Adam Hogarth’s art work isn’t art-rock but his explorations demonstrate the open-ended conversations on the digital platforms that pervade our lives with a corresponding object-centred, music-loaded vigour.
Selected to exhibit at the ICA as one of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries Hogarth’s recent body of work looks at social media, language and it’s relationship to the Auto-Destructive Art movement. His investigation into the phenomenal impact of online language and ‘text speak’ on contemporary culture alerts us to the perils in our quest for technological progress; the human is eclipsed by the machine, the troll colonized by the artist.
In Language is a Virus from Outer Space (2) troll dolls, with mouths where their private parts should be, are seen chattering obscenely in ‘ text speak’; the impact and message in the video are immediate and Hogarth himself is both visible and audible. Rejecting art’s egocentrism the work has flashes of a provocative campaign with political purpose.
Hogarth has exhibited both nationally and internationally including at the the Finnish Printmaking Triennial, Kobe Japan, Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds and more recently at the ICA London and Spike Island Bristol. Currently living in London Hogarth graduated from the Royal College of Art in Fine Art (Printmaking) MA in 2013 (following the completion of his undergraduate degree in Newcastle upon Tyne).
The use of film, language and performance are central to the works exhibited at the ICA and RCA in 2013, and distinct from the techniques and processes associated with traditional Printmaking. Curious to learn more, From Live to Future editor Jen Forakis interviewed Adam Hogarth:
How long have you been making art?
Drawing and making things has been something I do for as long as I can remember. My father was an artist and went on to have his own tattoo studio and my mum always pushed me with my drawing and playing guitar. I remember drawing characters from the Beano when I was around 6 and my dad being blown away so I guess that was the first time I ever remember thinking ‘I can draw’.
What led you to want to become an artist?
I did Fine Art at a comprehensive school and then sixth form college, tried uni once and dropped out. I was doing animation and I remember thinking is would be cushy because I would be drawing Road Runner and cartoons all day. When I realised it was programming and working with computers I dropped out and went to work in a bank, which I hated. I found it so depressing. Most of the people working there were complete idiots and it made me so annoyed to be doing the same thing every day for some giant corporation. Whilst I was doing this I was always drawing and doing graffiti. One of my mates suggested I did a Foundation at Leeds CAD, which I applied for and I got in. Everyone there seemed really experimental and I was shocked that people were making work full-time. I was also exposed to lots of modern art for the first time as there wasn’t much of that where I come from (Darlington). I was blown away and I guess that’s when I really made a conscious decision to take my work seriously and pursue a practice.
Can you tell us about the agenda or ethos of your practice?
I guess my current agenda is to make as much work as I can. I generally get down if I don’t get enough time to myself to make work. I find it cathartic in many ways and this is probably something that goes way back to when I was a boy. It’s tricky as I’m currently working two jobs, for Camden College and Advanced Graphics as a Printmaking technician. They are both lovely jobs but I do think it’s important not let those jobs get in the way of my practice. My ethos has always been quite lo-fi and punk which is handy because it means I can make work when I’m limited by resources available. I always say this but I am a fan of Kurt Schwitters when he was in exile in the Lakes and making really lo-fi things. He was working in a little cruddy shed, an almost unknown and was taking what was at hand. I love this as an ethos. It’s a true leveler and a sure way to find great creativity.
The work that you exhibited at New Contemporaries tackles themes that a lot of us will recognise. Can you talk a little bit about this… Why Trolls?
Just before I started the Troll stuff I was making lots of works by throwing darts into images and playing with language at the same time. I liked the language that existed within the microcosm of darts, the vernacular or ideoglossia if you like. I knew I was trying to make work that made a connection between language and some type of destructive process. That summer I was looking on the Internet and realised much of the abbreviation and language used on social networking sites and in texts (or txt) was actually breaking down or destroying language. It reminded me of Orwell’s idea of ‘Newspeak’ in 1984 where words were being systematically removed from the dictionary every year. At the time much was being said in the media about online trolling and how terrible it was and this appealed to me too. My initial idea was to sit outside public places in nothing but some type of Frank Sidebottom Esq Troll mask, made out of paper mache and throw insults at people as they walked past, but I soon bottled that and decided to make it in a studio instead. In my first year at the RCA I remember attempting some rubbish piece of performance on the tube and it failing miserably. After that I think I vowed to only ever make video/performative works in a studio.
