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Interview - with Dr. David Martin, Coventry University

Undertaking research into how changes in technology in the 1980's impacted on Fine Art curricula

MS    So are you a practitioner as well as a researcher?

DM    Yes, and I’ve done some curation as well for the Visual Arts Research centre at Coventry University and we did a programme for the NAFAE Symposium. National Association for Fine Art Education, and I brought together, I commissioned a film from an ex MA student at Coventry with whom I’d done the course under George (Saxon) Contemporary Arts Practice. The student made short 5 minute film, he is based in South Korea and I asked some of his contemporaries to make work in response to the film, so that was quite interesting.

MS    And have you been living in Coventry long? 

DM    About thirty years, I actually ran a design company for that period and I thought it was time to do something I really wanted to do.

MS    And did you now of the Co-op and all that first time around?

DM    I was aware of it but I didn’t really participate in film making or… firstly I did a course in Stoke-on-Trent which was North Staffs Poly at the time with Cal Swann who wrote ‘Sitting with Nellie’ about education practice and that was Multi-Disciplinary Design and I went into graphics, so I felt I needed to get back to where I was before.

DM    If I could make a start by asking what led you to pursue art as a direction?     

MS    OK, being shit at everything else.

DM    Really?

MS    Pretty much yes, look at my writing (laughs), not being very good at reading and writing 

DM    But you’ve written a lot.

MS    Oh yes, but that’s when I got a computer. I’ve just been given a Mont Blanc pen, a gift from my Board for 10 years service, yes there’s a subtle irony to it because I hate using a pen, so I’m illegible, but a computer, great. So probably dyslexic, it wouldn’t have been termed dyslexia in those days just thick. Quite a lot of people end up doing arts because there’s some form of autism or dyslexia. And, got lucky, didn’t end up as a mechanic, got into art college and then did really well. 

DM    Were you at Cardiff originally?

MS    Went to Cardiff then the Royal and had the time of my life. 

DM    What course did you do at Cardiff?

MS    Fine art. It was time-based media, one of the first time-based media courses in Britain.

DM     Not painting or sculpture?

MS    A little bit of that, but it was performance art, film – I was pretty much one of the first people to use video in Cardiff. In 1977 I was shooting black and white video.

DM    How was the course structured there?

MS    Very fluid, had a time-based studio, I don’t know if you’re aware that at Lanchester     was extremely valuable in that period in terms of time-based media. The Events
Week, do you know about the Events Week? This precedes George, – but Events Week was… Steve Partridge was a tutor there, Steve Litman and Zoe(Redman) were students under Steve (Partridge)  and they started organising a student festival called Events Week. 

DM     What year was that?

MS    1978? Very early, and the students from Cardiff went over there, there was a connection between Coventry, Cardiff and Dundee through Partridge when he went off to Dundee. And it was a fantastic amazing moment, that was when art colleges were fucking grand. And in a sense I think that was what established Coventry, Lanchester college as an interesting place for time-based work. 

DM    You say it was a fluid course in terms of teaching, were you left to your own devices?

MS    You could move between sculpture and painting and time-based media, it was probably a progenitor to lots of modular courses, you could do what you bloody wanted. If you wanted to set fire to something you could. You could at Lanchester too. Lanchester was also a fantastic (TBM) course.

DM    What facilities were available to you in terms of technology, you mentioned video? 

MS    Well we had, If I was working in film we had 16mm, Super 16mm and Super 8 very early on and a good relationship with Chapter Arts Centre so I was part of the independent film workshop at Chapter and through that access to 16mm and then Super 16… but in 1978 Cardiff invested in U-matic (video editing system) and as a competent male, acknowledging a degree of sexism, they basically said, well you can use film – you seem to know what you’re doing with kit do you want to play with this new U-matic gear? So I started making a series of video performances in 1978 and I think 1979. Up until that point I had been using ½ inch black and white reel to reel , and I was gaining access to that kit, like we had two Portapaks’ at Cardiff, very early on for a college to have video kit so we are talking of the same period as Nam June Paik, who I have worked with… and then they bought the colour U-matic kit, it’s like JCV stuff pretty much at the same time as LVA (London Video Arts) bought U-matic.

 DM    That is very early on.

MS    It is yes. And I put my tapes on the shelf at 89 Wardour Street, on the LVA shelf, basically there were like 10 to 30 tapes of Video artists work and that was it. Partridge was in there, I was in there, Kate Meynell, Cate Elwes, Steve Littman – there was a Nam June Paik tape, it was very early on, John Smith (DM check) would have been there too, maybe a little bit later, he was still working primarily in film. It was a good moment. If you talk to anyone a LUX now they have obviously got the early video history.

DM    So when did you become involved with LVA?

MS    About 78-79

DM     While you were still a student.

MS    So, as a student I was part of Chapter Film Workshop & Chapter Video Workshop which was the kind of community arts part of (Cardiff), Chapter, and the  Film Workshop, was more about film and narrative and the video workshop was more about politics and documentary and I was a member of both. 

DM    Why was that?

MS    I think obviously that video was more allied to a journalistic tradition 

DM    And faster production.

MS    There was a strong association with radio and aural history for the video workshop. But I then also got encouraged, I think that was by Chris Monger who was one of my tutors at Cardiff. He’d been to LVA and said you can go down there and make a video and they will distribute it for you. So I did. David Curtis started promoting my work in 1980 (please confirm?) So I went on something called Video Artists on tour… there was Film artists and Video artists on tour and when I left college that really helped me get around and show work.

DM    Steve Hawley, Ian Bourn and John Smith said that it provided useful funds.

MS    It was fantastic yes. That was a Dave Curtis initiative. 

DM     Did you find that it allowed interaction with a different kind of audience? Ian (Bourn) strongly stressed that he was far more interested in going to meet people and share and discuss the work.

MS    Yes it was great. It enabled travel, enabled contact with other makers.

DM    So what was, for you, the essential difference between film and video, would different types of output suit one medium more than another?

MS    I used film in terms of its material experiment, once I was making films I was making
film loops and tying bits of film up around the room and feeding film through the
audience. So the materiality of film was a lot of fun, especially with Super 8, but I also got involved in television quite early on, and I also made narrative films so I was doing everything. Hopefully not all badly, (laughs). So I was interested in film and television for its narrative qualities and obviously for being more mainstream and having a broad(er) audience. But I also liked and made some scratch videos in the late 70’s, I like the materiality of both video and film.

DM    So from Cardiff you went to the RCA.

MS    After Cardiff I then spent a year on the dole. Made a film which won the Celtic Film Festival first prize ‘Contortions’ which was about the representation of unemployment

while I was on the dole and I actually procured my main actor by advertising in the job centre for an unemployed actor (laughs).

DM    Brilliant.

MS    And then I went off to the RCA to a course called Environmental Media.

DM    The same as George (Saxon).

MS    A lot of people went on that course, there was some cross-over with the film school, but some good people went through there. 

DM    What year was that at the RCA?

MS    1980-82

DM    How did the teaching methodology differ from Cardiff, a similar degree of freedom?

MS    Not a lot. Maybe a little bit more criticality, a similar structure, group tutorials, single tutorials, there were still part-time teaching budgets for both so lots of brilliant people came through 

MS    XXX (please confirm name…Rose Finn Kelsey, Rose Lowder (Light Cone) as visitors, I’ll talk about Cardiff, I had the most amazing contact with people Peter Gidal, Malcolm Le Grice, stuart marshall, those sorts of people. In Cardiff, through the Film Workshop, I had contact with Don Pennebaker (American documentary film maker), Ken Loach, Jane Campion, what’s the name of the TV Director who directed Nuts in May? – (Mike Leigh) some incredible people coming through, and again they were often funded through BFI. The BFI was paying for people to circulate between the workshops. There was a cinema at Chapter and these amazing people came through – Michael Powell and his wife Thelma Schoonmaker, (editor of Raging Bull) major, major talents. A workshop here and a talk there, brilliant.

