The last time we met Mark Fell he was sat on a bench in the overgrown grounds of a nonconformist chapel in Sheffield. Today he’s sinking into a soft chair in the administrative office of a contemporary art gallery on the Essex coast.
Both of us had journeyed to Southend-on-Sea for the launch of Mark’s latest immersive installation piece, The Concept of Time is Intrinsically Incoherent, which is on display in the town’s Focal Point Gallery until 21 April 2019.
Consisting of two rooms – a disorientating hall of mirrors, and an even more disorientating space in which a heavily pulsing strobe does all manner of very strange things to your perception of time and space – and an app which broadcasts a specially constructed soundtrack which only plays when the user is on a C2C train from London Fenchurch Street station to Shoeburyness, it is a fascinating examination of Mark’s long-held interest in space, time and materiality.
The Concept of Time is Intrinsically Incoherent has been put on as part of the gallery’s ongoing Radical Essex series of publications and events, which we’ve covered previously in all their stereotype-smashing glory here on It’s Nice That in the past.
“I like British seaside towns, and I particularly like British seaside towns out of season,” says Mark, when It’s Nice That asks if he has any particular affinity with life on the country’s coast, and what drew him to exhibiting here in Southend. “As a kid a lot of my family holidays tended to be in a VW camper van, either in Wales or on the Yorkshire coast, sitting in the van waiting for it to stop raining. There’s a desolation to it. And that’s probably quite a deep part of who I am, in a way! I don’t know why, but I like these towns when it is freezing and raining and totally empty – that feeling is something I enjoy.”
Mark Fell, for the uninitiated, is one of the most fascinating, radical and important creatives working in Britain today. Primarily known for his musical output – which spans everything from the hyper-kinetic, spasmodic UK Garage-inspired work he produced with Mat Steel as SND, to the absurdly tactile take on broken deep house he occasionally releases under the Sensate Focus pseudonym – recent years have seen Rotherham-born Fell spending as much time in the gallery as he does in the nightclub.
Neither, it seems, make him particularly happy. “I feel equally uncomfortable in both spaces,” he says, smirking slightly. “I’m basically an alienated kid from the north of England who got into philosophy and radical politics. When you go to a house club these days it’s a bunch of fashion people pretending to be celebrities. That makes me feel really uncomfortable. Then, equally, the art world is completely toxic. That isn’t me being down on art or artists, I think there are a lot of brilliant artists, but it is so infected with ideas of lifestyle and celebrity that it is a damaging world to be in.”
What does drive Fell, however, is a sense that the work he produces for spaces like these can act something that forces the viewer to engage in a genuinely critical discussion of what they want out of the experience.
“I did an interview on a radio show recently and they asked if this show was art or music, asking what I’d call it. I’m not interested in any of those questions. I’m interested in what you feel when you encounter something and why you feel it when you do. Why do you like things? Why do you dislike things? That’s interesting – not ‘what is it?’”