Friday 11 July 2008

Isy interview


Location: Brighton, UK

How would you describe your art?: I tell stories from my life in cartoon form.

Currently working on: I just finished writing and illustrating a zine about mass catering on a budget for actions and gatherings. I’ll be starting on the next issue of my zine Morgenmuffel soon (which’ll be issue no. 14). I’m supposed to be doing strips for the anarchist fortnightly paper ‘Freedom’ but I seem to be really crap at deadlines and have lunched them out… oops.

Day job: Usually unemployed with stints doing crap jobs. I do also work with kids sometimes, and I teach women’s self defence, though I often don’t get paid for that. I also volunteer in our local libertarian, co-operative social centre doing the finances, cooking and sometimes doing the bar.

3 Likes: Uprisings, Co-operation, and Beer

3 Dislikes: Government, Bosses, Getting up early

Daily Inspirations: Self organization, collective resistance and solidarity

People & Artists you admire: my friends, my parents, Ian MacKaye and Alan Moore

Superpower you would most like to possess: ooh – can I have a few please? Some
combination of heightened senses and strength… along with telepathy, being able
to fly and walk through walls (I’m a bit claustrophobic, that’d help).

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This interview took place at the beginning of May 2005. All images reproduced with permission.

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Hi Isy, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
Enjoying the start of sunny days in the garden, drinking homebrew and reading comics… also looking forward to a busy summer, with the Dissent! mobilisation against the G8 summit in Scotland in July, other Anarchist Teapot mobile kitchen cooking jobs, and some travel plans.

When did you first develop your interest in drawing? Do you have any formal art training?
I always enjoyed drawing from when I was little. I was fascinated by illustration – I had my favourite kids book illustrators like those who did the original Narnia books, the original Pippi Longstocking books, and Maurice Sendak. Then I took art as a major in my last years of school, loved the actual drawing but hated all the waffle around it, and I’ve not had any further formal training – reckon I’d run a mile from art school.

I first became aware of your artwork via the ‘Go On Girl’ mini zine that you illustrated alongside practical introductory advice on self-defence for women. How did this project come about?
About 6 years ago, I hooked up with a friend I went kickboxing with to look at feminist self-defence. I knew some women in London who taught it, and we got them to come down and hold classes here, and we ended up organising our own skill sharing workshops too. We developed a whole programme, and got further teaching training through the National Women’s Self Defence Association. So, to further press the issue, and have something women could take away with them from classes, I did that zine. I think women’s self defence is a really valuable tool, and to me it’s not just about learning to fight off some guy who jumps out of a bush, but about taking control of all these situations that make you feel uncomfortable, low, ignored, trodden on, put down, and improving the quality of your daily life. The zine’s been reproduced all over the place, in lots of different countries, seems there’s still quite a lot of need for women to learn to feel safer and more confident.

In a culture that tends to value people’s capacity to destroy rather than create, how effective a tool is art for political activism (in terms of your creation of your cartoons and zines)?
Sometimes the urge to create is a destructive urge! Both in the sense of the creation of civilisation and its oppressive institutions and mechanisms, as well as the urge to build a new world on the ruins of the old… As for art – I can’t see it being a particularly effective tool in this society beyond personal expression, which has value, but is not political activism in itself. I do communicate through my zine in a way, and it seems with quite a lot of people, and it also seems to inspire which is great.

I read this quote by sculptor Dan Gilsdorf that stated: ‘with a population who knew they had the power to create their own worlds, to control their own identities, would we tolerate being told how the world works by supposed ‘’experts’’? In reality, the population does have this power - art is the proof’
Do you agree that art can be the proof of individuals’ unique power?
No, I don’t really. What’s missing in this idea are social relations. Individual empowerment is a great thing, but fairly meaningless if it isn’t in the context of how we interact with each other and society, how we do things and make them happen together.
Also, the world of art is entirely dominated by ‘experts’ or wannabe ‘experts’ who assign value to art, so I don’t think it’s proof as quoted.

In relation to this quote, to what extent do you see the art you have created as a representation of the world as you experience it, and how important has your artwork been in the creation and demonstration of your own world to others?
My cartoons are tales from my life. They’re entirely biased and solely from my own perspective. I enjoy my life, and the things that make me happy are things I want to share with others. I figure that people who read them get some sense of what I care about from them. But they aren’t a complete representation, and other actions and projects I’m involved in are sometimes a much stronger demonstration of what I believe in, even when I’m just cooking for people. Actions speak louder than pictures.

Has the DIY aspect of your art, i.e. publishing it yourself in your own zines, copyright free, enabled you more freedom, and lent you more of a knowledge and belief in your ability to create your own world? Or, conversely, to what extent has your art production come from the freedom that came from creating your own world, independent from the mainstream?
It was a natural option for me to publish my zine myself. Before I started my zine, I had already been printing leaflets, self-publishing writings, and also been involved in the distribution of self-published materials. And I appreciate that I can write and draw what I like, I don’t feel the pressure to impress, or to toe anyone’s line but my own. I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing it all myself – drawing, printing, collating, stapling, sending zines out (except for the part where I have to pay for postage). And yes, it’s a boost to your confidence when you manage to create something all by yourself, and then when people seem to enjoy it too!