DM     When you finished at the RCA did you become a visiting lecturer?

MS    Yeah, to be honest I was a visitor while I was still at the RCA in places.

DM    Steve Hawley mentioned Brighton.

MS    Yes I taught Steve, a little bit, I’ve been a visitor in various colleges, and again the film and Video on tour would butt up, you’d do a talk in the evening in an Arts Centre and then during the day you’d get a gig at the local college and that just about provided me with an income. When I was kind of freelancing on the dole so to speak. Then the Enterprise allowance scheme came out, that was good.

DM    Was that from the BFI?

MS    No, that was a government scheme which enabled people who were fiddling the dole to go legit and set up businesses. I then became a camera assistant, so I was working for BBC Wales and HTV as a freelancer for a bit. So it enabled me to develop as a business I then set up Metamedia a production company with Roland Denning  (please confirm?) when we got Channel 4 money to make films and I also got BBC commissions for ‘Sound on Film’ and ‘Dance to camera’ – we borrowed money to buy an editing suite which was in Berwick Street (please confirm?).  The beginnings of a mixed economy.

DM    Yes very varied.

MS    That coincides with about 1983 and when Channel 4, SC4 (Sianel Pedwryr Cymru) invested in new cameras, Steenbecks, and editing suites for the independent film movement effectively, because 15% of the revenues had to go back into independent film making – that was part of the deal that Alan Fountain signed off with DCMS (Department of Culture Media and Sport), which we still have.

DM    Yes, different governments have different names when merging different departments, so through that period of the 80’s what was your attitude to new technology, apart from video were there any other ground-breaking technology breakthroughs that affected you?

MS    Well, my father worked with electron microscopes so I was brought up a scientist so he wanted everything to be empirically proved and so I became an artist (laughs) and I think the other thing is, he loved his workshop I has access to a darkroom from the age of 10, and he’d take me to work on a weekend and I’d print pictures of cars and motorbikes which I was really interested in so in a sense I was technologically enabled quite quickly and confident with technology while my mum didn’t know how to use a cassette recorder or radio but could use the washing machine, that’s also gendered, and I think that in terms of the history of modernism my father was definitely a modernist, he was an atheist, we were brought up in Welwyn garden City one of the first ‘New Towns’ he worked at British Rubber then Unilever which was al about synthetic food and synthetic biological washing powders and god knows what. So in a sense I was a modernist and then I became a post-modernist in the 80’s. So in a sense the exposure to an Art School system that was more about de-construction and punk. I went through a punk period (77-79), so it was all about ripping stuff apart rather than making things nice… also that collided with the beginnings of pro-sumer technology culture, so my interest in new media was very early that was around … a. not getting on well with the traditional art world because I thought it was a bit stuffy and for posh people, as I still do, and seeing that there were massive opportunities with broadcast as an ‘entryist’ and a socialist, to get stuff into a more mainstream domain than just the polite art world and similarly that with new media we had the opportunity with the internet and computing to distribute ideas and publish. So that, in a sense, underpins the politics that I bring to this institution FACT, formed in 1988-89 as a video festival. I was in the first video festival here in Liverpool – ‘Video Positive’ Britain’s video festival took place in Liverpool and was consistent for 10 years. The same time as that there was an independent video festival in Bracknell but that only lasted about 3 or 4 years, Southall Park. There was an attempt up in Washington Tyneside, lasted about 2 years. There was the ‘Pandemonium Festival’ that only lasted about 3 years but the consistent one was Liverpool so ‘Video Positive Festival’ and a community programme led to the formation of FACT and the organisation that set it up was ‘Video Positive’ and then 15 years ago this building was fund raised for as a national centre making Liverpool effectively the centre of Video Art and New Media. We hosted the ISEA Conference in 1998 (Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts) the only time it’s been in Britain. We did the Media Art Histories Conference in 2011, ‘Re-Wire’ and that’s the only time it’s been in Britain, oh, it went to Belfast one year.  

    So going back to your comment about technology, technology was interesting in many different ways both as an individual producer and someone who was increasingly involved in enabling and commissioning other peoples work and then just in terms of mass distribution. An incredible moment and at that point to the show we have just completed was called ‘How much of this is fiction’? The starting point for that was a collaboration with David Garcia, who you might want to talk to. David set up Time-based Media in Amsterdam and he too was involved with LVA – London Video Arts and tied into the beginnings of a new media culture where in Holland…  so the origins of the term Time-based media we think it came from Amsterdam. (??? It was then adopted in Hull, the course in Cardiff was also one of the first to adopt it. So Cardiff, Hull, Hull Time-Based Arts. Amsterdam is the pro-genitor to the expression. I think Steve Partridge can help tell that story, I think he’s worth talking to. In a way he’s part of the glue between the Coventry history the Hull history and London. He was also one of the people with a tape on the LVA shelf as an early British video maker. Have you looked at ‘Re-wind’? 

DM    Yes they have an archive at Dundee. It fits with something else I’m looking at, It used to be called the Electronic Graphics course at Coventry which became an MA in 1986 and I managed to find, with Darryl Georgiou’s help, who ran the Contemporary Arts Practice course I did with George, in a store room in Coventry boxes of old documents, student work, hardware, software. So I have taken over their office and filled it full of stuff. 

MS     Was there anything from the live arts event week?

DM    There are posters and leaflets and documents and they had a 20th anniversary event and actually this and last year is the 30th anniversary so in September I’m hoping to put together something…

MS    Can you make sure I know about that – I’d like to come.

DM     Absolutely.

MS    Events are great to do – Hull was more than just a nostalgia fest, but you could have a nostalgia fest around Coventry – 78-80? I think 78 was the first one (‘Events week’). Zoe and Steve were a couple, they are no longer a couple. This was before Darryl.

DM     I will be getting a flight up there as soon as possible.

MS    Anyway – where are we? 

DM    Just looking at the archiving of this material, just the development of technology through the 80’s I’m interested in when new technology when artists explore its materiality first and then it changes into a tool particularly software – people exploit and do all sorts of different things to do with the nature of the technology then at some point it transforms into a tool for pre-programmed output.

MS    But it was always both, I think that’s the point and in a way there were different circle’s like there was Gidal with structural materialist, they were very intent on that and the notion of the narrative and story telling were capitalist lies, it was quite extreme in terms of how devisive some of the language was. There was someone called Stuart Marshall who was also one of my teachers at the RCA who was involved with ‘Act Up’ (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) – going back to this point about David Garcia the reason I mention David is that a number of us recognised, who might be a bit more politicised, that we could make political effect, there was a chance. So in terms of us, I was trying to remember this morning when I got my first Amstrad Computer and it must have been about 1982. Yes I had a computer in 1982 – maybe 512K floppy disk variety and with a 48 bps fax/modem to connect to the internet.

DM    As it was.

MS     That’s kind of what you had so in terms of what would become ‘new media’ certainly by ‘84/85 that was a ‘thing’. And it was being explored in Amsterdam, it was being explored in Hull, I moved there in ‘85 and I distinctly remember being the first person with a computer.

DM    How did that add to your practice?

MS    It meant I could become international. So one of the successes of Hull (TBA) was its internationalism. So I made a partnership with Peter Zorn(?) and Werkleitz Gesellschaft (?) (please check spelling of names) in East Germany. I was working with Andreas Broeckmann in Holland. I was part of a group called Spectre which then changed its name to something else but these were new media politicised news groups thinking about democracy across Europe and the relationship between artists and democracy, really powerful. A very powerful moment. And Eric Kluitenberg (please check name) within our exhibition that we have just taken down, well no, the show before that, the tactical media archives which Eric…, we showed that as part of the exhibition that’s him charting a movement called ‘Tactical Media’, first coined by David Garcia in 1984.

