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 : In 2017 you graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA Sculpture and Moving Image, having previously completed a BA in Painting at Camberwell College of Art. What was your experience of art school?
Ollie Dook : Camberwell was great, I loved how at the time it felt like a proper “art school” whilst a lot of the others didn’t really have that. It was also an amazing time to be in that area, the community was great because people studied there, lived there and went out there.
The RCA was a complete shift, I think it’s just a totally different environment and more about finishing your practice into something more professional, it was good to really develop a work ethic and just refine things both practically and critically.
I’ve got to say, if anything, art school is a really transformative place and time. I’m not sure what you learn specifically, but I definitely think it’s a priceless kind of wisdom that you leave with. It’s quite weird to see the shifting landscape of art schools, becoming this pricier product that people buy into and expect a certain service in return.
H.C : You presented the video ‘A Thin Line (Between Love and Hate)’ as part of your MA studies, marking the beginning of your interest in the practices of zoos by featuring an animated environment modelled on London Zoo. What triggered your investigation into this theme that has since recurred within your work?
O.D : ‘A Thin Line’ was definitely the first work I made after really trying to investigate the nuances of the zoo in dense detail, and also the first work using more footage I had shot in the flesh. But, in actuality, zoos became a motif for me unconsciously in the earlier work ‘Smashing Windows’. featuring footage of an aggressive silverback gorilla, slamming his body against the glass of the enclosure until eventually causing a crack in the facade.
At the time I was really trying to reflect the attention economy of the Internet, I would essentially find footage that would lead to more footage, and then edit and shaped this disparate concoction into something that reflected a feeling. The zoo found its way into my work because it was this prevalent thing on the Internet, or at least my Internet. There was this wealth of clips of people looking at animals in this environment and it really forced me to think about our contemporary viewing habits in relation to technology, and how the zoo was this very analogue example of this. A space to look at things in these fabricated structures that were acting as screens.
H.C : ‘Of Landscape Immersion’, an installation comprising sculptural and video artworks that was first presented at the Edinburgh Arts Festival, was recently been given a second life through a new iteration at the Zabludowicz Collection in London. Do you see this as a natural endpoint in your study of animal captivity?
O.D : I have been looking into this topic for roughly three years now and this particular project was the most intensely researched and thorough in its conception, so in many ways I do see it as a full stop of sorts. However, its installation aspect is something that comes to life only at the very end of the project. In that sense I’m still excited by it and reconfiguring it for the Invites was great as I could play with and perfect those aspects, whilst being safe in the knowledge that the research and film side of things were taken care of.
I didn’t ever want to make works solely about zoos, but rather use them as a metaphor for thinking about how humans look at things, and create structures for in which things can exist as images. These core interests such as representation and artifice in image production and the dissemination of images via technology are how the zoo projects will live on and hopefully evolve over time.
H.C : Audience participation and interaction is often a key feature of your artistic output, and ‘Of Landscape Immersion’ places the visitor inside of the animal enclosure before presenting them with a mirror, creating a forced viewing experience as they become both spectator and spectacle. What is the purpose of this confrontational viewing experience? Is it your intention to unnerve and unsettle the audience?
O.D : The installation uses two-way mirrors to really try to echo a very particular feeling I found present in zoos, visible for me in the simultaneously reflective and translucent materiality of the glass facades in the enclosures. As a viewer you are trying to look at this otherly thing but constantly confronted with your own image. I feel like this summarises the zoo, a place one goes to look at things that will ultimately only ever serve as a reflection of the human condition, and that often can be unnerving and dissatisfactory.
However, he main difference in my exhibit being that the viewer is only confronted by the flesh of themselves and the other bodies in the room, essentially experiencing the position of the animal. I wanted the viewer in my work to leave feeling unsettled or uncomfortable much in the way they might from leaving the zoo.
H.C : Finally, could you give us an insight into how you are approaching the Absinthe project, and what you are working on for the exhibition?
O.D : I aspire for the work to always acknowledge or have some harmonious aspect with where it’s exhibited, and the pub is such a specific place with such mixed emotions linked to it. I guess the hard thing was working out what aspects of the pub echoed with my own sentiments and current interests, but to also make something that didn’t completely destroy what the pub is there to do in the first place, somewhere for people to spend time and enjoy that time spent.
I had this particular scan from an advertising campaign by Three Mobile staring a mythical Dolphin/Sloth hybrid creature that carelessly flows through an endless ocean of data consumption. The tagline ‘Go Binge’, combined with this surreal and seemingly irrelevant image, chimed with me. Mainly for the reason that it was such an explicit use of the animal image for it’s meme like quality. I then linked it another famous use of animals in advertising, the Coca-Cola Polar Bears. I loved this idea of the polar bears sitting on an icecap sofa looking at the Three Mobile advert in bemusement. I think this work is indicative of my continuous paradoxical position in relation to these things I reflect on, it’s definitely ironic and cynical but maybe a positive cynicism. Just GO BINGE. Enjoy your vices.