How important do you think creativity, on an individual basis, is in order to survive and grow in this world?
If we’re talking about creativity in a wider sense of the word, as in making things happen that improve the quality of your life and/or other people’s, or even just give yourself a sense of fulfilment, and being able to imagine other options and ways of doing things, as opposed to just reproducing the status quo, then I think creativity is vital. And creativity really is all around us, (definitely not just in art galleries!), and this is an inspiring thing.

What impact does your belief in anti-copyright of your artwork and zines have on your relationship to and views of the genre of art, which is primarily dominated by individuals wanting to create individual, unique work that can be credited to them and them alone? Do you believe ‘art’ can be owned?
I don’t think art should be owned. The whole thing of wanting to be credited isn’t terrible in itself – I also like going ‘hey look what I did’, who doesn’t? Ownership of art, on the other hand, only makes sense if there’s material gain involved. And we live in the world of the commodity, so art is a commodity too. Which then also involves money, prestige within social hierarchies, competition, and a whole lot of pretension too – all things I’d like to minimise the influence of in my life. If I can avoid it, I don’t want things that I do out of passion to become commodities.
I also don’t like putting my full real name to my cartoons, because I don’t want them to be used as ‘Exhibit A’ some day!
I really like finding that stuff I’ve drawn is used in other places. It’s so cool, I even found whole cartoons translated into other languages! And even if someone took my cartoons and used them out of context/changed the text, made them express something else, I might get a bit pissed off but they’d have had every right to.

When I first contacted you about this interview, you clearly stated that you don’t consider your cartoons ‘art’ in any way. What does the word and genre of ‘art’ mean to you?
Well, my knee-jerk reaction to ‘art’ is that it’s a load of bollocks. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate a lot of conventional art. I always liked looking at paintings, illustration, beautiful architecture, statues, getting engrossed in music… But the ‘art’ establishment seems to be very far removed from my personal enjoyment. I’m being hugely dismissive here, but when people talk of art today, I hear pretentious bollocks and class privilege, complete alienation from everyday life and struggles, and lots of money talking. So, I get put off if I consider my own cartoons art. I just draw things, okay? I don’t draw things to express anything supposedly deep, or to make money, so in my book that’s not art.

You also spoke of how sceptical you were of the whole art thing/scene and how its dealt with in the UK, and you claimed, ‘especially in Brighton where anything to do with art gets tons of funding and is basically for the privileged while community centres get their funding cut’.
Is this part of the reason why you use your art as socio-political activism: in order to use art for advantageous means, to co-opt the above trends?
Well, see my answer above – I draw cartoons because that’s how I feel I can share tales I want to tell the best, and just try to avoid the trends mentioned above. But it’s a very real problem how art projects will get funded over projects that offer communities real benefits. For example, a couple years ago the council suddenly cut a whole lot of funding to community centres in Brighton. Funnily enough, this coincided with a theatre in town getting funding. In fact, this theatre charges between £6 and £20 for events, and runs an overpriced bar and café – surely it’s commercially sustainable and does not need further funding! Wankers.

Your comic zine, Morgenmuffel, depicts scenes from your life, your work and your voluntary commitments; connecting activism, education and anarchism with humour and realism. It never reads as a preachy or depressing zine, despite its often hard-hitting political historical and cultural reportage and truths. In fact, it’s a stimulating, important document of contemporary life and alternative political lifestyles that a lot of people can relate to, and be inspired by.
What inspired the creation of the zine, and to what degree does using illustrations and cartoons allow you the freedom to discuss issues to a larger audience?
How do you feel creating a cartoon zine differs from creating a written word zine; What power do you think images hold?

Thanks for the nice description!! I used to draw cartoons just for fun, and because my friends enjoyed them, and also because I’d experienced things that I thought would be cool to tell others about, I started printing them. It just turned into a regular project through discovering I enjoyed doing this, and also through demand from readers! To start with, I included more written bits as well – but I think I’m just not very good with words like that. I find it a lot easier to get things across in cartoon format. It suits me. And I think people relate to it better than if I used just the written word. I know for example that I’m often kinda fussy with what kind of books and novels I want to read, but if something’s in comic form, I’ll read almost anything. Also, I find that I don’t feel like I have to explain myself as much when I’m drawing cartoons than when I’m writing. I don’t have to be so big and clever which is a relief.

Do you find it easy to reflect upon, and report your own life via your comics and illustrations?
Yes, definitely. Things ‘order’ themselves somehow through doing this. They turn into panels! I remember the cool things, the bits that made me wonder at the world more when I start to think about drawing about something that happened to me. My friends make a lot of jokes about it. Anytime anyone does something stupid they say ‘oh, you’re gonna end up in Morgenmuffel now!’
Also, if I find I have nothing to draw about, I come to the conclusion that my life must be fucken boring at the moment and I should go and do something more exciting. It’s a good incentive not to fall into tediousness!

