Project Native Informant

DOMESTIC BATTLEGROUNDS: Morag Keil and Georgie Nettell in Conversation with Fred Fischli & Niels Olsen

August 2016

Can a critical discourse flourish within the interest for the domestic? What is the connection between home ownership and the normative values of nuclear families? Where is fascism in everyday life?

FREDI FISCHLI & NIELS OLSEN “Home”—the domestic—plays a signi cant role in both your work. How come? The artists of the modernist avant garde had a concept of an artist who leaves the home to march on the battlegrounds of culture. The challenge was to change the world, not domesticate it.

GEORGIE NETTELL I don’t think the battlegrounds of culture are removed from the domestic.

You can’t change the world without changing people’s value systems, which are socially formed in the home/family unit.

MORAG KEIL This concept seems totally sexist and redundant. It doesn’t take into account who could leave the home, and who couldn’t or that the home may be the place that forms your thinking or oppresses it. And to even speak of things in terms of battleground is super macho and ridiculous. I don’t think it’s possible to separate things into what happens at home versus the rest of the world; they are intertwined.

FF&NO In your collaborative video, The Fascism of Everyday Life (2016), you distort the genre of the home story. You document your home and the circumstances of how you live and compare it with the real estate website Zoopla, where you encounter the already high— and rising—value of your rented property. You expose the value that lies behind the shared flat. Would you say your work is more a critique of overpriced real estate or of a certain representation in today’s culture and economy of “living”?

GN It’s both; the rising cost of housing is a big issue. However, the film is making a comparison between our real-life living situ- ations and the aspirational agenda of the mainstream media. The ideology of home ownership is very connected to normative values around the nuclear family and property rights, so it’s trying to mock the conservatism embedded in these kinds of lifestyle images. But the film also touches on the mundane negotiations of living in shared houses—who does the washing up or takes the bin out can easily turn into a power game.

FF&NF How do you think media like Zoopla promote normative ideas of nuclear family living? Would you say there’s a hidden ide- ology inscribed in the market that unconsciously produces desire, which eventually forms this conservative model of domesticity?

MK The media Georgie was referring to before is more the adverts that we sliced up to make the title sequence; for example, the Natwest mortgage advert which shows a sped up timeline of a nuclear family being built—first getting a mortgage and a house, then having kids, but all via their relationship with the bank. This ideology is very clear. But yes, Zoopla has a power because it is the main source of this collated information on property prices, so the fact that it exists is in some sense manipulative, because it frames how we access and think about this data—or in fact, that it is data rather than homes.

FF&NO Georgie, in your work, you document the living rooms of the parents of your artist-friends. In a personal way, they expose the often bourgeois backgrounds many protagonists in the art world share. Is it a de-mystification of contemporary art production? Or is it more about making a certain demographic and cultural context in the art world visible?

GN I suppose it’s about making visible that the majority of art- ists and art workers have been groomed for life in the art world by the social and cultural contexts they are raised in, even when they feel they have rejected them. I’m always interested to meet people ’s parents or see pictures of people ’s family homes and I do scan them for class signifiers, which is very English and also aggressive. It’s important that the images are presented anonymously to make it a bit less bitchy, although there is less variation between the living rooms than you might expect, suggesting artists/curators/gallerists backgrounds are quite consistent.

FF&NO If you compare these homes of your friends’ parents to the way they react to their social conditions, or as you say “reject” them, how would you see their way of living? Is there an equally consistent way of living in shared houses, concerned with “mun- dane negotiations?” Or do you see any new challenging models of the domestic you would like to promote in contrast to the consistent homes of our parents? Do you have an idea of what a current state of the domestic would be like?

GN I wouldn’t promote any particular model of living. People often have a pretty miserable time living in self-consciously political house shares, for example. I said people may feel like they have rejected their backgrounds, when actually they probably reject less than they think they do. That rejection might not reach much further than aesthetics, or not at all; it varies from person to person.

FF&NO Morag, your recent PayPal drawings strike us as icons of the contemporary way of neoliberal living. The drawings, which mimic PayPal advertisements, announce freedom through simplified financial transactions. This promise is oddly, sorely tried by being transformed in hand made pencil drawings.

MK Yes, well, the drawings are exact copies of the PayPal advert series called “People Rule,” which uses a cute, kooky pen drawing—sort of Etsy-style creativity—to convince people that using PayPal will free them from emotional problems and equates paying with friendship, along with pulling in issues of the environment, but always putting humans at the center of all the concerns it raises. The ads just seemed like a perfect example of a neoliberal web utopia—where movement of money was the most important issue— but then used this very cute drawing style to make it all seem very low key, rather than corporate and aggressive. I wanted to do exact copies of them; to turn them back into art but also make an apathetic gesture of just copying the dominant voice and only being able to mimic the falsely humanized voice of this corporation.

