A Cornucopia is an abundant supply of good things. TOTALLER, as a collective, is interested in the creative process as something excessive, beyond our everyday needs, vital to our well-being and a tool for questioning things we take for granted. The world is full of stuff, and so are our homes – what are the functions, practical and symbolic of these objects and images we live with? Could you live with something disruptive, something sacred in your home?
In August 2017 TOTALLER worked with a ArtHouses and the Turner family to create UniCornUtopia, an artwork consisting of three elements: A sculptural horn, an overabundant cake, and a watercolour painting on A1 paper, a portrait of the artists and residents as unicorns.
We imagined this installation specifically for a dining room/area. The horn and the cake positioned at either end of a dining table and the painting on a wall overlooking the scene. These three things each have a symbolic function within the overall piece. They were be messy items, all painted/decorated in a new-age rainbow unicorn aesthetic, promising a collective harmony but not quite fitting in. The horn didn’t sound and the cake did not look particularly appetising – though we aimed to make it edible. Making the objects together and placing them in the domestic setting brought UniCornUtopia to life. The double portrait as unicorns was a gift to the family, a reminder that artists dwelt here for a while and that they were artists too. Our promise to the family and the visitors during the ArtHouses weekend was this: you might find us beautiful, or difficult to look at. You might wonder if we are being ironic you may question our taste.. These objects will promise some artistic utopian vision just out of reach.
TOTALLER is the name of a collective endeavour that has a shared belief around the aesthetic as a destructive, progressively utopian and totalising force. The group is composed of four members – Lesley Guy, Dale Holmes, Lea Torp Nielsen and Chris Fielder.
People often ask me why I love pizza and put it in my work so much.
The fact is I don’t use it that much, but yes, I do love it. I love the beauty of it and the profanity of it. It is also good to eat. What other reason do you need?
When people ask this the way they do it pisses me off. They ask as if it’s all about pizza. Don’t they know anything about making art?
The best book I found at Leeds College of Art Library is this
Art Brut by Michel Thevoz. I wish I had time to read the whole thing. I found this nugget about Gaston Duf, a man who made art in a psychiatric hospital.
Gaston Duf, Punchinello, 1920
It says: His favorite subject, an obsessional subject with him, was a strange, protean animal which he called a rhinoceros, but which obviously has little connection with the real animal of that name. In his hands it represents a kind of microcosm or generating principle of all real or imaginary forms. Philosophers have seen fit to take fire, water, atoms, essence, existence, etc., as the principle of their metaphysical explanations. Why not take the rhinoceros?
And I say: Why not take pizza?
It was warm in the library and I was dog-tired so I put my head down on one of the big books and closed my eyes. I fell asleep and had the following dream…
I’m in a large underground building – a bunker I suppose but not a concrete one, this place feels like an old house or antiques emporium made up out of many small, interconnected rooms. Some of these rooms contain racks of clothes and furniture and amazing objects but further in I find rooms full of books – the walls lined with cases and shelves. Books of all sorts – maybe every book I had ever wanted to read and so many I haven’t heard of but still need to have. I feel greedy for it all.
Bombs are falling outside. I hear shouting and sirens and buildings crashing down. It feels darker inside the rooms. I don’t know if it’s smoke or the lights failing. I’m groping around. The place is shaking and dust falling down into my hair. Books are all over the floor in great piles up against the bookcases and walls. I’m burrowing through trying to get to the door throwing books over my shoulder. Other objects are mixed in with the books and dust: gold coins, jewels and pieces of glass tile that have fallen from the mosaics on the walls. It’s all falling through the books as I push through, falling into a deep unknown place, like pennies dropping down a well. I can’t see it but I know it.
The ceiling has crashed in, dropping lumps of rubble on top of the books. I can no longer dig. The pieces of stone and concrete have melted over everything, binding it all together. The door is gone. I don’t want to go up into the light that is shining in through the blasted ceiling. I’m exposed and bereft of what it was I was seeking underground. The grotto is out of reach and I’m left in tears.
There are people peering down through the hole at me telling me to come out. I don’t know if they are helpful or hostile. They tell me the sewerage system has burst and is flooding all the bunkers. If I don’t get out I’ll drown. What about all the books and objects inside? It’s too late. They pull me out and start to seal up the hole. I’ve got a book in my hands, it is bound in cardboard – like a dvd sleeve but thicker, more like a pizza box. I have to get it back in the underground room but it’s too late.
‘I’M NOT OK’ was made after a trip I made to the cemetery a few years ago. I’d been visiting my father’s grave and as we were driving out I caught a glimpse of a floral wreath that appeared to spell out the words ‘I’M NOT OK’. By the time I’d looked back to see if this was real it had passed out of view and so I was able to confirm in my mind a wreath that said those words – so let’s assume it didn’t really say GRANDMA or AUNTY BERYL.
Was it a joke? Who would commission such a wreath – the deceased as a last wish or a grieving relative? It reminded me of the words on Spike Milligan’s head stone ‘I told you I was ill’.
