Messege From The Underworld The Chamber Of Pop Culture
The Chamber of Pop Culture (CPC) was founded in 1993 on the premise of producing a series of street fashion exhibitions which document the relationship between style and life as lived. As the space has evolved this original concept has expanded to encompass multi-media Ôcultural curationÕ. But is it a cinema, gallery, museum, club...? Her everything talks to Ian White.
|e: Do you feel that by feeding into scenes you can create a scene?
IW: That's always been an intention of the space, not in a dogmatic sense, but more in terms of a group of people who interrelate music, art, fashion and photography. So it's imperative that the gallery has a core audience who will turn up to things. Kinodisobey has created a situation where everyone is stimulated by each others company and work together on cross cultural projects. But it's hard talking about intention, to get a scene like that going is a special little thing, you can't do it by choice - it's either going to happen or not.
e:The media seem to represent your space as essentially a kitchy spectacle.
IW:It's not our intention to be kitch. We're interested more in shifting the the ways in which fine art, graphics, fashion and music &c are assessed. Not everyone will get it or like it - it's something which can only be explained by an experience of the space and the meaning that objects give to each other within it. We're not about theorising on behalf of someone else.
e:I came to Premeditated Fun, the experience was like being locked up in the greatest ever second hand store. There seemed to be a dualistic aspect to that show; drawing from the past as a museum would whilst reflecting the club culture that is happening right now.
IW:The tension between those two things is reflected in almost all the things we do. Roger Burton [who owns the company and is CPC's artistic director] has been collecting clothes since the day he was born and one of his ideas is that fashion is based on inter-period references; so that the 60s talk about the 20s just as the 90s might talk about the 70s. A similar tension exists in the relationship between the things we show in the space.
e: There seems to be a current to the things you do which is about identity - how it's manifest through groups or through individuals.
IW:Each of the three of us directing the space is obsessed with identity on a personal level, as opposed to adopting this as a spacific, guiding theoretical perspective. It's part of running a space which is led by personal passions that are responsive to things happening now. It's not led by the promotion of a particular artist or the gallery for their own sakes. We want people to be continually and repeatedly surprised. It's a really tall order but we want to create that thing of being on the edge of something and reporting back from a part of the underworld.
e:It also seems to be a perfect mechanism for survival. Style will always have an audience which haven't yet been contextualised. Are you worried that through that process the space will become decentred, having no central critical focal point?
IW:We don't articulate ideas about the space in terms of theory but rather in terms of image and experience.
e:But if it had relied wholly on chance it would have died.
IW: Our main concern is eclecticism and if that ends up being decentered we'll have to change the space. It doesn't have to be, and often isn't, an exhibition space and we're quite reticent to call it a gallery because it creates false expectations in the audience.
e:As the profile of the space has become greater recently and you're more in a position to pick and choose is there a possibility that it could lose its connection with the grass roots of culture ?
IW:It's quite unlikely that we would get into that position because each of us are very fickle. We get bored with things we have seen before and done before and the scenes that we've worked with become boring. So it's still about going out and doing things as much as we can. What occurs in the space reflects our experiences culturally and socially rather than sitting with a theory book and saying if we do this, this and this we'll be there.
e: You appear to be constantly creating dichotomies within the space.... or is the reality that you are more attracted to the similarities between genres ?
IW:It works on the basis of creating dichotomies, the coherence comes from people wondering what we are going to do next. When I took over the running of the space there was an idea that it could be used as a reference centre [CPC has an extensive magazine and clothes archive] but we ended up steering away from that because it felt like a dead project. It was difficult to think of a way to do that and still stimulate people. I'd like to think we are a kind of democracy, not in terms of any left wing utopian ideals, but rather a democracy of objects - we would value our punk collection as much as we'd value our fine art collection. Also if people have made an effort to come through the door as an exhibitor or as a member of an audience they deserve a bit of respect. It's like the difference between trying to make history and being a part of something which will create history. I think this puts us in a different relationship to the things we show than a commercial gallery. The idea of a commercial gallery attempting to create museum standard shows is about status - it's a form of hype.
e:I think in the next five years we're going to have blockbuster shows like the Cezanne - running up to the inevitable Damien Hirst blockbuster - and spaces which are more event based, which are able to pick up on the speed and the movement of the time - and in between that there will be dealers.
IW: The current scene also seems to me to be about a notion of craft which has become incredibly perverted. The idea that we can actually learn from past masters just feels embarrassing when you think about the contemporary art scene. The idea that we can use these people to understand our relationship to form seems farcical. There seems to be this fake utopian idea that art is free, there is nothing free about an artist's career or the work they produce - it's all about who buys the work. We're brought up to think that this series of value judgments are based on aesthetic ideals but, within the commercial gallery scene, they almost don't exist. The idea of showing an artist's work because it's good is ridiculous.
e:What are the defining characteristics of current art though, is it tapping into the moment...?
IW:In terms of attitude and content it's tabloid led. I feel incredibly hopeless at the idea of a whole generation of artists having such ambiguous politics, which is bizarre coming from me because as a curator I don't have a political agenda. I think it's symptomatic of an all encompassing vaccuum that leaves one with very little belief in the idea of formal or conceptual progress. Our work is generated by a passion rather than using a pre-existing scene to validate a particular group of artists who would seem to be working along similar lines. What seems to validate a lot of contemporary artists is the fact that they know each other.
e: But as the contemporary art scene seems to feed off itself the Chamber of Pop Culture seems to feed off various scenes. How is that more valid ?
IW:Because we're celebrating, not trying to hide the scene when we are presenting the work. By bleaching any context from the work on show, rarefied commercial galleries are too often attempting to invest work with a fake sense of integrity for the sake of a client list. We donÕt have an audience of buyers and critics that must be pandered to and that makes a massive difference.
e:But IÕve had so many conversations with people within the art world who say they are trying to break down elitism.
IW:I think it's bullshit and I'm not really sure I want that to be done. The things we show are great because they are brilliant elitist products, often produced by a focused little group. Being eclectic or cross-cultural does not preclude elitism -this is just an easy misconception. It's probably an admirable motivation, but what would be the end point of removing elitism?
e:By presenting fragments of culture it is possible to opperate in an ellusive sphere. Is there an element of myth making in what you do at CPC?
IW:Absolutly, this is the nasty side of what we do. There's a big element of showing people a little bit but not telling them everything. We absolutly refuse to spell things out for people so we try and do things in such a way that everything's there but it has to be discovered so that people pick up on the clues and go and buy the magazines, or see something else or go to a club... and obviously that's about myth making, that the objects are fetish symbols or phenominal sighs which may lead into something else even if it's just a train of thought. Also the scenes which we've represented retrospectivly were themselves exploded as myths in their own times. We don't have any quarms about doing eclectic shows, it's great to have dj's, music, visuals... we have no desire to exclusivly represent one medium because that's not how life is.