Before we really got introduced to any of Paul Clinton’s works, he explained that he felt like a bit of a fraud standing in front of us to present to us an artist talk as he is primarily a writer and curator. This did, however, allow him to transgress right back to the beginning of his art career at the other pieces that he has done including film.
Paul Clinton is a writer, curator and is the associate editor of the magazines frieze and Frieze Masters. He has taught seminars on art, stupidity and queer theory at Goldsmiths College and the University of Manchester. In 2013 he edited a special issue of the philosophy and critical theory journal parallax on stupidity, and in 2014 the South London Gallery staged a day-long event around his research on this subject. In the same year he organised the conference Shimmering World, which featured presentations by artists Ed Atkins, David Panos and Hannah Sawtell. In 2015 he co-curated the exhibition ‘duh? Art & Stupidity’ at Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea, and in 2016 he co-edited a special issue of frieze devoted to class politics, which lead to a study day on the subject at the Royal College of Art, London, co-hosted with Nina Power. Recent articles include on the queer sociologist Didier Eribon, the artist Gustav Metzger and on the queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Previous speaking engagements have taken place at the Frieze Art Fair, ICA, Tate Modern, Whitstable Biennale and Whitechapel Gallery, amongst other venues. He was also a founding member of the band No Bra, co-writing several songs on the album Dance and Walk, and with Patrick Wolf he formed the band Maison Crimenaux.
Paul Clinton, ‘What a shame’, Nov 2016. The second of three articles exploring art, class and precarity: an interview with writer and sociologist Didier Eribon.
Selection of Paul Clinton’s writing for Frieze Magazine.
Paul initially started in bands, such as those with Patrick Warf when he was 17 years old. Patrick Warf, and Paul Clinton were in the group that named themselves Minty who were interested in the underground culture that they worked with, who looked at drag. This was not the standard drag as they wanted to create un-gendered drag, so instead of becoming ‘her’, they would become ‘thing’. Paul felt like this has influenced his work looking at sexual politics and the agency and society that look upon this. This theme runs throughout his work, from Minty to his current job of the curator of Frieze Magazine.
An interview of Sexiness and Stupidity – Fanny – Interview Jackpot Miliani – bought up a lot of memories for Paul and he sometimes diverted to other parts of his works. It all started, however, with I Blame My Parents, a band that Paul was in when he was 13 years old. He then moved to the band No Bra who were returning to a punk spirit and rebelling, and also joining, the vulgar society. There were conflicts that arose within this band as Paul accidentally or deliberately trashed the equipment and the venue – he could never tell whether it was accidental or deliberate. Paul found that he became exhausted my such a manic persona and moved on to sculpture, curation, and somewhat more traditional art forms.
Within his curation work, Paul has found that there is no system or criteria but he often chose pieces of work that relate to each other and found it important that the pieces and project collaborate with each other. Paul also found that the pieces he chose and curated with had connections to his own work, such as his book.
Which was born first – art or sex? I can’t think about art without thinking about sex. The most stupid thing you could do it label something stupid.
Suzanne Oberback, Inches, 2001, video. No Bra’s first song was performed with Paul and Suzanne looking upon the hate of the heterocentrism of bands and the 2000 London scene. They would graffiti bars with heterosexual rubbish on the walls, where upon this moved into video art. Inches was inspired by a popular pornographic magazine, of which they made an imitation of to put in the video, Inches.
The characters that Paul began to use often came out of punk used elements of melodrama and shoddy actors. There is always the suspicions of the idea of transgression, and a lot of the contexts of the work from here on wards looked at this e.g. Calvin Koln instead of Calvin Klein. It was about how you distance yourself from your own class identity and perform it – transgression and subversion. It was always presumed that a level of agency and the artist revealing is ‘in a position of power’, and this is the hierarchy that Paul looks at within his work. The one who transgresses goes beyond the law and there is a certain masculinity to this and to wielding this superiority.
Sexual Dissidence is a book that Paul wrote that looks at the top oppositional where you are defined by the thing that you resist and is structured by power. This is ignored in sexual and class politics in which we are assumed by there rules that we may be trying to rebel against.
George and Mike Kuchar, Hold Me While I’m Naked, 1966 looked at the pathos and awkwardness of the ordinary vs the melodrama. This was not only anti heroic but was also a very anti climatic piece.
Throbbing Gristle was a band that Paul mentioned to highly influence him. (There is currently an exhibition of theirs in Hull, this year’s culture capital of the UK.) They use shock tactics, glamour and inverting polite behaviour which often marks a limit. They reinvented industrial music and also were broader and somewhat braver with lyrics containing the air of rape and sexual assault. Anything that became a norm, they went against this. The 20 Jazz Funk Greats album wanted to put off Throbbing Gristle fans and yet they were also trying to undermine their undermining. The album cover was also taken in one of the most popular suicide spots in the UK.
No Bra became known for Munchausen which was partly about the obsession with the pretentiousness of the hipsters. The codes of the hipsters were pretentious in the truset sense and on the one hand you’re showing off your knowledge but on the other hand you are showing it off and unwittingly showing that you have a base desire for your attention and a ratification for approval. This was all based on a lady who was killing her patients because she has Munchausen and believed her patients were dying, so it would be kinder to kill them. They then transformed this in taking the mic out of everyone who would be making themselves seem bigger in order to seem more impressive against someone, and giving them the nickname of Muchausen.
Shimmering World, 2014 was made using slick commercial production values. The gradual degredation of the image would render something illegible. This looks at the value of the judgement of the slick High production values means that something is sinister and trustworthy? Or is it the critique of the desirability of the artwork? The question arises: is this simply an example of artists having their cake and eating it?
Queerness and Stupidity is the last thing that Paul was able to speak about, as he went into so much depth and detail about the rest of his works. He mentioned that he was interested in how a lot of queer theory renders itself illegible and the question of how does a rebellion escape other effects of being rendered stupid? This is something that he is still looking at through his work nowadays.