Artist George Henry Longly works across several media to explore issues in architecture, composition and design. For Park Nights, Longly creates a specially-commissioned performance evening reflecting on the concept and structure of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 designed by Sou Fujimoto. Entitled GHL, Longly’s performance borrows from the structure of a fashion show.
Choreography: Carlos Maria Romero
Styling: Max Allen, Make-up: Thom Walker
Performers: Jermaine Ampomah, Joe Bishop, Heather McCalden, Fergus McIntosh, Jamie Neale, Melika Ngombe, Max Percy, Max Schumacher, Thomas Snee, Adelene Stanley and Alice Tatge.
20th September 2013, 8pm
Photos: Yousef Eldin
London Evening Standard, 20 of September 2013
Hip artist-cum-DJ George Henry Longly is turning London’s most stylish pop-up space into a catwalk for one night only. He’s using the fashion industry to talk about the art world, he tells Ben Luke
George Henry Longly is a name from the trendier corners of London’s art scene. He’s been carrying the tag of “one to watch” for a few years but this looks like his time now. He’s already featured in several group shows at top contemporary art galleries this year, from David Zwirner in Mayfair to Laura Bartlett in Bethnal Green, gone solo at the Laure Genillard gallery in the West End and, this week, he sticker-bombed Shrimpy’s, the hip restaurant in King’s Cross (on view until Sunday).
Longly DJs, too, at the oh-so-provocatively titled Anal House Meltdown club night-cum-art show at the Vogue Fabrics club in Dalston, alongside two other artist hotshots, Eddie Peake and Prem Sahib. The trio, who feature in the ICA’s current subculture show at Selfridges, have also linked up with artists such as Anthea Hamilton and Nicolas Deshayes in a scene whose energy and camaraderie recalls the YBAs’ Nineties explosion.
The 35-year-old Longly is wary of the labelling. “We’re all very close, and it’s something that people find interesting and want to highlight,” he says. “But from my point of view it’s about mutual respect, an appreciation of people’s work, alliances and just getting on with people.”
We are sitting on a bench in the shade of trees overlooking Sou Fujimoto’s Serpentine pavilion. Longly, puffing on the occasional cigarette, is discussing his plans to transform the delicate, open cloud of white steel bars which proved a perfect place to relax over London’s long balmy summer for his Park Nights event tonight. The pavilion, he says, is an “amazing structure. I love it. And I like being able to climb on to it — it’s super interactive.”
His idea for his one-off for the Serpentine — part of their regular series based on artists’ responses to the pavilion — is to put on a fashion show with a difference.
“The fashion show is this intense period of theatre, performance, emotional response, movement, sound and lighting,” he says. “That was a good way for me to think about how to deal with this space, because it’s a pavilion anyway and fashion shows happen in these sort of places.”
Fujimoto’s structure prevents a standard runway presentation. “I started to think that it could be more like a salon presentation of a fashion show,” Longly says. “Like the fashion shows from the Fifties, where models moved around a space, there was a voiceover and a critique and almost an element of pageantry.”
So what’s the difference between his performance and an actual fashion show? “I’m trying to use the fashion industry to talk about the art world in some ways,” he says. “The garments and the models are one part of the experience but the other thing is this voiceover and the music soundtrack. And then there’s lighting, and there may be some atmospheric devices like smoke.
“The whole thing is going to be a performance, quite clearly — it’s going to be oblique and I just hope it’s going to have some sort of message. But you’re not going to know until you experience it.”
Although it’s a new departure for Longly, the performance links to his main theme — the meeting of art and everyday life, the sublime and the mundane. He doesn’t want to make cold and remote objects but to make a better connection with viewers by working with the stuff of daily life.
His wall-mounted marble sculptures, which he calls posters, express this in arresting and often funny ways. He takes slabs of the classical material and, with a suggestive wink, pokes through or sets into the surface objects that suddenly seem phallic — everyday items such as pens of Touche Éclat make-up or the cans of Regaine hair growth product he uses (his blond hair is slightly thinning), or clubber-friendly canisters of nitrous oxide or “laughing gas”.
He also makes plywood daybeds, partly inspired by minimalist artist Donald Judd’s furniture, but again subverted with unlikely objects, including beauty products, fruit and other works he has made, such as plaster casts of body parts (torsos and thighs). He sees them as being “somewhere between a piece of furniture, a plinth, a mood board and an analytical couch”.
The clothes for the Serpentine performance are provided by fashion brand Cos and Longly sees them as an extension of his sculptures. “The way I cut through marble or push one material through another, I will be doing the same with their clothes,” he says. After the event, he adds, “we’ll think about these garments as artworks”.