DM     That name was?


MS     Eric Kluitenberg. (?) So an incredible moment. In one sense there was a tension between last years bourgeois art practice, people making art who have been afforded  time, money, visiting lecturers to do as they want in free space alongside a socialist agenda to try and change the bloody world and it’s for me the tension between that moment then and where we are at right now in terms of an election week (8-6-17) and the techno utopianism which I was very much part of. Of how we were going to democratise society, very pro-globalism and now we are seeing a massive backlash to globalism with people stepping back inside their little shells because it all got too dangerous.

DM     It’s almost that we have bigger toys to play with that make bigger differences to people’s lives, that people have no control over.

MS    You can also talk about that in relation to Qatar who were proactive in supporting the Arab Spring in Turkey and how they are being stomped on by Trump and UAE and Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt at the blackmail of possibly Britain, definitely a Trump government right now to exile Qatar for actually being a little more progressive. And then being scapegoated for supporting ISIS, clearly they were all at it. So I can’t disaggregate the moment that you are talking about here with that of our current condition.

DM    It’s like a straight line to now.

MS    Yes.

DM     So that was really about speed and ease of communication to help enable that internationalism.

MS    Yes there was a lot of internationalism clearly just in terms of having peer to peer communication and being able to communicate with a group, so if we think about the Bosnian war, the east European politics became embedded within ‘new media’ art and art practice because we had friends who were members of the artistic community living in Sarajevo and Srebrenica who were using the internet for first hand reporting for the first time so, if you talk about new media it would suddenly shift into, ‘well actually a bomb has just landed and I’ve got to go and hide under a table’ real – so in terms of travelling from having a grandfather who was an Irish man who ended up living here in Bootle and was a seaman who I knew in Cardiff – A Liverpool/Cardiff thing happening with one of my granddad’s who as a seaman had been to South America and would talk about South American shrinking heads and deepest darkest Africa – and that I guess was the 1960’s  and 70’s a childhood memory of the extreme distance between other continents and the end of an empire in Britain through to I guess even in the 70’s and 80’s prior to the fall of the Berlin wall that effectively a country like Bulgaria would have been so remote and unknown, the Baltics and the Balkan states would have been like a completely unknown quantity. So for me the advent of the relationship between technological practice within the arts community a modernist histories, I think they are really, really, interesting.

DM     What you were saying about first hand reporting and citizens, whether they are in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever, they being able to post information about what is happening to them, an unmediated source of news Lyse Doucet a BBC journalist did a lecture (BBC 2 - Royal Television Society Huw Weldon Memorial Lecture 2012) on the value of unmediated news and also the responsibility of journalists to verify and prove that ‘this’ took place ‘there’. So there is an interesting development that on the one hand there is a degree of veracity about seeing something first hand but also the scepticism about whether it has been manufactured.

MS        Well that answer goes back to the video workshop in Cardiff because again if you think about in terms of the BBC and a couple of channels, state controlled news that obviously with the advent of ITV there was a shift there but it was still the three channels, with mobile recording equipment it meant that the socialist ideal that people could tell their own news was very real. We had equipment to do it, so that, in fact, was the driving force behind Chapter Video Workshop and I sort of floated between the two. This is something I am quite interested to explore because I tried to join the two together where I wanted to play it both ways. Similar technologies but with different outputs as you put it. So I was also involved with the miners strike both as a campaigner I organised a load of club nights and stuff but I was also a member of the ACTT (Association of Cinemagraphic Television Technicians) which became BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) basically the BBC had been accused of not telling a very friendly version of what had happened by the union, so we are talking 1981 and ’84 – two strikes but on the ‘84 strike a number of technicians were approached and asked would you help document what is going on, which I was part of. 

MS    So in a sense there is also a history of journalism in there too and, you know, the videographer, then you think about the Gulf War. So Gulf War reportage, CNN, the formation of CNN in '94, is that right?  The Gulf War?

DM    Yes, or was it earlier?  I can check, I can check that. (Cable News Network - CNN founded 1980). Gulf war – Iraqi invasion of Kuwait 1990. ‘Desert Shield starts 1990’. US led coalition invasion of Iraq began 2003.

MS    Again, there was the two of them as well wasn't there?

DM    Yes.

MS    So yes, so in terms of the way that media has been used for telling stories and how it's been controlled in relationship to government, that's also a British story too, it's not just about the Middle East or far flung countries.

DM    The world has certainly shrunk.

MS    It very much has hasn't it?  Yes.

DM    Yes.

MS    But I'm not sure that's completely affected people's behaviour, you know, you might have been let off the hook for believing that you could tip any old shit into the sea for years and years and years because it was just like a bottomless pit, (41.23) until the point when actually you could use equipment to actually see that the shit was accumulating in it was affecting the quality of the water. Similarly, you know, you think about Chernobyl or you think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have got the equipment to see that radiation has a damaging effect and that from my grandfather's day of the Amazon being somewhere so remote that few people might possibly have ever gone to it, and he went to South America on a ship, through to everyone having a direct access to a real-time stream of information pouring out of, pretty much, everywhere.

DM    Yes. Also now there's the issue of the way that you receive news on the internet or from lots of different feeds but the algorithms tend to feed you the same kind of material that you normally look at.

MS    What, you mean Labour aren't going to get in? (Laughs)

DM    No, I'm really quite hopeful.  I've been really surprised at how that has turned around and it makes me, personally makes me wish Jeremy Corbyn had made more of an effort to engage with people over the past year…

MS    Yes, not left it all to the last bloody minute.

DM    Because he would have closed the gap so much easier.  He's coming across as very competent now and…

MS    Oh yes, but unfortunately though I suspect that your Facebook feed and your Twitter feed may of course be just bolstering  your existing position, making that assumption that you're a socialist.

DM    Yes, I'm conscious of that, I'm conscious of it but it's quite difficult to analyse your own behaviour sometimes and say 'Well should I be listening to other points of view?'  But what has happened is, you've gradually, gradually narrowed to the feed that you're getting and when you retweet something or you share something that reinforces it.

MS    Of course, yes.

DM    And I think that's part of my change of viewpoint about the current Labour leadership.

MS    Yes, me too as well.  So yes, fingers crossed.

DM    Because, I must admit I was originally a big supporter of Blair --

MS    Me too.

DM    Hated Brown from the start because --

MS    I was in Australia in that period so I missed all that.

DM    Blair always managed to speak well, he always used to, he was a good orator and a good communicator and it all just fell apart and just, you can't quite understand that, with the war, the Iraq War, but anyway --

MS    Yes.

DM    With all this, sort of seeing the opportunities and possibilities for the new media and the communication, just going back to the education side of things, the time-based media and film-making and video, how was that regarded by the traditional painters and sculptors?   Was there resistance?

MS    Well, you know, that in terms of all contemporary art histories like photography, it takes 50 to 100 years for it to enter the canon, but of course the canon is changing more quickly as well, everything's accelerated.  And, of course, so the assimilation is faster and the needs of an art market and the commodification of art, of also managing the assimilation, that it probably put a lot of people's noses out of joint in terms of their sort of  'I'm the only gay in the village.' you know 'We're doing the political stuff with using this technology and fuck off painting and sculpture.'  

DM    Yes.

MS    Whereas actually of course, you know, --  So in terms of the original concept of this organisation, so this was formed at the same time that ZKM in Karlsruhe was formed, as was the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, so it was still within a modernist tradition and still shouting about technology, you know, this is the new everything and then like 10 years down the road every contemporary arts centre is of course showing video and then suddenly everyone's got the internet and 10 years later everyone's got a high-powered mobile computer, yes, 20 to 25 years ago mobile computing had happened.  So it then meant that this organisation has had to think a lot more about the social  --

DM    Right.

