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everything talks to Sue Webster and Tim Noble.

Forever 1996
Context
Sue and Tim are in lots of exhibitions

Image 1:
Webster and Noble. Forever. ICA 1996
Courtesy the artist

e: You appear to be excellent at self promotion, having worked with the new breed of "corporate curator" [Joshua Compston, Max Wigram]. Can you explain what fame means for you ?

TN: As long as I've known Sue She's always wanted fame or success to a degree. It's very specifically to do with pop culture, that's the way pop stars become pop stars, ordinary people get blown out of proportion, that's always been part of our thing.
SW: I always look at top art in terms of music, getting a record deal is much the same as getting a deal with an art gallery if you want something you always have to put yourself in a position to get it.

e:There was within that a rebellion angle..

TN: If there are two people working together a mischievous confidence develops, you're making certain decisions, going with your gut feelings.... SW:The Anarchy thing comes from looking at what everybody else was doing and then doing the opposite; if we had made a nice little thing everybody (the galleries etc) would love it; so there's a weird self destructive element built into it.

e: Is it a conscious effort to use working class icons and motifs ?

TN: They were things that were just lying around. It wasn't something that we want to consistently draw on.
SW: I'm a massive music fan and we take it for granted that everyone else is into it. You either go for that naughtiness, the anarchic thing or not, and that was a major influence on us and still is. When we make a piece of work we're constantly looking for something that will take our breath away because if it does that to us we've pushed it as far as it will go. We like to look at every different way of making it, it can be very simple or very complicated , but we don't feel satisfied until we've both given it a good going over.

e: There seems to be a deliberate policy on your part of putting your work up for a trashing as an anti-aesthetic, anti-theoretical statement. You must anticipate getting responses like the Frieze review.

TN: A friend of ours got a good review around the same time and she said how shocked she was by ours, but also how interesting it was because at least it provoked a reaction, at least t it was lively. You are ultimately the one who might suffer so you have to decide whether it is useful to you making art, because your art only exists in a context where it is supported by other people. That's why we’re in London. It's a love hate thing. You're constantly flirting, your saying to yourself: 'Oh God, what do you want? Do you want to be nominated for the Turner Prize ?, do you what a show at the ICA?'. Everybody in the art world wants a bit of that, or they wouldn't be participating. I guess if you put on a show you're sticking your neck out, but you're also inviting people to come and have a look, flirting with people, saying: 'Would you be interested in giving me a show ?' whilst at the same time spitting in their faces. I think that's an interesting thing. If we were a little less troublesome and conformed more it would help us.
SW: We don't sit down and say: 'This will piss so and so off', we make the work we instinctively feel like making. We don't have the one idea like a lot of people out there - the one idea in red, blue, green, big, little ,square and round.
TN: I like to think we're consistently inconsistent.

e: Would you say there was a narrative throughout your work or is it housed within a particular time ?

TN: There's a lot of spontaneity, but it boils down to the underlying thing of the two of us.
SW: When you look at the back catalogue and try to pin it down (usually for the sake of others rather than for your own sake) it comes back to the dialogue we have.

e:Isn't there a problem of your work becoming too personal and immediate?

SW: We should get recognised for our way of working because it's probably more difficult, and while it may take longer to get a better understanding of it - we don't want to be a three year wonder like a lot of people.The longer we are aggressive the better, because once they've got it they've lost interest, they get bored so easily. Maybe if we sat down and worked out a three year plan and we got from A to B like a lot of other people have done – that would be the end of it.

e: The most 'popular' figures in art develop an identity which in turn acts as a critical referent for their work - creating a success built on continuity which focuses attention on the self. Are you not afraid that by jumping from idea to idea you lack a consistency that may result in a loss of identity?

SW: I think the consistency is coming out, when you look at our back catalogue it looks like we're jumping from this to this... but actually it all fits into perfect place - we might be using a lot of different media to get there...
TN: Someone said that the kind of decisions that we make are interesting... you can feel that a particular thing worked and then move on – it's like leaving a deposit. If you join all the dots together a picture forms over a couple of years.

e: It's evident that you enjoy what you're doing - you're having fun.

SW:I think a lot of the work has got it's serious connotations - you seem to be constantly referring back to the British Rubbish show but we have done two pieces since that, we've been in Fools Rain [ICA] and the Roadworks piece for FAT [Fashion Architecture,Taste]. People are thinking: 'are they going to continue with this British Rubbish theme?' and we're not. There are strands from that show which could have gone off in any of four directions. There was an element within that show which we took out and concentrated on, which wasn't the anarchic, messy type of attitude but something completely beautiful and symbolic which we’ve gone on to use.
TN: The illuminated composition.
SW: You're only as good as the last piece you've made and I really felt good about that piece.

e: The Roadworks piece was called Forever.

