Interview with Stewart Home

by Alexander Laurence
(c) 1995


Stewart Home is the author of Defiant Pose, No Pity, and Red London. He lives in London, England. He was the creator of The Art Strike 1990-93. He caused many art pranks during the eighties including handing out invitations to The Booker Prize to the poor, and picketing a Stockhausen concert in Brighton, threatening to levitate the building. He is also the controversial writer of The Assault On Culture, chronicling art movements in the 20th century. While he was in San Francisco, some protesters threatened his life at ATA, while he was giving a lecture about his art activity. Look out Salman Rushdie!


Alexander Laurence:
How did you get started?
Stewart Home:
I was born in London. That is where I've always done things. I really got started with punk rock in the 70's and I was in some terrible ska and punk bands. The ska band was called The Molotovs, which was a strange name, but the lead singer was in a horrendous Trotskyite party, so we had to put up with all these atrocious lyrics. I was in a few punk bands that were like The Stooges with obscene lyrics.
AL:
Could you describe your book Red London?
SH:
Basically what a lot of my fiction does is it draws on pulp fiction writing from Britain in the 70's, particularly youth culture fiction about skinheads and Hells Angels. I'm also influenced by Jim Thompson and Mickey Spillane, the hard-boiled detective novel, or even going back to future war novels, science fiction, and fantasy. I draw on that material and try critically to deconstruct it. I take a lot of sentences out of other people's books and I repeat them endlessly through the work around the narrative structure. Also when you write a book, you need about 60 thousand words. Raymond Chandler says "If you run out of ideas, have someone come through the door with a gun." All I do is have a sex scene every other page, and every sex scene is identical. That's half the book before you're even started.
AL:
You were there during the original British punk movement. What do you think of the idea of The Sex Pistols having something to do with Situationism, and The Clash having something to do with Leftist Marxist politics?
SH:
It's rubbish. Joe Strummer would wear a "Red Army Faction" t-shirt or something. If you actually listen to The Clash's lyrics, you can't place them in any political ideology. It's just vague dissatisfaction. I love those song lyrics on the first album. People took it as being left wing, but I don't think it was anything. It's symbolic and rhetorical. It doesn't have any depth, but that's what I like about it. Mick Jones was from a middle class background, but Strummer went to a private school. His father was a diplomat. As far as The Sex Pistols: they just wanted to be a rock and roll band. They didn't have anything to do with Situationism. I know Jamie Reid who did all the artwork. When you see Rotten talk these days he's pretty inarticulate. He's read all this pretentious rubbish about himself and he tries to reproduce it, and he sounds absurd doing it because he doesn't understand what he's talking about. The way they connected it back to the Situationists was Jamie Reid, and I asked him, and he said that he was never a member of King Mob. King Mob contained several members who were in the British part of the Situationist International. If you read the SI journal, it says that King Mob are not Situationists. All these people want to build up Situationism by saying it had a huge influence on punk. It's rubbish. The real influence on punk was the harder edge of the sixties. Punk was anti-sixties and anti-flower power, and it drew on the harder edge of the sixties like the yuppies and the Black Panthers. Another influence was the free festivals in Europe and people like The Pink Fairies. They aren't punk but they were playing songs like "City Kids" and "Waiting For The Man" with tough English accents. One of The Pink Fairies played with Cook and Jones in The Professionals. All the people who were the sound crew and the roadies for The Sex Pistols were from the free festival. That was the most obvious influence.
AL:
What do you think of the several anarchist movements so far?
SH:
There is an anarchist scene that doesn't conform to a dictionary definition. It's this idea of "Are you anti-authoritarian or what are you?" I have problems with any utopian belief. I don't want to travel to the future that has already been mapped out for me. I want to free up the present. I have problems with post-modernism too. I don't want to throw away the idea of progress. When I use the notion of progress, I don't use it in a 19th century absolutist term. I use it as a heuristic device. The idea of the future should be a way to organize the present. I don't want to know exactly what the future is going to be, but I like a more Sorelian idea. You know, Georges Sorel? I find his ideas very useful. New culture and progress comes out of miscegenation. They don't come from nowhere.
AL:
As far as your book, The Assault On Culture, your art writings and manifestos: how did you get interested in this stuff?
SH:
What happened was when I was in school all I wanted to do was to be involved in music, but I wasn't so good a guitar player. I did a punk fanzine and I was in a band. By 1980, there wasn't that much happening that I was interested in, musically. By 1982, I got bored of doing fanzines, and I had quit the band I was in. I was bored in the music scene. So I was looking to do something interesting. What I learned from punk rock was I could play an instrument without knowing anything about it. I went to many art exhibits, and I remember one at the ICA in London. I looked at it and thought "This is really lousy. I could do better than this."
