Monday, 21 October 2013

A Conversation with Beth Fox

Garageland reviewer Gala Knörr catches up with an old classmate to ask about the pitfalls of one-liner art and for some logistical solutions to transporting oversized Toblerone pieces.

I met Beth Fox whilst studying in the Central Saint Martins College of Art Master of Fine Art program a couple of years ago, a course on which numerous personalities, styles, mediums collided into one big ball of stress, nicotine addiction, thesis writing and art critiquing. 

Her work always stuck out when walking around the studios – extremely aware of its own flaws, almost innocently proud of its lack of craftsmanship and reflective of a humorous approach to how ridiculous life on the frontiers of the art world can sometimes be. When needed to give a lecture about her work to her peers, she simply imitated word-for-word the lecture of her previous classmate in front of the incredulous faces of her colleagues. From that moment on, I knew she would be one to watch.

On September 27th Fox’s first solo exhibition I'M CURATING MY OWN SOLO SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111 opened at Divus London, a small gem hidden away on Resolution Way Enclave, off Deptford High Street.

The exhibition, taken as a whole, is a perfomative piece about Fox's defeat and acceptance of her position within the art world – exhibiting drawings that reference her rather awful working conditions, being underpaid, malnourished, struggling to carry around the weight of being a young artist in the midst of recession, (or the weight of her giant Toblerone-piece shaped sculptures around South London) but always with a great sense of humour, seducing the viewers (and Swiss collectors) into the her world.

A day before the private view of her exhibition Fox invited me into the gallery that motivated most of the satirical sentiment behind her work and, over a cup of coffee and a trip to a gardening shop to buy dirt for her sculpture or ‘trap,’ she agreed to deconstruct the show with me.

I will always remember you mentioning that I should never confess to curating a show that I am exhibiting my work in, why have you decided to abandon the standards or etiquette you always followed by screaming it in CAPS LOCK like a twitter status?

I remember that conversation. It was a group show though wasn't it? And you were selecting all the artists... I told you to make up a 'curator name' and create a different email address and do it like an open submission, so you could pick and choose what you wanted and yourself but not have to deal with hurting anyone's feelings by excluding them. Artists and their delicate egos. We've all got egos like peaches. I think maybe that was my original intention too, to invent a weird curator alter ego, but then I thought no, fuck it, be brave and take all the blame or all the kudos. A bit of blame won't be as annoying as missed out kudos. I sound like an egotist.

But then, curating your own solo is an egotistical thing to do. It's just not done, is it? It's like buying your own birthday cake, lighting your own candles and eating the whole thing yourself. There's something really sad about it. But most things that are sad are also a bit funny. Screaming in caps is like saying 'hey I know I'm breaking the rules guys. Soz. Lolz.' And block capitals are amazing. 

Since we all communicate instantly online all the time now it's like the typed word has developed this whole different dimension, it's something that really interests me, how much we can judge someone on how they type. I used to internet date and if I got an instant message with an emoticon in it I just wouldn't respond. I'd be like 'this fuckin’ guy is communicating in brackets and colons.' Look at that woman who got fined for writing that thing about that Tory who turned out not to be a paedo, remember that case? A semicolon and a bracket is what made it a crime.

I remember your ‘trap’ sculpture from the group show last year ‘SOME CATCH’ at Cultivate Gallery, I noticed a certain change in the sentence it shows. Is this because you no longer have to complain about ‘the trap of irrelevant formalism’? 

Aha, I curated that one too didn't I? See, missed kudos. Once bitten twice shy. Though I don't actually really understand what the word “curate” means. I mean, I do but I don't understand how people do degrees in it and stuff. It seems like such a nothing subject really. Like geography.

But yeah, the trap piece, the sign used to say 'Beware the trap of Irrelevant Formalism'. I was collecting bits of advice from people; funny, opaque or baffling things people were told in tutorials. I'm fascinated by how we talk about art. Sometimes it feels a bit like that's what we spent five years doing, just learning how to say 'I like the way it looks' in a thousand different ways. But yeah, 'irrelevant formalism,' what a great phrase. I don't know if it really worked as a piece though, because it wasn't ever said to me, it was someone else's warning meant for someone else's work. 

One-liner art though, I've been told to watch out for that a whole lot. I like the idea that some pieces are just criticisms of themselves. The whole show is supposed to be saying 'Look, I know, I know, I know.' It's very defensive really; humour is defensive. I suppose it boils down to how I feel about making art. It's an indefensible thing to be doing with your life, but I don't really see what's so awful about one-liners. Some art has no lines at all.

I have documentation of you carrying your Toblerone sculpture on the overground, were you trying to attract Swiss collectors during rush hour? How did the idea of attracting the public with an endorphin inducer occur to you?

We got some weird looks carrying it down to the gallery. Oh the glamourous life of the artist. I had the idea last year after reading an article about the Swiss collecting art even in times of recession. I can't quite remember where I read it, I think it might have been in the Ryanair in-flight magazine, but maybe I'm just projecting that because the Ryanair in-flight magazine is just such a weird thing to be reading. 

Anyway, I did a drawing of it with a caption, but it didn't really feel like enough, and I wanted to make a sculpture. I trained as a sculptor but I rarely make any because they're expensive to make, annoying to store and transport, and pretty much totally unsellable. And I'm also not very good at making them. But that was beyond the point, because sculpture is also amazing, and I was getting sick of being asked 'what do you do?' saying I was a sculptor and then being asked what material I worked in. After a long pause I usually answered “text” in an embarrassed mouse voice.

So I made some giant Toblerone sculptures, and there's just something great about making small things giant; I'd never done it before. There are artists whose whole career is based on making massive versions of everyday things and I can understand why. There's something accessible about it and also something funny. People like to recognise things, people like familiarity. So much of my previous work hinges on art-world in-jokes, I'm not going to claim that they're highly cerebral or anything but they have a veneer of cerebrality. I don't think that's a word. Anyway, it makes a change to make objects that people smile when they see.

When will your Phaidon book come out?

Shouldn't you know? Wait. Hey, I thought this was for Phaidon.

Gala Knörr

I'M CURATING MY OWN SOLO SHOW!!!!!!!!!!111111 was held at Divus (London, SE8) from 27 September to 19 October.


  1. I love Beth Fox 4- evah+ Toblerone