PB Thinking about time, is there a moral attitude towards the time things take? Is it considered bad if you do things quickly? Do you trust things that happen easily, quickly?
HB I don’t really know what I’m doing most of the time. I get nervous when things feel easy. Minimalist music is a problem for me. I wonder what they are doing. Where is the work? Take Gavin Turk’s big sculpture of a nail next to St Paul’s Cathedral. I’m not against it. I can see the reasons for it. But once he has decided it’s going to be a nail, what does he spend his time doing? What is he going to do tomorrow? Conceptually it’s wonderful, but what is he going to do tomorrow? The philistine reaction is, “I could have done that”. You must come up against that.
PB What I’m scared of is having a belief system, a moral system that sits on my shoulder in judgment saying, “You haven’t spent long enough on this, you need to graft at this, to show that you have worked.” The Duchamp lineage is different. In Duchamp’s fantastic lecture The Creative Act , he talks about the process of transmutation, about things in the world becoming something that has never existed before, like sugar cane being refined to become molasses. I find that very non-judgmental. Unfortunately, Duchamp is used academically, as a prop, where verbal language is prioritised. In the end, that is what I am trying to escape.
FM Do your pieces have titles?
PB My titling is appalling. I just call them things like Untitled Fatty while they’re in the studio. As such they are labels not titles.
HB I rather like smart titles. I have a piece I wrote for the pianist Emanuel Ax, called Ax Manual. I’ve made several pieces that are named after paintings. Melencolia after Dürer, The Triumph of Time after Bruegel. I’ve been very influenced by Paul Klee. Not so much his painting as his methodology. The way he went back to the beginning again with dots, lines, that sort of thing. By subjecting my intuition to that kind of analysis I could make more of it.
PB I’m curious about how you analyse intuition? What is it dependent on?
HB My ears! If I play a chord at the piano, I can improvise another and it will be alright. But by knowing exactly what the components of the chord are, I can do something more complex and interesting. I can’t say why I like certain sounds more than others. It’s like saying why you like vanilla ice cream.
PB Things for me are very practical. In the process of making anything, gravity is the most powerful issue. I’m dealing with weight, balance, size, image. I have an obsession with those large advertising hoardings when they fall into disuse and disrepair. I like catching objects when their purpose is no longer apparent. It reflects my way of making.
HB Where would you put an artist like Joseph Beuys?
PB There’s always a strong performative element – he combined stories and actions, always busy.
HB He made me look again at things I would think were junk, and they became something else. I spent a week in Scotland once, working in a studio next to Beuys. He put plasma on all the walls, stuck it on, wrote with charcoal on a stick lying on his back. Then halfway through the week he peeled all the plasma off again. People came and watched. That was it.
PB That way of working, where the work is big and space-filling, is an event, and has a very conservative time frame, which is the time of it being on show. So there’s no permanence about it. I do make smaller sculptures, and drawings, that I keep.
FM Harry, you make drawings, and you have had some included in the RA Summer Exhibition [Hanging Lines 1, 2004].
HB They are things that only exist in relation to the music I write. They are part of the same thought process as my composition, which is about controlled randomness and chance. I have a game in which I put a small pebble on a sloping board, then roll a pencil towards it – each roll of the pencil, always from the same position, pushes the pebble further. I make a series of marks where the pebble stops. I’ve chosen the gradient, the pebble and the pencil, but the randomness throws up surprises which intuition, or measurement, never can. Is this nonsense?