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Scott King: Infinite Monument, artist’s impression, photographic print, 2016

Work / Publication

Public Art: Scott King on his book that parodies urban regeneration through culture

Scott King’s Public Art brings together a series of proposals for urban regeneration in the UK, via balloons dropped onto its poorest towns, a holiday camp cum correctional facility and a comic, I Dream of Dalstonia, written by King and drawn by Will Henry. The comic, one of a series in the book, outlines a future where Cameron – still Prime Minister – and William Hague deploy a Dalston militia across the country, “working tirelessly… determined to create the ambience of an Edwardian hamlet across the entire North East of England.”

Public Art was designed by Scott King with Fraser Muggeridge Studio, and published by Slimvolume. Here King speaks about the book, how it relates to his practice as an artist and graphic designer – having formerly art directed i-D and been creative director of Sleazenation – and how the book fits in to the current political landscape that seems to have been entirely swallowed by satire.

Why did you decide to make a book? 

I’ve been making work about the nature of public art, especially public sculpture, since around 2010 – so a book was just a good way to compile all this work. It covers three distinct moments in British politics – the end of New Labour, the coalition government and the last Tory government. As a result it reflects a change in governmental attitudes towards both public art and funding of the arts. For example, New Labour very much encouraged the building of enormous public artworks in “depressed” areas, such as Anish Kapoor’s Temenos in Middlesbrough – rightly or wrongly, they had a firm belief in ‘regeneration through culture’ or “arts-led regeneration.”

Under both the recent coalition and Tory governments, we saw this kind of ambitious funding of the “arts as business” disappear, and we entered into what the cultural historian Robert Hewison calls “The Age of Lead.” The idea to do a book was – in part – an attempt to document this transitional period for public art, of all kinds, in the UK. The book – or the projects in the book – are not just UK focussed, the second half of the book is called The Internationale and includes proposals for a scheme called The Ekranoplanters: flying saucer-like garden-monuments that can easily transport themselves to depressed or poverty-stricken areas – as well as a proposal to build a new and Infinite Monument on the site of The Tower of Babel… and a scheme to convert New York into a rural peasant state.

“… They aren’t just jokes, or chucking a pebble through a window. The idea of the book was to balance humour with serious critique… on the very nature of how culture is deployed by governments, ‘big business’ and art institutions.”

Scott King

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Scott King: Public Art, designed by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio, design assistance by Rhys Atkinson and Callum Griffiths

And how do the themes relate to your other work, as an artist and graphic designer? 

The themes that run through the book: impossible proposals, ridiculous scenarios and criticism cum satire are the same themes I’ve always used, I think. In the case of Public Art, they aren’t just jokes, or chucking a pebble through a window. The idea with the book was to balance the humour with serious critique, so there are great texts in it too by the likes of Owen Hatherley, Matthew Worley and Tom Morton – as well as interviews with Robert Hewison and Lynda Morris on the very nature of how culture is deployed by governments, ‘big business’ and art institutions. These texts are punctuated by the graphic novels that I made with Will Henry, then the whole book is underpinned with a long essay by Andrew Hunt.

In short, this book doesn’t really differ from anything I’ve ever done before, it’s just perhaps more visibly thorough – and it’s very beautifully produced – the final design was done by Luke Hall at Fraser Muggeridge studio. Luke’s attention to detail was fantastic and Slimvolume spared no expense on the production, so it’s really quite a beautiful and tactile object.

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Scott King: Public Art, designed by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio, design assistance by Rhys Atkinson and Callum Griffiths

Could you tell me more about the graphic novels you collaborated on with Will Henry? 

Will Henry and I first collaborated on the project Anish and Antony Take Afghanistan – this was an idea I had in 2014 in which these blue-chip British artists, famed for their enormous public artworks in “post-industrial” areas, would be deployed by the United Nations and sent to Afghanistan to build enormous public sculptures there – the reason being: if they can save the north east of England with huge artworks, perhaps they could bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan?

I just asked on Twitter if anyone could draw in the style of Victor comics – you know, that old “boys own,” heroic comic book style. Will got back to me and he was perfect. We made Anish and Antony Take Afghanistan in a month or two – that was for a show I had at Between Bridges in Berlin. Soon after the show, Anish and Antony was made into a real graphic novel and published by JRP|Ringier and it was very successful, people loved it. We decided to make two new graphic novels to include in Public Art. The first one is called I Dream of Dalstonia, in which William Hague forms a hipster militia and invades Middlesbrough – his idea being to bring culture and entrepreneurialism in the form of allotments and windmills to the town in the hope of regenerating it. Problems arise when Hague goes “Colonel Kurtz” and his dream begins to unfold. The second one is called New York Rural, which is all based around a high-powered arts-led think-tank in Manhattan skyscraper; in this one Noam Chomsky imparts his vision of a future-rural New York on to the likes of Jeff Koons, David Rockefeller and Lady Gaga. Both of them are brilliantly drawn by Will, they took him almost a whole year – but they’re great.

How might the proposals be reimagined in light of Brexit? 

It’s incredible really – incredible how the whole political and cultural landscape of Britain seemed to change, literally, overnight. One of the projects in Public Art is called EMU (the European Monument of Unity) – this is a proposal to build a “democratic” monument in central Europe that equally represents every country in the European Union – it’s illustrated in the book by this Frankensteinian “artist’s impression” that cobbles together existing monuments – one from every country in the EU – into this single structure. When I first thought of this idea in 2015, it was a satire… now, post-Brexit, I wish it were the blueprint for a reality.

All work appears courtesy Herald St, London; Bortolami Gallery, New York.

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Scott King: Public Art, designed by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio, design assistance by Rhys Atkinson and Callum Griffiths

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Scott King: Public Art, designed by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio, design assistance by Rhys Atkinson and Callum Griffiths

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Scott King: Infinite Monument (parts 7-6), as seen in Totem Motif, Bortolami Gallery, New York, 2014

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Scott King: Public Art, designed by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio, design assistance by Rhys Atkinson and Callum Griffiths

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Scott King: Totem Motif 1964, photographic print, 2014

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Scott King: Public Art, designed by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio, design assistance by Rhys Atkinson and Callum Griffiths

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Scott King: Public Art, designed by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio, design assistance by Rhys Atkinson and Callum Griffiths

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Scott King: Public Art, designed by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio, design assistance by Rhys Atkinson and Callum Griffiths