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Mark Stewart: I AM THE LAW

The artist on collaborating with Rupert Goldsworthy and "giving a pizza box a sacred meaning"

British maverick Mark Stewart is an anti-establishment hero. From sound clashing in The Pop Group and The Maffia to scandalising Kunstforum in Vienna with HITLER'S SECRET DAUGHTER and working with Kenneth Anger at the Serralves Foundation in Porto, Stewart has been playing pranks on culture since 1978. An alchemist of chaos, everything from punk to funk, reggae and dub, some good shots of political conviction and a mix of collaborations including Tricky, Massive Attack and Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor is stirred in his cauldron of anarchy, controversy and mischief – one recipe which, as Stewart himself states, hasn’t changed since he was fourteen.

Now, just ahead of tackling mass media, capitalism and the ‘zombiefication of society’ together with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Clash/PiL’s guitarist Keith Levine, The Raincoats’ Gina Birch, Richard Hell, Primal Scream and Kenneth Anger in the new album ‘The Politics of Envy’, Stewart has collaborated with artist Rupert Goldsworthy in ‘I AM THE LAW’, an expo where found objects, wall paintings and scrawled writings come together in a ritualistic pile-on of references. An effort to explore cultural myths, symbols, signs and ‘radical brands’ - the power of representation, charged with dystopian views, prison gates and rioting crowds. Here, we try to decode the thinking machine of Mark Stewart, a man who according to Nick Cave, has "changed everything"…

Dazed Digital: How did the collaboration with Rupert Goldsworthy come about? 
Mark Stewart:
I first met Rupert with Bruce la Bruce in a bear pit in Berlin. I later helped him with his book 'Consuming Terror' which traced the red star of radicalism as a floating signifier. His juxtapositions of the radical and the transgressive are counter intuitive to my games with 'the other' and "bomb art" provocations.

DD: There are some of your personal items scattered around the expo... which one is your favorite? Or which thing is the oddest?
Mark Stewart: 
Giving a pizza box a sacred meaning.

DD: Your work has been aligned to the Dutch Provos, King Mob and the Viennese Actionists - what do you think of that?
Mark Stewart:
For me, King Mob are some of the lost heroes of the English underground, and I happened to befriend one of the actionists Kurt Kren (famous for his super eights of shagging in baths of liver) and am thoroughly honoured.

DD: The closing date of the expo also marks the release of 'The Politics of Envy'. What are you exploring in this album?
Mark Stewart:
It felt like a probe into the unknown and I think the future is the place to explore with no maps and only hope as a guide. To me, this record grew out of an opera I was going to stage in St Petersberg 'The Immaculate Deception' with Kenneth Anger as the avatar. He became that on this record.

For me it's fragments of a dream Reportage from ghosts of the near future sent back to reclaim their past. And with friends like Daddy G, Lee Perry, The Raincoats, The Slits, Keith Levene and Factory Floor. As collaborators I feel these mates are the motley crew helping me transmit from our pirate space ship circling the world.

DD: Tell us about a memorable moment in your career...
Mark Stewart:
It's things I’ve witnessed that brand my memory banks; Roxy, Bowie, the birth of punk idealism, No Wave New York with grey, Basquait and Vincent Gallo’s band, the mystic fire of rasta, Post-punk, dark politics and the limitless possibilities of tomorrow.

DD: You don't think of yourself as a musician – why is that?
Mark Stewart:
 We kind of got into it during punk as 'lout couture' our take on haute couture at delinquent discos.

DD: You've said you haven't changed since you were fourteen. Why is that, and what's about you that has been kept the same?
Mark Stewart:
Optimism, really bad gallows humour and a motto that 'taste is a form of personal censorship' keeps your brain open.

DD: 'Everything is political'... what is your view on the current state of things?
Mark Stewart:
In these days of corporate raids dressed as 'liberation', vulture funds, enhanced interrogations and hypermedia it's crucial to be alert at all times.

DD: What's next for you?
Mark Stewart:
Sleeeeeep and then playing the album live across the world.

Mark Stewart and Rupert Goldworthy’s ‘I AM THE LAW’ ( runs until March 31, 2012 at Ritter/Zamet gallery, Unit 8, 80A Ashfield Street, London E1 2B. Mark Stewart also plays the Scala London N1 on March 28th