AL:
What was it?
SH:
It was an exhibition of fake advertising stuff. It was parodies of advertising posters. I thought that it wasn't a very interesting insight because you can look at Modernist paintings and say "A three year old can do it." That might be true. That's banal. What I was interested in was not the fact that I could do it, but how could I get something on a wall in a gallery. I wondered "How does one become an artist?" I have the opposite position of Baudrillard, who says what's real becomes simulated. My position is what's simulated becomes real. That's my Hegelianism: I just want to reverse everything. Or is that Satanism? I became a musician of sorts, or a non-musician, without knowing anything beforehand; maybe I could become an artist? I started advertising myself as an artist. I started taking out classified ads. Doing leaflets saying "Now, I'm an artist."
AL:
Were you writing stories at this time too?
SH:
At the same time I started writing this basically banal poetry. All these people in rock bands were getting into poetry and experimental music, which was really awful. At the same time, there was a poetry revival. All these terrible poets get up on stage and reading. People that you had never heard of to people like Ann Clark. They would read about how depressed they were living on the 29th floor of a towerblock and had been burglarized sixty times. I thought that it was dull. So I'd go up there and do these really banal poems about fruit and vegetables, and they'd all be three lines long. I was really into banality for a few years. I had this notion to do plagiarism, not coming through post-modernism because I didn't know anything about it. It had to do with all these horrible poets talking about being original. My attitude was "Fuck you, if you're going to be original, I'm going to be unoriginal." I got into plagiarism, and that was reinforced by reading Lautreamont.
AL:
The idea for the Art Strike came in 1985. How did you prepare for that?
SH:
I had done Generation Positive, then got involved with the Neoists for a year. I broke with them and at the same time I found out that Gustav Metzger was involved with auto-destructive art in London in the sixties. He ran the "Destruction of Art Symposium" in London in 1966. He announced the original art strike in an ICA catalogue in 1974; it was to run from 1977 to 1980. I thought it was a good idea and wondered why I had never heard of it. His point was the commodification of art. He wanted to close down the galleries but it didn't work because no one else participated. (Actually I met him for the first time a few weeks ago.) I thought it was a good idea but no one had done anything with it. I took his original text and substituted the years 1990-93. I worked on developing the idea. For years it didn't get any reaction. By 1989, some momentum was built up, and a lot of people got interested. Through the underground press, it really took off in Britain and America, and especially in San Francisco. At the festival of plagiarism, we had a pamphlet called "Plagiarism, Marxism, Commodities, and Strategies of Its Negation" because it sounded like a good title. But the people in San Francisco took it very literally. "Yeah, I'm really pissed off with my art being commodified!" Doesn't look like it's being commodified very well to me. I was much more interested in the ideological function of art. Why corporations sponsor art, how they use it as justifications for their activities, how upper class people use their acquisition of art or high cultural discourse as being superior to other people who might like Oi music or punk rock. It wasn't realistic to try and get art galleries to close down, until 1992 when art sales dropped 60%. Some people say that my timing was fortuitous, but how in the hell in 1985 would I know that in the middle of the Art Strike everything would start collapsing anyway. In actual fact, it was the psychological effect of my propaganda that did it. There was a recession as well.
AL:
In Red London, your descriptions of the sex scenes are sort of a parody. What was that about?
SH:
I liked creating an absurd language when it came to describing sex--when you describe their bodies, you just talk about the bulk and you get all these interchangeable words. In the 70's pulp fiction there was a weird idea of sexuality: on the one hand, it was very natural, and on the other hand people became automatons when they were doing it. They'd lose control of their bodies. There would be odd references to genetics. So I wanted to use that and really push it. It was like taking the idea of pulp and deconstructing it. A lot of people read Red London in relation to books about 70's youth culture and skinheads. Books by Richard Allen and H. P. Lovecraft. In Lovecraft, there's an anarchist book and if you read it, you're driven crazy and you kill the first rich person you see. It's absurd. I don't write autobiography, but I know that people will read my books as autobiography. So I lay red herrings, so they get a fucked up idea of what I'm really like. The reader always plays a productive role.


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