Q&A with Glen Clarke - Art Collector

GLEN CLARKE Silo #06 - Point Blank 2015 folded US dollars and Iraqi dinars, cotton thread 107 x 81 x 24cm signed verso ($18,000)

After exhibiting with Despard Gallery of Hobart for 15 years, Glen Clarke presents his signature origami war machinery and missiles in an exhibition entitled The Last Missile Installation at Despard Gallery, Hobart on display until 20 November 2016.

Director of Despard Gallery, Steven Joyce, commented on the remarkable precision with which Clarke constructs missiles and modern tools of combat from international currency. Each note is intricately folded into the shape of a shirt that signifies the monetary value of a human figure in war. Clarke’s artwork seeks to bring awareness about the enduring legacy of the Vietnam War. The artist travels to the region at every opportunity to work with organisations dedicated to quelling the ongoing impacts of this war that took place over 40 years ago.

International audiences took notice of Clarke’s installation entitled
One Less brought to Hong Kong Art Fair in May 2016. Stretching six meters in length, One Less comprised countless hanging "currency shirts" in the shape of very large hanging bomb. The public had an opportunity to purchase these origami shirts and contribute to the dismantling of the bomb.

Despard’s show, entitled
The Last Missile Installation runs until Sunday 20 November in Hobart. In its final days, Glen talks Emma O’Neill through his process, past and current ruminations on war, loss and the state of “political” art in Australia.

1. You have been exhibiting with Despard Gallery for 15 years now - can you tell me about how your work has evolved in that time?

I believe our first involvement together was 1998 when Steven took a few of my sculptures to Sculptural Objects and Functional Art (SOFA) in Chicago, USA. That was the same year that I visited Vietnam on an Australia Council Grant to exhibit at the 2nd International Sculpture Symposium in Hue, Vietnam 700km south of Hanoi.

At that time I was working through the following premise:

The correct distance between objects is critical, whether that distance is physical, cultural or emotional.

Two objects too close to each other become one. Two objects too far apart no longer relate to one other.

During my time in Vietnam as I was working through this premise an event occured. I did not give much attention to at the time, but have since realized that it was integral to my artistic evolution. Every morning for about six weeks I walked past and looked at a rather strange hole in the ground. I later realized this hole was a bomb crater. My works now are vastly different, but remain motivated by similar themes of voids, space and emptiness. The call to spaces that once were occupied and constantly evolving landscapes.

2. What was the process behind the works on display in The Last Missile Installation?

This exhibition has continued the folded money shirt process. The figurative form of a shirt constructed from real money is still important to me. It layers the work with questions of how much one figure is priced and how much will one missile or landmine cost is monetary terms or human life.

Researching the technologies of missiles and bombs, dovetailed with my volunteer work with Project Renew, Central Vietnam as well as with MAG, Mines Advisory Group in Laos. Both organizations are dedicated to restoring the environment and neutralising the effects of the war. They bring about awareness to local villages the dangers of collecting scrap metal and reporting unexploded bombs (UXO’s), documenting the demolition of UXO’s, combined with sourcing world currencies, understanding the approach to fate or coincidence and also looking into local philosophical views about why that cluster bomb is still a threat after so many years. All facets of this fieldwork need to coalesce as a succinct body of artwork. I am dedicated to bringing exposure to both organisations.

Even basic conversations about currencies and New Money with Border Guards and Customs Officials at airports, are part of the process that feeds and influences my work. In fact, sometimes I think my research is the real artwork. Sometimes, I think the sculpture or the paintings, prints or videos are mere by-products of the experience. But then again, the process is different for everyone that experiences the sculptures, paintings or installation.

Gallery view, 'Silo Wall', Glen Clarke | The Last Missile Installation at Despard Gallery, Hobart, 28 October - 20 November 2016. Courtesy: Despard Gallery.

2. How did you arrive at the title for this show The Last Missile Installation? What was the rationale behind each work and how has it been received thus far?