In the ‘Go on girl’ zine you write: ‘I don’t have to accept everything, ‘my lot in life’. This doesn’t have to scare me either. I can fight back. Take control of my life, demand respect and defend myself in a violent and abusive society that constantly denies my needs and desires’.
While I’m aware that this was largely written within the context of self-defence and physical attack and abuse, it is also featured alongside an illustration claiming ‘Life can be magic when we start to break free’, relating its message to much more than just self-defence, but to women’s lives, confidence and personal strength as a whole.
To what extent do you relate your words with your own life; Has developing, creating and using your artwork given you more options in your life, and allowed you to take control of your own needs and desires?
Have you found, however, that you have had to (or have chosen to) do this outside the conventional realm of ‘art’ or ‘society’ in order for your needs and desires to be fully actualised?

At all times, I’d rather avoid working within the conventional remits of society. This doesn’t mean I live by myself in the woods (though that sounds kinda nice), and for example, I teach self-defence through institutional adult education programmes, I work in normal shitty jobs, I talk to the licensing authorities about our license for our social centre, I go to the supermarket… But where I can, I want to try doing things my own way, and this has a lot to do with what you’ve quoted from me there – taking control of my life and demanding respect (as opposed to
seeking approval).
I think I would get pretty depressed if I didn’t feel I had so many options open to me; if I was on a one track road…
I’m not building some career, I’m not paying into a pension plan, but I feel confident and also actually excited a lot of the times about the future! I’m also hugely glad I don’t feel the need to buy new cars or put stuff in my hair to make it shiny. Not getting into financial dependencies gives you more freedom. I guess not having kids helps in that sense too (though my smoking and drinking probably doesn’t!).
I totally couldn’t imagine my cartoons being published by a mainstream publisher, hanging in some ‘proper’ exhibition rather than some squat, or getting paid lots of money to draw something… I don’t feel I need that, and these things would also inevitably change my own approach to my drawing and I’d rather not go there. Though if anyone randomly wants to give me lots of money, hey I wouldn’t say no.

I once read an interview with artist Stella Marrs who claimed:
‘If you get to live outside the normal system, you might have a chance for a different vision’.
To what extent, from your experience, do you agree with this?
How has this vision impacted on your artwork/cartoons?
I agree, in a way. It’s difficult to be ‘properly’ outside the normal system (also, I don’t know what’s meant here by ‘outside the normal system’ – are we back in the woods by ourselves again?) – capitalist relations are all persuasive and are nearly everywhere. But if you’re caught up in your routine, your career, your privileges, your hopes and dreams will probably be very influenced by these things and therefore quite limited. I’d also add: ‘if you live at the bottom of, or outside the normal system’ to the quote, because if you have nothing to lose but your chains, you might just give up, or you might find hope in a different vision.
But I think the best place for finding a different vision is in struggle. Look at what happens to people when they are suddenly involved in a community wide strike or other community resistance, or when they’re under some other direct attack and have to fight back. You find so many tales of building community, showing solidarity, just mucking in, overcoming differences, finding unknown strength, fighting back in unexpected ways, developing new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Artist Molly Zuckerman once stated, ‘I’ve always been an artist, or you know, an outsider, whether I’m choosing it or whether it’s put upon me’
What do you think the link is between artists and ‘outsiders’ as creative beings?
Do you find your position as an anarchist (an ‘outsider’ lifestyle, in terms of ‘’conventional’’ life choices; for whatever that means…) has prompted your creativity out of a necessity to produce alternatives?

Hmm, the whole concept of ‘outsider’ is a bit difficult for me. I want to be an outsider to the goals and values of society, and yes, in that sense I think you are able to develop your imagination better, because you want more options than those that are offered to you by society. But I don’t want to be an outsider to people – I want to be able to relate to others, their daily lives and struggles. When you’re an outsider to people, I reckon you either end up with some kind of superiority or inferiority complex and I don’t want either.
But fuck, loads of anarchists I know used to get picked last for the team in sports…

By being involved in ‘alternative’ art, outside of the mainstream artistic canon, do you think this allows you the opportunity to be a commentator on the dynamic of encounters between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, ‘difference’ and ‘inclusion’?
I think I just swear a lot.

For you, what is the most satisfying, and/or important aspect of creating your cartoons?
I’m always excited when I get into drawing (it comes in phases) and then I stay up half the night and just draw, and when a strip’s done I’m all pleased. When I’ve printed up a zine and get to run around and my friends actually get excited too and want to see it, that’s hugely satisfying. I also get a kick out of the way things I’ve drawn are reproduced elsewhere and just randomly turn up in other publications. Generally, I find it amazing that people can actually be interested in things I do.

1 comment:

Emerald Arts said...

Great interview, lovely read, thankyou :)