Story by Adrian Ferra
Bloody Fist has just celebrated its 8th year of releasing hard and abrasive music. In those 8 years, Bloody Fist has barely registered as a blip on the radar of Australia’s so-called ‘specialist’s media despite continual international support and recognition. On the other hand, the output of Marc Quinn is internationally infamous. Quinn is the Young British Artist enfant terrible who shot to fame with his spectacular sculpture ‘Self’ a cast of his head using 5 litres of his own blood. Later works have seen him taking the concept into new and exciting dimensions with ‘Shithead’ consisting of a headcast filled with the artists own faeces, and most recently ‘Baby’ – a cast of his baby sons head using his pureed placenta. But where artists’ shit and blood have taken the world by storm, Marc has continued his Bloody Fist project in relative obscurity. Few in the art world have recognised Quinn’s other output or the elaborate context that he has created. But the connections are obvious really ‘ a fixation with biology and the bodily fluids underpinned by topical ruminations on the nature of art and death.
After so many years of neglect and misinformation, a recent Quinn retrospective celebrating Bloody Fists’ 8th year was assembled for the Tate Museum in Liverpool, England. This offered the perfect opportunity for a meeting with Marc Quinn (or if you prefer his kafkaesque alter ego Mark N). We had arranged to meet in his studio apartment overlooking the beautiful Newcastle beaches, on the northern coast of Australia. It was exactly as I’d imagined it behind the anonymous frosted glass door on the side street: clean, white, stainless steel kitchen, huge book shelves, comfy leather sofas and the infamous chest freezer containing “bits and pieces”, as Quinn mysteriously put it. While the studio was exactly as I’d expected, Quinn the artist wasn’t. I thought he would be cocky, laddish, even. Instead, he is confident and funny but with a quiet manner and hypnotic dark eyes to match the head-to-toe black he wears to protect him from the hot Newcastle sun.
Locating Bloody Fist in Newcastle was an easy choice for Marc. ‘After graduating from Cambridge I returned to London but wanted to do something as far away conceptually as possible. The furthest place I could think of was somewhere like Manchester or Newcastle. Imagine my surprise when I heard that there was a Newcastle in Australia!. Australia was once famously described as the ‘Arse-end of the World’, and I thought Newcastle, Australia would be a perfect metaphor for my ideas at the time, I was thinking a lot about shit and the result of these processes can be seen in works such as ‘Shithead’ and ‘Shit Painting 28/8/97′.’
Newcastle and shit are obvious themes in Bloody Fist, repeated across the back catalogue. The roster is a register of asocial misfits with names like Memetic and Embolism, nearly all of whom live in the immediate Newcastle area which radiates from the north of Sydney to the outback. The city was originally built on industry and the remains of factories and shafts pock the town centre and surrounding suburbs. These mining scars partition the community as well; the new economy has developed Newcastle from a steel city into a student town. That fissure between turbulence and atrophy lends itself to Bloody Fist. The closure of the last BHP facility in 1998 was celebrated by Quinn with the ‘Newcastle Who Gives A Fuck’ EP constructed solely from the sampled machine noise of the plant. Unfortunately the project was halted at the last minute with a BHP injunction on the record, surrounded by claims of intellectual theft and sample clearance. The same year, legal problems also scuppered the ‘Hello Bellybutton – Goodbye Arsehole’ tribute album. Thankfully, ‘Steelworks Requiem’ has resurfaced on Nasenbluten’s ‘Dog Control’ (2002) album ‘ ‘Goodbye Arsehole’ will unfortunately never see the light of day.
Issues of theft and copyright are not unknown to Quinn. His video installation ‘The Origin of the World’ showed a video loop of a hand caressing and penetrating a vagina ‘ a sly wink to the famous 19th Century French artist Gustave Courbet and his revolutionary ‘L’Origine du Monde’. Bloody Fist output is similarly built on recycled sounds, breakbeats and audio vignettes raw; unprocessed excluding the inherent static coating multiplied from outdated computers and broken audio equipment. While the sound of Bloody Fist is not easily pigeonholed, this bleary insulation is its’ trademark. Some have labelled it cunt-core, which is not entirely a misnomer. Quinn’s visual reference to Courbet echoes the Bloody Fist aesthetic of basing releases entirely on samples and reprocessing them through archaeological 8-bit Amiga computers and antediluvian software. The result is difficult and uncompromising and varied. Releases like FIST06 ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (Syndicate, 1996) are typical of a hardcore and jungle influenced sound, while FIST16 ‘ No Copyright!’ (Overcast, 1998) showcases Marc’s cut and paste DJing technical ability. Other releases on the Bloody Fist catalogue range from hard gabba techno to hard drone ‘ basically anything that is hard and abrasive.
