Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?
Andy Holden: How far back should I go? I’ve just started reading Tristram Shandy and maybe I should go back to before I was born and start there. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;–that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind… I make art, in various forms, and have done since art-school, and did so before that, and made a few exhibitions in Public Houses. My Grandma collected ceramic cats and that was a big influence, my father is a bird-watcher by trade, which was initially not an influence, but now is crucial to what I do and resulted in us making an exhibition called Natural Selection together. I get my energy and the more social aspects of my personality from my mum, who did all manner of jobs. I also play music with my band the Grubby Mitts which we have been doing for a long term but struggle to get the music heard. I still live in Bedford where I grew up. I once started a failed art-movement called Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity, or MI!MS. Some of this sort of information filters into my art work, some of it gets used directly, some sincerely, some ironically, but non of it in itself is that interesting. I feel increasingly silly for having put as much of that information into my work as I have, but all of it informs how I see things and so I had to try and understand that filter that these biographical facts create, so I might know my own umwelt.
RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?
AH: There are a number of interaction with art works that in hindsight were pivotal. Some of these were seeing friends make things, particularly my group of friends that as teenagers tried with me to make MI!MS, especially the music they were writing. There were bolts of divine inspiration, the clouds parting and rays of light cutting through and the ground below gentle trembling from encounters with Andy Warhol paintings when I was about 14, as I saw a show at Tate and felt totally comfortable; like I understood it immediately, and felt for the first time legitimately like maybe I could be an artist too. I had similar encounters later with an epic Philip Guston painting; I had it peaking once into the microcosm of a Joseph Cornell box, I had it from following a trail of curious objects left behind by Marcel Broodthaers. I for a while idolised Robert Smithson. As a teenager I loved Silvia Plath and memorised some poems. I have complete reverence for Virginia Woolf. I for a time binged only on David Foster Wallace. I bought a Kurt Voneggut screen print that hangs over the Kitchen Table. I bought ever Super Furry Animals record. I had a Pavement phase. I love my friends Ed Atkins and Mark Leckey and Heather Phillipson’s work. The cultural black hole of Bedford keeps me routed as I can’t, as Alan Moore said of Northampton, get the velocity up to escape, and the influence of place can’t be under-estimated. My dad’s influence too, which I explore in Natural Selection. Cartoons maybe the single biggest influence, Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny. Kids TV too. Reading Deleuze at college, reading Mark Fisher after college. I’m a giant tangle of influences, for a time I feared I was just the total sum of all my influences, but now I have hopefully reached a point that I don’t really rely on them as much as I once clearly used to; or maybe there are now just so many that it’s hard to spot each of the ingredients in the murky brown mixture. Kanye West really kept me going for a while recently, the way he puts things together, but recently I had an allergic reaction and have weened myself off. I’m off to see Bob Dylan this evening at Hyde Park, I always promised myself I’d see him once, as of course at some stage he was an influence. In all honesty like most now my visual diet is weird clips on YouTube or Threads on Twitter and these are what get under my skin.
RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?
AH: The layer of strata at the bottom of all this, once all the sediment is scraped away? I’m still digging down and down, tunneling, trying to stop the inevitable synchronistic motion of things and enter into a more diachronic movement. However every time the spade strikes something blunt and hard I explain with glee, ‘the bottom, the bottom, the bed-rock’, I’ve arrived! – only to find it is just another rusty old chest or lump of slag from the anthropocene or worse still my memory; and the underlying matter is still deep below and I can still hear it rumbling. If one day I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: ‘This is simply what I do’. That last lines not mine, I just remembered it, after starting what I thought was an original metaphor, it’s a quote from Wittgenstein.
RB: You are taking part in the Science Gallery, London exhibition ‘Dark Matter: 95% of the Universe is missing’, with an immersive new installation ‘Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape’. Can you say something about your involvement in this?
