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Ace Of Spades, 2009, Wolfe von Lenkiewicz

Wolfe von Lenkiewicz / Age Of The Marvellous

In the third of our previews of All Visual Art's Age of The Marvellous we talk to Wolfe von Lenkiewicz about the spectre of Picasso and the arbitrary nature of identity

This month, All Visual Arts present Age Of The Marvellous, an exhibition inspired by the 'collections of curiosities' ubiquitous in the era of The Renaissance. Featuring 60 works by an exciting cabal of contemporary artists it promises to provide some fascinatingly skewed investigations into the zeitgeist. In the third of our previews we talk to participating artist Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, a devotee of Wittgenstein and master craftsman whose interest lies in creating a new visual language. In his Descent Of Man works he 're-sequenced' iconography from the legendary and the real, creating a hybrid mythology where the sermon from the mount is delivered from atop a battle tank, Christ is bound to a V2 rocket and unicorns emerge from the burning Twin Towers. In his new works, the artist has invoked the spectre of Picasso and created a series of breathtaking large-scale drawings that meld everything from Goya to Warhol via Hirst, Marukami and Durer, to name but a few. In the abandoned building in which his haunting universe is currently taking shape, we talked to him about the nature of language, the reality of myth and the arbitrary nature of identity...

Dazed Digital: I would like to start by talking about your earlier works in the Descent Of Man. What is it about melding archetypal creatures from our mythologies with the real that interests you?
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz:
 I do it because I think they are real. I don’t think they are dead. They are part of our language; we know what they mean and they are very clear. I don’t think the real is necessarily flesh and blood… it could be our imaginations.

DD: Do you think we could one day create the creatures from our mythology?
 If you were to genetically create a creature it wouldn’t shock us for long. What shocks people is art, not real things that are walking around. What is more interesting is making the virtual real, to have a concept and make it real. My concepts are to make myths real, but it doesn’t take much effort to do that because in a way they already are.

DD: Can you talk us through your bronze bust of a stag entitled St Eustace
 This is an image of the myth of St Eustace. According to the legend, while a Roman soldier was hunting a stag in the forest it reared up to him and said to him, ‘I am Christ why do you hunt me?’ When it did this, the hunter saw that it had a crucifix growing out of its head and was converted. In this piece there is a Boeing 747 twin engine wrapped in fasces that is kind of trepanning the stag’s head. The fasces is a symbol that has always been used as a signifier of authority, from Imperial Rome through fascist Germany to imperialist America. In the Abraham Lincoln memorial the president is seated with his arms resting on fasces. At that time, I was dealing with issues surrounding religion and 9/11 via mythology…

DD: Your drawing of butterflies flying around the Twin Towers is pretty amazing… 
 Well, in a way this is arbitrary, I was originally thinking about Hitchcock and The Birds, and about how the birds in the film attack the school children. But I thought instead of birds, I would have butterflies – giant ones hatching from the Twin Towers like a chrysalis, when I showed it to people they thought they represented souls but the original intention was more malevolent. I think in order to do a good picture of something you have to be kind of uninterested in the subject, because the subject is much larger than you, and you also have to have a language that is powerful enough to deal with any subject. Recently, I’ve moved away from the political aspect and become more concerned with language.

DD: I like this idea of the role of the arbitrary in the creative process, I suppose on a psychological level it could be said that even our own identities are arbitrary…
 Clearly an artist has no control over whom they are or what there intentions are going to do in the world. Since 1968, there has been a lot made of Barthes’s notion of the death of the author, which led to the reader becoming fetishised. But if I commit a murder then the body is proof of my murder, and if I had a good reason to commit the murder then the court ought to listen and I should have a hearing. Because in the ethical world there is a murderer, an author, and that person is held responsible. If you transpose that to the art world then the artwork is the murder and the artist is responsible, but in the art world the work doesn’t belong to the artist, it doesn’t belong to anybody…

DD: That takes us on to your new works in The Age Of The Marvellous, which meld various works of art…
 Well, I think for the first time people can start considering making better art from other artists' works. I can take Damien Hirst’s spots and combine them with a William Morris to create something else, something new. It was never Hirst’s, and it was never Morris’s… it’s not mine, either. You can make a better Picasso out of Picasso, because Picasso never was Picasso, Elaine Sturtevant said, 'Warhol was very Warhol', because he never was Warhol… you see? Dandy Death, for example, is made entirely out of Picassos, and I’ve recreated them all very faithfully. There’s probably 12 works in there that have been engineered to make a new Picasso, but although it feels like a Picasso it isn’t Picasso. In another piece I have portrayed his girlfriend Dora as Queen Elizabeth with a giant poodle’s body, the poodle being a symbol of Mephistopholes, according to Goethe.

DD: And you have Warhol ‘re-sequenced’ here as well…
 In the Warhol piece, we have Warhol’s Double Elvis and in the background we have Hirst’s spots, which have been injected with Murakami’s Louis Vuitton – it’s not Warhol, it’s not Hirst and it’s not Murakami. It’s really just an infinite play of language with no end, and one can do that badly and one can do it well. Perhaps a good example of that is my version of the piece the Chapman Brothers became obsessed with – Goya’s Great Deeds Done To Men!. I am very interested in the craft side of things, because I believe that is part of folding it back into art, so I draw everything. My Goya etching is far larger than the original, and it shows the famous decapitated figures on the trees crucified, but I have replaced them with Durer’s Adam and Eve, and I have placed Eve upside down with the snake and Adam with his genitals cut off. Effectively, I’ve crucified Adam and Eve via Goya, and this is just another example of how infinite the language potentially is.

DD: And you have done it in a way that seems entirely without agenda…
 Just to illustrate an idiocy – when Jake Chapman was asked what he would do if he was approached by Goya, he said that that he would stamp on his toes and scream at him. Well, first of all, Goya was deaf so I don’t think that would have made much difference. But to take a spectre that is clearly just immaterial and scream and stamp at it or try and possess it is not what I am interested in, this is not a question of respect or lack of respect, and that's the next stage.

DD: Where did the original inspiration to make these works come from?
 One of the things I have been thinking about recently is Derrida’s Spectre Of Marx. He is attempting in that book to appropriate Marx and invoke him as a spectre, and he attempts to use that as a tool to dismantle evangelical, neo-liberal America. In a similar way, the spectre that I’m invoking is Picasso, and I’ve realised that you can also invoke something that is alive, such as Hirst. In a way, by transforming what’s alive but also maintaining it, and then mixing them all together, you can create an army.

Age Of The Marvellous October 14 – 22, One Marylebone, London NW1 4GD