Custom-Produced for Imbeciles of Some Sort: An Interview with John Russell

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John Russell on active forgetting, bad theory, squirrel pink, and speculative medievalism, in conversation with Cameron Soren.

Layout, font and images by John Russell. —Ed.

John Russell, Ocean Pose, Installation, backlit digital prints on vinyl, Matts Gallery London, 2007.

John Russell was a founder-member of the London-based artist group BANK, from 1990 to 2000. BANK would require their own article (or book), but for the sake of brevity here, BANK practiced their own unique form of a kind of anarchic "institutional critique". This involved, among other activities, staging aggressive, immersive and polemical group shows with titles like "Zombie Golf" and "Cocaine Orgasm" in temporary warehouse spaces around London (re-named BANKSPACE, DOG and then Galerie Poo-Poo). These sprawling installations often lampooned the contemporary art scene and satirized the popular culture of the '90s. In Zombie Golf, for example, the work was placed within a miniature golf course installation populated with wax figures of the undead. Their most well-known project "Faxbacks" involved taking other galleries press releases, correcting them and sending them back.

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Artist Profile: Nick DeMarco

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Nick DeMarco

You hop felicitously from medium to medium: sculptures, gifs, videos, fonts,T-shirts, tweets, products, furniture, and guerilla culture-jamming. I want to talk about your sensibility, which is identifiable throughout your different projects. I remember three descriptions that you yourself have used: "Transcendental banality," "Funky lil-ness" and "Dilbert on acid." They each point to something, so I thought we could riff on them a little, beginning with "Transcendental banality."

I've phased out "Transcendental banality" because it sounded kinda wanky, but it was really one of the first ways in which I tried to describe what I was doing. I came up with it early on in school, where I was interested in both art and design. Art was supposed to be this more transcendental thing—and a failure if it became banal. Design that became banal, however, was considered a success—so successful that it became ubiquitous. Now, the phrase seems a little trite because everyone is interested in "The mundane" in a very NPR kind of way. But for me, it wasn't so much about elevating the mundane in itself,but inserting myself into it and melting into it in my own way. I'm very much an opportunist in that the things around you are usually such wasted opportunities for the transcendent. That's kind of what I meant.

It seems you'd be unfazed without museums or galleriesnot that you're against them in any way, just that you'd be as comfortable or excited if a restaurant approached you to make their toothpick dispensers or if NPR asked for a ten minute Nick show. Or, to use a real example, like the "abstract" font you made, Inscrutable Regular, which produces doodles all over the screen as you type. It seemed like just one more opportunity for you, though I can't imagine it becoming a new standard in Switzerland.

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