David Bellingham is a Glasgow-based visual artist. Bellingham’s art explores the intense nature of language by examining its definition in terms of context and connotation. His works collect intellectual connections between text and images which play on the use of icons and ephemera as part of our everyday existence.
Upon meeting Bellingham, we initially discuss the concept of 'collective unease’ - the feeling of going into a gallery and needing to 'work out' art and their relationship to each other. The same too can be said for poetry. Expressive and intuitive by nature, Bellingham believes both literature and art should evoke and empower our instincts, rather than give in to the analytical, number-crunching theses of our information age. Inspired by the work of modernist poets such as Kurt Schwitters, Bellingham’s imagery often makes allusions to a more playful train of thought.
A lot of your work is about removing the complication that comes with labelling, which consequently addresses the relationship between literature and art. Is this something you consider when thinking of its audience?
A few years ago I made a piece that reads: Things have no need for words - words have no need for things, another version reads: Things have no need for names - names have no need for things. These works suggest that words and things exist independently of each other. In the work I make I treat words and things as raw material, sometimes I treat words as if they were things and things as if they were words but I try not to use one to describe the other. Rather than removing the complications that come from labelling, my approach is to suggest that the apparent interdependency of words and things is less absolute that we might think.
Your book Some Things challenges the widely accepted nature and format of storytelling with collections or archived material lying between the covers over a traditional script layout.
For me, your words summarise the connections between the literal and the visual themes of your work, particularly in Ideas leave objects standing. By creating an object you draw attention to a specific word, phrase or image. Am I wrong in assuming these three elements - text, image, and object - are connected?
You are right of course, I am interested in adjacency, of the placement of words and objects in proximity to one another in order to create a critical dialogue between language and the stuff of the world. A dialogue in which the visual enriches the verbal and vice versa. In an ideal work you might imagine word, image and form as separate units of sense that come together to make a greater unified whole. It goes without saying that I am interested in contrast and comparison - in analogy - where information from one field of experience is transferred to another. The success or failure of the work hinges on this overlap of information. Your observation that a ‘synergy of word, image and object’ opens out the possibility for complex readings is spot on. This overlap is where the work begins.
In bringing the various elements of a work together the aim is to frame a proposition or question, it is the job of the reader to take this proposition for a walk.
Do ideas leave objects standing?
yes, sometimes ideas leave objects standing.
Do ideas always leave objects standing?
No, sometimes objects leave ideas standing.
To some extent Some Things is a conventional collection of works, akin to a catalogue or book of poems, in that it consists of a group of linked works brought together under a single title, with a colophon and separate notes. Where it differs is in the space accorded to individual works, each of which makes use of a specific colour, size and weight of paper.Realised in this way each work can be read and handled as a separate object. And so Some Things amounts to a book, or box, of objects.
The importance of specific measurements, weights and colours of paper used in Some Things is evident within the meticulous quality of the publication as a physical object, but there is more to what meets the eye. There's a constant juxtaposition; for every seemingly simple thing you create, there is a complex network of ideas behind it with theoretical and historical references. Does research play a large part within your artistic process?
The work is a response to the world as I encounter it. In the most straightforward way it is a dialogue, or exchange, with the stuff of the world.
The challenge is to make discoveries through the process of making work, so I almost never set out with a plan. Ideally the work should be equal to the moment - something active, rather than something secondary that merely refers to something else. As such I would rather leave things in a provisional state, which leaves the reader with a participatory role in determining what the work amounts to.
I have no interest in knowing where I am going to end up before starting out. Obviously, I read and study while I am in the process of making things, it is just that I do not separate the tasks of studying and making - for me these activities are inseparable. Research is a term that has become overused and misunderstood in the art world; I prefer to use the word ‘study’ to describe the activity of reading, looking, concentrating and reflecting.
Whether a subject is considered ‘ordinary’ or ‘obscure’ is relative. One of the jobs art can do is offer up associations between different types of information and different ways of looking at things.
It is through these associations, through these dialogues, that meaning can be constructed. An old work of mine reads ‘Meaning is an Added Ingredient’ the implication being that meaning is something that is added to the pot by the reader; you could say that meaning is made by reading. Establishing that meaning is slippery and particular to the reader, does not imply that the works are without intention. My working process is one of condensing information, I usually start with a large amount of material that I chip away at until all that is left feels essential to what I am trying to say. I like to think of the works as knots that hold a few concentrated elements together. So the work is not really the pictures or the words or the objects but the mode of articulation. Which I suppose is akin to the old chestnut ‘it is not what you say but how you say it’. This does not imply I always understand what I have said. More often than not I consider the work to have failed if I completely understand it, the aim is to make something refreshing, that points in an unfamiliar direction.
Your work includes a wide variety of forms as can be seen in Sand Museum. Can you tell us a bit more about that particular project?
This summer I inaugurated a cultural institution called the Sand Museum. For a couple of weeks on the Danish west coast I set up an improvised sign each day and welcomed those on the beach to the Sand Museum. Handwritten flyers were distributed that read: SAND MUSEUM - COUNTLESS EXHIBITS - ALL DIFFERENT ALL THE SAME - OPEN ALL DAY EVERY DAY. The conceit is that every beach, desert and sandpit in the world is a branch of the Sand Museum, each full of limitless grains of interest. In due course I plan to make a guide book to the museum to be distributed on beaches and in deserts worldwide.
To find out more about David Bellingham's work, please visit: http://www.poetrybeyondtext.org/bellingham.html