Hitler, The Bible and a deep-fat fryer - an interview with Littlewhitehead
22 August, by Tom Jeffreys, Spoonfed
Tom Jeffreys talks to controversial art duo Littlewhitehead about their new work, the importance of humour and the pressure of history.
Art duo Littlewhitehead – consisting of Craig Little and Blake Whitehead – are possibly the fastest rising stars in the contemporary art world: the Gilbert and George or Jake and Dinos of our times, if you're a fan of such comparisons.
After meeting whilst studying in Glasgow, they had their first solo show in 2008 and were featured in the prestigious Bloomberg New Contemporaries; 2009 saw solo shows at The Bun House in Peckham and Gimpel Fils in Mayfair and in 2010 their work was some of the most talked about in Saatchi's Newspeak Part I. This year has seen the pair steal the show at London Art Fair, and in September they've got work in two London group shows – Modern Frustrations at Sumarria Lunn and Air / Breathe, curated by Gazelli Art House.
So exactly what is it that has propelled the pair upwards at such speed? Well, for a start, their work is very direct, often unsettlingly so (particularly pieces like It Happened in the Corner – life-size sculptures of a group of hooded youths gathered threateningly in the corner of the gallery [above]) and it's often controversial – they've burnt artist monographs, made a Bible out of copies of Mein Kampf, and passed that essential rung in the career of any aspiring young artist – provoked outrage from the Daily Mail, for a simulated car-crash in Stoke-on-Trent.
But their work is also funny – both in terms of the artistic process and the finished result: “Humour's very important, Blake tells me, “not just in our work but also how we work.” Sometimes this side is clearly lost on the audience: “Within the finished work there’s always humour,” Blake insists, “however often the joke is just between us. That’s OK though. But as a tool, as a mechanism to scrutinise and question certain ideological or philosophical positions, humour’s priceless.”
As well as humour, the other element of Littlewhitehead's work that clearly appeals is their accessibility. And Blake agrees: “By using a visual language that is accessible (which a lot of our work is), it allows most people to relate to the work and bring to it their own histories and social-political circumstances. If our art manages to generate interest and dialogue with an audience, we’re content.”
Having said that though, this contrasts with their self-assured 'take-it-or-leave-it' attitude: “As long as we are happy that we like it [our work], we aren’t bothered what others think.” This isn't just posturing though; it's a considered stance: “If an artist becomes too concerned by the reception a work will have,” Blake explains, “he/she begins making the work for the audience. It’s like making something just because you think it’ll sell, it’s not what we’ve ever been about.”
On thing that strikes me is the similarity between Littlewhitehead and the YBAs – both in terms of career path (championed by Saatchi; slammed by the tabloid press) and in terms of the works themselves – strange, dark hyper-real sculpture have featured heavily in the careers of the Chapman Brothers, Gavin Turk and Ron Mueck (an Australian, but hey ho) whilst the desire to be both accessible and confrontational is something very much associated with the Hirst/Emin generation.
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Littlewhitehead are children of the 80s: brought up on a diet of video nasties, computer games and the post-industrial landscape of socialist Glasgow. Their sculptures and drawings are the product of a very idiosyncratic and private dialogue. As a result, all of their work is steeped in their very own brand of humor. It is through such humor they manage to negate any particular ideological position, and instead try to foster reflection on many ontological and ideological absurdities.
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