Meet Artist Stuart Semple (and enter to win a Design Crime sticker sheet)
Dorset-based Stuart Semple became an artist after a traumatic near-death experience at the age of 19 whilst studying Fine Art at Breton Hall in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Since 2000, Semple has enjoyed a successful artistic career in which he been the subject of 15 international solo exhibitions. He has featured in over 40 group shows and major public art projects. In Stuart Semple’s works, the emotional and spiritual impact of mass culture on the individual are re-imagined with a playful, exuberant and sociological language. In 2016 Semple achieved worldwide notoriety after his release of the world’s pinkest pink pigment online and the subsequent exclusion of artist Anish Kapoor from using it. The ensuing ‘Art War’ between the two artists over colour became a conceptual performance piece about accessibility, elitism, and community. His colour creations can now be found in the permanent collection of the Harvard Art Museum pigment library. Learn about Stuart's latest project about raising awareness around hostile design. (Above: PICTURES CAME AND BROKE HER HEART by Stuart Semple, from the My Sonic Youth exhibition.)
Interviewer Mark Gelband (@markgelband), Ello’s Chief Marketing Officer, knows something about building a home out of shipping containers, writes things, and is a local everywhere he goes.
Enter to win one of Stuart's Design Crime Sticker Sheets. We're giving away 25 packs total, so in order to enter just leave a comment on this post. We'll select the lucky winners on Friday, February 23rd. Good luck!
What was the creative impetus for the hostile design project?
I've spent several years working on public art projects around the world. They're normally about happiness, inclusion, and connection. I've noticed this rather nasty, insidious trend of hostile design creeping into public space. I've been working on a bit public art project called "Happy City” with Denver for later in the year and I've gotten even more tuned into public furniture and the overall atmosphere of peacemaking. Anyway, hostile design arrived in my hometown here in England and it shook me up. I was really, really upset to see anti-human measures like that; it was the total opposite of everything I stand for, so I wanted to do something about it.
Do you think there's some correlation between the rise in white nationalism, xenophobia and Trumpism, and the ways wealthier liberal communities have gone after unhoused humans in ways clearly designed to attack the most vulnerable?
Short answer: yes. Over here we've had Brexit, with a similar kind of mentality and rhetoric. Basically, in my mind there's an irrational fear of 'the other' or 'strangers' and that's causing very protectionist processes to appear. On the one had they seem almost like safety measures, but in reality they are based on fake boogie men that just aren't there, or at least not there to the extent we are led to believe. The facts are simple: most people are lovely, we are safer than we've ever been and humans without a home are made of the same stuff as everyone else. I've seen animals get better services than some human beings.
Beyond raising awareness around the inhumane ways communities are implementing #hostiledesign "solutions" to unhoused, impoverished humans, what ways have you considered that the art world and communities can dignify and assist the indigent among us?
Brilliant question. Attitudes take time to shift, but they do if given time. We need to learn our lessons from cities and towns that have gotten this right, places like Bogata, for example. Today we did a little art intervention in the town center and all sorts of different people came together and felt free in a public space. That starts to dissolve prejudice and normalize everything. Bring people together, give them the opportunity to see we all have more in common than we have different, then the fear goes, and then connection comes in.
The project has brought renewed awareness of your response to Anish Kapoor and his selfish use of wealth to disallow any other artists to use Vantablack. Do you see some similarities in Kapoor's behavior and communities' use of hostile design?
I do actually. I can't sit with the idea of that kind of entitlement or that one person is more important than another. Blocking access to a material is not a million miles away from blocking access to furniture. This attitude of superiority is totally bizarre to me. As long as people aren't hurting other people, they should be free to express themselves.
WANNA BE STARTIN' SOMETHING? by Stuart Semple, from the Anxiety Generation collection.
Your response to Kapoor was solution oriented – you seemed to be challenging yourself, the artist – to make a statement about color and craft and empowerment in opposition to wanton selfishness. Can you talk a little about self-empowerment, art, and art's responsibility to challenge immoral social norms?
Wow, meaty questions! Okay...I was totally doing that, I was trying to work out what an artist can do in a very practical way. I'm really trying to see what use an artist can have, if we can actually change something. I think art is one of the last true uncensored (at least in my country) platforms and it affords a strange kind of freedom to depict what is happening. You can do that in a playful, creative, even humorous way, but you can use art to make a point. Art isn't responsible for causing change; it's perfectly fine for it to be entertaining or beautiful even. However, art can influence change and the artists I personally admire most are the ones that understand the political potency of what they are doing. For me, I'm just starting in a lot of ways, finding my feet and my voice and it doesn't always work. I'm playing with the idea of an artist empowering other people, that maybe you can set something up, an idea, a space, a moment, a call and then the artist can get out the way. That for me is real empowerment, and getting the artist's ego out of the equation, causing a little trouble, and then disappearing is a very nice way of doing this.
Any final thoughts you'd like to add?
Not really, just thanks for asking such real questions. It's nice to have something to think about.
You can follow Stuart on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Keep an eye out for Stuart's work in your own 'hood.