An artist, enabler and curator exploring the question of how are we part of the ecology, yet see ourselves as outside of it?
How are we part of the ecology, yet see ourselves as outside of it? As an artist this means for me exploring my own addiction to fossil fuels from a personal perspective as a man, cultured in engineering, car culture and speed. This conflicted petrol-head historically valorised what I perceived as my own working class youth culture and popular car culture, but no longer can entertain this.
Donut, which I made in 2003 during a residency with young local young car owners for the inaugural show for The Image Gallery for Bedford Community Arts (BCA), is a twin DVD projection and four-monitor installation about the drawing of a perfect circle -- where the creator is a driver, not an artist, the canvas is asphalt and the medium is a car. The film treats the goal of the perfect doughnut as a ritual performance, the climax of the work. Around this are my memories of growing up immersed in the car culture of the 70s, with imagery of contemporary local car enthusiasts -- polished hubs and tailpipes, lowered suspensions, chassis illuminated by glowing neon, ‘Fast Car’ track day and ‘arsing about in car parks. The film both celebrated and pointed out the futility of racing around in cars, and the surrounding gendered car culture sold to us.
If we are to avoid existential catastrophe, it is essential our behaviours change, and we innovate with technologies to mutually beneficial ends. As artists, we can provoke, draw attention to and interrogate whatever is most relevant around us, a shift away from our current marketized versions of comfort, safety and superiority to more equitable sustainable forms of transport, mobility and living.
By example, my recent project, Escaping Gravity, takes a philosophical approach to travel, de-constructing our need of adventure and imperialism through a creative enquiry into the history of the fateful journey of the R101 airship in 1930, developed and made in collaboration with many from the airship communities of Cardington, Bedford, where the R101 was built and stationed. The research over four years led to a final museum show and immersive new media instal developed in Unreal, a games engine.
Another project, Climate Emergency Services, is a ‘conflicted’ vehicle and artwork, aiming to evoke and challenge our love/hate relationship with motor vehicles in a period becoming characterised by our increasing fear of climate change. The conflicted quality of the artwork’s message is condensed into the contract between the exterior and interior of the vehicle. Outside, the bodywork references the high-temperature culture of car modification for ‘high performance’ and the linkage between the conspicuous consumption of oil and ‘the apocalyptic’. Inside, the cabin is designed to evoke a science laboratory that might be plotting the environmental indicators triggered by climate change, and a place of cool optimism in which the thinking needed to survive that climate change can be pursued.
As an enabler I am leading artists' residencies titled Rewilding the System, looking at our relationship in South Yorkshire to peatlands, water following on from increasing and serious flooding. The aim is to establish an Arts and Ecology Lab here in Doncaster.
As a curator I have recently produced Full Circle by Yu-Chen Wang for Doncaster Gallery and Museum, which unpicks similar themes, specific to our relationship to coal across deep time. My first interest in geology goes back to childhood, but most recently is expressed through curating Strata, Rock, Rock Dust, Stars for York Museum and Art Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art, Panama in 2018.
Mike was one of three artists interviewed by Lola Perrin and Rob La Frenais for their January 2022 ClimateCultures post “Time to Act” — Failure & Success at COP26.