Quinn observes a bodily commitment to art. His latex whole-body moulds offer a negative three dimensional image of the artist, prised open for escape like a broken , empty chrysalis. His amputee sculptures continue this bodily obsession. “The idea,” says Quinn, “came from being in the British Museum and watching people looking at fragmented sculpture. I thought, if someone came in looking like that in real life, they would have a completely different reaction.” Quinn’s challenging yet detailed and pristine amputee sculptures refer to the classical tradition of sculpture, yet also subvert this by questioning the notion of the heroic and the beautiful. The artificial perfection of the superwhite marble adds another layer to this complex examination of human perfection. This diametric of heroic and beautiful, deformation and degradation are continued in Bloody Fist cover art, a typical example is FIST15, the ‘ Fraughman E.P. ‘ (Fraughman, 1988) where we are presented with images of deformed foetuses, filtered through the undiscriminating eye of a Xerox machine. We are detached from the sickening subject matter, and can almost view it in a comical light – a grotesque oversized forehead and squinty misconstructed eyes peer out from this carnivalesque freak show. Frankly, its funny.
Life, mortality, decomposition and disintegration are big themes. The quick and tragic nature of beauty can easily be accidentally captured in a photo; from this pathos a blunt and almost political power can exceed any personal meaning in the image. Quinn’s custom freezing techniques seen in Eternal Spring preserve not only the beauty of flowers, but their structure as well. Viewers are greeted with a refrigerated glass case and witness the flower beds as a frozen cadaver. Bloody Fist’s Dead Girl project goes further – it could even be seen as a thoughtful meditation on the cult of death and celebrity, but Quinn refuses to be drawn into conversation on the topic. “You either get it or you don’t. People are more open-minded these days about art. It should be totally accessible – you may know nothing about it and still get something from it.”
What drives an artist? Quinn says he always wanted to be an artist, but had been worried that it would be impossible to make a living. Then, at boarding school in his teens, he found out that there was such a thing as contemporary art and that if you were any good, you could get by. “The most important thing is if you can sell your work and carry on doing it. And there’s always been people buying the work.” Indeed there is. Bloody Fist is recognised across Europe and the US and Marc regularly tours internationally. Like his Y.B.A. contemporaries, Quinn’s work sells for astronomical amounts on the London art scene. His most infamous work, Self was purchased by Brit-Art impresario Charles Saachi for an undisclosed amount. Rather ironically, it was recently destroyed by mistake when it was defrosted by construction workers in Saachi’s kitchen who accidentally unplugged his fridge. Quinn characteristically sees the humour ‘I think its great!! Imagine spending that amount of money on something and then have to mop it up off the floor. I nearly pissed myself when I heard about it!! I mean, I literally had to race to the bathroom because I’m saving my piss for one of my next works.’ Comments like this raise my suspicion. ‘No, really! I’ve won a commission for a water feature on the site of the towers in New York. It will consist of a number of whole body casts swimming in a pool of my own piss. It’s a huge undertaking and a suitably sombre project.’
As a social document or testament to the 21st century, how are future people going to interpret this? But then isn’t that what art is all about? Preserving present possibilities. We can never know what makes us modern, our modernity can only be translated from the future. It’s still a hoary old chestnut though ‘ what makes art and what doesn’t? We live in a secular world with a state sponsored avant-garde and a metropolitan elite. Quinn is not an apologist for his work: “You could say that I’m one of the people who made it happen. I mean, the time was right, but it wasn’t conferred from above. It was: fuck it, I want to make this thing, so let’s go and make it. So it was more of a kind of guerrilla attitude.” But surely anyone can freeze blood? Anyone can make noise? ‘Yes, but you don’t.’ he explains “You don’t have to be into conceptual art to appreciate my work, it’s all blood and shit to some people, but ultimately, people will buy any old shit these days.’
Dog Control is Out Now. Look for FIST28 from Epsilon and FIST29 from Guyver Out Soon. The 8th birthday celebrations for Bloody Fist take place throughout August. Check the website for details.