Jamie Fitzpatrick is at the Exeter Phoenix with Big Dick, a two-room installation. A chuntering three-headed character is increasingly unhappy with the way of the world. And with the presence of a malign pink whale somewhere unseen, it nods to Moby Dick. We caught up with Jamie to talk about power, being constantly enraged and developing identities
ArtsCulture: What is it about Moby Dick that inspired you?
Jamie Fitzpatrick: When I began to develop the work, I was interested in the idea of a setting that had closed and defined borders so that it could act as a proxy society in which an idea can be tested out.
The idea of the raft was there in my mind and then the whale came to it as this sort of ‘off screen’ force or terror that enacts a sense of oppression, or alters the behaviour, of these different societal elements within the piece.
ArtsCulture: The description of your Big Dick talks about the three oversized heads demonstrating ‘hysteria and the struggle for power in an environment of shortened resources’. What are the relationship of the heads to each other. Are they a religious or psychological triumvirate or something else? And do you see it as a description of the past, the now or the future?
Jamie Fitzpatrick: Originally, the three figures adopted three positions of a hierarchy, top middle and bottom, evolving somewhat into three different societal positions towards Authority; the drive to rise to Power, the drive to subserve or legitimise Power and the drive to reject Power.
As the piece evolved, the three elements of the narrative became less societal and more personal, reflecting the problem of feeling constantly enraged with the way of the world whilst having little agency and doing even less, in terms of real world actions, to enact a sense of change, whilst still trying to strive towards my own personal ambitions of success and fulfilment.
This universal conflict within the way most people engage with the world is played out in the piece through periods of clarity and linear simplicity, even in places a literal harmony, but then descent into conflict, over speaking and confusion.
ArtsCulture: At the moment I’m being serenade by three heads in Until You See The Whites of Their Eyes. How has Big Dick developed from that?
Jamie Fitzpatrick: That work (UYSTWOTE) was one of the first uses of using animatronics and sound together as a way of manipulating a response out of the audience.
Our expectations with art, and articular sculpture in a traditional sense, is one of stillness and permanence. When something moves or, even better when allied to sound, appears animate, the viewer becomes immediately engaged and fixated on the piece and is forced to take part in the piece.
So, for UYSTWOTE, these three heads sang impromptu cartoonish medlies of victoriously bombastic final overtures from colonial films that glorify British people over-coming the odds to defeat (either in battle or morally) a non-white threat. This breaking of the sculptural expectations traps the viewer into becoming complicit with these songs and, in turn, consider and question them in this new context.
This evolved for the exhibition ‘Big Dick’ at Exeter Phoenix from the singular work into something that is a larger installation over the two rooms. The sound is used less to carry the weight of one single idea but rather expanded beyond the sculptures themselves to effect a change to the space and environment. Whereas before they are songs, here they engage far more in a dialogue, like a radio play that is played out over a circular narrative, a non-linear inconclusive internal conflict.
ArtsCulture: The name Big Dick – the pink patriarchal whale – both denotes power and mockery. Is power ripe for mockery, and as those in power increasingly become parodies of themselves, is it harder, or more important, to mock?
Jamie Fitzpatrick: I think it has been and always will be important to level authority.
ArtsCulture: For Big Dick you reference Moby Dick, and you’ve mentioned the similarity of your characters to those in Dickens. How important is literature for you as an artist and is there something particular about books from that period (mid-19th century-ish)?
Jamie Fitzpatrick: I think that I said once a few years back in an interview that I liked Dickens and it seems to have stuck. I guess it’s the use of stock characters and caricature that draws the connections. I think, more than literature itself, it’s narrative that influences to my work.
Through my work, I’m interested in the way that personal and, to a greater degree, national identities are formed more from tales and historical fiction than they are through fact. That, for the vast majority of people, most of their sense of national identity is built around retellings and adaptations, be that through film, books or TV.
Even something as jingoistic as war memorial, for the most part, is retro-experienced for people through film rather than engaging with historical fact.
Similarly, in works like ‘Big Dick’, I take narrative frames, in this case Moby Dick, to loosely build my own narrative around. This isn’t a work that holds truck to Herman Melville or historical whaling in anyway, it has simply stolen an idea and manipulated it to fit its own narrative means.
ArtsCulture: What’s the role of the artist in society?
Jamie Fitzpatrick: I think that the reason that I do these sorts of things is to work that out.
ArtsCulture: Thanks Jamie!
Jamie Fitzpatrick Big Dick is at the Exeter Phoenix until Sunday, February 3, 2019.
Jamie will be holding an artist’s talk on Saturday, January 19 at 2.30pm (free) where he will discuss the exhibition and his wider practice.