it around other people who are arty. I remember doing a performance, I was outside Baden Powell house in central London and it was fashion week and I was dressed as a member of the Kibbo Kift an alternative scout group who wore these big hats and tabards and we stood there with placards saying 'war won't work'.
And someone said what are you doing and the guy I was with cut across me and said 'Oh it’s just a thing to do with fashion week'… And they went off and the guy said to me, 'don’t tell anyone it’s an artwork because people get really hostile.' It wasn’t even my thing!
I think everyone's got this really loaded idea of what an artist is or should be and what an artist do. So it’s quite nice to circumnavigate that and not use the word.
FG: So do you have a personal understanding of what you consider yourself to do as an artist?
EB: Just expressing something…you mean what do you want to get from it?
FG: What about in relation to the public?
EB: Yeah, we both have this dual thing of the personal work we do like drawing, in the house...
Yeah I feel like comparing it with public stuff, I feel a bit guilty to do stuff just for myself. I think recently I've been trying to say I'm allowed to do this for myself. I've never particularly thought of myself as a public artist but I think it's important to make stuff and I want to share it with as many people as possible. It’s an emotionally connected thing for me and something I'd like to live off but sometimes I like to make something for myself and I just want to make it for myself but I feel guilty about that. My job is a craftsman, I make other people's artworks, high end bespoke pieces for yachts and stuff, I don’t think of myself as an artist in that context but it’s the making of what some people would call artwork.
It’s contextual isn’t it? I don’t think of what we’re doing here today as in my capacity as an artist.
FG: Can you describe it?
EB: Yes, it’s called Stuff School, it was designed to be a part of a collection of public workshops.
It came about quite organically, Rob was saying, I want to do anti-workshops where it’s not about making anything, let’s get loads of phones that don’t work and nail them to the wall.
Collective action, doing things together.
Yeah, simplistic communal actions. Other Andrew is into experimental gaming, and he works out games and exchanges of ideas through that. And I wanted to stop this idea of an outcome, a progression to a finished piece. It came from a previous workshop where we realised that if no one came then it wasn’t going to come about.
Yeah and it’s very difficult to get people involved, sometimes people are just walking past and you want to involve the community
whatever community means, it usually means people who are not artists and don’t understand, it's quite a condescending thing sometimes.
I came to realise that I have a community
of friends who want to be involved and get a lot out of the projects. Extra Bones is our collective name, and I thought this has become a thing, and people who get involved from a creating point of view rather than from a dropping in point of view and I shouldn’t turn my back on that, and say it's got to be about public let's do it for ourselves.
So we thought let's make something that works even if it's just us.
Practically how it came together was the idea of exploring a material in various ways.
Taking a stuff and investigating it. As if we are Stone Age detective children.
And we just take something, like ash, we were working with today.
Previous materials like wood, mud, clay, paper, string have been a bit more straightforward.
We devised the 4 departments to tackle the stuff – ear, eye, snout, and limb, these are the starting points to investigate with.
And we made a school textbook so if you are stuck for ideas you can turn to a page.
Like: zoom in, zoom out, one liner, or drawings to inspire a spark of action.
It's more about action, not necessarily creating things but it can be destroying, essentially exploring and not giving up on stuff.
It's very simplistic, just getting stuck into stuff.
Children really reacted, really well. Some people want to be a bit more directed or I feel like I've got to direct people a bit more.
JT: Co what’s a good reaction?
EB: I think a good reaction is someone pitching up and doing it and us not having to look after them really.
Rather than giving up and walking away, spending a bit of time with something.
Some of the most successful ideas have come from someone coming up with something really quickly.
Sometimes we’ve told stories from the stuff or made a ritual.
KB: Do some of the things that come off it send you in directions you hadn’t thought about before? Do you go home and think I want to develop that idea? Or do you more make a space for the process.
EB: We're not bothered about finished things or even having to talk about it. It's liberating to feel like you don’t have to document this.
But I realised for example when working with paper, I was whittling paper and made this cocoon and I’ve made them into presents a few times.
JT: So what are the advantages of doing it in a public place like this? Instead of in a studio?
EB: We were thinking about doing it privately a group of 10 of us, but getting unexpected ideas is always exciting.
JT: That’s an advantage of it being public.
EB: Yeah and among lots of awkward meetings, occasionally you get someone who confounds your expectations and is a fountain of goodness and fun and either having some personal satisfaction or some artistic satisfaction, meeting that person in that context is just a joyful thing really…it sounds very selfish.
KB: I don’t think it is, that’s one of the reasons I do work like that, because of those encounters with people that can then change the way you see things.
EB: Whether or not it selfish the reason I like doing it is because it’s a great way of looking at things and if we can spread that to whoever pops in…the possibility of spreading what you think to a lot of people.
I sometimes find that quite difficult because I work in a museum and I am a tour guide and I do art engagement workshops there and that’s like, I’m an official by wearing a uniform and representing an institution, you’re the teacher, you're in control
and you're there to impart knowledge and I’m trying to break that down, sometimes its works and sometimes it doesn’t. Doing this, I’m really aware of trying not to do it that and not be about education. But it's still difficult because those roles are assumed subconsciously either by me or by someone I’m talking to.