Grief or mourning is something that pops into my work from time to time (see Obituary stuff), I had to do something with this. I had to do something funny.
I made loads of drawings – I couldn’t get it out of my head. It became a mantra – I’M NOT OK, I’M NOT OK, I’M NOT OK…
It was going to cost £300 to have the wreath made from flowers so I decided to make it myself from paper mache. That’s what I’d been working with, it’s what was at hand and it was perfect. PM is associated in my mind with carnival crafts – bright effigies made in Spain or South America. It is solid but not permanent like stone but it would last longer than fresh flowers. I’d be able to play with it. My wreath needed to be ridiculously bright and jolly. These words needed to be difficult to believe – like their counterparts in the ‘How are you?’dialogue – ‘I’m OK’.
I was working to a deadline. I wanted it ready for the Bloc Open Studios to be part of an installation. I was turning my studio into a psychedelic grotto by covering every surface with fluro rawshchach printed newspaper. Would I’M NOT OK be a bit obvious in this space? I didn’t want to say look at me I’m crazy. It wasn’t even about me. I didn’t have time to paint the words – but this was OK. I let them blend in with the newspaper – maybe even get a bit lost.
Working with words is HARD. People read them and either take them at their face value or try to read more into them. (Of course – I’m not complaining). This means it’s harder to be flippant or just aesthetic or lack conviction. Words add meaning to other things. Putting those words in that environment meant people thought something was trying to be communicated to them. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. I wanted the grotto to be a bit overwhelming so in this respect it worked. Maybe I wanted them to be a bit more overwhelmed – to step inside and lose themselves. Its wrong to expect this sort of thing from an artwork.
DH: Yeah, its really important that I wear my, that the influences are worn on the surface of the work. They don’t shy away from the influences. Influences are vital. And I think if theres enough influences, even if they are quite tight or a specific area, something new can come from that. It can move beyond its influences.
LG: Its like this conversation we were having about you going to see Martin Creed and me going to see Gabriel Orozco.
DH: He, he he yeah!
LG: And us both thinking ‘oh no!’, what do we do? I saw a few pieces that looked a bit like what I was doing, you know and at first your initial reaction is ‘oh no’, a million things pass through your mind and one of them is ‘now I cant do that any more’, which is, you know, silly. ‘People are going to think Ive ripped him off!’, but mainly my fear, the reason I said ‘oh no’ is because I really liked what I saw so much and I was scared that I’d have to copy this now, I cant ignore it, and one reaction ive had to that is to get it out of my system and just get some paints out and do it. Not copy it but do the thing I was afraid of having seen that work.
Taken from a conversation between myself and Dale Holmes. For more please go to the Bloc Projects website.. and follow the links to Discourse.
In Of Hospitality, Derrida invites us to consider an unconditional hospitality, where we open our door to someone without limits or asking anything in return not even their name. ‘If I am unconditionally hospitable I should welcome the visitation, not the invited guest, but the visitor’. At this point I start to think of Dracula. In legend, a vampire cannot enter unless invited, only then is he able to overpower you. In Bram Stoker’s novel he represents fears of foreign invasion from the East, his plan is to infect or drain the blood of the innocent and take over London. He has many forms and can swarm as rats or slip under the door and through cracks as a mist; he can even invade your dreams. He almost lives up to Derrida’s hypothetical extreme guest, except as a legend and literary figure he is subject to as many rules as he has freedoms, however, in terms of Derrida’s argument for hospitality, it is still interesting to consider this extreme because of its impossibility. The impossibility of pure hospitality is important because it adds meaning to the hospitality we are able to offer and helps us to question our limits. Not only does the idea of Dracula transgress our threshold of acceptability, it transgresses the threshold of safety. Accepting this guest would be a kind of suicide. I say a kind of suicide because the added danger of being attacked by a vampire is that it would kill you but you wouldn’t die, not properly.
This brings us to mourning and other uninvited guests. The vampire legend probably came about out of a very real fear, not so much of death, but of the dead coming back. The legend deals with the physical form of this visitation, we imagine a body, like Dracula’s, unable to die, or a zombie coming out of the grave. These are metaphors for mourning. It is bad enough to suffer a loss, even worse to be haunted. Even the idea of the dead living on in your heart or memory seems distressing. How can you possibly ‘get over’ the loss of someone who is still there? If we consider the possibility of offering unconditional hospitality to this kind of guest what could it tell us about our attitudes towards others? By inviting Dracula in we activate him, however in the recent Swedish vampire film, Let The Right One In the vampire enters the boys home uninvited and begins to die, the boy chooses to invite her in order to keep her ‘alive’. He has embraced their difference and given himself to her, not through a blood tie, but through love. She will never age and he is destined to be her carer until he dies. In essence the vampire is a parasite and yet it has been a source for so much romance. It shows that this impossible guest is something strangely longed for. It brings with it a kind of destruction of the self and the hope of eternal rest or rebirth.