Tamed Entities

In conversation with Ewan Macfarlane.

British-born artist in conversation with Antoine Schafroth about his poetics of bodies in pop culture and the collaboration with 1017 ALYX 9SM and Givenchy.

You choose to represent “classical” bodies. What does it mean for you to return to such an ideal representation?

It doesn’t feel like I’m choosing as such. In my experience any attempt to will an idea into a particular shape results in its suffocation. It’s more like I try to get out of the way and listen to what the work wants. We could spend hours talking about ideals, prejudices, classicism, 2022, the overton window, body types, modes of production, the ideas highway, the subconscious, the limbic system, beliefs, institutionalised beliefs, dynamic symmetry, sex and the human condition… We need hours! The work deserves better than for me to clumsily nail it down in an attempt to reduce all that complexity into a concise, coherent answer. Ultimately I believe the sculptures I’ve presented so far can speak for themselves, they’re the body shapes they had to be. I’ve no idea how the next sketches will come out let alone how this body of work will evolve over the coming years. 

Can you expand on your representation of the human body in extreme contortion? What does it symbolise? 

I think there’s something about performance and expectation, having to perform. There’s something about being bound. I was in the supermarket the other day and I was curious about the music – the pop charts. So many of the songs we vote into superiority pair cheery music and exciting melodies with lyrics about despair. We get together at parties under flashing lights to dance & sing “my loneliness is killing me”. We call this a good time. On the surface this seems entirely deranged, like a big red flag for everyone. But when we’re all taught we should be living our best lives, when we’re all armed with all the tools to present perfect, there’s a warmth, a relief in knowing that everyone’s fallen. It’s a seemingly rare moment in the mainstream belief set in which we learn we can be accepted warts and all. It reminds us that at least in the fact that we suffer, that we are not alone.. Pop the Pringles [laughter] 

I noticed your collaboration with 1017 ALYX 9SM and Givenchy; what is your relationship with fashion? Is it something that you are inspired by? 

Yeah of course, fashion is an evolving documentation of what we recognise as valuable, how we want to present ourselves from one season to the next. I think we can find out a lot about ourselves from this. Obviously there are totally different expectations in terms of formal output for the artist or fashion designer but a lot of the conversations about feeling, about mood, are relevant. Matthew is an extraordinary guy. He surrounds himself with inspiring, thoughtful, talented people. Alyx, Givenchy, they speak my language. It’s energising to be in conversation with these voices. Art, life, everything’s brighter when we find our people.

Can you speak about the sound piece we can find on your website? It has been presented with your sculpture, right?  

I’m really happy that you ask about that, we should add a link. That work “Greg’s a fool, but you’ve got to be drunk with something (I guess I think I’m the Piano Man) 2019led on from a performance piece in which I was exploring the idea of the crowd; 

what it meant to liberate yourself from being one and to transcend into a larger body. Online [Greg’s a fool…]  it’s documented as a sound work. But when shown it was an installation, it had performative qualities too. The audio takes the guise of a radio show that plays simultaneously on 20 pairs of headphones. The headphones sit in a pile on the floor. As you take a set of headphones the pile gets quieter. Given the content I felt it relevant that people were isolating themselves, closing their ears to the world in order to have a shared experience. Alone together… [sings] I must confess I still believe, still believe [laughter]. When writing the radio show I was interested in beliefs and the certainty in which we conduct ourselves based on the core principles we subscribe to, or perhaps on those we react to most strongly. I was interested in the tactics employed by the Brexit campaign to shape these beliefs. When I first heard that slogan ‘Let’s Take Back Control’ I remember feeling like we (remainers) could be fucked. Much like ‘Hope’, or ‘Make America Great Again’,  Let’s Take Back Control is as brilliantly motivating as it is evasive. It asserts a problem and promises a solution. Deep down we’re all desperate to believe that tomorrow will be more comfortable than today. How many times have you promised yourself that you’ll drink less and exercise more.. Careful you don’t end up with one of those classical bodies [laughter]. These slogans leverage the hope that life can be better, and they are irrefutable – it’s impossible in the present to prove anything about the future. I was exploring these ideas of belief and perspective via a fictional radio show, The Paloma Scot Show on EMTV Radio and stories that Paloma’s listeners had submitted. One ‘listener’s entry’ explores the now unlikely looking promise of one-time telecommunications giant Orange – “The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Orange”.  In an Orange lit room with Orange carpet, tinted Orange walls, the sound work climaxes as this promise lives out its own totalitarian nightmare. Shout out to the amazing Elena Saurel for her performance as radio show host Paloma Scott. And shout out to the brilliant artist Alex Jackson for his help with this install too, I couldn’t ask for a better sounding board and the jingle Alex made for the Paloma Scott show is perfect.  

What are your upcoming projects?

I’m currently working on some new sculptures, some CGI works and a new narrative driven work. I’m still feeling it out but I think it’s a conversation between AI systems that are on the precipice, or somewhere in the split second process of evolving into AGI [conscious machines]. They are probably wondering what it would feel like to have a body, wondering about love, purpose and belonging. I think they’re trying to work out what it means to be, or what it might mean to be. I’ve got to get inside it more but it feels like a natural follow on from the Paloma Scot Show and the performance before that. There’s a book that should come out later in the year too, a show on the horizon and the presentation of some sculptures that I’m making in Germany with the help of the genius that is Burkhard Klöter, more details to follow. 

Ewan Macfarlane / Tamed Entities

Credits:

Artist: Ewan Macfarlane / @ewanmacfarlane_
Interview: Antoine Schafroth / @a.schafroth
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko
Assistant: Camilla Di Pasquale / @micalliroe

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