David Mach – Disruptor
Adding Fuel to the Fire an early installation piece was assembled from an old truck and several cars engulfed in close to 100 tons of magazines, individually arranged to create the impression that the vehicles were being caught in an explosion of flames and billowing smoke.
Mach’s Polaris installation exhibited outside the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, London in 1983 recycled 6,000 old car tires into a 1:1 scale recreation of a Polaris submarine. By the early 1980s, David Mach had started to produce some smaller-scale matchstick sculptures of heads and masks. When one of the heads was accidentally set alight, the results added something to the original sculpture, so much so he has continued to set them alight as a kind of performance art.
Mach has produced a great range of public artworks including Out of Order in Kingston upon Thames, the Brick Train, was inspired by a LNER Class A4 Mallard steam engine. Made out of 185,000 bricks and his Big Heids can be seen from the M8 on a stretch of highway between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Collage is another facet of Mach's art. They came about in part because he often had thousands of magazines full of imagery from after his installations were to be taken apart. Experimenting with collage continues, and one of the largest ever made was National Portrait, a 3 m by 70 m collage made for the Millennium Dome rife with images of British people working, playing, living.
Mach studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (now a school of the University of Dundee), Dundee in Scotland (1974-1979), then at the Royal College of Art, London (1979–1982). Mach was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1988 and joined the Royal Academy of Arts in 2000.
tonnes newspaper, Jeep vehicle, other elements, © David Mach
JKG: David, I have been following your work for many years. In fact we met over 20 years ago when you made an installation at the British Now show in the MACM. Even then, I could see your art was connected to society, through the recycled materials, the Pop references, and the way you put together ran installation. You remained connected to broader things than just the art world…
DM: Well, you are either a believer or you aren’t and I’m not really! From early on, I have been a kind of material junkie. I like a fresh approach, unplanned, and I get a direction as I work on a project…. I move from one object or element to the next, back and forth and gradually it tells me what shape it will become. It’s a bit like being a giant wasp, buzzing back and forth. I am driven to do that…
How did you start making art?
It was largely by mistake… As a kid I grew up in a furiously industrial landscape also a beautiful country as was part of this beach and coast line. Everything was happening at the same time – mining, oil rig platforms, brickworks, whiskey - I thought it was the centre of the universe. Everybody worked pretty hard and the name of the game was effort. What you put in was what you got out of it… As a kid I was good at art in a small town. An art teacher, Mr. Barclay, I see him still, advised me to go to art college, but said, “You won’t get in you do not have to enough in your portfolio.” So I worked at it for a couple of weeks, and got into art college. I didn’t know much about art and didn’t for a long time but I enjoyed myself incredibly. Silversmithing, jewelry, welding and all sorts of things. I knew there was a possibility of making art., but I had no idea how to make money through art. I discovered I had some ability and if I had a crazy notion, I put it down to wildly eccentric parents.
And you made a memorial to the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade based in Leven and friendship and connection made to the people of Fife. Your father who was a miner, joined in 1941 after serving two years in a POW labour camp in Siberia . The brigade trained at Largo House before being dropped into battle at Arnhem.
The memorial is made of stone and bronze nails hammered closely together to form a kind of shield or scaly skin.
And your first show was in Edinburgh, Scotland?
My first show was at the Alison Gallery in London, and followed quickly by the New 57 Gallery and the Galerie t’Venster in Rotterdam. I had just left art college. For the New 57 show I put up some drawings up and six people came to see the show. It was raining and I vowed never to have an opening on the same day as a National Holiday event like Guy Fawkes. I have had quite a few since then.
Italy 2015, 427 x 244 cm, © David Mach
So there is this strong hybridity of the industrial and natural and it’s all done with an immediacy. It’s a kind of language, and a point of access for the public. Were you at all aware of Joseph Beuys coming to Edinburgh?
I was aware later on when I came to art college. Before college I heard about Dali, cause you could buy a poster at Woolworths and I’d been to museums. I was more interested in sex at that age. At college I had fantastic drawing classes that exhausted you. We were taught by masters in the good old fashioned sense. They all taught you how to see.
The physical world is so important but this strange dichotomy between the new technologies and the physical and material is something young artists are trying to deal with now.
There is a strange virtual reality menace. If I walked into that thing along a beach cause and I was not looking it could hurt me. I would notice it was heavy, and had a presence. If it’s virtual you don’t get that.
Incoming at the Griffin Gallery in Notting Hill is like a kind of surreal admixture of Baroque landscape with recycled magazines, and an actual Jeep. It’s the product and refuse mix that we now live. We feel the scale of production, and the unreality of scales of production. It’s as surreal as a Dali, this re-purposing of media materials and product. After the show you return it all to recycling from whence it came. It is all so temporal.
DM: The installation uses fantastic groinwood from the south coast, a Wrangler Jeep, We have got to 20 tons of newspaper… It grew into the space. Usually there is half a plan, I get the materials in and build the forms, newspaper by newspaper. When I started making these things there were not even mobile phones.
These new works you are working from found tree trunks, wood forms found along the beaches in Scotland are so powerful. They may be your best works!
