The concept of a conceptual art discussion, held in a faux-Victorian salon-style parlour is the epitome of metaphorical marmite: some people would love a chance to languidly wax lyrical upon art, the universe et al, et al, et al. For others, this will sound like the conversational equivalent of pulling teeth.
Our hosts, the RCA’s Catherine Anyango – illustrator of the critically-acclaimed 2010 graphic novelisation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – and Granta Artistic Director Michael Salu, however, do a sterling job of making their talk accessible and engaging. Using projected examples from their own publications and exhibitions the pair narrate their creative processes, spanning from initial mandate to final execution. Salu’s work on Granta – a quarterly of new writing in which submissions are selected by way of a central theme: Horror or medicine for example – proves a particularly comprehensive example of this idiosyncratic creative process.
Discussion is made only more inviting by the sense of humour Anyango and Salu manage to constantly retain about their work. Neither sardonically stuffy nor compensatorily self-deprecating, Salu’s conclusion that he’s ‘basically obsessed with bodies’ and Anyango’s admission that she somewhat enjoys the limelight only serve to consolidate the notion that these are two people truly trying to communicate through both their work and their words, rather than examples of the contrarian obscurantism pop culture so often loves to tar artists as. The pair are not too embarrassed to turn to one another and ask relatively basic questions about one another’s work and are at all times invested in the answers.
As charming as our hosts may be, criticism could be directed at the autobiographical slant such an example-led approach lent to discussion. Working through the story of their numerous projects means discussion of conceptual art never really leaves the locus of their lives. As interesting as these anecdotes are (Anyango’s work Breaking Point is particularly stunning), such personality-led technique skews the original objective by which the show was advertised. However, this will forever be a problem for discussion of art in the abstract (and the abstruse), and it is in a sense the fact that this talk proves such a departure from generalised pseudo-intellectual babble that makes it so refreshing.
The process of the conceptual is one that travels from idea to execution and if this talk’s journey from one to the other strayed a little, it doesn’t detract from the entertainment value of the final product.