an interview with British-born, then Christchurch-based painter and musician Kit Lawrence was published in Zing Magazine in August 2006.
DANCING ABOUT ARCHITECTURE: KIT LAWRENCE IN CONVERSATION WITH SALLY ANN MCINTYRE
SM: Kit, you've done many things since moving from London to New Zealand two years ago. You started two bands (House of Dolls and Pig Out) and made some significant leaps in the local art community. You've also recently started a project space. What was your main aim with Wednesdays?
KL: To illustrate how you can change the landscape of a place if you're not satisfied with what it has to offer, and to show video works that would never get shown here.
SM: How did it work with your other projects?
KL: It's an expansion of my practice. I like to avoid accepted exhibition structures. Having openings every Wednesday for a month at 9pm was a change for the city. We tied in the openings with other events like Pig Out's first show and my painting show at The Bicycle Thief, a bar where everyone was going after openings. I thought I'd cut out the gallery entirely on that one.
SM: A distinct picture of contemporary London came through in Mark Leckey's Londonatella, with its bricolage of culled media representations of the city, sashayed by a duo of beautiful, detached actors, and the drift, amid the banality and entropy of contemporary London, of Oliver Payne and Nick Relph's 'Driftwood', whose poetic narration states "Nobody knows London. There is no knowledge which can understand it." Can you describe what led you to choose these works?
KL: They both describe London in a way that is literal as well as romantic. At the same time as celebrating its infamy and opportunity, they're totally pessimistic. I mean London's a shit hole you know?! But that's what makes it so fun. Centuries of bad planning and wrong choices piled on top and it kind of leaks out in people's attitude. Londoners are products of the city's history. Like it has this warped sense of history and self-promotion, but it just doesn't know what it represents anymore. Leckey's vision is a true and honest representation of the feel of the place because my friends and I spent our time hanging out, drinking, and posing in Soho but also wishing destruction on the place!
SM: Your curatorial strategy with Wednesdays was an artist's strategy in the sense that it was about getting something done with the resources available. Also, rather than trying to find major sponsorship, you chose to put these works in an impermanent exhibition with an emphasis on socialisation, late-night opening times, and tie-ins with music events. On top of creating an entirely new, non-historically-loaded space for the apprehension of the work, many of which were being encountered by a New Zealand audience for the first time, this method of exhibition also rather appropriately framed the work. I'm thinking of 'Driftwood's' portrayal of skateboarders using urban space for their own purposes, to "navigate [their] city by alternative means". Can you talk a little about what 'alternative means' might be in terms of the artist-as-curator?
KL: When you're too skint for the bus, walking or skating opens you up to the opportunity to discover your city. Walking is the poor person's mode of transport, that's why he's the richer man than the guy in the chauffer-driven car.
SM: With the rise of Biennials promoting a homogenisation and decontextualisation of work the decision to show a group of young New Zealand video artists alongside the British work made Wednesdays' programming quite unique.
KL: Go Wild in the Country [a survey of young NZ video art that opened the series] provided a context the audience could relate to and was a good starting point. Many NZ video artists are still working within the accepted boundaries of recent video work, work that was big in the '90s. Chris Cudby stood out for me and he's a musician and curator. Whenever you get people who are not involved solely in visual art, you get freer, more resonant work, in my opinion. Nathan Pohio, who closed the series, was cool because he had a local following and falls between the two camps. He's dealing with issues that have local and international resonance. He's an astute and undervalued NZ artist.
SM: Are you hoping to extend Wednesdays?
KL: Between touring and making work, sure! The idea is to present it in conjunction with a club night afterwards.
SM: Would you ever think of taking work from New Zealand back to England?
KL: I think it needs addressing. NZ is a unique mix of historic cultural baggage. It necessitates an impartial view because if it's done badly it could cause a ten-year setback in the perception of what is going on here. Ideally a gallery abroad would offer me the opportunity of doing it. Somewhere hot! I'd take Pig Out and Golden Axe, Chris Cudby's band, and we'd tear the place apart!
