Interview: Andy Holden

‘I want to be able to work with themes that could otherwise be seen as pretentious to comment on.’ TABATHA LEGGETT talks to artist ANDY HOLDEN about his exhibition Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time, currently on display at Kettle’s Yard.

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Andy Holden is a UK artist. His exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, which is his first major show here, is based around conversations that he had with Dan Cox – his friend and artistic collaborator who was tragically killed in a road accident when the pair were making preparations for the show. Holden has previously exhibited at The Tate Britain, where his huge knitted replica of a piece of rock from the great pyramid of Giza attracted a lot of press attention.

Tabatha Leggett: What inspired you to create ‘Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time’?

Andy Holden: This is a temporary articulation, a stoppage, a response to a number of things; the place (Kettle’s Yard), and the collection in the house, some recent events, as well as a kind of chapter close on themes I’ve been working with.

‘Chewy Cosmos’ is the dialogue side, chewing as thinking, talking as making, when a word spoken seems solid. ‘Thingly Time’ is a new concept that I’d been developing with Dan Cox, who, had he not died, would have curated the exhibition, and in a way, through his presence, did curate it anyway.

TL: What was your collaborative process with Dan like?

AH: It was great. Dan wanted to be an artist up until he was 20. Then he stopped. We met soon after and in a way I always felt that he stopped making so that I would have to make, and that I made things so that he didn’t have to. I think he would have loved the show, he was delighted with the way it was going.

The last room is how he wanted it; he said he couldn’t wait to see that room. The only thing that has changed in there is the Double Desk. It’s based on the note left by Flaubert for his great unfinished novel, Bouvard and Pecuchet, suggesting an ending in which the two characters, after attempting all different forms of knowledge; philosophy, geology, landscape gardening – return to just copying things out, but sitting face to face on a specially made ‘Double Desk’.

It suggests that in the end, after all the experimentation, with all different kinds of knowledge, the only thing that was important was their friendship.

TL: What do you think of the space at Kettle’s Yard?

AH: I like it very much. It allows for surprising exhibitions. It doesn’t suit all works but can produce moments where works look better than they might anywhere else, surprising and memorable moments that you don’t get with more conventional spaces. The juxtaposition with the house is also special, allowing you to consider the gallery as just one option for displaying art works, not the only way to do it.

TL: Our reviewer described your exhibition as ‘lacking in pretension and a little bit silly (in a good way)’. Would you agree with that comment?

AH: Perhaps… it’s a way of approaching things that seems necessary to me, especially when dealing with things that I think are very hard to approach directly. I want to be able to work with themes that could otherwise be seen as pretentious to comment on: time, death, desire, parental structures, monuments, memory, art, aspiration. So to do this I often end up using marble games, knitted fruit, party poppers, melted records, pastel plaster, Charlie Brown, dodo’s and arcade machines.

TL: You exhibited at The Tate Britain last year. What was that like?

AH: It was great. Actually as a teenager there were two galleries I’d hope that one day I might get to show in; the Tate Britain and Kettle’s Yard.

For the Tate I showed a work called Pyramid Piece, it was a scaled up knitted replica of a tiny fragment of rock which I took from the great Pyramid of Giza as a kid. The rock was enlarged 100,000 times in volume, and took a year to make. A video was shown alongside of me back in Egypt, 15 years later, trying to find the spot from which I had taken the rock as a kid, and attempting to return it to its original spot on the pyramid. The whole piece was in a way a moment to a piece of a monument, and the great rooms and the history of the Tate added a lot to the presence of the sculpture.

TL: What state do you think the British art industry is currently in? Do you feel positive or negative towards it?

AH: I fluctuate. Recently I was chatting to someone who was telling me how all modern art is rubbish, and because he is a painter it seems he has the right to declare this.  I think art at the moment is edging into territory that will reflect a change in thinking that will soon happen at a wider level, and art is at it’s best when it’s making and thinking at the same time, demonstrating new ways of putting things together, taking some political risks and carving out an ethical position.

Saying that, this doesn’t always produce good things. You have to wade through a lot of poor stuff, mostly only made visible through the media, and good art doesn’t often travel well via traditional media coverage.

TL: What inspires you?

AH: Speculative Realism, Dubstep, Mark Leckey.

TL: Do you have a favourite art form?

AH: Cover versions of hit pop songs done inappropriately.

Andy Holden’s ‘Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time’ is at Kettle’s Yard until 1oth July.