You’re known for your immersive, walk-through installations, but your new works are a departure from those…
‘I started to think about the last three shows I’d made and how the spaces that people had to enter were absences in some way. So I decided to do the opposite and make a presence, something votive perhaps. I realised what was missing was the figure so I began to think about puppets – or ‘poppets’ as they were called in old English – and the superstition and fear around the dolls used in witchcraft. The work is about belief in an object that can have mystic powers.’
Can you describe some of these creatures?
‘I’ve made three large skulls out of plaster and hessian and a series of primitive structures from chicken wire. Although there is a dash of self-portraiture to these abject busts, some of their heads have rolled off to the side so there’s also the notion of a tomb or a burial ground, which comes from the megalomaniacal Turkish king Antiochus who built these absurd monuments to himself. My version is more like a structure to predict the future of my own making.’ This is your fourth time showing at Matt’s, so what has changed?
‘I made a conscious decision to limit myself to a tiny budget – to force myself to work a certain way and with certain limitations, which wouldn’t require lots of fundraising. Obviously, in 1999 I used the time and money I had to the fullest to make ‘Coral Reef’ (since bought by Tate), but Matt’s Gallery has always been a very productive space for me. Because I have no studio, a lot of the materials are cast-offs from past exhibitions; one of the pieces is made from my old work trousers, for example. Building the work is always an experiment.’
You’re from Leicester but are now firmly based in London. What are your inspirations here?
‘It always used to be the British Museum’s Assyrian wall reliefs, depicting these god-like figures. Or else the cast courts at the V&A or the Museum of Mankind, which was also somewhere I loved. Ultimately I’m a frustrated archaeologist. I began the course at Reading but gave up after a year. I’m amazed Richard III turned up in Leicester, he couldn’t have found a less glamorous resting place. It was probably one of the car parks my mum used to use when I was a kid.’