RA Magazine Summer 2011
Issue Number: 111
Michael Morris and James Lingwood
The dynamic duo behind Artangel take art beyond the gallery. Sarah Greenberg finds out about their latest project, the Artangel Collection. Photograph by Harry Borden.
Michael Morris and James Lingwood under London Bridge Photo © Harry Borden Does art inspire or uplift you?
MM: I look to art to provoke or challenge, rather than to reassure. I’m drawn to things
I don’t fully understand, that don’t fully
JL: I’m drawn to art which takes me somewhere else emotionally, intellectually, somewhere darker or somewhere brighter.
Your art epiphany?
JL: When I was 17, I saw Monet’s paintings of waterlilies in the Orangerie – they were presented as part of an installation, with music by Debussy or Ravel.
MM: For me it was later, probably 1980, seeing Pina Bausch’s work. It was the first time I’d experienced such a powerful integration of thought and feeling in a work of art. She created a world on stage of such strange beauty and savage humour; a place where joy and sorrow, desire and memory, hope and despair were fully and fearlessly explored.
How did you meet?
MM: We were at school, university and at the ICA together in the 1980s – not planned. Then we decided to join forces to take on Artangel.
Artangel has put art in unusual places. Why?
JL: It was set up in 1985 to offer artists the opportunity to work outside conventional contexts for art. It’s always been in my mind that there was this different world beyond the gallery, which offered a huge range of possibilities for art.
What comes first, the artist or the space?
JL: More often than not, the conversation with the artist comes first. On one occasion we started with a space – in the undeveloped Roundhouse, where we worked with Kabakov, William Forsythe and Alain Platel.
Your commissions now extend beyond London
JL: For the new commission in Venice the Israeli artist Yael Bartana is making a film for the Polish Pavilion that raises questions about ethnicity and memory, about the past and present of the Jews in Poland.
You are in the process of establishing the Artangel Collection at Tate. Does this give your film and video installations an afterlife?
JL: Yes. There are some wonderful cinematic installations that have never been seen again: Atom Egoyan’s Steenbeckett installation film was originally shown in the former Museum of Mankind in 2002, which had just been bought by the RA. Now we can show it again at the Whitworth.
How did you start working in art?
MM: My first job, at the ICA, was to put on bands. Then I got more interested in the edges of dance and theatre – the non-literary expression of the performing arts and then I ran the live programme at the ICA.
JL: I studied nineteenth-century French painting with Francis Haskell at Oxford and I learned to think of all artists – be it Courbet, Manet, Delacroix – as contemporary artists. I became curator of exhibitions at the ICA. There were no grand plans and no signposts.
What has your 20 years at Artangel taught you?
MM: It doesn’t become easier and nor should it. It actually needs to feel hard. You need to go through a period of deep uncertainty – to oscillate between serious doubt and huge leaps of faith.
Why did you choose to be photographed for this interview under London Bridge?
MM: We made a project recently with Susan Philipsz, who went on to win the Turner Prize last year. For Surround Me she recorded herself singing in different locations around the City, and one of the songs – Flow my Tears – was sung under London Bridge.
What has been your biggest challenge?
JL: Roger Hiorns’s installation, Seizure (2008) and trying to figure out whether you could crystallise a council flat.
What, if anything, do you collect?
JL: First editions of photography books.
MM: Broken accordians. I am fascinated by the cardiovascular nature of the accordian, – and its history is the history of migration.
Your favourite place to see art?
MM: The Alan Gibbs Farm in Kaipara, New Zealand, where sheep and cattle graze alongside works by Serra, Kapoor and more.
JL: Great Salt Lake in Utah, where the salt-encrusted form of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty juts out from the lake.
Your essential book on art?
MM: The Accidental Masterpiece by Michael Kimmelman.
JL: Baudelaire’s The Painter of Modern Life.
Favourite exhibition at the RA?
MM: Van Gogh – it was incredible. I didn’t realise how vivid and physical his brushstrokes are. It gave me a window into his mind and told me several stories at once.
JL: The Post-Impressionism exhibition in 1979. I was just getting really excited about art.
If you could be a figure in a work of art, who would it be?
JL: I would be the dog in Gabriel Orozco’s Sleeping Dog (1990).
*MM: *I’d be a grimacing Messerschmidt sculpture.
What’s the art world’s best kept secret?
MM/JL: The lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London’s Docklands, now home to Jem Finer’s installation Longplayer (2000).
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