In Hang-Up Gallery’s inaugural exhibition at its new Stoke Newington base, The Connor Brothers (Mike Snelle and James Golding) showcase a subversive series of literary interventions SO IT GOES… Deconstructing our recycled imagery, the artists’ notorious Pulp Fiction series reveals the claustrophobic and ideologically insidious parameters of narratives whose banality is only matched by their popularity.
Alongside Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, the internationally acclaimed pair also announce the formation of an NGO seeking to assert humanitarian aid in the absence of official presence in the infamous Calais Jungle. In support of their relief work for refugees, Hang-Up will be releasing a third limited edition charity print to raise further funds to build additional shelters when The Connor Brothers return to The Jungle with Pussy Riot this December.
Mixing fact and fiction in a reflection of our own disintegrating realities, The Metropolist got in touch with Mike Snelle of The Connor Brothers for his views on the significance of art in this age of political crisis.
THE METROPOLIST: In your work for the Calais Jungle and association with Pussy Riot there seems to be an implicit assertion that art can have a political impact. But what impact can art have compared to more traditional political activism i.e. voting, protests, boycotts etc.?
Mike Snelle: Art has a role to play in the conversation about the kind of society we want to live in. It is in my opinion a critical moment in global politics. Faced with a number of challenges simultaneously – the refugee crisis, the problem of how to deal with ISIS, the potential break up of the Eurozone, global warming, unprecedented levels on inequality etc, the world is in a unique moment of transition. Everyone has a part to play in trying to shape the future. We cannot leave it to governments to dictate what that future looks like. Artists have always challenged the assumptions of those in power, and art can be used as a valid form of protest alongside other forms of political activism to try and achieve positive change.
TM: Similarly what is the role of art and artists in the ongoing refugee crisis?
MS: Anyone who has a voice can use it to try to influence government policy and public sentiment. Artists are fortunate to be given a platform and I think have a duty to use it, particularly when it comes to protect the rights of society’s most vulnerable members.
TM: What were the germinating concerns for “So It Goes…”?
MS: I think it has something to do with questioning the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth. The mad man and the sane one experience two very different realities, but I think it’s a mistake to proclaim one ‘true’ and the other ‘false’. It’s arrogant to believe that just because one view of the world is shared by more people than the other somehow it’s more ‘true’. We assume we share a common reality but actually each of us exists in a personal reality which happens to overlap with other people’s. The greater the overlap the more we are likely to share a belief system and have our opinions validated as the ‘The Truth’. In reality there is no capital T truth to know, and realising this is an important part of breaking down our prejudices and being able to understand one another. Hold your beliefs lightly, and all that.
TM: What is the function of text in the series, which makes use of quotes and penny books?
MS: The use of text is, I think, about trying to challenge conventional ideas about truth, fiction and reality.
TM: Does this have any broader reflection on the status of language today?
MS: Language is the means by which we make order out of the world. It’s how we turn experience into meaning. It’s incredibly useful and has allowed human beings to become the most highly evolved and successful animal the planet has ever seen. But it can also serve as a barrier and prevent other forms of understanding. The way we use language is political and it defines our world view. Two different descriptions of the same event can have radically different meanings and consequences. It’s important we can look beyond the language used and identify the underlying issues.
TM: There seems to be a degree of serendipity in both your partnership as The Connor Brothers [Mike and James stayed in the same mental hospital at different occasions] and your informal introduction to Nadya Tolokonnikova following her lecture at Cambridge University, any comment on this?
MS: This is kind of a complicated idea but yes, I do believe that some things are more than coincidence. It’s not that I believe in something supernatural, just that if you remain open to the world in a specific way, you will be better placed to see patterns that other people might miss. There have been countless unlikely events in my life, and I attribute them to having a certain way of viewing the world. I actually think that experiencing mental health issues has sometimes left me more able to think in a less conditioned manner than I might otherwise have done. Our society conditions people from an early age in a very specific way. This conditioning is so complete that we don’t even realise how or when it happens. If you can wriggle free of it from time to time other possibilities open up, and seemingly unlikely events become plausible. A good example is collaborating with Pussy Riot. I admired their work and my daughter wanted to meet them. Now we are collaborating on several projects. For whatever reason this doesn’t feel particularly surprising. If you are open to the world things tend to align, the difficulty is how to stay open in a society intent on restricting your view.
TM: Do you have any predictions for how recent events in Paris will affect refugees in the Calais Jungle?
MS: The tragic events in Paris will undoubtable affect the lives of those living in The Jungle. There was already anxiety and hostility towards refugees from certain sections of the press and public, and recent events will only serve to feed anti-refugee sentiment. There is a sense in which those who advocate a hard line and closed borders stance towards refugees are unwittingly colluding with the extremists they oppose. The goal of groups like ISIS is to instil fear amongst us, and if we associate the events in Paris with the influx of refugees, we assist them in that goal. Animosity towards refugees is based on fear – fear of change, fear of people who we see as different from us, and now fear of terrorism. I am afraid that increased hostility from right wing groups and a backlash against refugees in the media, will further demonize innocent people fleeing terror at home. I am worried about how this will manifest in the Calais Jungle. The truth of course, is that the majority of refugees are fleeing exactly the same group that carried out the atrocities in Paris. Now more than ever it is important that our response to the refugee crisis is based on compassion and solidarity rather than fear.
TM: What are you working toward at the moment?
MS: We are pretty focused on setting up the NGO at the moment. We are headed back to the Jungle in two week and are planning a ten day trip around European refugee camps next month to see where and in which way we might be able to help most effectively. Plus we plan to continue working long term with the refugees in Calais.
SO IT GOES…
Hang-Up Gallery until 6th December 2015
81 Stoke Newington Rd, London N16 8AD