Transcript of Gregor Harvie Interview Video Content
An Interview with Gregor Harvie
by Nicola Barranger of The Interview Online
Gregor Harvie. It's an old story really, it's the story about
the rise of humans and their impact on the planet. We seem to have
this need to destroy the things that are around us, even when we
rely on those things to survive. GENE MEME holds up a mirror to
that pattern of behaviour and says, this is what we are, these are
the things we do, and if we don't want to follow the path of
hundreds of civilisations before, we need to act. So that's the
underlying story behind the show.
Nicola Barranger. And how did you translate that into
paint, colours and image? Can you talk us through, for example,
this lovely picture we're standing in front of which is full of
replicated reds, deep deep blues, and spotted with
GH. There will be fifty paintings altogether, and in the way
that our genes replicate, the paintings are themselves replications
and mutations. The subject of population evolves through the fifty
paintings, and they will dominate the gallery, in the same way that
mankind is dominating the planet. So some of them are very simple
paintings of cell structures and very simple organisms multiplying
and dividing. The one in front of us here is a much more complex
picture of an abstract crowd of people. They are not purely
representative, I think if they were, they wouldn't sustain
long-term viewing, they would be too obvious. But as abstract
paintings I think they engage us for longer and you can just about
read into them this kind of combination of a crowd of people and
also a spreading biological organism.
NB. Show me what you meant by the series.
GH. This one has this sense of a primordial soup and within it
there are cells that are dividing and multiplying, and you can just
see, hinted in the background, a single circle which could be a
cell coalescing or a life-form coalescing. But the cells are
spreading all the way to the edge of the canvas; they are filling
the painting, they are totally dominating it, in the same way that
the paintings will dominate the gallery. And the series goes all
the way through to this one where it is much more literal. This is
the far end of the spectrum where we can see definite body forms,
we can see shoulders and heads.
NB. It's far more clear there, you can definitely see
lots of people, far more representative of the human form than any
of the others.
GH. But it's nonetheless spreading to the edge of the canvas and
completely filling it. And then, in between, there are a whole
variety that range from just one single cell on the canvas through
to things that are combinations, cellular structures you could
imagine seeing in a petri dish, and yet if you engage with them,
you can also see just the hints of human forms in them.
NB. So is there an order that one needs to view these
GH. No. They are going to be displayed randomly, in the same way
that genes replicate and mutate. Life has this sort of randomness
to it, the paintings will as well.
NB. And if anybody wants to acquire one of these
paintings, taking them out of the sequence, it will have a life on
its own won't it?
GH. Yes. It's not a sequence, that's part of the point, it's a
random mutation, it's a spreading, so each painting represents the
NB. You're very generously donating a substantial
percentage of any sale to Street
Child Africa. Why Street Child Africa?
GH. They are very enthusiastic and a great organisation and they
got what we were trying to do immediately. It was important to us
that when people went through the installation, they came out the
other side feeling there was something they could do, that there
was positive action that they could take. So, for every painting
sold, Street Child Africa will offer an apprenticeship to a
vulnerable child in Ghana for a year to try and lift them out of
poverty. And some of the children that they are dealing with are
the first victims really, of the rising population of the world. So
there is a good resonance with the subject, and if we can use the
paintings to do something positive, that will be great as well.
NB. And it was important to you that you were going to
do something positive for the planet with these
GH. Definitely. I think the time of 'get rich quick' art is
gone. We've had the credit crunch, and we are more sustainably
aware now. I think it's time that art gave something back, it's
time that art did what it has always historically done, which is to
engage with social issues and to be part of society, not this
separate thing that's slightly baffling. I think we're going to see
more and more of this type of partnership between art and
NB. Have you seen other artists doing that kind of
GH. There's a tradition of artists donating a proportion of a
painting to charity. Artists using their subject matter to work
with the subject matter of a charity I think is something a bit
new. But it's something we'll see more of. The charity as well has
found it an exciting process because they've got a fresh
perspective on their own work and they've found it interesting to
be able to engage with art in a day-to-day way, contemporary art
that is part of the society that they are in, that it is saying
things about society that they recognise. So I think the charity
themselves have found this a very useful process to go through.
A public debate chaired by Radio 4's Geoff Watts will be held at
6:30pm on 10 June in St Pancras Church, Upper Woburn Place, London
NW1, followed by a drinks reception in the Crypt Gallery.