Showing his mind
Designer, artist and photographer Richard Rawlins opened his one-night-stand exhibition Button Project at Alice Yard, a contemporary art space on Roberts Street, Woodbrook, on May 21. The exhibition was a collection of message buttons with pithy, amusing and incisive statements about the then-current general elections campaign. Rawlins did an e-mail interview with author, editor and journalist Lisa Allen-Agostini before the show.
Lisa Allen-Agostini: What is the background to the show?
Richard Rawlins: The show is rooted in the work I've done over the last few years, particularly the political observations. Some of it started with my jeans art project in 2006, Speak UP, the others over time. Speak UP was the genesis of my visual documentation of our nuances and the way we speak. Life in general is a politik of sorts and hence some of the documentation naturally records that.
LAA: Are you trying to get people annoyed? Your statements are very provocative.
RR: Not trying to annoy anybody. I'm a bit sarcastic. I think I just tend to speak my mind. So I guess the illustrations are meant to be that voice in a visual sense.Too many times we want to speak and we don't. We always feel this need to just bite our tongue. We are always biting our tongue for something and we haven't benefitted really in our society from doing that. We have lots of things that we don't necessarily need and not a whole lot stuff that we do need. And when we do speak it's for entertainment’s sake, for the propagation of nonsensical issues. In this silly season people are leaving their homes to go to meetings at seven in the night and hear picong rather than voice an actual concern about many of our societal issues. By next Tuesday it will all be over and we'll be back to liming. I really don't think I'll annoy anybody, actually. I might amuse them and they will move on.
LAA: Why buttons? Jersies and posted bills are, to me, more iconic of T&T's elections campaigns than buttons, which seem more a US phenomenon in politics. Do you agree and, if so, was the choice deliberate?
RR: The button was a deliberate choice. You would expect the T-shirt or the handbill and with elections on I didn't want to suffer clutter by media. We don't do buttons here really. And we love foreign. We do foreign well but don't do ourselves. We want to be something else. The button as the medium is the way I poke fun or apply a little humour to that notion. It's funny to me. So I just thought I would do the buttons. It was easy to produce the work and it was small enough to be marketable and tempting. You could pin or pocket it and go. No fandango.
LAA: As art, how would these be displayed—and what are the prices of the pieces?
RR: The buttons will be part of the overall installation at Alice Yard that has been designed to utilize the entire space. I have Sean Leonard, chief architect of the Yard, and Marlon Darbeau, my fellow designer, to thank for helping to figure things out. The buttons will be situated in the Yard's box display area and supported by two videos, one actually to be projected across the street outside the Yard, and one in another part of this unique space. I'll be displaying 99 buttons and they'll cost $30 each; four for $100; $495 for a full set of 33 designs.
LAA: Are you normally political or is this a special excursion for you?
RR: I think life is political. We are all political. We negotiate the vagaries of governance every day with our kids and co-workers and relationships. It's not an excursion. This work actually runs alongside two other projects that I'm planning for this year. One of these projects isn't political at all. Whimsical, yes, but not political.
LAA: The iconography in some of the pieces is more like fete posters than election campaign artwork. Were you intentionally making a parallel between the two?
RR: Yes, I was. We are a "PARTY" culture. We do that well. We see and accept anything that goes with liming. It's easy. We digest that. It's simple. I work in advertising. The fete poster is a great medium, especially the screen-printed ones out of Arima.
LAA: What are you hoping to achieve by the show, or is there an intent?
RR: Entertainment, inspiration, to find a voice and to create work, or encouragement to just be more aware of our times. But really I want to interrupt your life long enough for you to have enjoyed a really good showing and come again.