The education I'd like to pass on is to look at things a bit deeper. I feel like I need to be reminded of that all the time – to look at the world. Not to take things as a given. It's easy to get into a routine and look at everything at surface value.
FC: So what's the difference between an iPhone and stuff? I mean you're talking about basic materials but also you seem to be saying there is a disenchantment with things, we live with things and that's where the relationship stops.
EB: I mean people talk about the iPhone and the apps and all the possibilities, like you can get lost and use GPS and feel safe, I'm not against digital technology per se but it's more like blogs, like you see so many things so quickly, so if an iPhone can free you up to take time to explore things that’s as valid as taking a bit of mud. Whatever helps you necessarily appreciate the world more.
I think the stuff we use is more about necessity than design – stuff we can get for free, I mean I’d be up for that if we got a box of iPhones for free… I mean apps would be quite interesting to explore as a stuff.
KB: Yes we were talking about that, about the things you take for granted but don’t appreciate the labour involved in the making of them.
EB: not taking them apart I mean using them in exciting creative ways. Like the way you can set the alarm by GPS by location. Below the surface. It's not in opposition to digital, it's all ripe for investigation.
I think that’s a nice thing to do, to do this in a digital way as well.
JT: How do you see this developing? Or is it that there's enough stuff on the planet and you're going to just keep looking…
EB: I think THAT.
I mean Extra Bones was the overarching thing, it was based on Deptford High Street, part of Utrophia, I’d wanted a shop for ages and I opened it two days a week selling handmade things and just weird things…
Things people had made, cds, zines, strange objects,
Yeah resin blobs with pens
A cigarette holder with a ceramic horn
But no one bought those things
But the underlying message was thinking about worth, value. It was secondary to a lot of things like a live music thing and a drawing thing.
JT: Was it art?
EB: in a way, I don’t really care! I didn't talk about that but I did…under the surface
Art school makes you do this, it makes you ask, is this party we’re throwing at our house art, yeah it could be but (laughs)
Thinking about it as…I've never worded this…when certain people think about art there’s some sort of expression and consideration, and something they want to install in it, that’s slightly aside from the word art and the art world, and I apply that to a lot of the stuff I do whether it's cooking or choosing clothes, and I did that process in the shop but not consciously.
That was EB HQ, it was a gallery space and an art space and we got a lot out of it, it taught of different things.
I feel like Stuff School is a contained project and after that we’ll do something else, like the 'spinny woahtrope', a communal drawing board.
'Progress in work' was a 3 or 4 day residency with 3 people at a time bringing their materials to the space and making stuff, responding to the place. It got a bit more public each time, it may or may not be according to who's there.
Yeah but people would just wander in off the High St., they'd done their shopping and they would wander in and say what is this. And they'd get involved.
Location seems to be…before that we’d been trying to do something with the community
in Deptford and it had been really hard, it hadn’t worked.
It was tucked away, down a weird slope at the top of weird hill.
Going to the High st there will inevitably be people who raise really interesting questions from a non-art school background, have really interesting conversations.
[discussion about drawing and people saying they can’t draw]
FC: You were talking about institutions and not being able to able to leave art school behind because it informs you?
EB: Yeah even if you reject everything you’ve learnt there.
FC: What's humour got to with it?
EB: We’re just funny guys! (laughter)
It’s essential for me.
I don’t want to go into 'is it a British thing?' but there is this thing of having humour break down people's hostilities.
Maybe our projects are more humorous than we’ve intended but I have this anti-cool attitude, people trying to be cool is really tiring.
FC: yeah so what I'm interested in about humour is that it doesn't have to have an outcome, it's in and of itself, and it seems to me what you do is in and of itself.
EB: yeah I like that.
What I think about how humour manifests itself is that we egg each other on to make it more and more ridiculous for imaginations sake, to try and widen that imaginative palette until it gets silly, or blasé which is funny in its own way.
JT: but I get the feeling there is something serious in your humour that’s enabling this investigation to go on into stuff that gives you the freedom to explore the world in your way. Is there any way you could do it that wasn’t art?
EB: The comedy I like always has some kind of neuroses or cosmic or deep, about what it is to be a human being. I was watching Reeves and Mortimer and that stuff is rich with human frailty and trying to work out what culture is.
There's seriousness behind humour yes and humour is a good way of tackling serious stuff.
FC: Does it also bridge the gap with the audience as well?
EB: Yes is breaks down…if you can't have a joke…
Unless they don’t find it funny or entertaining, then it furthers the gap (laughter)
Yeah I think humour or like just smiling helps a lot in bridging a gap.
JT: do you get involved with institutions or funding?
Yeah well we know Jack through being in Deptford, he just came into the shop one time. He did one of the 'Progress in work' residencies in the shop. I said to Jack, I want your job! Being an artist in residence at a school sounds amazing, and Jack said I wanted to ask you to do Hackney Wicked.
We’ve never been funded, I'd happy to work with institutions or funding as long as I can do it my own way.
I used to do that as a job, freelance workshops with Camden arts centre, and Hayward. It was often it's this show; it needs to tie with the show and be animations and so on. I did like it but doing it that way I had to pay the rent with this. I had to take a part time job but then I couldn’t do a workshop the next day…