Over the past five years Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson have been creating lively art pieces and themed exhibitions using humour and large-scale modelling to critique traditionalism and interrogate received wisdom. Matt Rowe met up with the crack team in their East London studio to talk about evolution, neon and German souvenirs.
Is your partnership like a marriage or a job – or both?
Mally – I think we have too much fun for it to be a job –
Shaun – or a marriage. Oh no, I wasn’t going to say that.
Do you make stuff in the same way? Is it like a production line?
S – Look around you. Does it look like a production line?
M – It looks like a junk yard.
So, do you say “you do that now, it’s your turn?”
S – There is a bit of “God, I’m sick of this, can you finish this one?”
M – Sometimes there’ll be a piece which only one of us has touched. We’ve talked about it and, you know it’s not like cutting a wedding cake, holding hands or whatever, when you’re making a piece you just do what has to be done, that’s all.
Whoever gets to the studio first?
M – Yeah. Whoever’s not in the pub. We’re generally in the pub together though aren’t we?
What’s your next show?
M – Ecce Homo Tesco, at the Airspace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent.
S – A lot of the ground around the gallery has been levelled and lots of property demolished to build this super-massive Tesco. That instantly became the theme for the show.
M – It’s kind of like a faux museum reconstruction isn’t it?
S – Yeah, sort of shoddy. Your old school regional museum feel. It’s a darkened room with spot-lit pieces, reconstructions of archaeological finds on landforms, displays.
There’s three main pieces: a skeleton carrying plastic bags, a child skeleton pushing a trolley and two kiddie skeletons on a concrete block waving flags. In the second room we’re going to make a sort of shanty town from the trolleys and some tarpaulin and then there’s a room at the back where we’re going to show some videos.
Sounds like quite a lot!
M – We’ll ram it in! The building’s an old bank – it’s got that regional museum feel hasn’t it?
S Yeah, it’s fitting. It’s all terracotta and tiles so it’s quite nice. There needs to be some engagement with a place – it adds an extra dimension, the piece is enriched from that.
M – I think you should mention the tescum, tesci.
S – Oh yeah. After we decided the show was going to be called Ecce Homo Tesco, I thought, I wonder if Tesco is any sort of Latin word… tescum, the plural of which is tesci, is desert or wasteland. The serendipity of that is fantastic isn’t it?
M – Things like that always crop up once you start making pieces. The ideas set to a degree but then it evolves further along certain lines. You need to keep it open.
What was your last show?
M – We were in a group show in Berlin called Das Unheimlich – The Uncanny. Before that we installed Ecce Homo Erectus, Behold the Erect, The Upright Man, in Venlo, a very old, very Catholic part of Holland, down south on the German border near the Rhine.
S – [It was] a huge skull with a crown of thorns on the front of the Venlo Town Hall. A Homo erectus skull that would have looked quite good outside a Goth nightclub.
M – With a neon title at the top that said “Behold the Upright Man.”
S – That was a piece based on DuBois, who found the missing link, Homo erectus. He’s buried in that city but he’s not very well known there at all.
M – He’s kind of faded into obscurity and we wanted to do a little homage to him. It caused a bit of controversy, I think. It’s that debate between creationists and evolutionists we’d explored in past works such as Tanky Monk.
That was your first use of neon wasn’t it?
M – Made neon, yeah. We’ve used bought neon before. We strapped some neon onto a few [pieces in] Black Forest Ghetto to lighten it up a bit ’cos it was so dark and depressing, but that didn’t really work to lighten the mood.
S – It just made it moodier.
M – Seedier.
S – Any sense of joy drained away.
You drained the joy from neon.
M – Yeah! That’s quite a hard thing to do and we achieved it.
That fake wood [in Black Forest Ghetto] is like hyper-wood; it’s like chocolate in terms of the colours and textures but in terms of what it represents, it’s quite dark.
M – It’s a bit Hansel and Gretel I suppose, obviously the house has that connotation. But it’s kind of sweet, a bit Disney, in a way.
S – It’s darker than that! If guilt were a substance it would be wood brown, wouldn’t it?
M – If guilt was an enlarged souvenir it would be a big brown tankard.
Given what you said about the evolution/creation debate, is it safe to say you see art is a vehicle for addressing big ideas?
M – I think so. Art’s not about pretty pictures or nice shapes and colours stuck together – not to me anyway.
S – We both feel it should have a purpose, otherwise it’s just eye candy. The other thing is artists making work about themselves, it’s interesting to a point but that can be quite tiresome.
M – Very tiresome, yeah.
S – We both feel [art] should be going somewhere. We can try and explore big ideas but in an open and accessible way.
M – We want there to be different levels of meaning don’t we? People get what they can from it, different ideas.
A lot of your work seems to take historically-based subjects and, if not debunks them, shows them as slightly debased. Is that conscious?
M – I don’t know if it’s debased…
The historical precedent suggests a hierarchy and it’s nice to mix that up, undermine bits of that, look at it afresh.
M – We don’t particularly like hierarchies do we?
In the genesis of a piece, does it start with ideas or with stuff? Or is it a mixture of the two? Or do you think “this is a theme we’re going to tackle?”
S – No, no it’s never like that.
You haven’t got a list somewhere?
M – “Themes we must tackle.”
S – Jesus. Hitler. Done that. Check.
M – Chairman Mao. Poll Pot. Wrestling.
S – It’s normally an object that starts a conversation – like the souvenirs from the charity shop [which influenced Black Forest Ghetto]. When we’re making stuff we have a good old chat about it until it’s clear in our minds. There’s not a great deal of experimenting.
Do you do a lot of mooching around charity shops, jumble sales and the like?
M – We do to a degree but it would be nice to have a bit more free time to do that actually.
S – [They’re] a massive treasure trove of gems of counterculture and people’s memories –
M – ready to be appropriated and joined together with something else to form a different narrative. And the way the stalls are set out sometimes, with different types of objects just sitting next to each other, they gain narratives straight from that.
S -And the fact that they are [perceived] of as being virtually worthless makes them easy to manipulate.
M – And cheap to buy. Though objects aren’t so cheap nowadays are they?
Are there any pieces from your past that you think “ooh…” about?
M – I wouldn’t go that far. There’s nothing we’re embarrassed about is there?
S – No, not at all, it’s about making stuff and if you have negative feelings about it then that’s just part of the process, that’s a good thing too.
M – We’re not precious, that’s the nature of our work – sometimes it really works well within the space and you can’t do much else to it, other times it’s not quite there and that’s impetus too. Most of the time it’s fantastic.
S – Staggeringly good.
Interview © 2009 Wheel Me Out.
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