MS    And I think that was always critical and I think that was always at the heart of the interest within new media and time-based media, that although we can talk about timed-based media and materialist film-making that for me the underpinning thread which has followed all the way through this, is about the connectability and communication above and beyond technology for itself, or above and beyond the particular materiality of one medium.  That's not to undermine the fact that artists when they work with a particular medium that it takes that kind of fine grain experience and practice to make great work, like that's also central as well. What I would like to do is bring your attention to a particular phenomenon which somehow relates to this conversation and recently I've two experiences working with (Nastja Säde) Rönkkö, LaBeouf, (Luke) Turner, so that's Shia LaBeouf, film actor, the face of Transformers.

DM    Yes.

MS    We did two projects in the last two years with these artists, one was called Follow, a great exhibition all around celebrity mediation, social media and culture of being followed and liked.  And within that we commissioned Rönkkö, LeBeouf, Turner to do a project where they set up a call centre and they asked anyone to phone in and suggest something that would touch their souls, that was the name of the project 'Touch My Soul' and at the end of a four day call centre project where the call centre was in our gallery, Shia LeBeouf had, the thing which touched their soul the most tattooed on his arm. It was 'You, now, wow.' that was the final thing. We had 350,000 hits on the internet to enter our streaming media server, we set up a special streaming media server, in four days.  We had something like over two million hits on social media around this project and we had queues of people trying to get in the building, largely around his celebrity and fame.  But the reason I mention it is that he used the materiality of new media, his fame and the power of his own visibility as the artwork in really quite an interesting way.

DM    Where was that held?  Here?

MS    Here, just in the gallery. Then more recently he approached us having had a series of altercations and a work taken down in New York, he approached us and said 'Would you relocate a flag that I've had to take down because I'm under physical threat of my life and relocate it on your roof?' and the flag said 'He will not divide us.' referring to Trump, yes?  And then we became under the eyes of 4chan which is the --  4chan is a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images anonymously.

DM    Yes.

MS    You know about 4chan, okay, and within two days we had drones overhead, we had groups of people in the streets trying to get on our roof. We finally had three guys in Trump masks with ropes and backpacks on our roof trying to nick the flag.

DM    What was their motivation?

MS    That they were just going to defeat Shia LeBeouf and whether they were white supremacists, whether they --

DM    That's what I was asking, yes.

MS    Whether they were parcours experts, whether they were just bored teenagers I'm not sure. But, again, the minute that we put the flag up with a camera to a streaming server on that flag, within 24 hours there were like about a million online hits, all coming through 4chan.  Hate mail 'We're going to come and fucking kill you all.'  So in terms of, and for me this is too topical not to talk about it, like I hope it suits your agenda and we'll come back to your questions as well, but in terms of where we're up to now in terms of how opinion is being formed and how bright -- are effectively snapped up, spotted the opportunity get Trump in, no question about it, possibly get the Brexit vote, was effectively -- So this is a sad moment in terms of the techno utopianism of the nineties  and the modernism that we believed in of how we were all going to end up with a nicely connected global world, that we were going to have a sort of global socialism and everything was going to be lovely.

DM    So it's been hijacked.

MS    Precisely and in a sense tactical media got done over by better tactical mediators with more money, more  power --

DM    Yes.

MS    Yes, but they just nicked it back again.  Now of course in terms of post-modernism, so the idea of the hack, you know, so things that I was saying positively about, my interest into use TV space and enter the mainstream to subvert it tactically, you know, and it certainly had its moment, ACT UP being one of the key examples around HIV awareness for instance in New York and in London.  The Yes Men, who are very good friends of mine, who made a whole, you know, major, major media hacks.  There were some great moments where we did make change and did affect things but it all got nicked back again.

(The Yes Men are a culture jamming activist duo and network of supporters created by Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos. Through actions of tactical media, the Yes Men primarily aim to raise awareness about problematic social and political issues).

DM    The battle for hearts and minds.

MS    Yes.

DM    Well that's a fascinating analysis.

MS    Yes, so --

DM    Because you look at all the arguments that are being put forward in terms of policy and they don't seem to be making as much of an impact on floating voters or UKIP Conservative voters because they are determined to believe what they want to believe, but the same must be true the other side of the argument.

MS    Yes.

DM    So there's sort of denial of scientific, empirical evidence, there's a denial on a huge scale and that must be quite, the biggest concern maybe in terms of --

MS    Belief, yes.

DM    Yes. So in terms of those networks of artists, art and art practice and motivation, that can have a significant impact on societal behaviour.

MS    Yes, yes.

DM    You still believe that?

MS    Oh very much so and of course in terms of, you know, I wouldn't have done the time-based, what was the original starting point, but to revisit ROOT, it was like we the ROOT first of all, I think you've probably picked up on the history to that with John Major hosting, in 1992 hosting the European Union and throwing some funny money out to the Arts Council, so 'Has anyone got any big stuff to do?  I need it quickly because we're hosting the European Union in Britain.'  So that was '92.

DM    Yes, I'm sure Rob, yes.

MS     So 1992, Mark Waddell at the Ferens, myself, Penny, who is now dead, who was the Merseyside Dance Initiative, founded the ROOT Festival.

DM    That was from within Hull Time Based Arts.

MS    I was working at Hull Time Based Arts, yes.

DM    So it was an adjunct it wasn't subsumed within Hull Time Based Arts.

MS    It became our major output, so it was an annual festival that lasted for 10 (years), well actually 11, there were 11 editions, yes.  

DM    Yes, was that '94 that it started?

MS    '92.

DM    '92, okay. 

MS    So that's the year that we hosted the European Union in Britain.

DM    Right.

MS    A John Major initiative.

DM    How did you become involved with Hull?

MS    I got absolutely fucked off with working in television in Cardiff.  So I'd won the, I was an emerging film director, I was earning money as a camera assistant and I didn't like, I didn't really like the culture of TV.  And an artist residency was advertised for Humberside College of Higher Education, which Rob (Gawthrop) was teaching on, and I applied to do it, this is, I think it was like spring '85, and at that point, and I don't know what else was going on in my life but I thought 'Sod that.' I don't know why, I just saw it and thought 'I might apply for that.'  So I applied for it, did an interview and got offered it, moved to Hull and at that point Hull Time Based Arts was like a little club meeting in a pub called Ye Olde Black Boy, I don't know if you've heard my story about that?

DM    Did you mention it at the recent ReROOTed?

MS    Ye Olde Black Boy is the name of the pub.  So they were meeting in there like once  a month for a drink, so it was very informal, very laid back and nice, and I turned up there and they said 'Do you want to join?  Now you've arrived in Hull would you like to join?' and I said 'If you stop getting pissed and meeting in the pub then we can turn it into something.' So effectively, I did join and I then became involved in professionalising it which hopefully wasn't it downfall but I then started fundraising for it, so we got a bit of money from the Arts Council.  I think became a part-time worker, so as a project coordinator, I think that was my first role for two and a half thousand quid a year to organise it and it was just, it was basically a room like this in John Prescott's old office, I had John Prescott's old office at my first office in Hull, and, you know, started to turn it into something. 1982 it was founded, so the founders were Karen Rann who was the Open Performance Group, Dave Ellis who was Other Musics and then there was Rob who was teaching in the art college.  And basically Other Musics, the Open Performance Group combined and then the Time Based course in Hull got together and it sort of constituted itself as Hull Time Based Arts as a secondary cooperative limited by guarantee.  So that was '82, I arrived in '85 and then it goes through, it then goes through a process of becoming something with a bit of clout.  In '92 we do the first ROOT Festival, lots of one-off events that I was involved in doing.

DM    What was the biggest challenge in professionalising --?

MS    I think in '87, that's when I first got any money for helping it grow, so between, '85 I was the Artist in Residence for a year 'til about the beginning of the 1986 and then I think I was just like freelancing and doing bits and bobs for a year or so and doing it as a volunteer. The biggest challenge? The biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity was having a completely regressive local authority.

