N.B. Originally published in the Absinthe §1 Catalogue, published by Kronos x Elam Publishing, produced to accompany the Absinthe §1 exhibition, curated by Billy Fraser, Charlie Mills and James Capper, 23/02/2019-11/05/2019, Spit and Sawdust Pub.
Hector Campbell : You recently completed your BA in Fine art from Chelsea College of Arts, having also studied abroad in Germany for a year at The Braunschweig University of Art (Hochschule Für Bildende Künste, Braunschweig). How do English and German art education compare?
Mitch Vowles : Braunschweig is quite a politically engaged and divided city. I was surrounded by a lot of artists escaping the overheads of Berlin, due to it only being a couple hours away by train, similar to how Margate is to London. The format of art education is fundamentally different in Germany, being much more intimate in terms of student/professor relationships.
It felt as if the pace of London and the competitive nature of our art schools gave me a hyper awareness of my own personality, which eventually led to me to feel like an outsider. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
H.C : Popular pub games such as Snooker and Darts are often referred to in your artistic output, could you explain the importance of these activities to you, and what they represent within your work?
M.V : A snooker table for me is this glamourous step up from a pub game, it completely holds its own next to a pool table. I see a division in class and culture between the two tables, more than just in terms of scale, snooker has artistry.
My Dad had this ¾ sized snooker table that when boarded over doubled up as the dining table at our house in Edmonton. These objects I compose with now are what I’ve always been surrounded by, so they have this sense of nostalgia that comes along with them.
H.C : ‘Toxic Masculinity’ and ‘Lad Culture’ are common themes you explore in your artwork. What draws you to these subjects, and how do you develop the conceptual ideas which support your work?
M.V : When I received an award last October those were the two difficult subject matters or ‘themes’ used to describe the body of work I produced at Chelsea. If you address masculinity in art today, can it only be seen as toxic? I was raised in masculine domains. From my family, to working on building sites, through to dance music culture. In that body of work it was my aim to document these biographical environments, so I guess that’s where these inherent themes of masculinity come from. My ideas come from all over, I just try to talk about history and how it relates to my psychology. Then I alienate certain parts to find out more about them, in turn producing a form of self-reflection.
H.C : You recently guest hosted an episode of Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey’s NTS Radio show, and sound frequently plays a part in your sculptural and installation works. Are you heavily inspired by music, and how do you look to incorporate sound into your artistic practice?
M.V : In a weird way, asking this question almost over complicates its involvement. Playing music to people was the first thing I ever felt real meaning in. It is such an integral part of the work, all I want it to do is be felt.
H.C : This year you will be undertaking the Kahoon Projects/Set Studio residency, where artists are invited to respond to the issues of class, particularly the understanding of a ‘working-class’, in today’s society. How do you plan to approach a residency such as this?
M.V : Class is something we all shy away from really getting our teeth into. It seems like at the moment more people in the art world want to have this conversation, although it might just be that I’m more aware of it now.
The space Kahoon has created enables us to begin to understand the contemporary definition of ‘working-class’. I’ll be working with another artist who’s practice has a strong sense of community engagement and I’m really looking forward to getting the ball rolling as it’s one of the subjects that gives real relevance to the work I’m making.
H.C : Having previously featured in the one night only Absinthe 2018 exhibition, what are you excited about for Absinthe 2019? Can you give us an insight into the works you’re producing for it?
M.V : The work is a continuation of what I started in the first show. Both of them are variations of wall mounted snooker tables. Some materials have changed, it moved inanimately closer to the wall. Absinthe remains ambitious and experimental, concerned with maintaining culture and keeping us all in a job.