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