Tell us more about the content of the recent Troll work.
Well there are 3 main films in the Troll series and then much shorter edits that I posted on chat forums. The first film, which was called ‘Trolling’, was basically a sort of list of things I found through my own trawling of the internet. So it included things like the Rickroll, quotes, Memes, rules for trolling techniques and ideologies behind trolling. As I can be a bit of a Luddite at times, the work served as an early form of researching and cataloging and was a first attempt at trying to materialise the idea I had conceived the previous summer.
The second piece (Language is a Virus from Outer Space) was much more concise in its execution. At this point I had sourced an online argument between some poor boy and a group of online trolls and decided to use it as the script. I liked it because it felt like I was holding a mirror up at society when I showed it. I preferred the sound in this piece too. The one in the first film was written by me but played by a friend whereas in this film I wrote and played the music.
The third and final film (De Vulgari Eloquentia) was much closer to the first in the sense of how experimental it was. I decided to split the screen into 9 and overlay the language to maximise the amount of sensory input. I also decided to introduce sourced images from the Internet and included a Richard Braughtigan poem that spoke on a vision of the internet when it was being conceived. The idea was to create a work with a concentrated dialogue so people would find hard to read as a narrative. This I felt was a much truer reflection of Internet forums and chat rooms seem to an outsider looking in.
Does the work tie back to you, your cultural background or personal experiences?
It ties to my own culture in the sense that I use my own voice for the troll, which is recognisable as a northern accent. In some ways that was one of the things that drew me into making work about language and dialect in the first place. When I came to London I noticed my accent stuck out like a sore thumb so that probably influenced my work in some way.
As I said, I wanted to make the troll work as an observation of society so it’s as much about your personal experiences as it is mine. As the web infiltrates more and more into our lives, I am interested in how this effects language and how it can be used as a force for good or evil.
What is the relationship between the two exhibitions (ICA and RCA)?
Well, they were both fantastic exhibitions to be part of but in terms of relationships they were very different. When I showed at the RCA I showed as a projection, at the ICA on a monitor with headphones, so the viewer had a very different relationship to the work. The other thing to keep in mind is that whereas the show at the RCA was curated by the students, the one at ICA was done by a team of curators in which the artists had very little say. Personally I preferred this as less egos were flying around and you had to step back and just let the work stand for itself.
What did you want to convey, and why the use of film?
For me I wanted to convey something short, garish, noisy and hopefully funny. I get bored of art being prudish and taking itself too seriously. I think the observations made in the work are quite obvious in some ways. I tried to use the visual language that represents a digital age, which is why I made films in the first place. Outside of the ICA and RCA I also posted Troll films online because I think as an artist it is important to reach out to people outside the world of galleries and exhibitions.
Can you explain how you produced these pieces? And how they are different to your earlier works?
They were produced mostly in 2013 when I was a student at the RCA. They were different to the other video pieces I had made in the sense of the production quality. I was very lucky to go to the RCA because you have amazing technical staff around you and they can help iron out any issues sounding things like frame rate which really help give the work that polished work.
The Troll works were kind of similar to another piece of work I made just before I moved away from Newcastle, called ‘Puppet Show’ in the sense that there was a performative element to the works. They both were also looking at language used in an online domain, however because of the critical input you get at the RCA I personally feel like the Troll films were much more refined theoretically and also in the visual language I used.
I’m curious about the dynamic of the group shows and also if and how you have collaborated with other artists?
