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12.11.2014 INTERVIEW

Jake & Dinos Chapman. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

I do not think that we are interested in being artists because we like art

The British brothers and art-duo Jake & Dinos Chapman are probably best known for their controversial approach to art. In their work they have treated themes such as Nazism, terror and death. But their art holds more to it than morbid character. In their work humor is a central feature.

At this moment Jake & Dinos Chapman are exhibiting a selection of works at David Risley Gallery. The exhibition is called Come, Hell or High Water, and I stopped by to have a talk with the brothers about human cruelty, the point of making art and how to create the most meaning by doing the least.

AF Kathrine Børlit

David Risley Gallery
Bredgade 65, 1260, København K
Come, Hell or High Water
Jake & Dinos Chapman
07.11.2014-20.12.2014

First, would you like to explain the exhibition at David Risley Gallery? 
Dinos: No. If we wanted to explain the exhibition, we would not have done it.
Jake: We want to explain but we can't. 

What meaning carries the title of the exhibition, Come, Hell or High Water? 
Dinos: Well, you can ask Jake. It is his title. 
Jake: Originally it was the title of a book we made, but we changed the title half way through. Come, Hell or High Water means that whatever happens we are going to do this. So it is like: Come, hell or high water, this show will be made.  

What themes does the exhibition Come, Hell or High Water verbalize? 
Dinos: Disappointment. Frustration.
Jake: Decay.
Dinos: Rot.
Jake: We have got two themes in the exhibition. It is humor and...
Dinos: ...humor and disappointment.
Jake: It is the fun of dying.
Dinos: The fun of being wrong.   

Does that relate to your new diorama Nein! Eleven? Would you like to explain that work further? 
Dinos: It is two piles of disappointment...
Jake: ...and rot. The thing about the work is that it is difficult to explain separately and in isolation from other things. In a way we have been doing this for so long, that the work attains a new meaning through all the other works.
Dinos: It becomes a big clump of stuff.
Jake: We started first up making dioramas because we were interested in making a work of art that had magnitude and epic scale made out of things that could not really support that. In this context the little toy soldiers are worthless. They do not have that kind of medium, because they are so impoverished, and we wanted to test whether we could make something that would have some kind of significance and meta-narrative. We used these 21-century made little toy soldiers to see if it worked. And then it burned. 

Yeah, I read about that. You went on to make a new and improved one?
Jake: Yes, exactly. 

That sort of relates to your reworked and improved artworks that are a part of the exhibition. You have chosen to work with artists such as Goya and Hitler and various anonymous Victorian artists. How has that process been? 
Jake: It is really difficult to start drawing on a blank page or canvas. It is so much easier working on other peoples art.  
Dinos: It is like sitting on giant people's shoulders.
Jake: It is just cheating. It is so much quicker.
Dinos: And also, it is already good. It is quite difficult to make a masterpiece. 

How do you choose what artists to rework and improve?
Jake: We picked Goya because for us he is significant in the sense that he is pretty much the first modern artist. We are interested in the fact that he was the first artist who expresses the torments of the individual, and he is the first artist who is not associated with the church.
Dinos: His attachment to the church is not as a protection. He is aggressive towards it.
Jake: Yeah, and so we thought that we would borrow him.

And what about Hitler? 
Jake: We are interested in overloaded signs and the idea of Hitler being synonymous with absolute evil. What is interesting about that is, if we can get hold of the pictures and drawings of the person who is responsible for industrial genocide and do the most idiotic things to them. Then in some sense the proportion of what he is as a person who murdered millions of people, and what we can do to him, is nothing. The best thing we can do is to draw rainbows on his work, to ruin his work by doing something so innocuous. For us it is a test of how spiteful we can be to Hitler by doing the least. So that rather than taking the drawings and ripping them up or drawing horrible things on them we take them and draw the nicest things on them, and then we can make Hitler turn in his grave. It is quite a nice idea to actually attack this person or thing or idea by doing the least offensive thing.          