TN: 'Forever' is one of those words that keeps cropping up and it seemed to encapsulate that piece. It contradicts itself; forever is a long time, nothing lasts forever.
SW: Every time we make a piece of work we seem to title it 'Forever' and we think 'oh no'
TN: Perhaps we're keeping it more open now it seems much more interesting to us, and to other people, if you keep your options open, you have your own little personal reason and try and define it. It lets everyone else read what they want into it, that's much more interesting.

e: How do you intend to address a broader audience, to evoke some kind of personal reaction to your work, would you present your work outside of the gallery space as you did with the Absolute Vodka advert?

TN:The advert was good because it involved the private sector, although it was exhibited at the RCA it was the fact that it was funded by the outside world that was interesting.

e:By using adverts and public spaces more people are going to get exposure to the art. Is this a line you want to pursue?

TN:I don't know that it is, but you find yourself getting involved in things in a way like FAT.
SW: It's not something we'd necessarily dismiss.
TN: You also find yourself wanting to get back into the gallery space.
SW: When we found ourselves getting involved with Forever on the bus shelter we could see it inside the gallery as well – twice the size.
TN: The white wall space, as much as it has limitations, is just such a beautiful pure space, it is the ultimate place to put a piece of work, there are no distractions so you're concentrated. With this bus shelter thing distractions are all around it which makes it interesting but you're always thinking 'God, get rid of those lamps...' The best aspect of placing work in an enviorment so open and exposed is the accidents that happen, the unpredictable elements, the mistakes carry it onto another level.

e: It's a perennial problem that the gallery space is seen as an elitist institution, inaccessible and intimidating. It's hard for the art to cross boundaries while it stays in that institution.

TN: I think that's changed a lot, if you look at the popularity of the Turner Prize now and you look at the popularity of the Saatchi Gallery, the public it's drawing in is incredible.

e:Are you aware that you need to feed into that media attention?

TN:I don't know that it necessarily works like that now, because the art world is now unshockable and the media have had their field day. They're not so interested because they're aware of it all, so that’s not so interesting any more. I think ultimately, if you make an interesting piece of work it will draw in various people.

e: If, as you say, the media is unshockable, isn't art going to revert to elitism. Art in the late 80s early 90s rode on the back of media attention and in many ways you're poised on the edge of collaborating with what has now become a tradition.

TN:With the decline of media attention artists have to find other ways to show off their work which maybe is a good thing.

e:This could include using areas outside of the gallery space, focussing more on events than shows?

SW: You've got to be supported by the institutions. It seems you can only go so far by doing stuff outside the gallery. You need to be constantly seen within those white walls, I don't think they're a boring thing, the only boring thing is the work that's inside it – sometimes, or the limitations, imposed by a gallery's traditions.

e:Are you looking to show your work abroad now given, as we were discussing earlier, the phenomenon of 'Britart' might be waning?

SW:I think that the only good thing that could happen is that it sorts out the shit from the cream. With the explosion that happened in London it gave more opportunities than were there before, there were these middle stepping stones , Joshua and Max gave people platforms to show their work more often and there are many more galleries that have opened up. This brought along a lot of crap - a lot of absolute shit - coming out of colleges in London, riding on the back of the time. The British Art thing will survive because it's opened up so many peoples minds to what's going on. There's so many people still here that it can't close down because there's still a lot of shit to be sorted.

e:So how are you going to survive?

TN:People have got to be re-enchanted all the time, so maybe it's a good thing if things have dwindled a little bit because that creates new angles to work on and things can fire off in another direction.

e:Do you anticipate that this new direction will see a departure from the lowest common denominator which has become prevalent?

SW: Yes, in many way's the British Rubbish show was an attempt to debase ourselves in order to go back to the beginning and say: 'Look, this is shit, this is crap' now let's start afresh.
TN: It's just being incredibly honest really which is fairly suicidal but you find out who's out there when people attack you.

e:It seems many artists engage with debasement from a middle class perspective and assume stereotyped working class motifs which misjudge the identity of the working class.

SW:But British Rubbish was much more positive, it was like: 'this is it, this is the trash'. But we did it in a very slick way, a lot of the stuff was well made.

e:Do you feel that you've established yourselves now?

SW:No not at all. I think maybe we've upped a level, we've put ourselves into a position where everyone knows who we are but they probably don't know what we're about, so the longer we can keep people guessing, the better.

© Vivienne Gaskin 1997

© Image Noble and Webster 1996elogo

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