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Interview for artcornwall.org by Katie Toms


Birmingham based Ben Sadler (born Birmingham 1977) and Philip Duckworth (born Iserlohn, Germany 1976) have been working as Juneau Projects since 2001. Together they create artworks across a wide array of mediums including installations, live and recorded performances, computer games and music. A recurring theme for the duo is the relationship between nature/rurality and technology/music. Their recent piece Trappenkamp, a structure made of panels of plywood machine-cut with images of woodland animals and motifs of folk mythology and containing moss and other plants, was installed in Tate Britain's Sculpture Court between 7 June and 26 October this year.




Why Juneau? Is it after the Alaskan city? What is the significance of your name?

Juneau comes from the city of the same name in Alaska. The name evolved from a band we were in called Ohne Projects. We were keen to use a name that was not our own names, to remain a certain amount of anonymity and to emphasise the fact that the work is an entity in itself , not the sum of the two of us working together as individuals. We saw the name as being akin to a band name. There was no specific reason for selecting Juneau. It was a word that we liked and that seemed to be sympathetic to both the work we were making and the things we were interested in at the time.

What is the biggest misconception about you and your work?

I think our early body of work has created the misconception that we enjoy breaking things (namely electronic gadgets). We have often been told that we love nature and have also been told that we hate nature. Neither is true. Nature is a difficult and complicated term and we are far from understanding it.

Describe your collaborative process. Who does what and how do you create a project together?

We have always tried to make our work together i.e. we share our production equally. We have always tried to split the work we make on a 50/50 basis. The reason we began working together was that it felt very easy for us to do so. We have no specific method for creating a project. Ideas seem to evolve and grow naturally through conversation and as developments of previous projects. We both attempt to have an equal input into the production of a piece. It is almost like a friendly competition where we push each other to achieve better results.

Why is collaboration with larger groups (eg: students) so important to you?

Collaboration has always seemed to play a part in our work., from our origins working together in a band. We began our collaborations due to specific interests and concerns. We liked the results that occurred when working on music projects with young people and children. It was these results that made us continue to pursue collaboration as a means of making work, not the desire to pursue collaboration for collaborations sake. We like the results that occur from working with people and it is these results that drive our interest in collaboration.


You say you are ambivalent about both nature and human civilisation, yet you often reference both and return to the idea of this collision. Why this fascination, and what do you hope to communicate or express through your work?

I think that when we have a coherent answer for that question we will probably stop making artwork...

Your early work was made in Cumbria (eg Walkman Lake above). Is there anything about this particular part of the English countryside that informs your work?

Our early work was primarily made at Grizedale Arts which is based in Cumbria. Their role in the development of our work was really important and a lot of our attitudes and interests were informed by the concerns of Grizedale arts and their programme. The Lake District is an interesting place. It is a popular destination for people wanting to escape to the countryside and yet it is a highly stylised presentation of the natural world, filtered through man’s interference to create a shaped idea of what rurality is.

Do you feel part of a Cumbrian art scene or group?

We feel a part of Grizedale arts, its concerns and programme. They have supported us since we first began working together as Juneau Projects. We are particularly indebted to Grizedale’s director Adam Sutherland who has supported and promoted us, while also helping us to develop our work. Beyond Grizedale we do not feel we are part of a Cumbrian art scene.

Do you aim to recreate or reflect the landscape directly in your work?

We do not aim to directly reflect or recreate the landscape in our work. Much of our relationship to landscape is through the filter of art and the position landscape plays within art history. We are interested in the details that occur in landscapes rather than the landscape as a whole.

Why are you Birmingham based? Do you prefer to live in rural isolation or a buzzing metropolis?

We like the city. Neither of us has a desire to live in rural isolation. We have discussed the idea and we are both pretty certain we lack the skills to survive in the wild for more than a few hours. Birmingham has become quite a natural home for us and has been very kind to us over the years as a place to base our work and lives.

We are interested in how culture and society mediate the majority of the Western World’s relationship to the natural world. The example we often cite is that of the stag: many people are more familiar with the stag as an image on a pub sign rather than from seeing a real one in its natural habitat.

