A.i.R. | Neale Howells Part 4

A.i.R. | Neale Howells Part 4

Our artist in residence for August, Neale Howells, on his past flirtations with fake news, and how to make a splash in the mainstream media.

what is censorship… what is it for and who implements it… these are the kind of questions i used to love inviting into the artwork that i did in the late 90’s and 00’s… i was fascinated with the connection to art and how art had become a major bastion for morality… so it was news stories of artists from the 80’s like rick gibson who had displayed human foetus’s as earings in a gallery and then been charged with breaking the law on public decency that lead me into this fascinating area… so, attention, success, being the “bad man”, were all ideas and ways of getting your work noticed by the press… i was also following an idea i had of fictitious exhibitions… i invented a neath contemporary art gallery which i had listed in many events pages… it was our local phone box… every few months i would change the show… in the end we had made up artists whose names were anagrams of expletives… hey it was fun…

i thought if could have fake shows then i could write my own reviews… it was fake news and all that… before the internet… and that is something important to realise… before the internet.. we had to do everything by hand… write the letter and then post it along with the manipulated photographs… it’s much easier to do that today… did i ever get the attention i imagined and wanted?… well occassionally we would get attention in the london press… for instance… ‘toddlers paintings for sale for thousands’ or ‘artist makes love canvas’… headlines like that… it was headlines like that which got me invited once to a late night london chat show to talk about the artwork… ( together with the man who could eat the most cadburys cream eggs and a serial streaker… both entertaining people and a great night out in london after to…)

to get attention in the press you must be doing something different… and all stories need an alternative view so i thought i could play that role quite well… it wasn’t too hard because i didn’t see much happening in the art world of wales that was that worthy anyway and so that’s how i portrayed myself… another example would be wales’ first venture into the venice arts beinnale 2003 that saw four artists representing wales… Simon Pope, Cerith Wyn Evans, Bethan Huws and Paul Seawright… it didn’t take long to realise that one was english, one irish and the other two hadn’t lived in wales for years… i believe the curator was scottish… so it was all set up for controversy… even today artists at the time think i was a loudmouth when we actually put wales arts on the front page and top of a news item…

yes… welsh art on the front page…

so we took our argument from radio to tv… by which time kim howells who was culture secretary was found wanting when asked to name a welsh artist on radio 4…

later on bbc television later that day we made our argument about wales not really representing wales art… so it’s about saying what isn’t being said… and that’s what art means to me… art in wales needed a kick up its butt… its different today i guess… but it seemed i was the only one who was speaking out then…

so its 1998 and i am preparing for a large solo show at oriel 31 newtown… its title ‘welcome to cymru, fuck’… a new director gets appointed… it gets cancelled one week before it was due to open… bummer… but funny how things work out… unbothered by the title of the show the museum of modern art in wales came to the rescue… not the same work, but that’s ok… that work was never seen… in fact that show was packed up and i have it stored… never used… maybe one day we’ll show it… now there’s an idea…

i wanted to see wales in those art books… the books that contain artists that have changed the way others think about art… that was my thought anyway… that and being the best artist in the world although i think i have mellowed since and would except the top three… ha..!

well, as you can see i do have a certain amount of perseverance in what i do…

so the venice biennale was one of the first new ideas wales had of putting themselves in the middle of international cultural life… it’s second would be the artes mundi prize… so after believing i had a chance of being selected by two curators (who travel the world looking for artists – terrible job eh?!) i didn’t get a sniff… i think it was after the second or third attempt of thinking i had a chance of being selected that i decided to report my death…

we’ve all thought about it surely… staging a funeral then jumping out of the coffin to freak everybody out… anyway this was a bit more clumsy than that… this was a drunken email to the bbc and others saying artist neale howells was no more… i was so pissed off with being ignored by wales arts prizes that creating a news story was a way for me to shout about it…

may i add that this way of getting attention does come with some consequences… first you try and hide it from the ones you love… but then the RIP messages start arriving… perhaps a wreath… then the paper… but look artists do need to work outside the normal laws of society… they do need to be given extra room to work… so it’s back to censorship again… do artists have a responsiblity to the real world…