ZONA INTERVIEW – DAVID JACQUES
Interview by Denis Joe
I grew up in Kirkdale and Walton, a fairly regular upbringing, working-class family, comprehensive school, but with low expectations of any of us going on to do anything of worth. Though luckily I was encouraged mainly by my dad to pursue an interest in visual art. The thing is, with our family there’s been an arty bent there for a few generations and that stood me in good stead. I showed a bit of an aptitude for drawing and that gave an impetus to head down that route.
Did you have an interest in literature as it seems to inform a lot of your work?
One of the things that I can say with certainty is that narrative has been a mainstay of my work, virtually from day one. Where I found my voice in visual representation was as much through a rigorous use of storytelling, which was forged by an interest in history and literature, that’s really been central from the off.
You take a rather unique approach to the historical narrative. You seem to mingle the past and the future.
‘Por Convención Ferrer’ was a breakthrough work in that regard. It was the first essay-film that I’d been involved with. It’s essentially an exercise in collapsing history and interweaving factual and fictional information and relates to that Howard Zinn position that says there’s no such thing as objective history, there’s a notion of history being all around us – it’s not something that disappears in a linear fashion over your shoulder. The history that I’ve always been involved with is the bottom-up approach; that tapping into a multitude of voices and challenging the received wisdoms.
The issues of ‘history’, especially around political movements, point to the creation of myths. Your recent works Por Convención Ferrer and The Irlam House Bequest seem to be constructing their own myths. How important is that to your work?
It’s become more important specifically regards the idea of connecting myth with agency. The conventional understanding of myth, doesn’t really apply for me, the idea that it’s all dubious and ephemeral, a pack of lies. Myth for me is a form that’s absolutely reliant on agency, it’s something that anyone can have a hand in shaping and is reflective of who we are and where we are in any given space or time.
Central to myth-making is story telling. We normally assume that visual artists have their work pre-planned using technical jargon and visual outlines. You seem to use a story for planning your work.
One of the things about working in contemporary art is that, one of the great get-out clauses, is that you can approach things in a very idiosyncratic way – there’s no rule-books kicking around.
So those three works ‘Por Convención Ferrer’, ‘TheIrlam House Bequest’ and ‘North Canada – English Electric’ all developed out of objects that I had created: the banners for ‘Por Convención Ferrer’, stereoviews for ‘North Canada’ and with ‘Irlam House’ the design templates. They’re works, ‘Irlam House’ in particular, that engage with a labour theory of art production. And those objects start out as art objects, but then find a way into the narrative and begin to operate as props. So they tend to alternate precariously between those two forms of representation.
But initially when the work was being generated for ‘Irlam House’ I really didn’t know where it was going. There was a template of sorts that holds together for ‘Por Convención Ferrer’, which meant once that emerged the work pretty much wrote itself. Though with ‘Irlam House’ there were quite big gaps in the script and they were tackled on the spot during the shooting and editing processes.
With last year’s Liverpool City of Radicals, the Bluecoat commissioned a work from you that became The Irlam House Bequest. I find that in Contemporary art, there is a lot of work being produced to highlight issues – I don’t see that in your work.
No, if there are issues they’d be approached obliquely or just buried. But I was very aware of the Liverpool City of Radicals project with the commission and to that extent there was a reflexive, critical element to ‘Irlam House’ that looked at what might constitute ‘radicalism’ and the collective, the difficulties of coming together and attempting to create what in effect would be something along the lines of Hakim Bey’s T.A.Z. – a ‘temporary autonomous zone’.
But for me, a themed year wouldn’t normally be the spur to creating a work.
Words seem to dominate your work. But you are not pushing them as having meaning but in their effect as a visual thing. How important is it to represent words as visual things rather than their literal meaning?
There’s a whole canon of works that were produced using language as a kind of debased form – you could look to The Lettrists, The Situationists and going further back through Dadaism and Futurism – that really interests me; using language in a very affective way. But the novelists, poets, scriptwriters and the like that I’m into, those with philosophies that might bleed into the psychological, political or anthropological are really useful references as well.
Something that was noticeable around the Democratic Promenade exhibition, held at the Bluecoat, was that there was a focus on movements. There is a sort of sniffiness towards ‘isms’ and the like, but they did give a direction towards the disciplines. Is that lack of movements today, a problem?
We’re maybe living through times when the old certainties are not being of much use. It’s interesting because ideas are opening up, as are new forms of questioning. But then I wouldn’t see myself as an ‘activist’ artist. Those ideas that look at, for want of a better term the ‘minor revolutions’ taking place in everyday life seem more fruitful. I’d much rather be involved in a less well-defined role than with the earnest old full-time job of the ‘activist’.
One of the things about getting rid of the ‘old certainties’ such as those which defined elitism, has been a trend towards, what some call, ‘dumbing down’, there is a feeling that art should be telling us things, saying how we should be viewing works, rather than allowing us to interact with it. But there are artists – many from Liverpool, I notice, who go against that trend and allow people to come to terms with the works through their own process.
I’d agree and for my own part there’s a commitment to adopting a layered approach to developing content. It allows for a number of different narrative threads to weave together and can result in a breaking down of the subject, can chance to play around with fact and fiction. It’s in the navigating between these layers that maybe what you refer to as being interactive or offering degrees of agency can occur.
What would you say about the process you went through to reach the stage where you are now?
The trail to wherever ‘here’ is probably looks like it went all over the show – that’s not necessarily a weakness. And rather that than having opted for the weaselly pursuit of some aspirational career plan. But really I’m just thankful to be still practicing, still challenging myself and striving to maintain a critical outlook.
David has worked with The Spider Project over many years and with Gernot Wieland helped realise our Bluecoat staged Performance ‘Time Is What keeps The Light From Reaching Us’
His film work can be viewed via https://vimeo.com/user5423212