Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Interview with Luke Jerram

After months of neglect, I'm back in blogland! For the last two weeks I've been pressed to the warm and ample bossom of Venue Magazine for a smidge of journalistic work experience.

Last week I was lucky enough to speak to one of Bristol's finest conceptual artists, Luke Jerram. We talked pianos, street art and parabolic flight as well as enthusing about his ambitions to shine towers of light into the Bristol Clouds. Find out more about Luke's plans below.

Luke Jerram
Artist of Ideas

‘Play me, I’m yours’ started because of Birmingham’s bad weather. I was asked to perform ‘Sky Orchestra’ (an artwork that involves playing specially composed music from hot-air balloons) in the city but the weather wasn’t right so we had to come up with another idea that would reach the same amount of people. I was thinking about what I could distribute around the city and a piano was just sitting by me in the house. I thought “that’ll do!”

I’m interested in revealing hidden communities. Here in Bristol I go down to a laundrette and each week I see the same people. They sit in silence waiting for their underwear to be washed. Often it’s the same people day after day. People know each other but they don’t talk to each other. We’re hoping that placing pianos in public spaces might act as a catalyst to get people talking in Birmingham’s bus stations, laundrettes and hospitals. This project is not about my ideas, and my desires and wishes and ambitions, it is about everyone else’s creativity.

‘Play me, I’m yours’ is a way for Birmingham’s citizens to claim ownership over the public domain. The idea was that the pianos would stay on site for as long as the community wanted. A few have been vandalised and others have been loved and cherished. We thought that a couple might be stolen and sold on eBay but that hasn’t happened.

I’ve got slight hang-ups about galleries and theatres. They don’t seem to do their job properly in bringing in a broad audience. Even I’ve got reservations about going to the theatre and I come from a white middle-class background with an arts degree, so I don’t know what it’d be like for other people. I try to make artwork that works for everybody, so my gran can appreciate it but so can an academic, or even a small child.

In July I am going to Star City, Russia to create a number of artworks on a parabolic flight. The plane goes up to 20,000 feet and then falls for 23 seconds and for that time you experience weightlessness. I’ve got five artwork ideas that I’m hoping to accomplish whilst I’m on the flight, one of which is a tribute to the 200 jumpers of 9/11. I want to recreate Richard Drew’s emotive ‘Falling Man’ photograph that captures a man falling from the Twin Towers before he died tragically at the bottom. The man in the photograph is almost like a fallen angel. He’s not flaying his arms about but appears quite relaxed as though he’s come to terms with his position. That is what gives that image such power. Responding to contemporary events is part of an artist’s job. I don’t tend to create artworks instantly in response to a certain moment. I give it time to digest and for ideas to emerge.

My next project has been inspired by the birth of my daughter. In Bristol there are twelve babies born every day so again there’s that hidden group of people connected by a shared experience. To reveal that community and to celebrate that moment, I am going to create an artwork called First Breath. For each new baby we’re going to erect a huge searchlight that will create a tower of light. You’ll look across the city and there will be twelve searchlights lighting up the clouds. Each day the lights will be moved to a new set of locations for the next night’s declaration. The piece will run for perhaps two or three weeks. Like much of my work, it is an intimate and personal moment but also a spectacular public display that spans right across the city.


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