Last week there was a quiet exhibition in south London that recalled the anti-hierarchical art statements of the Fluxus movement. Department Store was conceived by the artists Adam Latham and Richard Wilson as a riposte to consumer society and our current economic situation, featuring artworks infused with wry humour.Considering the praise it received in underground ciircles, we sent along the committed situationist artist David Fryer to find out more.
David Fryer: The Department Store press release said customers would be able to "peruse over three floors full to brimming with luxury, semi-luxury and affordable consumer items". Was that penned as a response to the current economic circumstance?
Adam Latham: The department store was kind of a joke, you look at the things in our show, and you see a feeble sort of attempt at commerce. In some ways, I suppose it is a response, nobody's supposed to have any money anymore.
Rich Wilson: We wanted to set it up as a shop, selling things, pricing things with a perverse sort of honesty -materials plus labour sort of thing. And it maybe had something to do with The Apprentice and Dragon's Den and things. The margin on one of our Moon Balloons was fantastic. You get a balloon, blow it up, draw craters on it, and sell it for £2. It's playing at business.
David Fryer: Surely this is just a parody or a non-reality?
Adam Latham: Yes it is a parody, or a pastiche at least, but it's not about nodding along with a joke; it's about mimicking something badly, making things a little bit too obvious sometimes. But there's more to it than that, something very genuine. People view the show differently because they can look at the work with a view to buying it. Friends can look at it like an art buyer might, -would this look good in my kitchen?
David Fryer: So therefore you make the kitchen table into a tortoise? Is it just another form of Arte Povera? Or some shanty folk art?
Rich Wilson: It quite looked like a tortoise already. A lot of the things we make are made of things we already have, altered things. The shanty aesthetic is something we can't avoid, there's a third world ethnic thing going on. Lots of old things reused to make new things.
Adam Latham: Like cigarette box aeroplanes, and bamboo squirrel flippers. They're tourist's mementos really, with a use-value tacked on, like you might find on holiday, like the way you might buy something in Tenerife or somewhere, some ethnic artefact you haggled for in the market, and then you bring it back and you say -"They use these for scratching their backs". Or, in our case, -"They use these for flipping squirrels". People make good money selling back an idea of themselves to tourists.
David Fryer: So what idea of yourselves were you trying to sell in this show?
Rich Wilson: There's sentimentality to the things we make. If you live with a table, or you find a funny bottle top on holiday, it's got some value to you, some sentimental value, so those things we price accordingly. It's about weighing up how much you love something. I wanted to keep the Polish shoe polish, it was hard to get, we got it sent over. You've got to find that balance between how much you want to keep something and how much you want the money.
David Fryer: Can we speak briefly about the concurrent project of the café?
Adam Latham: Yes the café is something we've been working on for a long time, a lot of it came together in Warsaw, we were there doing a performance, there was a little restaurant on the main road next to where we were staying, we called it the Harvester. The menu was a classic holiday menu, full of 'Juicy Germs' and 'Boiled Paste', and a million other wonderfully mis-translated dishes. There's something, I don't want to say adorable, but very appealing about foreigners getting their English all muddled up, something poetical.
David Fryer: So in some ways getting 'lunch' wrong, enabled you to re-interpret the menu and bastardise the bistro?
Rich Wilson: We came up with Mixed-Media Salads and Found Coin Pizzas and things, but we had to be careful not to make it just like eating worms. It's not like a Roald Dahl children's thing, we don't want to serve turds in sick bags, it's not completely arbitrary, it has to tread a delicate balance, it has to be just slightly wrong, in the right way.
Adam Latham: There's a lot of artistic merit in the café I think, because it's the most, of all the things, the most un-sellable, un-keepable, un-valuable stuff you can make. Mind you, the Pound Coin Pizzas can be very expensive depending on how much topping you want. A pound Coin Pizza costs as many pounds as there are on the pizza, plus the cost of the dough. It brings us back to the commerce thing, making things just slightly too obvious.
David Fryer: So when you two first collaborated, Rich you were in a band called Xerox Teens and Adam, you illustrated their album cover?
Adam Latham: All their record covers.