AH: I think in all honesty my involvement is a bit tenuous. Laws of Motion is as much about politics, economic and art as it is physics and really nothing to do with Dark Matter. It looks at Cartoon Logic, and re-writes the rules of the Cartoon World, based on O’Donnells laws of the Cartoon, but to try to explain that the world has now become a cartoon. This requires a quantum entanglement of physics with everything else, and makes claims that forces such as Gravity only take place when we are aware of them and so need to be linked to consciousness, and that all matter in the cartoon world is conscious and sentient. It took six years to make it, and I finished it in 2016 just at the moment of Trump and Brexit and suddenly the notion the world was a cartoon has a more persuasive validity.
RB: You have stated that “an exploration of cartoon physics might help us understand the world we now inhabit”. Can you say more about this?
AH: If the world is now a cartoon, then the best way to understand it is to examine how physic and logic work in the very cartoons that first created this landscape, and how this new non-logical and physical space was created and able to be visualised. This is a diachronic movement, or Marxist premise; we look at how something was formed in order to understand how it now works. Cartoon physics was created by many things happening simultaneously; changes in theoretical physics – space-time changed, certainly were a major factor, but it wasn’t just a new understanding of the physical world that made this possible; simultaneously photography advanced, it became possible for images to move, Freud discovered the unconscious, Cinema created a new mass spectacle, modernism saw objects being split into artificial pieces as the whole was seemingly dismantled, and as speed increased understanding of the world shifted, and objects seemed to take on a life of their own. Law 1 is – Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of it situation. This for example, as the film shows, is a good way of explaining both the financial crash of 2008 and the method of the artist to make artwork in the world at the moment. And in the last two years has been the go-to metaphor to explain almost every political moment from Brexit onwards, it’s an image entirely suited for our times; you won’t fall down until you look down. I wish I had collected every instance in which I had heard this analogy deployed on the news. Those that don’t look down are the only ones who can survive in the current moment. That’s why Bugs Bunny is who we need to aspire to, as he/she can navigate the landscape perfectly.
RB: In terms of the viewer, what are you trying to communicate with this work?
AH: At times the work feels close to the tone of a conspiracy theory video, and it should explain how a view of the world can be created and made plausible through the combination of otherwise unconnected elements, and make us aware of how easy this can be. And how in a space where it seems anything can happen not anything can, rules, or laws, are always being created. The work is 10,000 words spoken at the speed of a cartoon chase sequence, it is a cartoon of a lecture and a lecture on cartoons; it’s very hard to say something about the work that the work doesn’t already say.
RB: In your view, what are the lines that connect art and science?
AH: Imagination and inquisitiveness are two major motorways between the two capital cities, but all lines connect to all other things, they are just more minor roads. We live inside an epic mesh, it’s just some lines become more dominant through more constant use, the ones we build service stations on. In the modern period we tried to make all disciplines appear separate and unconnected but this, even at the very first moment of the creation of the air-pump, as Bruno Latour shows us, was never really the case. Perhaps, to go back to the previous question, it’s to make this interconnectedness more visible that is part of what the work attempt to communicate.
RB: What other projects are you currently working on?
AH: I’m actually a bit stuck right now. I’m running a small project space in Bedford, showing an exhibition I’ve curated called The Long Revolution, looking at change in the countryside since the enclosures act – from the poetry of John Clare as explored by Andrew Kotting to Mark Baumers death walking bare foot across America in 2016, however I have not had a single visitor to the show in three weeks. I have written a new pop album with the Grubby Mitts but we can find a record label after I folded the little label I used to run as it was suffering the same fate as the project space now is. My dad and I are collaborating on a project about bird migration routes for a performance in February, and our collaborative exhibition Natural Selection is currently on show at Bristol Museum until September and so that should give me some studio time to scratch around and feel out what the next project might be. I now unfortunately can no longer kid myself how long it takes me to make a large scale new project, four years is a quick one, although other things I can do quicker. So it is just little more digging until I’m able to just say, hopefully; this is simply what I do.
All images copyright and courtesy of Andy Holden