We spoke to Adam Chodzko about his recent commissions in the South West
Words by Pamela Peter-Agbia
Originally published in Nom de Strip, Issue 2 / Right Here, Right Now.
Conceptual artist, photographer and filmmaker, Adam Chodzko, has been doing a lot of work in the South West. A few years ago, he had a retrospective at Tate St Ives, entitled Proxigean Tide (the name of a rare, unusually high spring tide). This was the most comprehensive study of the artist’s work to date and his first solo museum show in the UK.
More recently, there has been Road for the Future, a year-long collaborative art project looking at the sustainability and development of Powerstock Common in rural West Dorset. Adam was one of three artists commissioned to make work for a series of one-day talks on the future of the common, making two pieces – a performance and video work – that looked at the individuality of Powerstock and its un-likeness to any other place.
Earlier last month was We Love You Here, Even When You Are There, a Foreground commission for Notes from Nowhere in Frome, and currently there is Ghost Series, a commission for the newly launched Tamar Art Project in Devon.
For an artist that lives and works in Whitstable, Kent, I’m surprised when Adam tells me that his run of commissions in the South West is coincidental. Really? ‘I mean, there seems to be a lot more going on in the South West than there is in Kent,’ he says. ‘Apart from a few exceptions, for such a large county, Kent is particularly devoid of good quality visual art commissioning.’ Adam suggests that the proximity of Kent to London is at fault for this – those who want art don’t have too far to go to get it. Kent also has ‘a very reactionary conservatism’, which in his opinion ‘views any kind of experimental contemporary cultural production as urban, elitist and decadent’.
A lot of Adam’s work is made, very pragmatically, in response to his immediate environment, but also to various fantasies about any place, about what it could be, or nearly is. This is the constant underlying theme in his recent works in the region. ‘I think commissioners and curators see me making work within one non-urban setting and want to explore how this relationship might operate in their own spaces.’
We Love You Here, Even When You Are There
Foreground, based in Frome, Somerset, commissions contemporary visual art projects that explore the relationship between art and its diverse settings.
The title for their latest project, Notes from Nowhere, is a play on the words of a William Morris book, News from Nowhere, a science fiction novel and utopian vision of a better and more socially just England.
Notes from Nowhere casts the Somerset town of Frome as broadcaster of social and political ideas to the rest of the country. Artists commissioned include Adam Chodzko, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Claire Fontaine, Douglas Gordon, Micah Purnell, Ruth Proctor and Mike Ricketts.
All artist works are distributed in some kind of way. These range from Mike Ricketts’s poster erected in the windows of homes of local residents declaring the legend, ‘Hell Is Other People’, to Micah Purnell’s beer mats in local pubs, instructing drinkers to ‘Bless Those Who Curse You’, to Claire Fontaine’s shopping bags bearing the slogan ‘Capitalism Kills Love’.
Appearing in the 10 May issue of The Frome Times, Adam Chodzko’s commission takes the form of a full page advert in the town’s free fortnightly paper, of which 12,500 copies are delivered direct to homes and businesses in the town. The paper is also available for collection from cafes and shops.
We Love You Here, Even When You Are There forms part of a wider series called Runners, in which Adam places adverts in newspapers from ‘urban centres’ on behalf of small businesses in remote places from all over the world. They must typically have no online presence, although in general, there is a heavy element of chance in the selection of businesses to promote, Adam tells me. ‘It began with a friend of mine who was travelling to a lot of places ranging from Hawaii to Panama to remote parts of Denmark. I was very much stuck in Kent at the time looking after my sons, so this was partly a way for me to “travel” through someone else’s eyes.’ Adam asked his friend to look out for businesses that appeared ‘small’, ‘innocent’, ‘vulnerable’ and reliant only on a very marginal, sporadic local trade. ‘I liked the idea of commerce that seemed oblivious to the notion of marketing.’
The art work for We Love You Here, Even When You Are There features four small adverts for businesses around the world. The Mombasa advert is specific to Frome, featuring four bronze sculptures in Mombasa, but made in Frome by Singers in the 1920s as a war memorial to Kenyan soldiers. Other additions to the Runner series include advertisements for Ixa’s bicycle repair shack in Panama; Lanikai Shrimp Shack in Hawaii, and Ingrid’s Hair Design in Denmark, all placed in the back pages of a newspaper called Main Echo in Frankfurt, apparently transcending, in a huge leap, its current context.
I ask Adam if he has ever received a response from the businesses he promotes. ‘No, I think for a viewer the work is partly about trying to empathise with the reaction of the business at the moment it might discover that this particular form of global dissemination was going on. Would the unsolicited remote advertising be seen as a gift (although a somewhat absurd one), or would it be seen somehow as an invasion of private space?’
The river Tamar runs as the dividing line, or border, between Devon and Cornwall, its source only 6 kilometres off the north Cornwall coast, any longer and it would effectively make Cornwall an island. Due to the decline in its use by humans in recent years, large areas of the river’s banks have been reclaimed by wilderness, adding to the already dramatic landscape.
The Tamar Project is a long-term arts, education and sustainability initiative that aims to reconnect people with the once industrious Tamar river. The problems that the Tamar faces are mirrored on rivers the world over and this project addresses these issues, acting as a blueprint for others. The Tamar Project’s international arts programme is inviting world-renowned artists to respond to the river in a socially engaging way. Adam’s Ghost Series is the first of these commissions.
Ghost is a kayak. But it also functions as a sculpture, ‘coffin’, bed, ‘costume’ and camera rig. It is designed to ferry members of the public on a journey to the ‘Isle of the Dead’. When you travel in it you enter part of a story.
Fabricated from hundreds of strips of different woods with a beautiful, glossy, curving surface this object exists suspended, floating through space, in galleries and museums, as well as operating as a functional vessel on the water.
Ghost is designed by Chodzko to have a rower in the back and a member of the public in the front under a domed canopy. The passenger lies down low and flat. Like a body in a coffin with its head slightly raised. The passenger horizontally occupies the space between sky and sea in an attempt to imagine a sensation between living and dying, sleeping and waking.
From June to December 2012, Ghost will be travelling from Gunnislake down to Plymouth on a series of voyages, paddled sometimes by the artist and sometimes by experienced kayakers. Ghost will invite individuals from specific communities to explore and record the River Tamar.
On the deck is a mount for a camera which records the journey of the kayak from across its bows, generating a record of its own journeys, and this footage will be archived as each passenger makes his or her own unique journey.
The inspiration for Ghost Series, came partly from the making of Echo – a video by Chodzko, set in the past and imagined future of Governors’ Island, New York. ‘It features a ritualistic decay or erosion of matter amongst the community on this island. It is also partly from a series of works that were to do with ideas of searching, viewing (especially art as an apparatus for viewing something else) and perceiving other states of being (including death), as well as archiving. Connecting all these ideas is also a context of how these might operate within the idea of community.’
How do people respond to the work? ‘It’s a very beautiful object and that alone seems to make people quite happy! The prospect of traveling in it also seems to attract a lot of people who would otherwise not be interested in traveling in a vessel on water. I noticed in previous projects with Ghost that people who said they were afraid of water or had never been in a boat before seemed to be very happy to travel in Ghost. Its status as an “art object” means that it occupies a surreal space which allows the people using it to forget that it is a kayak and feel that normal rules do not apply.’
In the context of the Tamar, the story is about the river. The ‘death’ is about the Tamar’s decline as the lifeblood of the communities that border its banks. But the journeys that Ghost will make are intended to discover life through the river’s history, and its possibility for the future.
Adam Chodzko: adamchodzko.com