Is there any period of folk history or place in Europe that you feel particularly connected to?

We feel most connected to British folk history and perhaps more specifically English folk history. We are interested in the development and decline of traditions and so feel no particular connection to any one specific period. Further to this though we are ultimately interested in the contemporary manifestations of traditions and in the development of new traditions.

Would you like to see a return to self-sufficiency and the land? Would you like nature to destroy technology?

No, we don’t desire this in any way. We do like films and books about this idea though. We are interested in the notion of cultural and technological apocalypse and its proliferation in mainstream cinema (‘Mad Max’, ‘Cloverfield’ etc). We like to consider the theoretical implications of the destruction of technology but only in the same way that mushroom clouds hold a particular fascination for Cold War kids.


Can you talk about your recent work Trappenkamp (pictures X2 above) for Tate Britain - what did you want to evoke with this piece and how did you want it to relate to the surroundings?

Our intention was to create an accelerated ruin. We wanted to create a structure that seemed fragile but also seemed to have a history or past to it. We knew we could not compete in scale with the Tate building itself and so we knew we would be failing before we even began if we tried to create a monument. As such we wanted to create a piece that was perhaps a ruined monument, a now functionless structure. In many ways the piece took up the idea of the folly. The folly is a really interesting structure: it has no immediate functional purpose and yet it is created. There is an intriguing relationship between follies and art objects.

You often create things and then film their destruction. Trappenkamp, seems deliberately created to decompose. Why?

We've often looked at destruction as a way to transform something or create a new thing from it. In earlier work where we exposed items of consumer electronics to destructive or uncertain elements we were doing it to highlight our interest in the proliferation of everyday devices like mobile phone and walkmans and also to create something new from them. The unexpected sounds and images produced was the main goal of such works. In Trappenkamp the slow process of decomposition creates new elements of the piece as plants and moss grow on it's surface.

Are you the performers singing to the cubs in Pastoral Ennui (pictures X2 below) ? Was it an awkward experience? What did the cubs make of it?

Yes, we do perform in pastoral ennui, alongside a troupe of cub scouts. It wasn’t an awkward experience, it was almost the opposite really: we enjoyed performing and people seemed to find it amusing and a little bit sweet. The cub scouts were generous enough to sing backing vocals on our acoustic countrified versions of R&B hits and we in turn joined in with their campfire singalongs. The cub scouts didn’t seem too phased about the whole thing. They hadn’t heard of Massive Attack but they seemed to know who The Fugees were and were primarily interested in the food and drinks available.

Your work seems very mischievous. Are humour and a sense of the ridiculous important to your work?

Humour is important to us. It tends to be how we discuss things and develop ideas. We like ideas that amuse us. We like working together to be fun. We find it quite hard to appear very serious about things. People often comment that we are not precious about the things we make which we sometimes worry translates as they think we don’t care. We care very much about the things we make and the works we present but we also realise that in many ways it does not matter. Details can be blurred but it can still be a good photograph.

Your work has been described as ‘mock romanticism’ – how much of your intention is to mock and how much is genuine romanticism toward the periods and symbols you evoke?

To call us mocking or romantic is perhaps inaccurate. We genuinely don’t feel aligned with either. We have a great respect for Romanticism but know that we are not romantics. Humour is something we enjoy and this perhaps can be interpreted as mocking but it is not our intention to critique Romanticism. We like to use elements of Romanticism to explore the ideas we are interested in.

You show an interest in paganism, but do not seem to reference any other existing world religions. Is this an accurate interpretation, and does religion not interest you?

Paganism can be seen to share many parallels with world religions. Folk histories often mix up religious beliefs with more pagan attitudes and traditions are often much newer than they might appear. We have no specific interest in religions within our work, paganism included. We are interested in the traditions and customs that can spring from beliefs and their malleability.

In your work where does music end and performance art begin (and vice versa)

We are still trying to work this out. It is a grey area that we have not resolved. We have always performed in a way that feels natural and comfortable for us and it is this attitude that shapes the decisions we make in terms of what we do live.


Are you inspired by any artists in particular?

