Thursday, 16 July 2009

Anton Goldenstein talks to AA at Transition Gallery, London E8 on 11 July

AA: You use many different animals in your work. For Heroes from History; The Rabbit Wars you’ve chosen a rabbit, why?

AG: I’ve been playing with rabbits for years. They’re always evil and menacing. I think I must have been inspired by Watership Down. At the time of making The Rabbit Wars I was reading a lot of novels about romance like The Time Travelers Wife and work by Murakami. I was thinking about the great romantic periods in history and that led me to the Trojan War. The Trojan Horse has crept up now and then in my work and the two things combined in a Trojan bunny with this idea of high romance and subterfuge.

AA: There seems to be humour as well as pathos in some of the more heroic representations, a sort of deflation?

AG: It’s not something I try to direct when making the work but afterwards you look at it and it might be a little bit funny or sad. Perhaps there is an inherent pathos in the way we look at things in society. I try to make uplifting artworks once in a while and to reappraise historical events with the idea that we can somehow change by learning from them.

AA: To what extent is your work self-portraiture?

AG: I think all art is self-portraiture. Art is personal experience, so it’s from the artists’ viewpoint. Even when you are looking at something outside yourself you still have to look at it from within the constraints of your own predispositions. All your internal dialogues come out through making, whether you direct it or not. I spend a lot of time reading about anthropology and biology and the human condition.

AA: Were you brought up around animals in South Africa?

AG: Just dogs and cats like everyone else. I’d see a monkey once in a while but that’s because I lived near an animal research lab in Johannesburg. But they dealt in skins where I learned to swim as a child and I would have to pass an array of African animal skins, piled high in rooms, to get to the pool.

AA: Do you find it problematic using animals in art and having an anthropocentric perspective?

AG: I used to make abstract objects, just things stuck together to make poetic forms in space and then I was sent two fox skins in the post and the next thing I know I had a crudely stuffed fox playing golf. That’s where the animals came in and to a large extent the anthropomorphic side did take over. Now I’m trying to pull that back and re-cast animals as animals but within the human environment. Animals are so popular now in art. That’s fine because it’s the zeitgeist and that’s what we are thinking about so it only makes sense that it’s coming to the surface.

AA: So are you interested in the animals as animals or are you using animals to do something else?

AG: It’s more to do with our familiarity with animals. We’re not surprised to see an anteater or an aardvark or anything any more. We have such a post-modern familiarity with things that are actually alien to us living here in England. In a way it’s anti that. The work re-presents animals in order to see them again. There’s something about the banality of it all. Our relationship with nature has become so banal.

AA: I was looking at urban British bats recently; they’re amazing creatures. As humans we have the desire to invent Radar and Sonar but we could never actually experience echolocation the way a bat does.

AG: There’s a compendium of all the writings about our relationships with animals since Plutarch and the Romans up until now called The Animals Reader. It talks about how birds mourn when they lose their partners to what elephants do with their dead. It’s a great book.

AA: Perhaps when we look at animals we’re also working out what it is to be human.

AG: I am very interested in the human as an animal, as a third type of chimpanzee and how we really need to face our animal background. That’s what is responsible for the state of society - our refusal to acknowledge that we are just monkeys. Imagine three monkeys sitting here, drinking tea and talking about art. No offence but that’s what we’ve got going on here.

AA: And you’re back to absurdity, recognising that and allowing it to be a helpful thing.

AG: I think that is quite important.

Anton Goldenstein is a multimedia artist based in Bristol. His work can be seen at:

Bad Animals’, Transition Gallery, London E8 from 18 July – 16 Aug 2009

Preview: Friday 17 July