A frequent motif in Longly’s work is the snake, sometimes cut into the marble or stuck on mirrors in sticker form — an emblem of the power of symbolism and art’s ability to create strong emotion. Real snakes feature in his luxurious trailer for the performance on the Serpentine’s website, slithering through one of his sculptures. He sees the snakes as a kind of signature and they often accompany his initials, GHL, increasing the sense that he’s creating a branded output.
“I’m not trying to be coy, I’m being quite frank that this is what I do. I am going to put my name on it,” he says. “People call me GHL as a joke, and my DJ name is GHL Please, so it’s just an abbreviation, like OMG.”
You might expect Longly to be a Peckham or Shoreditch resident but he lives in Margate. “I have a bit more clarity there and fewer distractions,” he says. And though his boyfriend and most of his friends live in London, he says: “I can go away to Margate and get on with lots of work and come back.”
Despite the sometimes whimsical feel to his creations, this is an artist with lofty ambition. “I want to create work that has the power to change your life at one extreme,” he says. “I want to make work about this moment, now, and making a marker for now. I want to undermine things and to be exuberant about other things. I think that’s all we’re trying to do as artists.”
George Henry Longly’s interview for COS on the 16th of September 2013.
1. Why have you chosen to work with the format of a fashion show?
I have always been interested in fashion but I think the idea to do a fashion show seemed to me like the most obvious thing to do given that the venue was a pavilion - I can imagine a fashion show happening in this type of venue, a temporary structure in The Royal Parks. I feel comfortable borrowing on the structure of the fashion show to make such a large scale performance because it is a simple structure and you can do so much with it. It can also be traced back to the fact I did my masters at St Martins and the activity and production that was going on the other side of school had a real affect one. This intense creative labour and output that the fashion students were involved in sat in opposition to what was going on in my course - two very different working methodologies. I want to make a parallel between the output of this industry and the creative production at play in an artist’s work. As a creative industry, the fashion industry produces an enormous amount of new material every season, and drives tastes and opinions - trends come and go - trends from the past are picked up and re explored from a different perspective. Contexts change and new visual language is created. Its the same with art history. I have always aimed to deal with themes of cultural production: how do we go about producing an artwork, and what relationship does this have to other forms of production?
2. How do you think the 2013 Pavilion space will affect your performance?
The 2013 Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto is a natural performance space – if you look at how people interact with it on a day-to-day basis, you notice how small sections of them become tableaux vivants without people even realising. To a great extent, the shape of the Pavilion will be defining in the choreography of the performance. I am working with choreographer Carlos Maria Romero on creating a set of movements that recall those of fashion shows throughout their history and how we can make the models represent the artworks but not in a passive way. There is a lot of attitude and in this performance. It been amazing working with Carlos.
3. Could you tell us about the different elements that make up the show?
The process of developing this performance involved many different elements, from the creation of sculpture to working with dancers, who will play the role of the models. It also involved shooting a new film, that exists in the world as a precursor to the performance. In this film, which is an integral part of the Park Nights event I drew from the mood and visual language of fashion films. I produced a marble sculpture with water-jet cut-outs – in the film, snakes move in and out of these cut-outs in a musical crescendo accompanied by an original score by composer John Hannon. Here, the snakes stand in for the cultural products that I embed into my sculptures. In the performance, specially modified garments will become the surface through which performers – dancers – will become sculptures themselves.
4. How has your research influenced your approach to this performance?
From the outset, I was interested in looking at workwear - gloves, uniforms: all garments that signify some kind of production and labour. So I did a lot of research into different forms of workwear, as well as the history and evolution of the fashion show. In the case of these Park Nights, COS, who are sponsoring this year’s series, have provided the garments – I really see them as a form of workwear for the cultural industry, so I wanted to transform those into sculptures.
5. You have previously used words in some of your work. How do you wish for these messages to be perceived?
Letters and words are embedded in my work. Often, I use these as slogans, for example, my initials, GHL, or the word ‘labor’ or the year ‘2013’ which stands in for the idea of cultural production and art-making and mark a moment. I want people to interpret these words as people interpret words in the visual field in general: partial signifiers, hints, indications that appeal to one’s own history and sensibility.
George Henry Longly has always been a stickler for the snake motif, and his new work is certainly no exception. The sensory trailer presents a marble structure, punctured with perforations and set amidst a heaving dramatic score by composer John Hannon. But particularly striking, is the multitude of glossy reptiles meandering, and erectly coiled in the eyelet-punctured panel. In this instance, the sculpture is literally brought ‘to life’ as the crescendo rolls and close-ups of ebony forked-tongues and scaled forms tighten around the composition.
Longly explains, “In this film, the snakes stand in for the cultural products that I embed into my sculptures.” Visceral and threatening, it is in advance of Longly’s specially-commissioned performance, part of the Park Night’s series held at Sou Fujimoto's latticed Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Art is come alive.