The title for this show came about as a bit of frustration I guess. I was working on a show titled The Flowers but it was unresolved. A number of people familiar with my Bomb Craters and Military Hardware works were continually asking “Why you don’t do flowers or something beautiful?” It wasn’t until I said that waterlilies were so last century that I started to think, well, why don’t I do flowers?

At about the same time I was, like many others, horrified by the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra by Islamic State militants. I was researching loss and how we now put flowers to mark a location of an incident, a crash site or an assassination or terrorist atrocity.
The Flowers was developing as a significant symbol and metaphor. Also, whilst looking at the changing nature of space so too the changing look of weapons, following the last show at Despard Gallery titled Cloak in 2014. A barrel bomb does not look like the traditional bomb form with a nose cone and tail flights. Rather, it looks like a piece of cheese, Gouda or Grana Pandano. IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) have the look of a takeaway milkshake container and a chips packet. Space-time landscapes and objects are constantly changing and reinventing their image.

The title of
The Last Missile Installation is poignant but it is also irreverent. It could be that the world's missile silos are obsolete or it could be that they are just reinventing themselves for the new regime.

In terms of the reception of the work, I have tried to make this work less ambiguous. I wanted to make these missile forms or this silo unmistakable. I am still learning from how the spectator processes them as a whole or as an individual object. My friends still say I should do paintings of roses, tulips etc.

3. You once said of that with your work you try "to determine and promote an awareness of our own physical relationship to other objects in space. I need to know how one relates to other objects physically.” Can you explain this?

It often surprises me when someone would ask the question: "How should I think three-dimensionally?" I am perplexed. I find it difficult to ignore or not recognise our surroundings or not having an understanding of the elements and objects I need to negotiate.

I asked the person if they had ever walked over a bridge? Or stood up against a very large modern building? Or washed the dishes by hand? If so, how did they feel that you were engaged in that moment with the other elements of the experience around them? What was their physical difference or their significance to the objects around you? Negotiating the supermarket aisles with a trolley that has a mind of its own or just negotiating the isles without the trolley?

What is important to me and my work is the space between objects. It’s about how we choose to come into contact with others around us. It’s the friction, the dynamic, the politics of proximity, it is the poetics of space, the feeling you get if the object you are engaged with has enormous or minimal presence. Impact is not necessarily dependent on scale. I mean Angkor Wat has an effect on you, but so too does a packet of Tim Tams that is just out of reach.

Moving forward, I want to relate my understanding of objects in space in relation to Animism. This way, I can understand the cosmos and our place in it. In Animist civilizations, all creatures and more specifically, all inanimate objects possess a soul. By definition Animism is:
1, the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls.
2, the belief that natural objects have souls that may exist apart from their material bodies.
3, the doctrine that the soul is the principle of life and health.
4, belief in spiritual beings or agencies.

In tandem with my thoughts on our place in the cosmos, I often return to a quote from the 2009 film entitled The Limits of Control by Jim Jarmusch:

The Sufis say each one of us is a planet spinning in ecstasy. But I say that each one of us is a set of shifting molecules. Spinning in ecstasy.

GLEN CLARKE Silo #04 (detail) 2015 folded US dollars and Chinese yuan, cotton thread 81 x 107 x 24cm signed verso ($18,000). Courtesy: Despard Gallery.

4. In the years that you have been working as an artist, how do you think the landscape has changed for visual artists whose work engages with politics?

Firstly, I think all art engages with politics of some sort or another. If art didn’t ask questions, is it really art? I believe it is the role of the arts to critique society and the way we live, if it fails to critique and question society we are all doomed to mediocrity and Bogan-ism.

In this country, I think the landscape has changed for all artists in general. In the 70s and 80s there was real vision. But now Australia continues to deny the relevance of art and culture in every way. I do not see Australian Governments of any persuasion ever really supporting or understanding the importance of the arts.

Culture in this country is signified by television programs such as The Block or Big Brother or The Bachelorette. Australia needs education in this area, these Reality TV platforms are not the way to find out who we are or our place in the greater scheme of things.

5. What is coming next for you?
Often when working towards a show you have to put other interests or research on hold. I can’t reveal the answer to that question for you right now, but I will let you know soon.

Emma O'Neill

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