‘Guitar Drag’ by Christian Marclay was the piece of work that informed much of the genesis of our initial ideas and conversations. We tend to be most inspired by vernacular artworks: we are always moved by people’s urges to make things away from any desire to pursue a career in the art world; our interest in Folk art stems from similar reasons also.

Where would you like your work to fit in a lineage of art history?

Birmingham's Broad St walk of Fame?

Juneau Projects also encompasses a record label. How does music inform your work?

Music has always played a massive part in our work. We talk about bands and music far more than we talk about artists. We like the accessibility of music. It is an amazing medium through which to collaborate with other people. It is also a very social medium. We know that fundamentally we are artists though. Although we look to many other fields of culture we ultimately return to art as our means of production.


What were your childhoods like - rural, urban? And what aspects of your childhood do you bring to your work?

Ben – I grew up in Birmingham and have always lived in urban areas. The rural for me as a child was the place of summer holidays and trips out at the weekend. As such the rural has always seemed to be a place to visit and not to live. In this way there is an appeal and mystique to the rural for me. In relation to this there is a familiarity to the urban which I find comforting.

Phil - I grew up in several rural locations, including an army base located on the green line between Cyproit and Turkish Cyprus. This involved a lot of building dens and catching lizards on the bondoo [scrub land] which sounds idyllic but we were surrounded by an enormous barbed wire fence and we also spent a lot of time throwing stones at electric distribution boxes in abandoned buildings to make sparks and melting our toy soldiers together into one big mass of limbs and machine guns [one of the first creative act I can remember] - so it wasn't exactly pastoral. Despite having grown up in rural areas, I don't really feel at ease there - the countryside is a strange place.

Did Phil live in a rural part of Germany? Is this where your motifs of stags, hunters, flags etc are rooted?

I was 3 years old when we left Germany, so I don't really remember it. My Dad was in the army and was stationed there, so we don't have family there. I haven't been back since, but I have an interest in Germanic imagery which has come across in our work occasionally. Most of the heraldic and romantic images we use come from an interest in what those kinds of symbols mean now, if anything. We are drawn to the redundant machismo and inflationary over-use of such imagery, where the heightened sentiment gives way to a kind of sadness.

Do you think growing up in the Eighties is important to your sense of identity and the work you have chosen to make? Why?

Ben - I think the nineties are perhaps more important to our identities. I think for both of us it was during the nineties that we started to take notice of culture. The impact of Nirvana and grunge as a whole was massive and for me was the turning point in my desire to make things.

Computer games are often referenced in your work, did you play them a lot as children, and do you now?

Ben – I played computer games a lot as a child and still do play them. I enjoy them in the same way I enjoy reading. I like the immersion that can take place. Some computer games are bad and I have no engagement. Others can result in me surrendering days of my life to the task of completing them.

Phil - I think I played computer games less, but I'm interested in the way they can be used to engage an audience. The audience need much less encouragement to get involved with a computer game style piece than other kind of 'interactive' or 'reactive' works, including computer based interactive work. It is something that is instantly understood and people can take part and then engage with the ideas in the work having already become a part of the work.

Are you fans of any particular music genre (e.g. Emo). Or is your interest in certain music and fanbases from a sociological point of view only?

Our interest in music genres is very much linked to our interest in traditions and their development. We like the way genres evolve and split, creating narrower and narrower genres that often subsequently become mixed together again in the creation of a new genre.


Are there any projects you would love to do or people you would love to collaborate with?

Andy Turner.

What’s next in the pipeline for Juneau Projects?

We have a new piece of work opening at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s Waterhall next week, which is a new piece commissioned by Associated Architects, a Birmingham-based architectural company. We have created a sculpture that will be assembled from the costumes of five flag bearers who will process to the gallery during the exhibition opening.

We also have an exhibition, ‘The Principalities’, at Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University to mark the end of our fellowship at the university. The exhibition opens at the start of December. The exhibition will build on our recent piece ‘Trappenkamp’ and will see us creating an elaborate set of stages from cardboard.


For more on Juneau Projects go to http://www.faprojects.com/ or http://www.juneaurecords.co.uk/