GiG Munich is very happy to post a longer interview with Will Tuck, one of the artists participating in the USA show:
How would you describe your recent practice?
I’ve been interested for a while in subjects that could broadly be described as ‘fantasy’, involving combinations of mythology, children’s toys and pin-ups. More recently I’ve begun combining images such as these with ‘motion illusions’ – abstract patterns that give the illusion of movement. I’m interested in the idea of over-saturation in painting.
What were the last couple of shows that you participated in?
The most recent one was “The Future Can Wait” in London, and before that was a show at Tallinn University of some animal paintings that I was involved in.
How would you describe your poster for the USA show?
It is one thousand smiles cut and pasted from digital images of Playboy models. The smiles have been left at their original resolution and have been arranged from top to bottom roughly according to size.
America has been described as a ‘property of the world’. We all have an idea of America that we feel quite strongly about. Have you ever visited the US and if so, what did you find striking?
I have been quite a few times, although just to the northeast. The first time I went I was 11 and what I remember finding most striking was how similar it was to home. I think after the long flight I was expecting a more ‘foreign’ culture! The friendliness of people and the air of positivity I also found striking. It’s something Europeans tend to be suspicious of.
Is there anything you particularly like or dislike about American culture?
I think one of the attractions of the US is that there are so many cultures, not just in different parts of the country but in many cases different parts of the same city, so I think it is hard to generalize. In my own experience seeing guns for sale in supermarkets is certainly odd, and coming from England, where flags and patriotism have been rather co-opted by the far right, the more overt patriotism you encounter can be unexpected.
Much of what I would say is ‘American’ culture has so thoroughly permeated the way we live here that it’s difficult to separate the two. Watching something like the Simpsons doesn’t feel like watching a ‘foreign’ cultural import, just part of a shared popular culture made elsewhere.
Politically, obviously things like the death penalty and the religious right are ones that I find hard to reconcile with my personal experiences of the country.
‘Identity’ – whether this is a thoroughly American identity or the idea of America that we as non-Americans identify with – is one of the themes explored in the show. Would you say ‘identity’ is one of the concerns of your practice?
Maybe ‘non-identity’ is more of an issue in my work! The fixed expressions of the toys are very similar to the fixed expressions of the glamour models, there is a kind of mass-produced sameness that runs through it. Even the tool itself (the airbrush) is a byword for fakeness and unreality of surface. In relation to this show, I would say the majority of influences in my work are from cultures and movements, both high and low, that have their roots in America.
Does your poster expand on some of these themes?
I wanted the poster to address the notion of the ‘Pan-American smile’, but also the European skepticism of it. The decision to use the smile of the Playboy model comes from the airhostess’s ‘perfect’ smile that gives it its name, but also the smile that is endemic in American advertising. Going back to the notion of fantasy, the Pan-American smile is the great signifier of the supposed happiness that consumerism can bring. The smile of the Playboy model, who takes this logic even further to become herself the object of consumption, is this fantasy’s nightmarish conclusion. However, having a thousand of these smiles together gives the work an additional quality – the industrial scale seems to offer something quite personal. When I started making the poster I expected the finished piece to look far more sinister and ‘fake’ than I think it has turned out to be. Instead, the poster seems to have a sort of jolliness, which I find surprising. Maybe the smiles are genuine after all. WT 2013