N.B. Originally published to accompany the group exhibition ‘arc.’, curated by Kristian Day at Herrick Gallery, 09/08/2018-31/08/2018.
Kristian Day recently opened his latest exhibition, ‘arc.’, at Herrick Gallery in Mayfair, featuring the work of young London-based artists Mark Corfield-Moore, Victor Seaward, Nathaniel Faulkner and Fani Parali. Over the course of it’s three-week duration Writer and Art Historian Hector Campbell spoke to the artists about their influences, creative process and exhibited work. Faulkner spoke about his fascination with cargo cults, his experience of art school and the inspirations behind his latest works ‘Deep Blue’ and ‘The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations’ Millennium General Assembly’.
Hector Campbell: You have talked before about the influence of the cargo cults of Melanesia on your work, could you explain this strange phenomenon? How did this particular idea become such a fascination for you?
Nathaniel Faulkner: I first became interested in the cargo cults a few years ago. I had made a piece using giant painted railway sleepers, and someone pointed out that they resembled some of the wooden sculptures made by tribes in Melanesia, known as cargo cults.
These cargo cults came about after previously uncontacted tribes were introduced to Western culture for the first time, and the period of activity I was specifically interested in was during and after World War II. Military bases began popping up around the islands, boasting all kinds of supplies; weapons, ammunition, canned food, radios and other technologies. The local tribes observed and interacted with the Westerners, but the cultural and technological gap was shocking and irreversible, even more so when the military eventually left. Once they realised the sacred ‘cargo’ (as it was called) wasn’t returning, the tribesmen decided to summon it themselves; hoping that if they behaved like Westerners they could acquire the cargo that was now gone. They began erecting giant wooden radio antennas, constructing wooden airplanes and performing ceremonial marches, with the incentive that like produces like.
At the time I was reading ‘The Golden Bough’ by James George Frazer which discusses imitative magic, so I think that was what peaked my interest. What I was creating myself began to change a lot after this, and it’s influence still feels relevant to my practice now.
H.C: On display at Kristian Day is ‘Deep Blue’, a replica of the IBM computer which famously beat chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 1997. What is your preoccupation with this specific computer, and such pinnacles of technology in general?
N.F: I came across the machine by chance; my flatmate and I had found an old chess computer that someone had thrown out, and as it still worked so we spent the rest of the night trying to beat it (which we never did). After that I must have been researching chess computers, and that would’ve been when I first saw IBM’s ‘Deep Blue’, the name given to the original computer by its creators. The story of it playing and beating Kasparov sounded to me like a Greek myth, like Prometheus. I also liked that Marcel Duchamp quit art to pursue chess, that seemed important.
I was also struck by the appearance of the original ‘Deep Blue’; it reminded me of a Minimalist sculpture. I wanted to see it and to be associated with it, so I made this replica. It did however change a bit during the making process; my replica was slightly taller and had flashing LEDs, I don’t think the original ever had lights.
H.C: However, upon inspecting the back of your imitation, we find the structure to be hollow, the powerful supercomputer merely reduced to MDF and Christmas lights. Is this a concerted effort to undermine the seemingly impressive and slightly intimidating presence of such computers?
N.F: My tutor at the time pointed out that I was neglecting the back of my sculptures, something that sculptors often do, so I thought it was appropriate to leave the back exposed.
Despite it’s convincing facade it is just a hollow shell of wood and Christmas lights, I like to think of this as a kind of punchline to the work, it’s intended to be funny. My computer gives the impression it has the capacity to think or problem solve, yet it lacks any internal mechanism. Like the cargo cult’s radio antennas that will can never transmit a signal, their wooden airplanes that can never fly. At the time of making it I was interested in myth and science, I intended for it to raise questions about the objectivity of scientific facts; as Bruno Latour has pointed out, there are no facts separable from their fabrication.
H.C: You recently completed a BA in Fine Art at Central St Martins, how did your work evolve over your three years there? Do you have plans for further postgraduate studies?
N.F: I was trying to paint when I first started at art college, but slowly moved off of the wall and began to make sculptures. This was a very natural process, I never made a conscious decision to move away from making pictures.
It wasn’t until the last half of my final year that I made anything that I still consider to be relevant to my current practice, but I think that’s quite normal. When I left I applied to the RCA in a panic, got an offer and was enrolled to start straight after my BA, but dropped out before the course started for financial reasons. I think it would’ve been a mistake to go straight onto the sculpture course then, I’ve enjoyed slowing down and moving at my own pace, I like to step back sometimes and let things develop on their own. I used to worry that if I wasn’t always active or creating then I would drop off the map and would feel less connected to my work, but I’ve found the opposite to be the case.
H.C: Your second work on display in this current exhibition is ‘The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations’ Millennium General Assembly’, an exaggerated and elongated Charles Rennie Macintosh-esque dining chair. What were some of the ideas behind this work? Is there meant to be an element of humour inherent within?
N.F: The Macintosh chair is a 1:1 replica of the Ingram Street Tea Rooms High-back chair, except I made mine much taller (about 3m). I went up to Glasgow to attempt to measure the original, but they wouldn’t let me get close to it at the museum. After giving up I went to visit the Glasgow School of Art, I couldn’t believe it; they had a replica of that exact chair in the foyer, and allowed me to get up close and take measurements.
In that sense it’s a replica of a replica, but I don’t think that matters. The chair was about making something absurd or humorous out of something serious and intellectual, I like to try to do that; combine high and low at once. However, it’s also meant to be sincere, there is humour in it but that doesn’t mean it can’t be making a point.