DM    Really?

MS    Yes, the City Council, it was up its own arse, who were Labour majority, like Liverpool, completely Conservative, but it also meant that because there was so little arts and cultural activity in the city you could get away with jack shit, you could just do what you want and that, in a sense, was part of the, I think that's part of the narrative of the success of Hull Time Based Arts, that you could just get away with stuff.

DM    That does echo a, just very briefly, a thought that Darryl Georgiou mentioned in terms of Coventry University, in that the courses that they, there was Digital Media, Digital Art courses that he rewrote from the original…  graphics course,  is because they didn't have any money, they could do what they wanted.  It's an interesting lack of control because they weren't giving you any money meant you could do it, you had more freedom.  It's fascinating.

MS    Yes, yes it's true.  Also in terms of the landscape, the fact that we were not building-based, so we could, so you had access to the Ferens Art Gallery to do pretty much what we wanted, and a lot of people liked us. Similarly the old fish docks on Hessle Road, you know, it's like The Blue Line Project, so you know, Fran Cottell was there over the weekend. The Blue Line Project was a fairly important project within the advent of, but basically it was just a load of derelict docks you could go and just fucking do what you want there, you didn't have to apply to anybody, no licensing --

DM    Just do it.

MS    Yes and of course if you'd have an accident you could have ended up in court but there weren't any accidents. So lots of derelict warehouse space, Hull, as was Liverpool too, but Hull of course was bombed to fuck during the Second World War, so loads of bomb site and half dereliction car parks and God knows what.

DM    At what point did Hull Time Based Arts turn into an organisation where there were facilities and production capability and support for members?

MS    Okay, 1987 I got employed. In '91/'92 I formed a connect with Peter Zorn at Werkleitz, and we made the joint decision, this is really interesting in relationship to our previous conversation. So in 1991 a company supposedly existed in America called Digital Video. Digital Video were the first company to even talk about non-linear editing. 

DM    Precisely what does that mean?  (Non-linear editing, is non-destructive editing, each time edit is rendered, played back or accessed it is reconstructed from original source preventing generation loss –in quality).

MS    Well that would then become Avid because they basically, they started out as the first company to do non-linear editing.  Then in 1992 I got, I managed to persuade a company to help me write a dodgy ERDF bid --


MS    European Regional Development Fund.

DM    Yes, yes.

MS     And I managed to get 60K to buy the first Avid in the public sector in Britain and it was in Hull, at Hull Time Based Arts.  And at the same time as that Peter Zorn did the same thing is Germany and we made this kind of notional link around ISDN technology.

DM    Yes.

MS    Also bearing in mind that Kingston Communications invested in ISDN before BT did in England.

DM    Where did sorry?  In Germany?

MS     No, Hull Kingston Communications, which is an independent telephone company that sold its shares in 1990-something else if you want to look up.  So prior to that Hull had got video equipment, a couple of Handycams, which I thought in ‘199…’, God what year did I get them?  Sort of '89/'90-ish.  '87 there might have been just a bit of kit kicking around.  I think we had one pneumatic, a crap pneumatic edit suite.  Through the art college and the partnership with the art college we had access to film equipment and film projectors.  We had a partnership with the film theatre that was in the library, so we had projection facilities, and that was a community resource so you could come and borrow kit and hire kit at some later stage as they tried if they were trying to raise some money.  So kind of late eighties, early nineties. But a seminal moment with Avid, for me that was a, and I think that the non-linear notion of being able to randomly access information within, you know, I paid six thousand quid for a 4 Gig drive, for a fast array and that was an Avid branded device.  But for me this also charts this history of non-linearity in post-modernism.

DM     What was Peter's surname?  Zorn?

MS    Z-O-R-N.

DM    Did you do joint projects or was it supportive --

MS    We did. In 1993 we co-founded the European Media Art Residency Exchange, which is still going and we're still partners and that's posted like 200 artists residencies subsequently.  But while I was in Hull we did it in Hull, when I was in Scotland we did it in Scotland, it's now here.  It did take place in Birmingham, VIVID hosted it for a couple of years.  So, again, this is still within the auspices of Hull being international, as much facing Eastern Europe, like at one stage Andreas Broeckmann quoted me as saying that Hull had more in common with East Europe than it did with London, because we felt closer to the, in terms of the isolation of Hull, you know, just in terms of the end of the motorway, the end of the rail line, you've got the ferry to Zeebrugge and to Rotterdam, so effectively we were closer to Europe than London and psychologically. So I will give you, I don't know if you've got a beermat for Humberside Gateway Europe, that was one of the commissions we did, you can have a few, but in the early 1990s Humberside Arts was active, Humberside County Council formed a body called Gateway Europe, which my friend John Munro set up, that's the logo, basically it's a reconstruction, this is a new artwork, you can have those, give George some.

DM    I will, thank you.

MS    And, you know, so there was an optimism about the relationship with the European Union, it was the John Major moment, 1992.  So this is like, Gateway Europe is like '92/'95, somewhere in that period.

DM    That's interesting because Rob Gawthrop said that the changes that the Major administration brought it were far more damaging than Thatcher's cuts, because Thatcher didn't actually interfere, he said, with the structures but she cut funding, but his education bills had a major effect.

MS     I think he felt a lot, very much from the perspective of higher education, so in terms of a measurement culture --

DM    Yes.

MS    Yes, you know, the introduction of, so that if, she was involved in introducing the idea of privatising a few major industries, and of course partially … having been involved with coalmining communities in South Wales, you know, people die at 50 with pneumoconiosis. So we did need to modernise British industry but the way that it was done was vile.

DM    Yes.

MS    So in terms of John Major then enacting a more ubiquitous privatisation, a culture, I suppose there's some truth in that, yes.

DM    Regulatory bodies and --

MS    Exactly, yes.

DM    Where did the students at Hull School of Art, how did they fit into the whole cultural change within --

MS    Yes. So obviously, like me and Rob would have been very lucky, and George too, we're of a generation where we did have visiting lecturers, if you wanted a piece of kit you could suggest 'Could we get this?' and someone might buy it.

DM    You used to get a little materials budget?

MS    There was the materials budget, you know, so it was obviously still in the post-war boom, we were very lucky.

DM    And grants.

MS    Grants, yes, I had a grant to go to college and, you know, I suppose from the mid-nineties through the mid-2000s it just started to change really.

DM    So students were involved in supporting the programmes.

MS     Lots of fluidity between the university and Hull Time Based Arts, but I think it's maybe worth mentioning that Hull Time Based Arts was an effective, you know, an effective driver of student retention in the city.

DM    Ah, that's interesting…

MS    And, you know, that would be a strong part of my current narrative here in terms of the partnership I've got with Tate Liverpool, the Philharmonic Orchestra, the Biennial FACT, Playhouse Theatre so and so forth, that effectively Liverpool has now got the second biggest cultural tourism rate outside London in England and that part of that is to do with the fact that we're a massively important cultural city. So that adds value to the university, well to the three universities, LJMU (Liverpool John Moores University), UL (University of Liverpool) and Hope (Liverpool Hope University) for retaining students and also of course attracting students to the city.

DM    So what formal links do you have with the universities?

MS    They pay one of my staff, I've got a senior researcher who is paid for, they pay for three… posts, one for Tate, one of FACT and one of the Biennale, so that's about 60K salary tenured. I was appointed at a Professor when I moved to Liverpool from Australia, that was part of my original deal here, they could contribute to my salary and get my salary, so that lasted for five years. I've got a whole range of, I do a PhD programme here, so I've got like five PhD students with MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University), MU (Manchester University), Nottingham (University of Nottingham), LU, LJMU.  So that's, so a range, and then we're also part of something called Culture Forum North which is a range of partnerships between universities and arts organisations who see the benefit of those relationships and we were involved in setting that up.  So --

DM     In Hull Rob termed (described an arrangement of) student internships, is that the same --?

