If his latest project is to be believed, the artist/photographer Phil Toledano rescues children from burning houses, speaks compellingly to adoring admirers, and is perhaps intent on world global domination. Intrigued, and a little scared, we spoke to Phil about the comparatively delusional thoughts and processes of artists and dictators, and why it’s maybe cool to have ‘a crack squad of 30 female virgin bodyguards trained to kill’…
Can you tell us a little bit about the project, Kim Jong Phil? Why and how it happened?
Well, since I’m a neurotic bastard, I spend an enormous amount of time not only thinking about the art I create, but the process itself – how it works, how I work, how I can sustain myself mentally, as an artist, and on and on, until I find myself quite boring. I liken being an artist to living in your own biosphere, drinking your own urine and telling yourself it’s claret. Ultimately, I decided that rather than continue this constant interior dialogue, I’d externalise it, so people could really see how crazy I was.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of making these artworks?
I spent a considerable amount of time on the web, looking for photographs of murals/paintings from dictatorial regimes. Ultimately, I settled on North Korea, because, well, the propaganda was so interesting. Plus, I thought Kim Jong Phil was really funny. I shot photos of myself in the same position as the dictator in the mural (or painting) and then sent it all to China, to be painted.
We know you as a photographer, but these works are obviously not photographs. How do you define yourself?
I define myself as a conceptual artist I suppose. I’m interested in the idea, so I always let the idea direct its own manifestation.
What’s it really like in the ‘closed loop of self-delusion’ you mention in your artist’s statement?
It’s very cosy really, although I’d like to have a steady supply of chocolate digestive biscuits. Other than that, the temperature varies. I swing between thinking I’m onto something, and loving my ideas, to thinking they’re shit, I’m shit, and I’ll expire in obscurity.
Who is/was your favourite dictator ever?
Well, there are so many to choose from. They all have such odd personalities, really, plus their own style of dress. Gaddafi is pretty great – he has a crack squad of 30 female virgin bodyguards trained to kill.