Mapplethorpe: Sound and Screen

Spitscreen Collective marked the end of Sheffield's Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition with an immersive audio-visual experience

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Robert Mapplethorpe’s documentation of New York’s sadomasochistic scene produced images that are among the most provocative of the 20th century. Infamously publicising a movement that had, until then, been kept firmly behind locked doors, Mapplethorpe gained instant notoriety through his depictions of an alternative masculinity; gravitating him to his now near mythical status.To mark the end of Sheffield’s first Mapplethorpe exhibition, Spitscreen Collective, hosted the event Mapplethorpe: Sound And Screen. Dazed Digital caught up with founding member Will Hope to discuss the event.

Dazed Digital: What is Spitscreen Collective?
Will Hope: Spitscreen collective is an artist collective made up of Kerry Hindmarch and I, and we work together to produce challenging live audiovisual events and exhibitions. The group and the name came about simply as a means for the two of us to identify ourselves as a collaborative effort, and classifying ourselves in this way means that not only are we recognised as a group, but also that we are able to work in a far more egalitarian way. I have a background in video art and multi-media installation and Kerry has a background in sound art and performance.

DD: Why did you choose to host this event at the Mapplethorpe exhibition?
Will Hope: The main reason we decided to host the event actually in the exhibition, as opposed to anywhere else was that we wanted the people who came and saw the event to be engaged within the exhibition in a way that altered it from its original context. We wanted our audience to enter the space, to enter the exhibition and be engrossed within a sensory experience. I think this allowed us to not only transform the space and bring in a new a varied audience, but additionally granted us with a platform to consider the setting and the works that were shown in it and how we as artists could host an event that could correlate with the legacy that Mapplethorpe left behind.  

DD: What kind of influence has he had on your aesthetic? 
Will Hope: In terms on Robert Mapplethorpe’s influence, it isn’t so much a matter of his aesthetics that have influenced us, but instead I think we both draw more of a direct influence from the themes and tropes that run throughout Mapplethorpe’s practice. Instead of viewing them in terms of aesthetics, you can regard his choice of subject matter from different standpoints, and when you look at his work as a whole you begin to recognise questions about society, sexuality, taste, conventional portraiture and identity. Also he had these links to music (especially the post-punk and no-wave scenes of New York), the underground scene and experimental poetry (through his personal relationships and portraits of Patti Smith and William S Burroughs). I think we were more interested in relating what we did with the event to Mapplethorpe the artist rather than just in terms of aesthetics. When approaching this project, we didn’t want to imitate the work that Mapplethorpe had done but convey his work in a contemporary context – partly as an artistic endeavour and partly as a homage.

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