To make a bible, you need to burn 100 copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, mix the ashes with resin and cast the amalgamation in a mould. That is if you are littlewhitehead, whose slogan is “we want to beat you up visually,” on their homepage.
‘The Struggle’, commissioned for the London Art Fair, is made using a mould of an antique copy of the Bible and is the first in a new body of work by the Glasgow, Scotland-based duo Craig Little and Blake Whitehead.
“For us the process was very important, because book-burning and the destruction of knowledge were very prevalent with oppressive regimes,” said Whitehead in an interview in London. “We found it very interesting burning a book that is the main ethos behind such an oppressive regime.”
“Is book-burning wrong when the book in question has such a destructive force?” he said.
When they were asked by the British newspaper The Guardian in 2010 to produce a royal portrait for modern times, littlewhitehead battered and deep fat fried a mannequin’s head with a crown, a sculpture of the Queen’s head, and named the work The Horror.
That was a continuation of a previous work, a 200-year-old Bible, that underwent a similar fate. Battering and deep fat-frying “evokes ideas about class, national identity, greed and the grotesque,” according to the artists. When their Bible-battering was condemned as a mockery of Christianity, the artists reasoned that their work is representative of home as both the book and the batter were from Glasgow.
The duo doesn’t intend to be “deliberately provocative,” said Whitehead. But he confirmed that “a lot of what we do causes controversy.”
“We’ve got quite an idiosyncratic sense of humour that usually annoys those around us,” Whitehead says, emphasising that it is important for the making of their artworks. The two started collaborating four years ago, he said.
‘We Think They Must Have Souls’ is an unnerving piece of work that puts the audience in close touch with a victim, of perhaps hostage-taking or terrorism, who’s blindfolded and is tied up. His chair is tipped over, making the installation a dramatic representation of suffering.
“Like many of our realistic figurative sculptures, we’re playing with the relationship between the realisation of a fiction and the fictionalisation of the real,” Whitehead said. “On encountering this work, viewers become witnesses to an event, however there is nothing impartial or neutral about the act of witnessing.”
The ash series has five doll house-sized pianos made out of the ashes of a porn collection, magazines from 1997 to 2003. The title Hustler, Razzle, Escort, Mayfair, 50+ suggests names of the magazines.
The other work, Nothing Becomes Nothing, is a Beretta handgun that is built with the ashes of “in the region of 4,000 matches,” highlighting how disposable human life can be, through the intentional use of language that is used to describe number of military deaths.
Burning things and refining the ashes for future projects is on the agenda, while the two will try to get hold of human ashes, Whitehead said.
Unlike other exhibits at the fair, the 11 works by littlewhitehead – which were represented by the SumarriaLunn – were spread around the venue. They sold three pieces during the fair and are in talks about selling another four this week, Whitehead said.
“We could easily have sold The Struggle 10 times over,” he said.
euronews correspondent in London
Photos by Scott Pelloux