Tom Dale's Memorial Drag Strip

In his latest expo, the conceptual artist uses grand sculptures and video installations to expose the double standards of human nature

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Artist Tom Dale explores the multifaceted world of the daredevil in his first exhibition at the Poppy Sebire gallery. Featuring a mix of grand sculptures and video installations, Dale’s romantic envisioning of the ramp, as a jumping board of faith as well as a vehicle of poignant transition, exposes the double standards of human nature. Here, the deluded martyr-like undertaking of the dare devil becomes spectacle to those all too ready to heckle failure, as they are to applaud success.

For Dale, it is also the political ideology which makes a contextually interesting aspect to this form of exhibitionism. Sculptures emphasise the grandeur of these moments, whilst video reels serve to unpick the mind behind the most iconic purveyor of the dare devil cause, Evel Knievel. Dazed Digital caught up with Dale ahead of the exhibits opening... 

Dazed Digital: Your art focuses on a moment where what comes next is unsure, as well as emphasising a point of no return. How did this theme manifest in your work?
Tom Dale:
A lot of stuntmen talk of undertaking such endeavours on our behalf, but this inevitably is a mask for their own sense of self importance, or gratification. At the time I started to become interested in Evel Knievel and stunt men, around 2006. It was the leap and the moment at which they were no longer bound by the laws of gravity that interested me most, but more recently I have been drawn to causes of uncertainty, which currently I think we can all identify with in terms of an unstable sense of the present and the future; who to believe and where we might go?

DD: What does your video work say in contrast to the sculptural installations in the exhibit?
Tom Dale:
The video work I made in relation to Evel Knievel focused on revealing the implicit values behind his particular form of patriotism. By re-editing the documentaries and film about him I was able to make explicit the absurdity and danger of someone who believes their own PR. The story he tells of his great grandfather fighting in an amphitheatre in Rome in front of Julius Cesar, against a particularly hungry lion that Cesar has had flown in from Africa (because the Romans had planes didn't they...), pretty much gives you the measure of a man who thought that all the children that bought his toys would one day vote for him to be president of the USA. 

DD: Can you tell me about the nationalistic and political ideologies embedded in the symbol of the ramp?
Tom Dale:
There is a history of leaps in art, from Yves Klein jumping out of the window to Bas Jan Ader riding his bike into the canal, but to me the ramp is more about belief. The leap we make when we choose to believe something, or someone, invariably means that we have chosen to ignore other things. I was interested in this projection of belief on to the world as it came at a time when Britain had chosen, along with the USA, to invade Iraq based on what it's leaders had chosen to believe, and wanted to will into existence. 

DD: Do you think it’s the tragic or triumphant nature of the dare devil that captivates people? 
Tom Dale:
The attraction of the daredevil is obviously captivating but primarily I think it paves the way to an even less attractive aspect of human nature, that of the double standard spectator. 

It always struck me that one of the prime functions of the dare devil was to allow a crowd the chance to indulge its rather primal appetite for life and death at its most immediate, in much the same way that the gladiators did in ancient Rome. It seems bizarre to me that, even now, there is still that aspect to us that wants to see someone defy death or conversely die before our very eyes. Apparently there's an 'App' for everything, but I'm still waiting for one that helps us evolve from this.... 

DD: What does this form of intrepid masculine exhibitionism mean to you?
Tom Dale:
The exhibition is not a celebration of masculinity, rather an exposé of some of its more preposterous manifestations. The desire to leap over the day-to-day problems that we all face is something I identify with, but the self serving manner of the stuntman can be a little pompous at times. Sculpture is something that lives with the legacy of the memorial, and the politics of those who should not be forgotten by time, and I was curious to see if you could produce a sculpture that could comment on this without becoming absorbed by it. 

The distorted stunt ramp sculptures in the exhibition are not parodies or ironic, as this changes nothing, rather they are preposterous structures, that over inflate the claims that are so often made on our behalf. Built for take-off, these sculptures are only really completed when we consider the landing of the ideas they launch, both good and bad. 

Tom Dale: Memorial Drag Strip, Poppy Sebire Gallery, 1 September – 1 October, 2011

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