MS    No, this is different, this is actually the Vice Chancellors and the Directors of the organisations have signed up to the idea that partnerships between universities and arts organisations are mutually beneficial and in a way to try and get other universities to sign up to and contribute to partnerships with arts organisations. It's informal, like it's not constituted, but it, so that's called Culture Forum North.

DM    So what were students in Hull involved in?  In programmes, projects --?

MS    A combination of volunteering, they could get to show their work, go down the pub, show films, do a performance, you know, fairly open and informal  but of course in today's culture they were getting professional development, talent development, they were informal internships that made them employable and many would have then gone on to set up, like The Red Gallery, that would have been an example of something which fell out of someone volunteering at Hull Time Based Arts.  So I had loads of volunteers and interns, I had people who were suffering from mental illness but we didn't realise it, I'd let anyone come in, yes? Like I had some pretty strange experiences, yes, which you wouldn't do now like that.

DM    You would have to have a more formal … process?

MS    Oh fuck, yes. Like I had one guy who was completely fucking bonkers but he'd come in and help me and he needed the company but, you know, at one stage he was threatening to smash me over the head with a chair and … I thought it was a joke.  So in terms of governance I think that if we think about working conditions, it's interesting, like it's complex.

DM    Yes.

MS    So we were probably more mutually self-exploitative, despite the fact there was quite a lot of rhetoric around workers' rights, we were also exploiting ourselves quite a lot in a sense, you know.  And the arts are traditionally an area that would happen, so that in terms of the notion of an artists' union and artists' payments rights, you know, that clearly we are trying to protect our funding levels so that we can pay artists the correct amounts of money when we do a show here. Whereas maybe in Hull people didn't get paid half the time, but that was kind of okay.

DM    I think that's still true today.

MS    Yes, I think in smaller organisations, yes.

DM    Yes, even in local authority run museums and art galleries there is no question that you would be able to have open submission for work for the following year and you would either be selected or not and you would get no payment whatsoever and I find that very difficult to understand why they would believe that it is of no financial value to the artist.

MS    That's right, yes.

DM    It's very difficult to understand.

MS     I think new media and moving image is different, because it's associated to broadcast traditions or the film union, so it's interesting I'm doing a, curating a show for York Museum and Art Gallery around this idea, … of strata, that’s the name of it..  And at the moment, York Museum and Art Gallery, which is a major institution, they kind of used to not paying artists but I'm insisting we do pay artists and that's largely because the artists that I work with don't really sit easily within a commodifiable art market. So basically it's more of a production model, so I think this does relate to your notion of technology, so effectively we're commissioning work, so the money goes upfront, a bit like television.  Of course you might take the risk on, increasingly you might take the risk on producing a programme and trying to sell it, so I think the differences between visual arts culture and new media is slightly different actually, but very difficult to protect when public funding is being withdrawn, as it always is.

DM    Yes. There's a notional feeling sometimes that in times of austerity some of the best work is made in response to artists own personal circumstances, whether it's collaborate work on individual work. I think that the issue is finding somewhere to get shown in many ways. Within Coventry there's very little opportunity although they are building towards --

MS    Up at the Herbert Gallery, does that exist?

DM    The Herbert seems very reluctant to engage with, this is a personal feeling, but with the university and students, and ex students.

MS    Who runs it?

DM    They've had so many changes --

MS     Is it local authority?

DM    It is, yes, but I think it's, yes it is.

MS    Shall I come and talk to them?

DM    By all means.

MS     Shall I do that?

DM     That would be wonderful.

MS     Yes, you could invite me down to do something.

DM    Let me speak to George.

MS    And I'll come and talk to them while I'm there.

DM    Sure.

MS     And try and gee it up a bit.

DM    Yes. It's this, I think it's part of this sort of duality of roles of being seen by the local authority to engage with all types of potential visitors and even, not even, but including families and children. They had a really second rate touring dinosaur scheme that was just, it was like something you'd find in Blackpool on the seafront but --

MS    Yes.

DM    And still this fear of engaging with practice that is non-traditional.

MS     Yes.

DM    There's still paintings and tapestries and sculpture --

MS     I think we could do something  in Coventry.

DM    Well they're applying for, they've submitted an application for a City of Culture 2021 or something.

MS    Yes, … they're not going to  get it.

DM    No, they're not engaging with artists in the run up to it.

MS    Who has led that bid?

DM    You often wonder where these people come from, I think it's set up from within, appointees from within the local authority.

MS    I wonder who wrote the bid for them.

DM    I don't know, I don't know, but there are other initiatives evolving but they are small groups of like-minded students and local artists.

MS    I've just realised the time is running.

DM    Are you okay for a few minutes?

MS    I've got a twelve o'clock meeting so --

DM    Okay.

MS    Blast through the last lot.

DM    Sure, fine.  It may be that I need to email you with questions about certain -

MS    Well if I can do Ryan in half an hour -- 

    (Discussion interrupted)

DM    There's a couple of things I wanted to ask. Could I ask how your international experiences outside of working in the UK, how did that impact on your work and to experimental approaches?  How did they differ?

MS    Yes. I think that, like I got lucky that when I made this film in 1993 called 'Contortions', which was about the representation of unemployment, I got invited to a load of film festivals. I was like 25 or, I was quite young. So I kind of got early experience of being hosted at film festivals and then kept getting invited.

DM    It must have been exciting.

MS    It was great, I had a fucking great time, but it then bled into using it as opportunity to,  when I was moving into more of a curatorial role with Hull, keeping it all going.  So I'd still get invited to show my films but then I would also be curating and bringing stuff back, so I was playing it both ways at the same time.

DM    Are there universal, cultural aspects, or are there significant differences in how things are approached or is it a universal language?

MS    I don't know. I think that in relationship to the optimism around new media, definitely, and I think perhaps there was also a kind of, you know, if you did a snapshot of experimental film-making where did it exist?  Like obviously a lot took place in the States, a lot took place in Germany, France, you know, like the origins of experimental practice so, and a lot of it would have been either Dadaist in its origins or maybe a bit more politicised. In terms of a universal language like, of course cinema is a universal language and a lot of it is English language cinema but not entirely.  Non-narrative practice, I don't know, it's a PhD in itself.

DM    Did North American differ much from Europe in their outlook of the product?

MS    I think that a lot of the, in terms of new media and video, that if you do a, again if you look at video art history, predominantly it started with a bunch of technology which was exploited by America. So a lot of it, if you look at the original Nam June Paik work originated out of Tokyo, but it was his connections with America and with Cologne in Germany when Germany was a powerhouse. Britain came a bit later, we got onto the coat tails of a movement. Holland was involved, Brazil was involved, you know, again I haven't got there, I don't have the right books in this room, they're in a different room. In terms of video art histories America was definitely where it started, yes.

DM    It's interesting, looking at, well researching the Electronics Graphics material and the recognition of the possibilities of using computers, certainly Clive Richards, who was at Coventry, he mentioned that in the States the output or the product of working with computer art, for want of a better word, in the States was primarily done by technical people and scientific people, whereas in this country it was the artists who embraced the technology more.  That seemed to be a reasonable point.

MS    And of course there was definitely a, there was a Russian thing going on, there was definitely interest in the combination of computer science and aesthetics in Russia.  So what I don't want to do is overgeneralise really on something which demands --, if you want to speak to someone that knows a lot about it, Ernest Edmonds or Paul Brown.  Paul Brown is more accessible.  Both live between Australia and England and I think it's Catherine, have I got the book?  Where would it be?  Here we go, Catherine Mason's book, do you know this book?

DM    A Computer in the Art Room…. yes

MS    She did a lot of the research with Ernest, he's my friend.  He's up in Derbyshire. So a lot of this is sort of pre-cybernetic serendipity

DM    Yes.

