An interview with the artist Ryan Riddington

February 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Following on from  September’s Peripherique event ‘Chesterfield’ by Ryan Riddington we asked Alice Miller to interview Riddington for further information on the evenings themes . . .

Taking Riddington’s recent talk at Peripherique as a starting point, this interview expands on some of the themes and ideas that it raised, as well as giving greater insight into his practice and thought.

In your Peripherique talk you spoke on your interest in hip hop music. For those reading who were not present, could you briefly summarise what it was about?

– I pictured myself as an equivalent to the main character in the film ‘Wildstyle’. He’s someone who is making the most of the space and materials around him to find and develop a means of expression. I gave examples of sampling, appropriation and recontextualization of material, i.e. music and lyrics, to highlight means of research and making art.

The hip hop you cited in your talk was for the most part from a particular era, and embodies particular approaches and ideas specific to that time. The contemporary rap/hip hop landscape is in many ways a very different one. Do you listen to contemporary rap/hip hop at all?

– I do. Sites like Pitchfork and The Quietus cover a lot of hip hop and Dead End Hip Hop is great for watching review conversations and topics pertaining to the culture. The ideas and approaches used on ‘Maxinquaye’ weren’t specific to 1995, that’s just the context I discovered them in and how I relate to the methods. Before that I remember hearing ‘Peekaboo’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees on the radio and being told it was another one of their (unheard) tracks played backwards. A DJ had pointed out that MC Hammer’s ‘Pray’ was a rip-off of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. ‘Ice Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice and ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen. Having a relationship to the before and after of the material is what made the difference with Tricky.

You recently exhibited in Queer Self Portraits Now at Fred. Do you ever find it difficult squaring your love of hip hop with some of the homophobic sentiments expressed within that music?

– I listened to hip hop and its pop derivations for ten years or more before I confronted my sexuality. There were countless other personal and social matters that made and kept me repressed. I’m more conscious of it now and ‘outing’ yourself as a hip hop fan always invites derision from non-believers. Homophobia and misogyny are often used by men when they try to distance themselves from ‘female’ behaviour in their regular domain. ‘Males shouldn’t be jealous that’s a female trait’ – Jay Z in ‘Heart of the City’. In the film ‘Beats, Rhymes & Life’ the only instance of homophobia comes when rapper Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest accuses fellow Tribe rapper Phife of undermining their long term personal relationship, i.e. love, with ‘faggoty hurtful shit’. ‘Faggot’ has been used to suggest that I’ve ‘switched’ (chosen to be gay), I might ‘jump the gate’, ‘throw rocks’, appear ‘cherry faced’ and that if I was a sound man I would be ‘sabotaging shit’. It’s interesting to try and find out what things mean and why they’re being said. And better than listening to bad music.

Would you say that the music focused on in your talk has directly influenced your work? Or is it more-so just an area of culture you feel an affinity with?

– It has absolutely influenced my work. My attempts to move away from the flatness of the page began with using corrugated card, which I had seen on the cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Protection’ album. I can’t remember if I chose to use that material because of the music or if I made the association during or after making the piece, but the connection is there.

Would you say that you have drawn as much (or perhaps even more) inspiration from music as from art?

– To me they’re inextricably linked. I’ve not, as yet, become a musician or ‘Performer’ in my art but I find it hard to separate my recent need to stand in front of a camera from having recited the words to ‘Ebenezer Goode’ and ‘It’s a Shame’ to puzzled classmates at school.

How, if at all, do you think your years spent at the Henry Moore Institute shaped your art practice?

– My Sculpture BA (at Loughborough University School of Art and Design) was very traditional and prescriptive. At HMI I encountered sculpture as, among other things, a metal shutter slowly going up and down and video footage of someone dropping oranges in the middle of a busy road in Brazil. A photograph wasn’t something best avoided. I was repeatedly shown that you could think and make without having to justify everything as you went along, although sometimes the accompanying interpretations would do their damnedest to undermine this.

How did you find the Slade?

– After so much preparation I was disheartened to begin with and spent months procrastinating before I started to get to grips with London and being on the course. I was having endless tutorials and unwittingly using my knowledge of art history as a crutch. Inertia related to unfinished business with old work also prevented me from moving forward. Once I’d pulled my finger out and gained some composure tutorials – at certain times with certain people – became a way to get the most out of the situation. Some people were more open and responsive than others of course, and generally asking lots of questions didn’t always work in my favour. Towards the end I got some very good advice from a fellow student about choosing my battles, which at times would have saved me a lot of energy. To me that was the whole point of being there though, to be embroiled in art. For the final show I perhaps made the mistake of showing too much work, but overall I’m happy with what I achieved there.

Which artists, if any, have you found influential – either in recent years, or earlier on in your development?

– Tatlin’s ‘Monument…’ was an amazing discovery, although reading about it aged 19 or 20 in Herbert Read’s ‘Modern Sculpture’ made more of an impact than seeing a reconstruction of it three years later in Moscow. The 2007 HMI show ‘Fake/Function’ of Thomas Schutte’s early work was important, especially the ‘Grosse Tapeten (Large Wallpaper Hangings)’ which were made in 1975 and had been stored away until their exhibition in Leeds. The main thing for me was that the surface had been ‘damaged’, supposedly without the artist’s knowledge, and this aspect added a layer of pathos and fragility to the rather dry ‘decorative’ wall coverings.