When I lived in Newcastle I worked on a collaborative project called ‘Spectrum’ which was an exhibition and magazine for emerging artists. I worked with three other artists and we arranged a show at the NewBridge Street Project Space. We managed to get a bit of money together from a couple of funding bodies which enabled us to get writers in from outside the North East to contribute to the writing. Despite us all submitting our own works for the show it was a real learning curve for me because most decisions need to be run by the rest of the group so in that sense it was very much a collaborative project.
I know that music plays a big part in your life. What role does it play in your work?
Although I generally write my own music for the films I sometimes use other musicians to help in the execution of how I might want work to sound. That is a type of collaboration because I feel it’s important to give people working for my works a degree of artistic freedom.
I have always had quite an intimate relationship with music in the same way drawing maybe has. When I was 6 I started learning how to play the Euphonium, which as silly as it sounds, helped lay much of the foundations for later things. I taught myself how to play the Guitar when I was 8 and played in various horrible sounding kiddy grunge bands when I was at school and now I have a Banjo, which I play from time to time. When I was at college I formed a band that split up and then reformed years later as a group called The 27 Club. We were an eight-piece band and most of all lived together and played lots of gigs. It helped me creatively because it was something that helped me not to be so precious with my own ideas and let other people get involved and collaborate.
I left the band when I went into my second year at University at Northumbria. I guess at the time I really wanted to just focus on my own work which I felt was more rooted in the world of contemporary art. I was fortunate to have stayed really good friends with the guys because they mostly help when I need someone to play something for my films.
I kind of got a bit disenchanted with music after leaving the band and although I used sound in my final degree show I was really dealing with spoken word. I moved into a different house with an old school friend (Richard Robson) who was studying music and he was always asking me to play things for his compositions. This really helped me get the hunger back for making music. Working with Richard seemed so much less serious than working in the band and we used to write songs and spend ages laughing at how stupid they sounded sometimes. I liked that though and I guess it helped me when I decided to use music again in my own work. I want people to laugh when they see my work and sometimes I try to create music that prompts people to think a certain way.
When I was at the RCA I saw people like Martin Creed and David Shrigley and realised it was ok for artists to use music. In my second year at the RCA I decided that the gloves were off and I wanted to bring music into my works. Things like the ‘Bingo Performance’ (6) and ‘Artur Daley, he’s Alreet’ (7) encapsulate that way of working.
 Art-rock is a notion “singlehandedly invented” by Pete Townsend, “applying to pop what he’d learnt about Peter Blake and auto-destructive art pioneer Gustav Metzger at Ealing art college in London.” http://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/oct/09/pete-townshend-who-i-am
 Adam Hogarth is one of 46 of those considered the most promising fine artists graduating from UK art schools, from a range of over 1,500 submissions in 2013. For more information visit http://www.newcontemporaries.org.uk
 Auto-Destructive Art is a term coined by pioneer Gustav Metzler (b. 1926). First published in the manifesto Auto-Destructive Art in 1959, circulated in his article Machine, Auto-Creative and Auto-Destructive Art in Summer 1962 issue of the journal Ark and given as a lecture at the Architecture Association in 1964. Source: Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings (Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by Kristine Stiles) University of California Press 2012, pp. 470-471)
 Brooklyn based artist Man Bartlett’s exploration of Twitter and his participation in the Occupy Wall Street Movement comes to mind as a contemporary artist who is also actively engaging with and challenging social media platforms. For details visit https://twitter.com/ManBartlett , http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/814992/video-artist-man-bartlett-turns-social-media-into-playful-social-critique and #24hKith on http://vimeo.com/17279046
Jen Forakis –
Jennifer is a Chartered Architect and a Research Student at the Royal College of Art / Victoria & Albert Museum. Her current research interests include socially responsible design practice; architectural ‘live project’ methodologies; action-led innovation and change; and the exploration of civic workshops and civic making as a restorative activity.
© Jen Forakis, 2014. All Rights Reserved.