After party at The Birdcage, 80 Columbia Road, London, E2 7QB from 21.00.


Click here to see images of ‘No End to The Era’ the Ben Cain Show



An interview between Ben Cain, Ryan Gander & Rebecca May Marston, 21st July 2007.

RMM: Ben, as we’re emailing this let’s start with why you live half the time in London and half the time in Zagreb? How is it splitting yourself across two countries?
BC: I’m in Dubrovnik at the moment. I live in Zagreb and London, but more London than Zagreb recently. It’s partly about work, I spend time where I have to. It’s also about spending time in places where you feel affinities, and where your working practice is supported, not financially but by the social/art context… A friend once said that I live in London, but that I’m in denial of that. There is the trauma of constantly arriving and departing. The experience of travel probably does inform what I make, you can maybe see it in my interest in the temporality of a subject – it constantly forming and falling apart.
RMM: How is it living in Zagreb? How is it making work there?
BC: I live in Zagreb because it’s small and big, because it’s not a lumbering mass, because there’s immediacy and potential, because it’s not over. It’s an interesting time now because things are being reformed after socialism, there are interesting questions being raised in relation to art markets and approaches to making and exhibiting work. The art scene is also very fast moving, accessible, publicly integrated and supportive. The next step will be to reform the art schools.
RMM: Do you have a studio in both cities?
BC: In Zagreb I have an enormous table, that’s where I work. I was there a month ago making drawings for a theatre set. I’ve been moving around a lot in the last few years, and now I tend to work wherever I can/am. Recently I staged a small meeting on the island Vis, near Split. Churchill was there, so was Nixon, Marilyn, Jackie, Joan (Baez), Tito, Hoover, Sartre, and a few others. What’s important is having some time and space, some encouragement, a place to put some bits of paper on a wall…
RMM: Um… What kind of a meeting was it? Sounds like a séance. Was it a work?
BC: Vis was a military base and therefore a safe place for Tito. Apparently it was here that he held many groundbreaking and world-changing meetings between various heads of state and so on. They took place in caves, or in James Bond–like underground labyrinths. Of course these meetings are built on myth but the stories are too good to dismiss. It’s clear that my reconstructions are ‘false’, but with a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief you can place my reconstructed meetings at an earlier time (or later time, or actually out-of-time, between times) and play with the ‘what if’ scenarios…
RG: I am really interested in the theatre set work you and your wife Tina, have been doing the last 4 or 5 years. The act of building a set or stage and the potential for illusions or situations to take place are not beyond the realms of what you do in your art practice. Is there a division for you?
BC: You’re right about situations and illusions, but the key difference is that in theatre, whatever you put on stage is often bound to a narrative and connected to function. Whereas in my art practice I’m much more interested in something less instrumental. Although my art practice involves sets for situations and illusions, and stages for subjects and viewers, it involves a much greater degree of ambiguity and is certainly not tied to the rhythm of a narrative.
RG: You sometimes work collaboratively with Tina. Can you tell me about that? Even when you work alone you use her image or voice frequently. Is she your muse?
BC: I often use or invent characters that are part of a near reality. When Tina is pictured or when her voice is used she is performing a character which is not herself. I love her voice for various reasons, and I like to use her voice in my work because of tone, rhythm, pronunciation, and its unplaceable-ness. It’s the voice of an elusive character, one oscillating between fiction and non-fiction, one given form/body by the listener-viewer… I want to ask you if you invent your own muses in the characters that you fabricate?
RG: Me Mum? But I call her Marie Aurory incase life and work get too seamless; it avoids confusion for me. I don’t really have muses, the only motivation I have is to make a work that is better than the last work I saw that I thought was better than mine. Erm… When we were in Manchester and Maastricht you were sickeningly prolific, to the point were people felt guilty about the amount of work they were capable of… I also remember you gave yourself an Ulcer. It seems now that you work on demand, rather than driven by obsession, I am thinking about the idea that one artist’s practice differs aggressively to the next... can you tell me how you work now?
BC: Guilty? Which people? Not quite an ulcer, but ok. No, now it’s just the same. I don’t really work on demand. I tend to develop larger scale work for specific events or exhibitions, and besides this I continue to do things (paintings, posters, written work, sound etc.), which don’t require a particular space. They sit on the sidelines until I find a way to show them… I’m just as busy, there is still perpetual practicing, but hopefully now there’s more filtering and focus? Perhaps now I don’t have to try everything. In earlier stages there is a need to make all sorts because you are thinking through doing. Things have to be tested and realized, you don’t have the experience of knowing how things will turn out. Now its easier to predict how things will work, and therefore easier to abandon ideas around the time that they are conceived. Do you think that the institution also encourages a work ethic, not only in that you are part of an environment that says ‘produce’, but also in that you have in mind the idea that you must make the most of your privilege?