Now, I would say that your reworked and improved paintings by Hitler carry an extremely provocative significance in the exhibition as a whole. And with his series of works The Disasters of War Goya himself was in a sense a provocative artist as well. I can understand from your artworks that the provocative aspect is important to you - why is that? 
Jake: You make the choice as an artist when you go into the studio and paint little dogs and flowers, and expect people to look at it or expect it to have anything to do with your understanding of the world. I think that we make the artwork that we do because it is a lot more fun, and because it has got something to do with how the world is to us. Our experience with the world is that the world is provocative. There are things that occur in the world which provoke us into making works that provoke the viewer. We want the work to be critical and engage in some discourse about how things are and why and how they should be. I do not think that we are interested in being artists because we like art. We want to do art because we want to do something, we want to be active. I do not want people to come in to the gallery, and look at the works, and just see them. Then the art would be like wallpaper. We want the work to have an effect. I think art has a capacity to do something, and I think we are trying to find out what that is. Art should wake the viewer from some dogmatic slumber. The idea of criticality is that if you can produce works of art which have some sort of critical nature to it, then what you are inviting people to do is to be critical about other things. That is the politics of the idea of what critical discourse do. It makes you critical of everything. 

Would you say, that there is a provocative undertone in the sense of "reworking and improving" a work of art made by someone else? Are you allowed to do that? 
Dinos: Yes, you can do that. We have done it. You have to choose your subjects to rework quite carefully. If we reworked something that did not already have value it would not do anything.
Jake: One of the things we think about is vandalism. Vandalism is quite funny. When you sometimes see that people have written over other peoples work, these acts of vandalism actually are really creative and interesting. They are ruining someone else's work in order to create a new meaning. The politics of vandalism are interesting.
Dinos: That is what we are trying to do. People sometimes ask us if we would like other to do it to our work and we are like "yeah, it would be great". We do not know why someone has not done it yet.       

Can you tell me about your lithographs in the exhibition? I can understand that this is the first time you have made lithographs. What sort of project has that been? 
Dinos: We got invited to come to Copenhagen to do some lithographs, and we said yes, and we did them. It has been an interesting project, but it is just another thing. It was never a life ambition to do any lithographs.
Jake: But it was quite nice doing something we did not know how to do. It was like testing whether or not we were able to do it. We came over for a week and worked at this place, and it is just the idea of throwing yourself into a situation and having to solve a problem. If you do not know how to make lithographs you have to learn very quickly, and so it was quite nice to test your ability and to react to something. 
It is the work with humor that connects the lithographs to the rest of the exhibition. There is humor everywhere. We laugh a lot when we make our work.           

Do you have any sort of expectations to how the visitor's experience of the exhibition Come, Hell or High Water will be?
Jake: We have done so many exhibitions. I think the first time we did an exhibition we had very high expectations to what people might think or do, and by the second exhibition we realized that we were being very hopeful, and very quickly we learned to expect nothing.      
Dinos: The thing is that people go to galleries and do not always spend a lot of time looking at art. It takes us two and a half years to make a sculpture, and it probably takes people about fifteen minutes to look at it. What we expect people to get from the work depends on how much time they put into looking at the work. So if someone was to walk in and take a quick little walk around the gallery until it stops raining, then they do not really engage with the work. I think the effort we put into the work is not just physical. We hope that the work is engaging enough to capture people's attention and makes them want to stand and look at the work for longer than two seconds. But if people do not do that then that is up to them. I think in a sense that we are quite generous in terms of offering something in our work that might potentially be adventurous to someone. Ideally there is a spectrum. In the one end I would love people to walk in and think that it is the best work they have ever seen in their lives. And in the other end they walk in and drop dead, I mean what a fantastic reaction that would be. It would be brilliant. Then we do not need to make art anymore.         

And finally, can you tell me what is going to happen next? 
Dinos: Christmas. It is true.
Jake: And holiday.
Dinos: And my birthday.  
Jake: And then it all starts again.
Dinos: Hopefully. 

Thank you. 

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation View), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Nein! Eleven (detail), 2013, 156,7 x 70 x 70 cm, Fiberglass, plastic and mixed media. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Nein! Eleven, 2013, 156,7 x 70 x 70 cm, Fiberglass, plastic and mixed media. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view) , 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved (that it should come to this...) IX, 2013, 107 x 91 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Come, Hell or High Water (installation view), 2014. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Jake und Adolf VI, 23,5 x 14,5 cm, Watercolour and ink, Painting by Hitler reworked and improved. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Unnamed, 100 x 69 cm, Lithograph. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Unnamed, 100 x 69 cm, Lithograph. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Unnamed, Lithograph. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

Jake & Dinos Chapman: Unnamed, Lithograph. Foto: Nic Serpell-Rand Photography. Courtesy: © 2014 David Risley Gallery.

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