I walked by this piece on a beach for five years, and then decided to make a sculpture out of it. It comes from life. I like the accessibility. It’s common currency. Inside is this wooden form and you are covering it with thousands of nails. Full Metal Jacket is what I will call that one, giving it a jacket using carpet tacks…. Other pieces are made from 120,000 drywall screws. It is the slowest way known to man making these sculptures. The thing is the colour is like gun metal, and it gets a kind of sheen to it. It is quite an odd thing, just from carpet tacks. They are like tiny bits of shrapnel you are covering the whole tree form with.
The narrative you are developing is already there in the tree trunk, worn by time. Then you bring a human layer to it, and, over time, find a human voice to add to the nature layer… You are adding a story telling aspect with these covered tree pieces. The story is an ancient one, this intertwining of natural and man-made. It’s all in the flow.
Your new collage works have a stop action type feel to them. The scenarios are comparable to the epic Hollywood films and they’re full of humour !
The collages have accelerated into enormous things, in the scale and scope of Cecil B. DeMille’s films. From one or two items put together they became like films. The collages are on PAUSE. You press PLAY and all the elements MOVE ! You get all these details like the Tower of Babel and a man with a donkey pushing a TV up a hill. It’s like being a film director making them. Bring in the horses, bring in the hippopotamus, bring in almost anything. Collage is fantastic. You can do anything!
And with recent shows like Alternative Facts at Dadiani Fine Art in London (2017), the range in the collages is infinite… You are rebirthing the collage artform…
I have done incredibly well out of collage. Post card collages, collages that illustrate ideas for my sculpture and the large scale which are independent works of art. The biggest show I ever made was 80 of those self-contained pieces. Some were ten feet tall and twenty feet long. It took some five years to make all the works in the show. The collage show was in City Art Centre at old station in Edinburgh. It had a studio and we worked on site. It has travelled to Galway, Italy, and it is still travelling…
On the south bank you produced a piece POLARIS recycling tires, even before Earth Ship architecture, a comment on the threat of nuclear war. Did the public respond to that?
The public response to Polaris was fantastic. I learned at art college to get out in the street o the park and produce art for the public. The reaction out there was no BS. People approached me with deep suspicion. What the hell are you doing? I liked it. It pared things right down to a core of importance.
Artists who question globalization as you did with Out of Order at Kingston upon Thames with the sequence of old red K6 telephone booths. They are animated like fallen dominoes and you also had empty containers at another location. Now we have a post-industrial dilemma with robotics, and out sourcing to Third World, threatening employment….
I do feel like I am riding on a horse on a ridge outside the village. Looking down into it I can see what’s going on. Sometimes I can come down from the ridge… and get into the thick of it. I’ll end up on the ridge again and make other forays down. I seem to exist, creatively, quite happily there.
That unusual Brick Train work you made in Darlington is not an easy piece. With its billowing smoke, and tunnel, all made of brick, it’s an unusual homage to iron horses (not Clydesdales) of the industrial era.
It’s an image that I like.
The public probably likes it.
I am used to making things that seem impermanent but I consider I make permanent works of art. It’s not built to fall down. Bricks are the hardest material I have used. You are supposed to build things with bricks, but it’s a material QI struggle with. I can find a magazine or a coat hanger and make art with it, but working with 185,000 bricks in Darlington was never so easy.
And the pin pieces you make for a show at Forum Gallery in New York are kind of like performance pieces. You can light the match pieces up.
I made the urns were made with pins, based on patterns from nature. Very colourful, connected because of the nature of the material. After thrity years of making sculpture, collage, these new pin works feel incredibly rounded off and complete that I have produced for some time.
There is a beach In Scotland and sometimes I see I am just evolving what I have seen there. There are these concrete block on the beach, some of them have fallen down. I have to bat the ideas off with a stick, there are so many sources for art there on that coast.
Nature is the art we are a part of. The denial of nature goes back to early industrialization. The scale of your works with magazines is quite remarkable, like Landseer’s Scottish scenes but always this Baroque flow to it all…
I’m into industry in a big way and I like the common currency of work and accessible materials. These are things all people can understand, that they feel are part of their experience, part of life. If you put yourself out, it always brings something new. … I always considered my work a kind of Baroque minimalism. The physical world is sacred to my art as is work
Author: John K. Grande
A leading figure in art and ecology, John K. Grande is author of a range of books including Art & Environment (Friendly Chameleon, Toronto, 1992), Balance: Art and Nature (Black Rose Books, 1994), Intertwining: Landscape, Technology, Issues, Artists (Black Rose Books, 1998), Art Nature Dialogues (SUNY Press, New York 2003) and Dialogues in Diversity; Art from Marginal to Mainstream (Pari, Italy 2007). Grande has curated Earth Art shows worldwide at the Royal Botanical Gardens and Van Dusen Gardens in Canada, the Pori Art Museum, Finland (2011), Meran, Tyrol, Italy (2014), and the Pan Am Games in Toronto as well as many other venues. He curated Small Gestures at the Mucsarnok / Kunsthalle, Budapest, Hungary in 2016. John K. Grande’s writings have been published extensively in Artforum, Vice Versa, British Journal of Photography, Public Art Review, Ciel Variable, LensCulture, On Paper, Arte.Es, Artichoke, Border Crossings, Public Art Review and Landscape Architecture.
This interview is part of John's book "Art, Space, Ecology"