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An artist finds his groove

22 February 2013

So Dinos Chapman, artist and purveyor of infernal images that make your flesh crawl, has made his first album. He asks me, as we are introduced at Soho’s Vinyl Factory, if I have heard it yet. I listened to it while jogging, I say with trepidation, imagining that this is the worst possible context with which to engage with a Chapman work. It had a nice groove, but it kept being subverted by some mysterious, ugly noises. It put me off my rhythm. “Good,” says Chapman.

He is moving gingerly, a result, he says, of a sore back brought on by weight-training. I ask about his exercise regime, and it sounds like that of a boxer. “And I don’t jog, I run,” he adds with a half-smile. No offence taken. I like this hyper-masculine stuff. It makes a change from the abiding feyness of the art world. Dinos and his brother Jake are the testosterone surge that contemporary art frankly needs. Their art, and occasionally their demeanour, is ferocious and a little scary.

I ask him if he is what they call a “muso”, part of that fiftysomething generation that became obsessed with record collecting during the 1970s, and that always harboured dreams of rock stardom and all its grimy accoutrements. “Not really. I am a polymath,” he confesses, “but at the jack-of-all-trades end of polymathdom. I fiddle with anything. I have always been interested in unconventional music. I like noises.”

Chapman’s album Luftbobler is released this week by Vinyl Factory in a variety of formats, including a prestigious limited edition vinyl record with a signed etching by the artist, selling for a hefty £200. If not exactly Aero-like, it makes for a surprisingly pleasant experience, awash with fairly conventional electronic rhythm tracks, and punctuated by anonymous and slightly sinister sounds.

As in a David Lynch movie, most of the disturbance is in the listener’s imagination. The noises may sound like the amputation of limbs, but turn out to be considerably more innocuous. “There’s a bit of a Kylie Minogue interview, reversed and fiddled about with a bit,” says Chapman. “I like voices, but not necessarily what they are saying.”

Another voice comes from a source that the artist thinks may be a joke: “Porn for the blind. Basically a man narrating a porn film for blind people. I imagine it to be as inadequate as it could possibly be. But I pinched bits of it and looped them.”

This reappropriation, mischievous and a little cruel, is more like the Chapman Brothers we know and love. A reminder of their most affecting work has just gone on show in Kiev, where their new work “The Sum of all Evil” is the centre of an exhibition at the Pinchuk Art Centre. As with many of the artists’ pieces, it is a reflection on the last century’s grisliest themes: violence, torture, mass slaughter. In Kiev, the work is unsurprisingly seen as a comment on the 1941 Nazi massacres at Babi Yar.

Chapman, freshly returned from the opening, sounds a little jaded by the experience. “Sometimes with art objects, you may as well not make anything. You may as well take a mirror there, because people want to impose what they think on an object, before they think about what that object is trying to say.” In fact, the bodies in the work are Nazis, he says. “The Nazis in our sculptures are symbolic. We use hackneyed, overused, slightly faded symbols.” Is the piece about Babi Yar? “It is hell. It is not our world.”

. . .

Back to the relative calm of this world, and its music. I ask if he had always wanted to make an album, and he says no, it came about as a result of a “fortuitous meeting at a drunken party”. The original idea was to make the music as an art project. “As an art project, you can hide behind your sins. You can say, ‘Oh, I meant it to be really rubbish.’ If it’s going on iTunes, no one is going to give you any special dispensation. I intended this to be treated by the parameters that pertain to music.”

That made it sound like music was a more rigorous discipline than contemporary art. “No, it’s different. There are rules in music that only apply to music.” He takes a pause. “The problem with artists is that they tend to ride roughshod over everybody else’s ideas. The worst thing for me would be for this to be distributed among the cohabitants of the art world and no further. Never ending up in a teenager’s bedroom.”

Whisper it softly: it seems Dinos Chapman is finding his inner Joni Mitchell. He even admits to being scared by the prospect of performing the album live, later this year at Barcelona’s Sonar festival. “It is a policy that Jake and I have always had, of never saying ‘no’. And that leads you to some strange places. But that’s OK. Stick your head above the parapet. And get bricks thrown at it.”

Dinos Chapman’s debut album ‘Luftbobler’ is released by The Vinyl Factory on February 25,

Author: Peter Aspden