A Drunken Conversation With Angus Fairhearst

The playful British artist, who died in April, talks about culture and religion...

The untimely death of Angus Fairhurst last April has left the British art world mourning the loss of an artist whose unique vision of life was instrumental in shaping the "YBA" generations of artists back in the 1990s. Whether it was through his playful obsession with dressing up as a gorilla, his innovative use of video or his more recent exploration of mass media through cut-and-paste collage, his art will stand as testament to a man who was never afraid to buck the status quo.

As a tribute to Angus and his memory, we searched our archive in order to republish here a rare interview with the artist, originally published in 1996. Entitled "A Drunken Conversation: five pints, five Wild Turkeys, a vodka and a hangover..." this piece was an experiment between Angus and myself, at the time Dazed's Arts Editor, to see what rare insights might ensue if an interview was conducted while steadily drinking ourselves into oblivion. - Mark Sanders

Dazed & Confused: Hello? Hello? So tell me, I feel like I'm your psychiatrist.
Angus Fairhurst: 
Like the psychiatrist who says you can get a job at this hospital but you have got to guess which one of the patients, which one of the psychiatric patients is the real, the doctor who had your, that left.
D&C: That had?
AF: That had the job that you are applying for.
D&C: Yes, I feel like him
AF: The Film Asylum.
D&C: I do, I feel like him.
AF: Robert Powell was the young doctor applying for the job, er… Peter Cushing was in there somewhere.
D&C: Peter Cushing is great. What was he, the psychiatrist?
AF: I can't remember, he was either on of patients or the doctor or whatever, I can't remember.
D&C: But he was in there somewhere.
He has to always be there somewhere to make it worthwhile.
D&C: He makes a film; you can't watch a horror film without him, Peter Cushing is the man.
For that certain type of film, yeah he is the man.
D&C: Forever Van Helsing.
You might say that he was somebody trapped within a role but he totally loved it. 
D&C: Totally.
AF: He didn't have any qualms about the value of what he was doing, he was a Shakespearean actor, but he didn't have any qualms about being that part. That's like, fuck, the perfect realisation of an artist. He didn't have any problem with being popular. You know he says, 'OK, well, I can do Shakespearean stuff, lots of people say "Oh God you must really hate it having to do all this Hammer Horror stuff for money, you must be good enough to…"'
D&C: Wandering around chasing Dracula for 20 years would be a fucking good laugh!
AF: Yeah. But I've seen these interviews where journalists have this attitude that there must be something higher than doing Hammer Horror.
D&C: There is nothing higher than wandering around chasing Dracula.
 Well the point is you wouldn't feel good if you thought, 'I am only doing this for the money and when I've got enough money, then I will do what I want'. He obviously had it fucking worked out because he's thinking, 'OK I'm doing this for the money but I fucking love it.'
D&C I want to be Van Helsing, or maybe Dracula…
AF: He's thinking. 'I'm good at this, I don't care that it's not as good as Shakespeare'. He enjoyed it apart from making the money, that's how it seems to me anyhow. If some other actor did that job but really wanted to be doing Shakespeare than you could say, 'You're an arsehole', but he did what he wanted to do.
D&C: Look, if you're doing toothpaste adverts for the money you are an arsehole, if you are Dracula and you get paid then you are alright.
AF: But he wasn't doing it for the money, he was doing it because he loved it.
D&C But he was doing it for the money for the same time, he wouldn't have done it for free would he?
AF: You don't have to be afraid of money. It's like being in the real world, everyone has to make that bargain between what they want they want to do and what they need to do. Real life exists in the bargains that you make, in what you actually decide is your life. That's real life, what you actually end up doing, not what you can, or what you think you should be doing.
D&C: A profession where you get to sit around and be somebody else, that's perfect: that's real life.
AF: Yeah, except people want to find a way to be themselves.
D&C That's a fallacy: you are never going to be yourself.
AF: I don't agree.
D&C: You think there is some central core?
 I think you can't avoid being yourself.
D&C: A central core that is all you?
AF: It is not untouchable, and it is not impermeable. It is not something that you can't set in granite.
D&C: It's certainly not sacred, it's not perfect, there is so much shit outside of you that you can't escape your surroundings. Strip that away and you have nothing.
AF: You can't avoid the dirty part of yourself though even if you try and pretend that you're not. You can't hide the dirt.
D&C: No you can't hide the dirt, the dirt oozes in from every pore, and leaks out…
AF: Everything that you touch you leave your finger prints on. It's like everybody has grubby hands, everybody leaves a trail of slime, you can't say, 'I want to be perfect', because perfect doesn't exist.
D&C: Perfection is a Christian concept. When Christians talk to you they say you have a unique soul; that's bullshit.
AF: Then you are left to correct yourself as if there is some kind of norm. It's not possible and not desirable to constantly correct yourself. You are not being alive, instead you are playing out a sort of dead morality. I think that you just come into being at a state where a whole lot of stuff is carried out as you are alive and a whole lot of stuff is carried out as you are alive and a whole lot of stuff happens after you are dead: we are just this one moment which everything passes through and you just process it in a certain way.
D&C: We are so egocentric as a culture.
AF: We are encouraged to be individuals but the models that we are encouraged to conform to are limited.
