On Saturday 9th July 2016, 6-9pm, Instigate Arts take over the main gallery space at HOME in Manchester to host our ‘Ambition’ pop-up exhibition. In this series of Q&A’s we get a little more insight into what makes some some of the participating artists tick. Here we speak with creative polymath Greg Thorpe:
Can you tell us about your practice?
No. Only because I don’t use words like ‘practice’ or ‘artist’ to talk about myself. In the piece I’m doing for ‘Ambition’ I refer to a long-term plan to turn myself into a sort of creative polymath to see what that feels like (I prefer the phrase ‘Renaissance queer’ but I’m a bit out of time for that!). It’s part of a bigger project to see if I could make a living from creativity, which is something I wasn’t doing for most of my twenties. So that includes writing, DJing, putting on parties, curating, producing, editing, all sorts of stuff. I try not to say no to anything that I’m invited to do, because that way there’s an organic path to whatever I’m involved in and I love that. I’m done with routine and order and all that stuff. Living that like made me quite unhappy. The thing I love most is writing. Aside from making music, I think writing is sort of the pinnacle of human achievement, but I want to push myself into performing because it helps to combat my shy impulses and that helps me in all kinds of ways, creatively and practically too.
How does your work relate to the themes of Ambition?
My piece is called ‘I was never no good after that night, Charley…’ which is the line that Robert De Niro’s character ad-libs in Raging Bull when he’s covering Brando’s ‘contender’ speech from On the Waterfront, which I also do a cover version of. Both films are set-texts in disappointment and regret and lost ambition. My whole piece is me talking or singing and it’s like a collage incorporating things that are thematically connected but emotionally juxtaposed – my own writing, a press conference speech from Madonna’s ‘Blond Ambition’ tour, Victoria Wood, Frank O’Hara. Because I’m interested in memorials, I also thought about people who have had their ambitions taken away from them in death, so I’ve incorporated that too.
Do you think the themes of Ambition relate to the current political and social climate?
Yes. Always. Ambition is one of those rare concepts that’s positive and pejorative at the same time. You can use it to praise or condemn, depending on the person or circumstance, it relates distinctly to your social standing. Hardly anyone gets rich by being nice, for instance, but ‘ambition’ is also a synonym for ‘hope’ and that’s thin on the ground at the moment. Hopefully art can help to generate it.
How important is the role of artists’, and the art world, in shaping both people’s lives, and the social and political landscape?
Art is one component of change, how big a component is an impossible equation to unpack, but I think art has a place in every social movement, and it should – it can serve to sustain people and it can remain more radical than your lived situation might allow. I think as I get older I understand that’s what Toni Morrison means when she says that art is ‘what makes another thing possible’. bell hooks is a key influencer on how I think about pretty much everything, and she talks about the possibilities that art is able to inscribe in the imagination of the young and the oppressed, for imagining the world you want to step into. How can we build a positive self-image and way of life if we can’t image it in art first? That becomes not just a possibility but a responsibility then. Having said that I also think it’s the artists’ entitlement to delve deep into themselves if they need to and to not feel an obligation to reflect, or reflect upon, the greater world. Whether that’s even a possibility is another conversation.
See Greg’s work alongside other participating artists at our Ambition pop-up exhibition:
HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester, M15 4FN
This is a free event and everyone is welcome.