London-based artist and Associate Dazed & Confused Publisher, Robert Montgomery, launches his first solo exhibit in over a year this week. Influenced by the Situationalist manifesto – a notion he was introduced to while studying art in Edinburgh - the same liberating vein of free and transformative perspective, pioneered by Situationalists such as Guy Debord, is paid homage to in the works. Poetry come hijacked art installations, plastered over advertising space throughout the city, these intimate notes to the public are hopeful reminders of an environment cluttered with unattainable dreams.
Located at Hoxton’s infamous KK Outlet, Montgomery’s work is on display alongside new pieces from David Fryer and East London graffiti artist Krae. Ahead of the exhibits private view, Dazed show images from the latest city installations and talks to Montgomery about staying true to an independent voice.
Dazed Digital: How important is the setting and presentation of your work?
Robert Montgomery: Well, with my billboard work I kind of write in a loose way for "the city" so they're equally at home in London where I live and in other cities I think. In a sense they deal with the city as an idea as well as as a physical space.
DD: What was your first experience with the Situationists movement?
Robert Montgomery: Seeing the slogan "sous les paves, la plage" (under the pavement, the beach) when I was at Edinburgh College of Art and then finding the book Leaving the 20th Century: Incomplete Work of the Situationist International, by Christopher Gray, which is a lovely document. Then discovering Guy Debord's writing. Hakim Bey is also a great more contemporary update on Debord. In the book on my work just published in Paris David Dorrell writes a great essay called Wake. Up. Call. (A Palimpsest), which in a way takes Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone as it's staring point.
DD: You often hijack advertising spaces illegally. What has been your most memorable installation?
Robert Montgomery: They're actually all pretty nice experiences and we never really get into trouble doing the billboards, because it's a philosophical question isn't it? Who owns the city? Is it really healthy for the physical and psychological space of the streets of our cities to be completely "owned by brands?" to be owned by more and more and more ads for things we don't need? I think if you gave most people the choice of having another ad for a mobile phones or fast food or a little bit of poetry, most people would come down on the side of a little bit of poetry. We get more smiles than complaints doing the billboards, we even get hugs sometimes from passers-by. I think ordinary people in the street are most more engaged and intelligent than the media sometimes give them credit for, and they're also much more open and receptive to contemporary art than the Daily Mail would have you think. In fact I know this.
DD: How has working within the fashion and publishing industries affected your perspective?
Robert Montgomery: The humorous answer is it makes me feel closer to the beating black heart of the spectacle so I feel like I'm reporting from the front line. But no seriously I really believe in independent magazines and the culture of independent magazines because of my own adolescence, because when I was a teenager in a small town in Scotland and before I had access to a University library I learned about a lot of things that would become important to me from the pages of magazines like i-D: bands like the Fall, Leonard Cohen, serious intellectual things like Jean Baudrillard and Roland Barthes, so I believe and support those kinds of fashion magazines, which is evident from the jobs I've done.
DD: In what ways do words equip your art against the influence of 'the spectacle'?
Robert Montgomery: They're written from the point of view of someone infected by the Spectacle so I don't feel protected from it. More accurately they're written from the point of view of someone infected by the Spectacle but searching for purity, because that's how I feel.
DD: Does the literal and personal narrative of your poetry ever leave you feeling vulnerable? Robert Montgomery: Hmmm, not as vulnerable as I feel in my real life. The voice of my work obviously switches between universal things, political things, ecological things and personal things and that's intentional because it should be an honest voice.
DD: Is the transparency of your method part of the appeal?
Robert Montgomery: Well I'm not afraid of saying what I think in the work, it's a place I can be really honest and frank, and I'm saying things I believe. I'm not making ironic statements, I'm happy to be open and vulnerable, and I'm happy to take sides on things like political questions I'm not afraid of that.
DD: Has there been a response to your work that has had any particular impact you?
Robert Montgomery: Well it's been really nice over the last year to be in nice shows, like the Orientale* show in Venice during the Biennale etc but the responses that really have impact on me are the emails I get from strangers who write to say they saw a piece or read a piece and some really touched them or struck a chord, or just write to say “keep going” - an email from a student in Amsterdam, a school teacher in Melbourne Australia, and a chef in New York are all recent ones that touched me. Or when you see a blog piece about the work with people's comments, like this one for example which someone sent me today. The encouragement of strangers, that's what's the most touching.
Robert Montgomery, It Turned Out This Way, Cos You Dreamed It Like This, KK Outlet, 42 Hoxton Square City of London N1 6PB, February 3-25, 2012