Grosse Tapeten (Large Wallpaper Hangings) 1975 - Thomas Schutte









Would you say that there are recurrent themes or interests within your work? What preoccupies you as an artist?

– I’m interested in the disparity between shame and accuracy when thinking about the past. The pleasure of seeing in sculpture, as Paul Valéry once wrote, “form become emotion”. At the moment I’m particularly interested in hessian.

Could you elaborate on the “disparity between shame and accuracy when thinking about the past”? I’m not sure that I follow…

– It’s a (mis)quote from ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’ by Nietzsche. My boyfriend mentioned it recently and it struck a chord. Who does history belong to? How is it represented and why? What impact does it have on the present and could it have on the future?

‘If you don’t know your past you don’t know your future’ – unknown vocal sample from Public Enemy’s album ‘Fear of a Black Planet’.

Why the interest in hessian? Do you often find yourself developing an intimate relationship with a particular material as part of your practice?

– I’ve become interested in hessian since I found some whilst dissecting a Chesterfield chair. I like the structure of it. It’s like a condensed version of weld-mesh, which is also there and not there, but loose and hairy. It’s like a skin or boundary with the potential for building with or, in this case, being revealed in relation to the body and other materials. There have been periods where I’ve mainly worked with one material, e.g. 6-10mm steel rod for mig-welding sculptures or black, white and red gloss card for making collages. I would like to get back to using those materials at some point, or at least the more exploratory approach that I associate with using them.

I’d like to know more about your fascination with Chesterfield furniture. How did this body of work originate?

– It began in Beeston, Leeds, on May 20th ’08. Sunlight was streaming through the living room window and I was playing on the grey wooden floor with Vincent, a black and white kitten. From this low vantage point I had become more aware of the bizarre organic and architectural forms of my housemates’ burgundy red Chesterfields, so I decided to take some close-up photographs. In early 2010 I was crossing Bedford Square, London whilst a single-seater Chesterfield – minus cushion – was being lifted into a skip. After rescuing it I ran into the Slade to collect a trolley and then wheeled it up Gower Street into the media studio, where I was now based after spending my first year in the sculpture department. Three months of considering this worn out trophy from a distance didn’t give me much to go on. What coalesced in the form of a slideshow/video still needs more development. Eventually I plucked up the courage to engage with it by hand, i.e. with pliers, screwdriver and a hammer. The apron-like hessian and studded leather form which I extracted from the framework begged to be hung up and worn, a ‘performance’ that was later documented in the photography studio. Finding Chesterfields on the website of a London gay sauna chain led to the works ‘Chariots I-III’, as I realised in this instance that the politics and aesthetics of the space(s) were more pertinent than the choice of seating. In Beeston I had experienced how cold and uncomfortable this furniture is and, although second hand, I knew of their role in promoting a sense of the ‘Gentleman’s Club’. The scenario in Leeds unexpectedly led to an investigation of the Chesterfield and its personal and social currency, from its presence in exclusive homosocial and homosexual environments to a symbolic working through of a severed friendship and a consideration of the nature of being.

What work or works of yours would you personally rate as your most successful, artistically?

– ‘Correspondence’ (1999 – 2005), a wall mounted sculpture with attending shadow and a photograph of its profile and ‘Thumb’ (2010), a photograph of my left thumb. In Loughborough ’98 I made a pretty decent medium-sized metal rod construction but my earlier pencil drawings were apparently irrelevant for exam purposes. I couldn’t show how design + maquette = sculpture, therefore the intuitive leap I’d made from my sketchbook to three dimensional object was deemed invalid. This was coupled with the crippling imposition of the ‘Coldstream-style’ on my life-drawing. These were terrible ironies given the rightful importance placed on looking and drawing when applying for the course. ‘Correspondence’ began as a small, square, black and white drip painting, one of a number that I had churned out in acts of desperation to somehow prove how I thought in two dimensions. Salvation came in the form of building a contrasting organic and geometric metal structure from the surface of the painting, after which the elements were separated and all of the paintings thrown away. Lighting the structure whilst in a new plinth-based orientation resulted in the upright degree catalogue image and also that of its silhouette. Photography was a way of undermining the dependance on creating large scale objects, but at the time I didn’t fully realise what this image meant in terms of refuting the classical modernism I had been encouraged to embrace. It wasn’t until the group exhibition ‘Beauty of Shapes’ in Leeds Art Gallery (2005) that the components of wall-based sculpture, shadow and photograph finally came together. ‘Thumb’ is a marker of lived experience that was close to hand.

Thumb 2010 - Ryan Riddington


Peripherique would like to thank Alice Miller and Ryan Riddington for taking the time to conduct this interview.

Alice Miller is currently a member of the Information Team at the Henry Moore Institute

Ryan Riddington is a London based artist who worked at the Henry Moore
Institute for six years as an Information Assistant before studying on
the MFA at Slade School of Fine Art from 2008

The next Peripherique event UNRAVEL: the longest handpainted film in Britain will be held on Wed 22nd February and will feature a talk and film screening by Chris Daniels (Unravel) and Jo Byrne (Okolab)


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