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Gavin Turk: Q&A

We speak to the artist about his new exhibition in Istanbul and past works

Last month we reported on AKA Peace, an initiative headed-up by Jake Chapman that invites the world’s leading artists to customise AK47s in order to raise awareness for Global Peace Day, taking place on the 21stof September. Among them is one of the most respected, contentious and far-out practitioners in the field, Gavin Turk, whose takeover of Dazed Digital this week has taken us from the millennia-old evil eye to some of Hackney’s finest street litter.

I think the best artwork is that which is capable of being misunderstood by the largest number of people.

Now we turn a light on the man himself to get the whos whats and whys on YBA politics, exhibiting internationally and sticking his face on that Che Guevara portrait.

Dazed Digital: So your next solo exhibition will be in Istanbul?
Gavin Turk:
Yes. It’s called Türk and like a lot of my work, it explores notions of identity and national identity and the way that those frames dictate the way the work is seen. I’ve always found it interesting that if you get shown as a YBA a lot of work by those other artists will become associated with your work, and alter its meaning.  You can’t control it – you can’t be that didactic with art - it’s a game and you play it as you go along.

DD: But you can choose, to a certain extent, who you become associated with, surely?
Gavin Turk:
Well you can choose not to be in an exhibition with people. I don’t do that. I like having my work seen in different contexts that aren’t of my own choosing. People asked me about the pieces that went into the Sensation exhibition and I had to respond by saying the works are owned by Charles Saatchi and it was his choice what went in. So you can’t control the identity of your work too much and I think the best artwork is that which is capable of being misunderstood by the largest number of people.

DD: Can you give an example?
Gavin Turk:
The Che Guevara portrait, Guerrillero Heroico. That’s one of the most famous signifiers in the world and in different places it can mean anything from a symbol of hope and glory, to rebellion and virility, often depending on the symbol that’s placed next to it: a hammer and sickle, a red star or the Cuban flag.

DD: One of the recurring symbols in your work is the egg. Why does that symbol resonate so much with you?
Gavin Turk:
First of all, the egg is what artists used to use to make paint and it's also a psychoanalytical object. It was one of the signatures of surrealism. It’s a philosophical object, you know: what comes first, the chicken or the egg? And for me it’s a really interesting architectural object because it’s a space that has no door or alternatively, is entirely a door. I suppose I also like it because it’s a pure form, like a minimalist Brancusi sculpture, polished down.

DD: At your honeymoon festival earlier this year you revealed a new artwork, a curb stone that you placed in a field and invited everyone to kiss. What’s happened with that?
Gavin Turk:
It was actually hewn from a great piece of granite, which carries a huge sense of importance because it’s saying something about this city, that we can lay this piece of stone down next to our road that's going to be here forever. I liked the idea of taking that to make a large, monolithic sculpture which would then be imbued with some kind of meaning, to become a talisman that brings people together. It was also important for me to create something interactive, because the viewer is always told to look, and not touch, sculptures. So far it's been kissed by over a thousand people.

DD: It’s also interesting in its concept because it doesn’t become a ‘kissing stone’ until we’re told it’s name and actually participate in the act of kissing it. So it goes back to the idea of naming things and designations and identity.
Gavin Turk:
Exactly. As soon as we give something a name, we can begin to discuss what it is because we have a way of referring to it. It’s like those episodes of Star Trek where they find something new and Captain Spock has to immediately give it a name.

DD: Is there one phase of your career that you’re particularly proud of?
Gavin Turk:
I’m really proud of the bin bags. But the thing with art is you keep making it because the project is never done. Continuing to make art is an admission that your previous work hasn’t finished telling the story. It’s a conversation and the moment that conversation stops then maybe art would stop. Then it would be called something else. Maybe then we could give it back its full name, its proper name: Arthur.

Read more from our Summer Takeover HERE