FF&NO Both of your works have a certain sense of passive-aggression, something “bittersweet” about them. Georgie’s paintings seem, at first sight, to recall digital post-abstraction works—we think of works by Jacqueline Humphries or Wade Guyton—but they also feel like domesticated versions of these so-called avant garde pieces... And by this, they evoke a certain flatness, a seemingly “harmless” character that still triggers a “bitter” feeling. Morag’s work—partly because of its rough craft—is often characterized by a tension that provokes some kind of aggression. An example is the work you showed at Life Gallery, the shelf with cereal packages (re- minding of a classic Pop motif that are covered with a graffiti-like typography saying “Liar.” This distorts the romantic and homey image of cereal packages, reminiscent of cozy kitchens.

GN The “Punk’s Not Dead, It’s Different” series are screenprint reproductions of a Hermann Nitsch splatter painting. The screen image is made from a low resolution jpeg found online. They are certainly meant to flatten or desaturate his macho gesture and the scale, plus printing onto pre-dyed cottons that come in a range of bourgeois colours, does domesticate it. However, I would not consider these works bitter in their failure to achieve avant-garde status but more making a joke of the hierarchy of domestic vs. avant-garde.

MK I don’t really see it as passive-aggressive. I don’t really know how it’s not just aggressive; I don’t see where the passive comes into it. But yes, with the cereal packets it was very simple just anti-gesture against these everyday icons of consumption; the laziness of it is also some kind of rejection of the expectation that quality and time are higher up in some kind of imagined hierarchy of value and sometimes you don’t have any time.

FF&NO What is your personal relationship to the place where you live, in the sense of how it affects your practice? Is it a place of personal affection or are you emotionally detached from it? Is it a vehicle of personal value?

GN Do you mean my house or London? I’m not really personally attached to my actual house as it’s so temporary but I am very attached to the people that make up my social group and would find it very hard to leave London because of them.

MK I have lived in different houses in London and I don’t really think any have affected my practice directly; it’s more that it totally affects your mood and life structure, like the difference between living as a lodger as opposed to living in a huge shared flat or a studio. I feel a certain level of affection for my house, just out of familiarity.

FF&NO Georgie, in your exhibitions, there’s often a deconstruction of given conditions of space going on. In your show at Project Native Informant, you removed walls and created openness towards the gallery’s back office. How should this strategy be understood? As a reference to institutional critique methods?

GN The show as a whole was about the way industry likes a safe bet. It was the second show I’d done in a commercial gallery and I was asked to do it because of the first. Obviously, this is normal but there are plenty of other artists working in London who could have shown. In some ways, the fact that I’d just done a show should have meant it was someone else’s go. The show consisted of some abstract paintings and the removal of the gallery’s stud walls to reveal the office. I used the same screens to make three batches of paintings in different colour schemes.

The first batch were shown at an art fair, the second in a group show, and then this third batch in the Project Native Informant show. So, in this context, removing the gallery walls was more about repeating a gesture than what it was about in the 1970’s or whenever else it’s been done.

FF&NO Morag, you have a very distinct way of drawing and painting. Is this practice informed by painting itself and embedding itself in this discourse or is it just a natural tool for narration that you apply?

MK I don’t know what is distinctive about it, but yes, I did paint before I started working other ways. I don’t do it so often now, or if I do, it’s just because it’s the easiest way to execute the idea.

FF&NO We’re curious to ask you about your modes of production— basically how you work. Do you have a practice where you continually produce or do you produce for specific contexts and commissions?

GN Just for specific contexts. Sometimes I think it would be nice to make work for no particular reason, or make your own reason, but it never quite happens.

MK I don’t have a permanent studio at the moment so this changed the way I work. I used to go there and do stuff regularly but when I got rid of the studio, it became more about specific context.

FF&NO A question we think is always interesting to ask: what audience are you addressing with your work? Some artists claim that first they always think of other artworks as the primary audience. Other artists really do the work to address an intimate audience, meaning their close circle, who have a critical discourse.

GN I suppose it’s my close circle. I can’t really imagine how anyone else would receive it.

MK Yes, I guess the same, though I don’t know; I feel like depending on the work, this can change.

FF&NO What are your most important references and sources? Are you really devoted to looking at certain protagonists of contemporary art or in art history? Or are you much more inspired by issues and things from totally different fields?

GN I don’t feel like I look at any particular artists. It’s more general.

MK It totally depends. I guess in some ways, it’s just things in life.

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