Matthew Darbyshire was born in Suffolk, England.
He graduated from Royal Academy in 2005
and is represtented by Herald Street.
Darbyshire currently lives and works in London.
A conversation between Matthew Darbyshire and Ellie Morgan, 12th August 2009.
EM: Furniture Islands seems like a departure from your recent projects Blades House at Gasworks last year, Palac at the Tate Britain 2009 Triennial, and Fun House at The Hayward Project space earlier this year, in that it is less of an immersive environment which can be viewed from a more removed perspective. How did you arrive at this composition?
MD: I want that removed perspective in all my works and however functional and interactive they might first appear, they all deliberately prohibit any physical interaction and ultimately encourage only looking. I don’t really see any difference between any of these works in that the more immersive and experiential aspects of the ones you mention did in fact all come as a bit of a surprise to me. It’s never so intentionally about sensory stimulation and really only ever about looking at detail.
I would agree however that somehow they always do become quite atmospheric, even Furniture Islands did, and I think this must be a sub-conscious attempt on my part to direct; for all my efforts to remain impartial and state only the facts, I guess I do end up interfering and trying to steer the reading of it all a bit.
For me each environment - whether it be an ex-authority flat, a Socialist Realist cultural institution or an interactive leisure facility - is essentially just an exhibition structure upon which I can incorporate all these design elements that I’m obsessing about. Admittedly these elements can at times be more physically enveloping (i.e.: a mega wall graphic or a mirrored ceiling) than those found in Furniture Islands (i.e.: a Rietveld miniature chair or a Slotty desk ornament) but essentially everything in all the shows pertains to a ubiquitous, non-specific and increasingly standardised design language that we’re all very much accustomed to - whether it be through fashion, pop videos, furniture, graphics, architecture or whatever. I suppose this is a strategy I use to avoid having to succumb to adopting the arbitrary “sculptural scatter” or “formal stack” which I believe masks and detracts from the potential meaning of each constituent and undermines its significance.
It’s always important to me that these arrangements appear at least somehow viable and for me each of the furniture islands, by remaining so, circumvent these tired formal solutions I mention. I would obviously hope however that this viability doesn’t confirm a specific context but rather winks at numerous ones – the home, the school, the department store, the TV stage-set, the community centre foyer etc. I think I’m more recently enjoying making environments that convey or evoke multiple contexts as this seems to be very much what the work’s about.
EM: It’s interesting that you want to remain impartial and not steer the reading of your work. Aren’t you creating the whole scenario within which people view and interpret the work and therefore shaping reactions to an extent?
MD: Well yes, perhaps I am to an extent but this is what I’m talking about. I don't consciously do this because there's never a point in the process of conception, production or display where I’m totally clear as to what we're ultimately going to discover, or what conclusions might be drawn. It's obviously impossible to shape a reaction anyway but funnily enough every show seems to produce a totally different reaction to the one I expect.
Aside from the obviousness of all this, my decision to remain impartial is centred on a strong dislike of any affiliation as I find it totally tedious and only really capable of producing tired and bigoted output. I'm certainly not striving to achieve agreement or dismissal, but rather am trying to gather the facts from which, owing to the impossibility of completely restraining ones bias, a position inevitably emerges (...which I would then hope to contradict pretty quickly!).
EM: So these facts that you refer to, are they represented by the objects you use- are you talking about visually presenting the facts of recent design and architecture?
MD: Yes, the evidence if you like. This ubiquitous and non-specific design language I mentioned earlier comprises the stuff that surrounds us, and it's through my combining and our analysis of this stuff that deductions are made.
EM: So where does the audio element of the show come in?
MD: The audio element is a Phil Collins compilation my partner Gracie and I made a couple of years ago for an ‘Itchy Park’ event in Limehouse (…before Juan Cabral blessed Cadbury’s with his amazing drumming gorilla ad campaign in 2007 I must add). Anyway, it was an afterthought on the last day of installing ‘furniture islands’. As I mentioned, I hadn’t really anticipated such an ambiance, which presumably came as a result of the other last-minute decision to actually illuminate all the paper lanterns, and once we’d got that far we thought we might as well go the whole hog and really activate the space properly. It’s sort of cheap but irresistible and for me totally works with the premise of the show. It’s obvious association would be muzak which you of course find in multiple contexts but hopefully owing to the cross-section of genres (i.e.: blue grass, techno, philharmonic, Gregorian chant, hip-hop, karaoke etc..) it takes you beyond the more corporate associations and scrambles things up a even more. The actual choice of song…we could be here all day!
EM: Through re-making and re-presenting the objects in the gallery space are you in part presenting an institutional critique? Are you interested in the commodification of art as well as the designed gallery environment?
MD: Yes in the sense that there’s a focus on numerous institutions within government and public services but not really in terms of the more traditional austere associations one might make with the informational format of so-called “institutional critique”. The work usually can’t resist acknowledging certain physical and political aspects of its surroundings which of course usually end up being galleries, but hopefully, especially in the case of Furniture Islands, it also manages to occupy a space of it’s own and has the ability to critically distance itself from these pretty insignificant and hugely variable surroundings (i.e.: whether it be publicly funded, commercial, self-organised etc..).
I’m quite interested in questioning the boundaries between art and design in terms of how they collide, critique and inform one another’s existence but I’m not too interested in “commodity critique” in the late 80’s sense. I’m not trying to elevate or discuss things in that way and am not too interested in the distinction or categorization of art vs. reality. It’s all just stuff, the latter is usually more interesting and the former simply a frame through which we can sometimes stop for longer to look at it - that “removed perspective” I suppose that you mentioned at the beginning. The monetary value side I’m really not remotely interested in, especially at this point in time!