MS    But if you go into any depth or if, I haven't even got the time to start remembering it, but there was stuff happening outside of the States and outside of Britain.

DM    Yes, I've got that (book) it's a --

MS    There is a picture of Ernest in here as a young man.  That's Ernest there as a very young man.  That's 1969/70, you know --

DM    Excellent.

MS    Yes. I need to see him actually, he's getting on. He's just been given some Lifetime Achievement Award, which he deserves.

DM    He might be worth getting in contact with. (Do you by any chance have contact details for Ernest  Edmonds or Paul Brown? Paul Brown <> Ernest Edmonds <>)

MS    Yes, he would, he would. But again, this also does fit very much into this notion of utopian futures really.  Gustav Metzger died last year, did you know that?

DM    No.

MS    Auto-Destructive Art movement?

DM    Yes, I have heard of, not in-depth but --

MS    Yes, no it's a pity.  All right, what next?

DM    Right, one final question which I ask of everybody. If I were to give you a crystal ball what would you see for the future of teaching visual arts and new media and how will changing technology have a further impact on how students learn?  What have we got to look forward to, both in terms of ‘supportive technology’ to administer courses or produce work?  What are we looking at?

MS    There needs to be some radical reinvention just in terms of the taxonomies that people actually use in real life.  That goes fairly contrary to the way people are being taught right now, not just in universities but in secondary education. So it needs to be much more embodied. Maybe there should be an assumption that people aren't going to remember stuff and people are still just being taught to remember stuff, but why should they?

DM    Does it not got to the heart of your own self-identity and --?

MS    Maybe that's up for grabs.

DM    Because technology can replace part of that experience?

MS    Well it can't replace the experience itself, still people need to the experience of embodied behaviour, making things, I believe that, but in terms of the retention of information or access to information, you know, the ideal of the semantic web has been realised. And I think we're in a transitionary stage right now in terms of society, you know, it's like, we're in a transition to a post-human society and that's a subject of a whole range of things that I've done and are continuing to do. So that in terms of the integration of high-powered computing, mobile computing, nanotechnology, AR (Augmented Reality) , VR (Virtual Reality) , genetic engineering --

DM    Implants…

MS    All of that, you know, largely it's society getting used to the fact that it's already happened, as is most good science fiction.  So I think that, you know, in a sense the education systems are trying to play catch-up all the time as things shift so quickly, that in terms of international market economies it looks a bit like the international franchises not holding much more water, you know. So Liverpool set up a Chinese campus and --

DM    Interesting…

MS    I was aslo approached  about a job, in Qatar, I got offered a job in Qatar setting up a university gallery about two years ago by, it was an American university in Qatar (Northwestern University

?) and it was like a company car, house of your choice, a shitload of money, a maid, but I've got two teenage daughters and why the fuck would they want to live there? (Laughs).

DM    Quite.

MS    And now they've just had their legs cut off, that's what's happened, they're fucked.  That's also where Al Jazeera is based. Not a coincidence either. So in terms of international models of education, I'm not sure what that means, but in terms of self-education, really what's the best thing you can do is sell some form of tourist experience and a party, like all the things that made college great in the seventies, yes?  Social. It's about social skills, emotional intelligence.

DM    I'm just thinking of socially engaged cybernetics.

MS    That's interesting.

DM    So perhaps the remote might turn out not to be remote in future and people will be used to what is the next iteration of Skype, VR, virtual spaces, virtual learning.

MS    Unquestionably, it's the only sustainable way to go forward.  

DM    For Western societies that can afford these approaches?

MS    For all societies, I think you'll find that India is probably, India and China are probably more advanced than we are, that's a misnomer, you know, we are not at the cutting edge anymore. We're still in the top but, you know, I work in China and Taiwan at the moment and the way they organise things is pretty hot. There's a bit disparity maybe between some fucked up cities and some good ones, but that's the same in Britain. You know, if you go to a housing estate just out of, you know, if you go out the city centre of Liverpool it's like the fucking dark ages. But in terms of mobility, portable, personal computing, everything being web-based, the only thing really education has got to sell is a social system and a certificate that you've been there. 'I've got a Masters from the Royal College of Art.'

DM    Steve Hawley said virtually the same thing, he said that there is, the only reason that universities continue in the present form is to accumulate the fee, because otherwise the funding is --

MS    Yes, and get the kids out the house.

DM    Yes.

MS    Yes.  Have you got any children?

DM    Yes.

MS    How old are your children?

DM    35, 30 and 28.

MS    Oh you lucky fucker.

DM    And I've got five grandchildren.

MS     I've got a 14 and a 16 year old.  My daughter is doing GCSEs today.

DM    Oh gosh.

MS    But what she's learned, it's really interesting, what she's learnt, like she didn't pay any attention at school, she was having fun, but she's really good cramming.

DM    Ah.

MS    So she's learnt to revise.

DM    So there's a post ‘something or other’ that needs a name.

MS    Maybe, yes. I was just out there with Rachel who is really very smart and we're trying to remember things and the 'Googleability' was extraordinary.

DM    Yet there has to be another step or several more steps in Google's understanding of what you're asking for so that the information is more appropriate to your question.   There's still the question of the question mark.

MS    Yes of course, yes.

DM    But I'm sure with AI (Artificial Intelligence) that will change.

MS    Absolutely.

DM    And Google will become ever more powerful.

MS    That's why I figured, you know, you just think about how quickly we're now moving, providing it doesn't end up in like nuclear disaster.

DM    Well the reliance on technology makes us that much more fragile because it's unstable in many ways and, as we've seen, can be hacked to pieces by rogue states or whatever you want to call them now.  So the problem is that to me the politicians still don't get it, they don't understand because the quality of our MPs is so low that they're not up to the job of protecting us because they are always playing catch-up and short-term (views) --

MS    And that also, that is in terms of the, like I've always been on the more romantic fine art side when it comes to the education system and sort of trying to push the utilitarianism of the design culture in a university away. In a way that's me as a bit of an anarchist and disruptive, interested in the more experimental end of art practice.

DM    The nature of outsiderness.

MS    Yes, to a degree yes. So if the notion of, if catch-up, one of the problems that I face in this organisation is when I'm doing projects which are embedded within the commercial sector that they're more fleet of foot, you know, commerce is extremely good at getting to where they want to be quickly.

DM    Yes, I recognise that from my own experience.

MS    So ideologically that would have sat within some sort of polemic between capitalism and socialism, whereas now we are into another realm all together of where, especially with the much younger generations they just don't give a shit.  So whether things become re-politicised in this moment and people want to attach themselves to a set of beliefs other than Jihadism or the church or, you know, maybe we're at the end of belief.

DM    Are we in a period of constant transition then? You hope with the implication that we're going through a transitory period that we'll come out the other side with some kind of resolution and understanding of the situation, but things seem to be moving so fast that maybe everybody's going to be playing catch-up with lobbyists and small groups, developers and people who have their own agenda --

MS    Yes and of course the gap between people who can afford free space, you know, how disconnected can you afford to be?  That will be, you know, it's like --

DM    Yes.

MS    That's around the corner too isn't it, like disconnection is a luxury.

DM    The haves and have nots both in terms of technology and social cohesion I would think.

MS    Absolutely and healthcare and the impacts of technology on healthcare, so yes you can live to 130 if you can afford it.  I can't.

DM    No.  I think I've taken up enough of your time Mike, I really do appreciate it.

MS    Thanks.  Will you make a transcript?

DM    Absolutely.

MS    Could I have a copy?  

DM    Yes.  Could you have a look at my ethics form, that you give permission for me to --

MS    Sure.  But that's about the longest time that I've actually thought about this stuff in ages so it would be very interesting to see it.

