Stuart Brisley Conversations
This double issue of Audio Arts includes recording made in four sessions with Stuart Brisley between February and March 1981. Conversation with William Furlong.
from Audio Arts Magazine Volume 4 Number 4, 1981
This double issue of Audio Arts is based on nine hours of recording made in four sessions during February and March 1981. Although discussion is centred around eleven works carried out since 1972, Brisley talks extensively about his attitudes and concerns as an artist and of the issues surrounding live work. This issue was published to coincide with Brisley’s retrospective exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in May 1981.
Stuart Brisley It wasn’t a protest against bureaucracy as such, it was really much more a protest against conspicuous individualism, which is another kind of conformity, much more difficult to combat, and totalitarian in its effect. I thought of the use of my own body as being like a figure, a human figure, but not necessarily a specific person. The camera can stand for the audience; the presence of the camera is quite important. Sometimes it becomes more important than a person because it represents a certain sort of future.
The individual, in relation to groups of people or groupings and also in relation to social division, is what I am very conscious of in all that I do, whether it be as an artist working in an institution like the Hayward Gallery or in the street or in education. It seems to be that in any kind of social circumstance one bumps into in Britain, one bumps into that social hierarchy and therefore it becomes the theme of my work.
All the time there’s been a desire, an inarticulate desire, to find sources which are not the result of the imperialism coming from either America or more recently Germany, and sources that aren’t located up on the ‘high cultural area’.
It is difficult to do a work which isn’t in some way reliant on the past. The problem of history was my recognition that in any new work one starts from a known position even though one has aspirations of doing a new work. It is inevitable that it is rooted in the past. I don’t expect the future history of where we are at the moment to include activities that I personally feel committed to or understand – those more lively, more exploratory activities – they are the ones that aren’t going to be celebrated.
At one stage I was thinking of my works as propositions – I did not see them as being failures or successes – always dealing essentially with the same central issue, which was the relationship between myself and others in the audience and the problem of class structures, inequality, and so on.
When I started ‘live work’ it was very much to do with dispensing with ‘middle men’, to work directly with a group of people, dealing with notions of equality for myself as much as anybody else.
The only way that one can actually have any social function – maybe not even as an artist, but as someone operating within culture – is in fact to think in other cultural terms.
I would like to be in a position where I could actually move beyond, or get to a point where I wasn’t actually making performances. It’s just a recognition that performance has, as anything does, its limitations.
It is very curious to look at the kind of imperialist cultural actions that are going on and have gone on, like the American ‘invasion’ from 1956 onwards, the German ‘invasion’ from 1970 onwards. We are colonised to a large extent in the cultural field by those cultural activities which stem from countries with great political and economic power in the capitalist sense. The very notion of art, it seems to me, has an aspect of alienation about it.