SM: Oliver Payne and Nick Relph are not media-shy about the fact that they were 'expelled from' and 'failed' art school. You knew them around that time; what year did you get up to?
KL: The media likes to market people rather than dealing with a layered truth. They were initially cast as rebels, like they were marched from the gates! Neither I, nor Oliver, placed much interest in school at that point. One Sunday, he said "I've got a project due Monday" so I helped him put together a film from all the funny stuff he'd shot and made a soundtrack with broken acoustic guitars recorded onto a Dictaphone, like a skate video without the skating, but really beautiful. I left my degree after two years. I didn't feel they could teach me anything more and it was expensive to study so I went to work in a clothes shop in Soho. Nick wasn't really a part of that circle when I met all those guys, Ol, Timo, Ash [Lange] and [Nicky] Verber [Herald Street directors, representing Nick Relph and Oliver Payne]. We took advantage of our superior social skills and made the most of what was happening at that time in London. Those guys looked very sharp and raised my appreciation for clothes to the point it almost bankrupted me! We were all so skint. I remember Ol living on onion sandwiches for a while! I met Relph later, after they had started making films together. Nick is a very sharp guy with a lot of style and really into The Fall.
SM: In your own work, there seems to be an intricate exchange between your artistic and musical identities. Sometimes watching you live on stage it appears as though the atmosphere of your paintings has been animated! In your recent show at Room 103, [artist run space in Auckland] you place your own image as another iconic symbol within your pantheon of motifs: the artist as his own ultimate work of art, but one tempered with an appropriate degree of fashion-mag flatness, with references to a more primitive design era, say, a Face magazine photo-shoot from the mid '80s.
KL: I'm interested in the cyclic movement of fashion and the way it reflects social aspirations. Looking back, it's easier to dissemble what was being emoted and it gives you a clue about where you come from and that informs our contemporary situation. The collages were a way of celebrating my own collection of Casual-era clothes, not a self-portrait exactly but a character that is part of my upbringing. I would also relate it to an interest in layout techniques rather than anything to do with the status of portraiture. I like the possibilities and personal history associated with collage and it's nice to use your own body sometimes.
SM: You often draw on autobiographical material for your work, but the world you present is not diaristic, it's a complex symbolic universe that has included the Hacienda club in Manchester, Factory records, references to Constructivism in 80s design, northern English industrial architecture, bad civic murals, rave culture, prismatic shapes, painterly-ness and trompe-l'oeil, combined with a highly convincing articulation and consistency, as opposed a glib accumulation of pop-junk cultural iconography. Musical cultures are often critical of wider culture and I get the sense - and other people have talked about it, too - that you want to make art that has the same sensibility, and the same level of personal substance, as music does.
KL: I relate to the purity of its communication. I'm not interested in art world esoterica. I grew up in the north of England during the recession when the local TV news was always, 'This factory is closing,' or, 'That mine is closed.' At the same time there was energy in the music and style coming out of the place. I was the only person from my year who went to art school to study fine art. There was an exciting dichotomy I was aware of, the idea that leisure pursuits could be more beneficial than working in a traditional industry and I think about my old school and how I grew up all the time. It haunts me. I write about it in my songs and make paintings of empty factories!
SM: Every time I visit your apartment there seems to be a new series of work on the walls. We could call you prolific! What are you working on at the moment?
KL: Paintings and collages for a show at Michael Lett in Auckland, provisionally titled 'Work it!' They deal with industrial product branding and its similarity to club flyers. I'm making an album of 4/4 house tracks out of factory and office noise to play over the top of the show and a video where I play a character who goes off to work at a factory in club gear. But the factory turns into my studio and then into a club, and it's surrounded by a field full of horses so it will look pretty strange. It's about the decline of mechanised employment and the rural fantasy of leisure time. Pig Out is playing the opening. It's going to be a ball!
wednesdays gallery can be contacted at the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org