D&C: We are encouraged to be an individual but at the same time everyone else wants you to be the same.
AF: I was talking to someone today that trying to work within a computer programme, you have trouble trying to work your way through it and you think that the reason is that you are not smart enough, that's why you are having trouble but that's not the whole story, the problem is that it was somebody else's mind that set the programmer and so it is not just a problem of being logical, it is about fitting into somebody else's shoes but it presented to you as if it is logic.
D&C: As truth.
 As if there is absolute logic, everybody has to fit in with an idea that doesn't necessarily feel natural.
D&C: Like morality.
AF: And that's what most people cling onto like a life-raft.
D&C: But that morality can be equally suffocating.
AF: It would be an interesting anarchistic situation if everybody said, 'OK we will base everything on…'
D&C: On?
AF: What's the fucking word, on empirical basis. As if we only operated according to what we know.
D&C: That's what they do all the time.
AF: No they don't, they act according to what they have been told, they don't act on an empirical basis at all.
D&C But they think they are. They think that morality is truth, but what's scary is there is no truth. Once God is dead, and he is, you lose the top of the triangle; suddenly there is no right and wrong so you are left with this grey area called 'morality' but what is it?
AF: It's the old argument in America between creationists and evolutionists, that there is this kind of groundswell, especially in some American states, towards the theory that it should not be a given that evolution is true, that you cannot treat evolution to kids as fact, you must give equal space to creation. What they mean is that you must privilege creation, that's their aim.
D&C: But?
AF: Fuck! Let's backtrack a little. The point is that creation is a way to hold on to thing when the theory of evolution totally undermines everything that you hold dear about human life. Being that you can regulate things by morality and if you don't have God you can't have morality. So you have the destruction of society through logic, that humans have undermined their own existence through being logical, evolution makes our consciousness redundant. It doesn't matter what we do, we will be delivered unto oblivion, whereas under God it does matter because we will be delivered unto meaning.
D&C: But religion in the West is now completely undermined, it has no founding now, it's dead. Most of us believe that there is no point at the end of the day. We have our moment now and then it is finished. The fabric of society is falling apart at the seams. There is no right or wrong. We could stand up now and shoot someone and yet we couldn't because we still have vestiges of what we consider to be right and wrong.
AF: You won't go out and do what the fuck you like because you have a sense of society, a sense that things have to sit together in a certain way. If you think in terms of survival, if you start to destroy  your environment then my environment will destroy me.
D&C: The selfish gene.
AF: If I destroy my environment, I have no environment left, yeah. So to kill everybody doesn't make sense, which is what I was saying about evolution before, which is that you can believe that religion is a part of evolution in that it has been a means of survival, a means of creating meaning, I don't not believe in God, I just don't believe in belief.
D&C: It has been a means of control, of controlling…
AF: No, that is what it has become, that is not how it set out. Why would you create religion unless you believe that it was God-given but if you believe in evolution…
D&C: What about the Romans, what about Nero declaring himself a God for power?
AF: Yeah, but he placed himself within a realm of deity for which the structure already existed. The Romans believed in a set of Gods within which he placed himself.
D&C: And created a religion around him.
AF: No, he placed himself within a hierarchy of theocracy that had already existed for hundreds of years. When he died he was struck off the list. Mars and Jupiter still exist, Nero is dead. But that's what I was talking about before with Liverpool FC and the Roman Empire, there was a corruption at the point of ultimate power. Decadence.
D&C: Don't you feel that inside yourself?
AF: But I haven't reached a position of ultimate power yet.
D&C: But you have imagined it. Imagination can be absolute power.
AF: I thought about it when I was younger, but now I work within certain parameters, what is feasible within my capability. Making images so that they will have an impact, breaking things down and replacing them. Absolute power is not desirable, absolute power is absolute corruption, I don't want to be absolutely corrupted.
D&C: Absolutely.
It doesn't mean anything to say to people, 'this is what it is like at the top' because most of what people understand is the struggle, the attempt to make it. Being at the top, once you've arrived means fuck all. Who cares what Claudia Schiffer does with David Copperfield? It's like two corpses fucking; it is a dry fuck.
D&C:  It's because no-one uses their imagination: they mould themselves to fit other people's expectations of what they are supposed to be but once you have made yourself a name you can do what the fuck you want: it's just down to talent. You are not simply an artist, or a film director: the boundaries can always be smashed if you have a big enough sledgehammer. People in that position should use it, not just to talk about their career, but our entire culture.
But thank God, sorry, thank fuck that person doesn't exist, because that person we would have to call God. The point is that everybody only plays a part, they add a little bit to the puzzle, nobody ascends to total genius and that's what keeps us all humble. Nobody can attain genius. You can't claim absolute authorship over anything, it doesn't exist. That means that you believe in God.