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Society For Curious Thought

The subversive painter Simon Marriott unveils his latest work and invites you to engage with The Society For Curious Thought

The painter, writer and quietly subversive thinker Simon Marriott has been busy over the the last year. After a sojourn from painting, the Jerwood Prize-winning artist has returned to the canvas to create intricately crafted works that explore codification and language, and he has also founded  The Society For Curious Thought, a modest-looking online enterprise that includes enlightening essays from some very big names, such as the eminent cultural commentator Stephen Bayley, the poet Cherry Smyth and the revered playwright Stephen Berkoff. Over a few strong black coffees we found out why this collection of online musings is just the beginning of a far bigger project...

Dazed Digital: Before we talk about The Society For Curious Thought, I wanted to ask you why your artistic practice has recently moved to abstraction?
Simon Marriott:
This is a direct consequence of experimenting with the written word, with regard to both content and form. In recent years, my studio practice has taken something of a creative swerve, with writing becoming increasingly important as a means of expression. And the longer this continued, the more interested I became in the possibilities of formulating a coded version of the text into a visual language.

DD: So your literary investigations inspired the new paintings?
 I would love to talk about the new work and the inspiration for it but for the first time ever, I am not sure how to comment. I find this both confusing and strangely reassuring as just about all those artists, writers, composers and designers whom I admire found it immensely difficult to explain their own work. Samuel Beckett, for instance, would implore interviewers not to ask him to explain his writing. This is stranger still because previously, I was not only able to articulate and expand on my studio practice, I could not stop myself from talking about my work. Maybe this is down to the simple fact that the work I made prior to this new series was not as resolved as the images I am producing now. I think it is an arrival of sorts. There is a sense of something coalescing around ideas which have been present in my brain, consciously or unconsciously for some time that are now becoming apparent with a greater degree of clarity than ever before.

DD: And what was the inspiration behind the Society For Curious Thought?
 I wanted to find new ways to foster curiosity and intellectual discovery. It is self-evident that each of us has a share in our societies and our planet, which means our common interests are therefore well served through sharing knowledge, developing mutual understanding and promoting cultural exchange in pursuit of a better future. One inspiration for the Society for Curious Thought was Black Mountain College in North Carolina, which closed in 1957. This was an experimental venture, founded on the ethos of progressive learning, free from convention.

DD: Why are interested in bringing different strands of knowledge together?
 I am enormously interested in the unification of knowledge. Much of the categorisation of information we see now is a relatively recent development, beginning in the 19th century and then consolidated in the 20th. At the Society For Curious Thought, we are drawing together voices from across science, religion and the arts to create a vital source of curious thinking for curious minds outside of conventional categories separating science and the arts. Our values are those of liberty of conscience and freedom of opinion on all matters. At the moment, we are inviting contributors to submit one of the following – a concise essay or personal manifesto for change, a short film, photographs, images or audio files which will combine to create a source of vibrant thinking, new writing, ideas and research.

DD:You recently launched the Curious Thinker in Residence program – what are hoping to achieve with this project?
 The central aim of the three week program is to give each resident the space and freedom to think, create, compose and invent in an environment free from the normal constraints; to develop their own ideas without interruption during the course of their residency. At the end of the three weeks, each resident is invited to show of their work. Anyone who wants to get involved in the society is free to apply for a residency.

DD: And you have plans for a physical space in London?
 Yes, we will be establishing a London home for the Society for Curious Thought in 2010. This will be a new sort of learning institution, designed to encourage a different approach to curious thinking, discovery and ideas, where students, academics and all those with curious minds can call on the expertise and experience of those leading their field of knowledge – an environment in which to engage with the unfamiliar and the unexpected. The more people are informed, the more they are able to change their own and all our lives for the better. Alexander Trocchi envisaged a spontaneous university but this idea was never developed; maybe now is the moment to take on the challenge and make something happen