Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Other Residencies, 4

Jem Finer is a founding member of The Pogues, and still performs with the band at their intermittent reunion gigs, often with the accompaniment of his teenage daughter, Ella, who replaces the late Kirsty MacColl on songs like Fairytale of New York (the best Xmas song ever, which Finer co-wrote with Shane MacGowan). Joe Strummer once called him "the Bill Wyman of the Pogues", but I think he meant it as a compliment.

Between October 2003 and June 2005 Finer was Artist in Residence at the Astrophysics Sub-department of the University of Oxford, which resulted in the creation of a number of works. On Earth as in Heaven is a book and online project consisting of 22 alternate constellations based on the incidence of star names on websites. The Centre of the Universe, is a large-scale spiral tower supporting a radio dish, created by working closely with scientists at the University.

Most interestingly, he formed a band with members of the astrophysics department, named after a Captain Beefheart lyric.

Here he discusses his time in residency:

JF: I'd been thinking for a while I'd like to be an artist in residence somewhere. I liked the idea of going somewhere with a very open brief and just submerging myself in the life of the place. And after having made 'Longplayer', which was dealing with time and space on quite massive scales, I got very interested in the opposite, in quantum physics, and made a few works that were based on the idea of things very small and transient. Then it suggested itself to me that astrophysics was a place where these two extremes meet.

DR: What was the role you had in the department?

JF: Well, they couldn't give me any money but they very generously made me a member of the department. I had my swipe card to get in and out, a computer account, I could go to lectures, I used the library - just being a member of the department. They had no idea what I was doing there (and initially, nor did I), which was wonderful - there was nothing prescribed that I had to do. They were very puzzled because I think they imagined there'd be paintings going up on the walls, but all I seemed to be doing was going around talking to people. I wanted to get an overview of the work in the department and just see what worked successfully.

I got interested in their offices - some were like mad scientists' labs, some were formal and tidy and so on. I started photographing their offices with this cheap Russian panoramic camera that I had. The first lot I had processed I brought in, and there was relief on their faces. It was 'oh thank God, he is an artist after all'. That melted relations a bit. I noticed that a few people had guitars in their offices, so we started this band called 'Big Eyed Beans from Venus'. The band had two rules: one, that everyone had to come from the Astrophysics Department, and the other rule was that all material had to relate to astrophysics through its title. That was the start of my time there.

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