Jonathan Lewis: While I am waiting for Mishka to log on I should explain that we decided to answer David’s questions simultaneously using Google Docs across the Atlantic.
David Evans: What is Wasting Time on the Internet?
Jonathan Lewis: Wasting Time on the Internet is the title of a brilliant new book by the brilliant Kenneth or Kenny Goldsmith, depending on how well you know him.
Mishka Henner: I don’t know what to say about Goldsmith in relation to our show, though. He’s lurking in the background for sure, but why don’t we start with something else? Like, “Why An Act of Collective Faith?”
JL: OK. Well, it was you who came up with the title.
MH: Was it? I thought Andreas did. He’s usually much better at these things than I am. You are too.
JL: He has a talent for titles, true. Although I am pretty impressed with my own title for my eBay self-portrait which will be in the show: Cogito eBay Sum. What do you think?
MH: It’s brilliant. I love the combination of Latin with the dumb, base corporate name of eBay. I’ve no idea what it means but it doesn’t matter. Or does it?
JL: Have you heard of Cogito Ergo Sum? It’s a Descartes thing.
MH: I have now. It’s good.
JL: How about you? Which work in this show are you most proud of?
MH: Yours. Pride isn’t a word I’m very fond of. Deep down I have a bit of a complex. I think the series of explosions is good. I laid them out on the floor last night and they looked great. My Life is good too, but I don’t know if it’s finished or if it’s still in progress. I was thinking maybe I should take a page from each book and present them in a sequence, so you’d have page 1 from one book, page 2 from another and so on. It’d be like giving birth to a new life.
JL: Oh yes, I think I like My Life the best. It’s another kind of self-portrait, no?
MH: Yes, I think so. I find other people’s lives much more interesting than my own. I love seeing which episodes from their lives they choose to write about. It’s a difficult thing to do if you think about it and yet it’s fundamental. There’re a couple of books in the series that are filled with smut and, at first glance, they’re the most interesting. You wouldn’t believe the detail they go into. I wonder if they’re aware someone’s bought their memoir or if they thought they were self-publishing it in a void?
JL: I guess some of them think someone, somewhere will read it and they will become the next—what’s the name of the author of Harry Potter? My memory!
MH: JK Rowling? No, I don’t think so. I think the impulse to reflect on your life and memorialize it in a book is probably something quite universal.
JL: Shall we tackle David’s next question? It’s about cats.
MH: Well, cats is only one consonant away from being cars, which is what you’re showing. What’s the name of that work?
JL: Brilliant segue. Well, I don’t think I have a name for the series apart from I keep calling it “luxury cars”, which is pretty boring. The individual titles for each piece though are pretty good. I used the advertising taglines from each manufacturer so Aston Martin is Power, Beauty and Soul, the Bentley is Be Extraordinary, etc.
MH: They’re like chapter headings in a self-help book. Why luxury cars?
JL: Good question. I’m not sure why but I do find myself often drawn to the luxury end of consumer goods as starting points for a lot of my work. Maybe just because it is an extreme? Extremes are more interesting.
MH: What I find interesting about the luxury market is the amount of effort that goes into selling the idea and the dream. They use the best-looking people, the best ad agencies, and so on. All that effort to persuade you to spend thousands on a bag made of dead animal skin that’s been put together by tired workers for just a few dollars.
JL: Yes, and my ironic use of the ad lines, together with extreme pixelation, is an attempt to subvert all that. It’s my way of “owning” it all and laughing at it.
MH: How is your use of the ad lines ironic?
JL: Ironic because it’s all bullshit. A Bentley doesn’t make you extraordinary; or does it?! Maybe it does in these Trumpian times.
MH: I guess if you’ve got $100,000 to blow on a car that makes you pretty extraordinary.
MH: But maybe it’s more extraordinary not to buy into the ads. I’ve never really understood how people are convinced by them. Why the pixelation though? Why not blurring or some other Photoshop filter?
JL: I’ve tried blurring things. I don’t like it. Although I have blurred pixelated photos to some success.
MH: I think of your pixelation as computer vision. As in, you’re looking at these things through the eyes of a machine. Like your WalmArt series, I’ve always liked that about your pixels.
JL: There’s clearly a surveillance camera aspect to that series but it’s not deliberate. I do see the pixel as emblematic of our age, however. I’m just amplifying my environment. And I have always been drawn to the rectilinear in the history of art as an aesthetic: Mondrian, Donald Judd, Josef Albers. So, the pixel is perfect for me. OK, how about your new work? You made a big name for yourself over the past five years as the Google Earth guy, but much of what I think you are about to show is not. Am I right? Do you notice a development?
MH: Maybe it’s more of a regression than a development.
JL: Actually, you have always had quite a mix going on. It’s just the press who have labelled you.
MH: When I saw Oliver Griffin in Paris last month, he said you guys often see what I’m doing and ask, “what the hell’s he up to this time?” I liked that. I like eclecticism. I’m not only interested in looking at Earth from space, I’m also interested in language or self-published autobiographies and the lives no one wants to read about. The fact an explosion sounds different depending on the language you speak is interesting to me. And I think the anticipation of an explosion is the soundtrack of our age. So, when I realized an explosion is written differently in different languages, I wanted to do something with that.
It’s possible it’s already been done and we won’t know until someone points it out. But maybe it doesn’t matter. I have a tendency to overthink things to the point of inaction. It has a lot to do with the faith other people have in you, or the investment they’ve put into you. But the instinct that started everything off was “fuck it.” So, it’s important to return to that and not worry about things. What better way to do that than among friends! Also, I think interesting work happens when it’s made with joy and fascination, and I’ve enjoyed making these a lot.
JL: Yes, and in the company of like-minded friends. When it’s a dialogue as much as a monologue of brilliance.
MH: Absolutely. Art can be a lonely, solitary pursuit and the highs for me are always in the company of friends. Everything else is just work.
JL: Which is why our little network of you, me and Andreas chatting over WhatsApp has been so useful, to all of us I think.
MH: I often look at the thousands of messages we’ve exchanged and wonder if we should publish them some day. I guess there’s some kind of shared language between us, we understand the references and the jokes, as well as the experience of raising kids and being in long-term relationships while still pursuing the pleasure and pain of making work and getting by, with all the highs and lows. I think there’s an ecstasy of communication between us that isn’t always easy to find with others. We’ve known each other so long that we know each other’s weaknesses and can mock them confidently […] Hey, are we just showing four pieces in this show? My Life, eBay, Explosions and Luxury Cars? What about your Lewis Vuitton piece? Are you showing anything else?
JL: Yes, I am still working on gold leafing that. Also Loading, of all the arms manufacturers. You?
MH: Oh, there’s the Golden Ratio paintings and the Mishka Who? painting too.
JL: Did you try doing the Jonathan Who, Andreas Who versions?
MH: I’ve made lots of them but have yet to press the Publish button at the Lulu checkout.
JL: Shall we wrap this up? It’s starting to feel like a chore. We should also apologize to David for not answering his questions. I’m staring at a copy of Kenny’s book right now. I ought to read it instead of WASTING TIME ON THE INTERNET, albeit with you.