RG: Careful balance is needed… depends which institution. Working through ideas/researching usually produces by-products no? You are very rarely left with nothing but thoughts, especially if you are interested by visual language. I like seeing stuff made, I know people who have a guilt about filling up ‘art waste desert island’ I don’t think it’s such a problem, I don’t have that guilt. Also I guess if you go to college for three years, you’d be pretty stupid not to work as hard as possible.
RMM: Ben, you’re making a big pair of Ray Bans for the window of Associates aren’t you? Sort of anyway… a cut-out of the shape in a wall. And as big pairs of Ray Bans have been in your work a lot before I wondered where that came from?
BC: It’s not really about what they represent culturally. It’s a sign that says ‘dark glasses’, although it probably says ‘quite cool dark glasses’. Shades that you might hide behind. In this case the ray-ban sign is a hole in a false wall behind the window onto the street, so they are about looking at the street from the gallery, and vice versa. They are also about a hidden subject (repeated in the figure in the video holding the disc over their face) starring back at the viewer. The subject looking at the viewer, and vice versa. The wrap-around ones are more like a mask for the eyes, what do you call them? Sleeping glasses? There’s the idea that the visual image is something fantasised rather than actual. You know? Thought into existence. So it’s also connected to ‘non-ocular sight’, and to thinking about what is really visible, and what is understood beyond what can actually be seen.
RMM: Another part of the Associates installation will be a sound piece, which you sent us the script for. How did you generate that text? It’s fragmented and non-linear… poetry scares me a bit.
BC: Why does poetry scare you? I think I know what you mean though. It’s a term that seems to allow untamed self-absorbed outpourings of things profound and melodramatic. I try not to worry about whether its poetry or not, but about whether its bad or not. In this case, the text –as with some of my other written stories and text for spoken word- is taken from various sources, books, letters, my own writing, newspapers, historic documents, technical accounts of architecture etc. These are then re-written, often to the point that the original source is unrecognisable. What I want with this is a combination of the disjointed and contradictory and the safe ground of the story/narrative, leading to the possibility of multiple starting points and the impossibility of single definitive perspectives. Sometimes it will sound like unmediated information reeled off word by word like the football results, sometimes like a private internal dialogue, and sometimes technical information is spoken with a ‘pillow talk’ whisper.
RMM: I wanted to ask you what you thought about artists and art history. I remember reading about artists learning art history and then having to unlearn it to make their own way (I think it was Tracey Emin who said it once?). I don’t agree with that. And I know that you teach on the art history and art practice course at Goldsmiths don’t you?
BC: There’s lots of art history, and many art histories. I’m constantly involved with art history through work, family, friends… Of course there is an interest in, or an obsession, for knowing about the wealth of earlier works, and about figuring the context for their development. The weight of ‘art history’ can be crippling if you feel that it’s something that you must contend with, and that you must respond directly through the work you make; and ‘unlearning’ or simply ignoring can lead to work which looks poorly informed, familiar, dated. How do you unlearn? That’s difficult. Via lobotomy? Having said that, there’s lots to be said for forgetting. I don’t particularly want to make specific references to periods in art history, but the sort of ‘geometric abstraction’, and use of almost primary colours involved here might well recall an ideological project or movement, uniforms, and colour/shapes which perform specific functions (codes of a closed society); this might return to Rodchenko?
RG: Is it a blessing or a pain having a mum and dad who are artists? I always wondered that regardless of this interview.
BC: My parents have always been really great, but at one point they might have suggested that I might make a good surgeon. Although they are supportive and interested, I think they made a conscious effort to try not to influence my art practice, not to comment or advise unless they were asked to.
RMM: We should end it now because we’ve gone way over.
BC: What we haven’t mentioned is history/sci-fi/future… maybe it’s already enough though?



Ben Cain was born 1975 in Leeds. He gained his BA Interactive Arts from the Manchester Metropolitan University, & his MA from the Jan van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht, The Netherlands. Dividing his practice between London and Zagreb, Ben has exhibited internationally in solo and group shows since 1999.