DM    It would be good, when I send it through if you could look at the names because I'm sure there are some names that I won't have --

MS    Sure I can do that, I'll fill your gaps in ive tried !!.

DM    Thank you so much. That's the participant information which you can have at your leisure and there's my copy, research --

MS    'How did the --?'  Oh I should have read this in the first place.  'How did the 1980s … time-based media and electronic art British art practice have … on visual arts?'  Okay.  

Can I just make some additions because I can address that head on?

DM    Yes, of course.

MS    I think here is something about time-based media specifically which is about, it's also about relational practice. Have people used that term before?

DM    Relational practice?

MS    Yes. But the idea that in terms of scientific theory, of the idea that the separation between us as the receiver of information, there being an object in a room, changing to a much more complex set of relationships between objects and humans, that's actually caught up entirely within this notion of time-based media. Like I'm not a scientific theorist but it has to make some of relationship to theories of relativity.  I'm really interested in that.

DM    Right, that's a valuable point, yes.

MS    And I think in our conversation today there's a few pointers, there's actually quite a lot I'd like to explore at some point if I ever get time to do a PhD for myself.  Now in terms of, like the electronic bit is slightly deceptive because it talks about a particular technology, you know.  Electronic art in a sense is, the gap between time-based media and electronic British art practice is this notion around new media and new media being very much at the core of it.

DM    Yes.

MS     But that was only suggestive in terms of being a conduit, being material and peer-to-peer communication channel all at the same moment, and I think that's absolutely critical.

DM    That's at the heart of what you've been saying.

MS    I think so, yes. That's what I'm really interested to draw out. So the information super highway, the Nam June Paik quote, is very, very important in this too.

DM    Yes, I have that volume there plus a number of others.

MS    Right okay, yes.  So, you know, he was sort of on the money, even though he was a bit of a charlatan.

DM    But I'm also interested in the work that Rauschenberg did in terms of the collaborations between the scientific community and dance and art--, '9 Evenings'?

MS    Yes.

DM    And that all for me comes down to this need for artists to explore, they can't help themselves explore new medias, new technology, we regard a pencil as technology or paint or whatever, they were all areas where artists' imagination is fired either thought early exposure, having a darkroom at 10, or having a teacher that particularly said 'Oh we've got a 16mm projector in the cupboard, why don't you --?'

MS    Go and fuck it up.

DM    Yes, cut the films up of cricket matches and awards evenings and scratch them etc, you know.

MS    Yes, yes. So it's enactment and embodiment combined.  So it's also, you know, it's action-based research, that's what academia likes to call it, and the arts department within time-based media and that art practice nailed it within that particular moment I suspect.

DM    And it's just, it's interesting the degree of resistance that the plastic arts of painting and sculpture like, for example, I think it was Ian Bourn (and James F Walker) mentioned about how at the RCA there were little silos of influence and certain professors were protecting their areas therefore anything to do with that was, you know, was worthless --

MS    Yes, as they would though, but that's human nature too isn't it?

DM    Absolutely, but it's nice to draw out some of these issues as evidence for --

MS    Yes.  Good, no it looks as if it's going to be good.

DM    Thank you.

MS    Yes, I look forward to seeing it.  When do you have to finish it?

DM    I've got a year and a half.

MS    Bloody hell, that's all right isn't it?  Ages.

DM    Yes, yes. I've done about 16 interviews so far and I need to do, probably about another --

MS    And how long is it going to be do you think?

DM    80,000.

MS    Okay.

DM    I think it may well be more because there's, I'm a little bit concerned it's too much to explore but, if you wouldn't mind --

MS    And how are you earning a living?

DM    I'm on studentship. I worked for 30 years in Graphic Design, ran my own company, saved up some money, did a part-time MA a couple of years ago and thought 'Right I'll go back to work now.' and then I thought, because that was all just completely practice, I think I did a 5,000 word essay that was all.

MS    Yes.

DM    But I saw this studentship advertised. It was a set question but I thought 'I've lived through this.'

MS    Was that the set question?

DM    It's been adapted, because Coventry wanted to investigate the heritage and the impact of the Electronics Graphics course and it was linked also with HOUSEWATCH because George was there…………. gap

MS    I think that Live Art (Events Week) Week is really … actually.    I think if it was, I'm hoping it's '88, '78  --

DM    Which means we've got an anniversary coming up.

MS    Yes and you could publish that and do a little symposium event and get everyone together before they all die.

DM    Well that is the other reason for looking at the eighties.  The seventies have been well done apparently.

MS    So was it '87 or '88?  If it was '87 we've missed it probably.

DM    Don't worry, I will look into this because Darryl has also mentioned this and there may be something we could fold in together.

MS    Is he all right, is Darryl okay?

DM    Yes.

MS    Because he's had a difficult period over the last year or so hasn't he?

DM    Both him and George have.

MS    Yes.  Yes and obviously Gina (Czarnecki ) used to live with George and John.

DM    In London.

MS    Yes.  So they're very old friends.

DM    They squatted didn't they and all sorts of --

MS    Okay.  Right, I've signed that.

DM    Yes, I've just gone through and scanned every last piece of George's archive, all his documents from --

MS     Did you know John?

DM    John Briscoe? I met him once.   ……………….gap

DM    If you could tick the box that would be most helpful, maybe just read them first if you --  Yes, Darryl's fine, he's actually a little bit difficult to pin down sometimes.   I have interviewed him once but --

MS    What does he do?

DM    He is Head of the MA in Contemporary Arts Practice at Coventry, which is the course I did.

MS    I think I did do something for George ages ago I think I validated his course. Yes, I think I did a validation.

DM    That will be the one.

MS    So when you see George say, and to George, that I'd like to come down, do some teaching, get paid for it and my expenses, what date is it?

DM    The 6th today.

MS    Last time I did it there I couldn't take the money because it was too much hassle getting the money out of the university so I didn't get anything.

DM    I don't think that's changed.

MS    And then we'd set it up and if there is a group of interested people looking at what can happen in Coventry, maybe around that moment, and also in terms of Coventry's strategic development in terms of arts and culture, I'd be game for just having a lunch.

DM    Certainly.  They are trying, there's a group trying to set up a Coventry Biennial which, and they've got (access to) premises. They're all little splinter groups but they all do seem to be doing --

MS    Well maybe it's the moment, maybe it's the right moment for something brilliant to happen with the generation.

DM    Yes, it's all very fragmented, yes.  Ian Bourn wants to come up, John Smith wants to come up and --

MS    No girls?

DM    Well I've only interviewed one, which is Anna, at the moment, so I need --

MS    Is she all right?

DM    Yes. Yes, good.  That was an epic interview, that was two and a half hours non-stop.

MS    Well she was always like that anyway.

DM    Well John Smith said 'Good luck' when I told him I was interviewing Anna.  (laughter) But she was wonderful and another view on the technology.

MS    I don't know Alison very well but Gina (Czarnecki) and Alison (Winckle) were good friends.

DM    Maybe Gina might.

MS    You could, ironically you won't get Gina today but, she's in Liverpool, but yes, you could talk to Gina more about the Co-Op. You'd get a different view.  Do you know what she does? She was -- so she's, in terms of, you'd get a very different view of what technology is from here.

DM    That's ideal.

MS    Because she's basically working with biotechnology.  So these are living portraits of our daughters made in a bioreactor.

DM    They look like a 3-D projection.

MS    Grown out of the DNA of their own skin cells with a tissue cell specialist who works with burns victims.  So she's a sort of artist/scientist collaborator.

DM    Oh if I, if you could mention --

MS    I can introduce you, yes, I'll introduce you to her if you want to.  You've got an email for me haven't you?

DM    Yes. Good.  I can't express how grateful I am, it's been absolutely –

MS    Well I'm flattered to be asked.  

DM    And I've picked out an XL. 

Excellent, excellent, good.  Okay.

    (end of recording). 

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