Sometime between completing his BA at Goldsmiths, and starting his second year at the Royal Academy, Charlie Fegan was struck by the sad truth we have all started to notice recently: that the world around us isn’t showing signs of ‘getting better.’ But, instead of starting the revolution, or trying to wake up the ‘sheeple’, he decided to make art which explores our inability to imagine anything different. Half-way through his post-graduate course, we met Charlie in his suspiciously tidy studio at the RA, where he talked us through the inspiration behind his work, how the action of cut and paste will someday become obsolete, and his plan to get better at darts.
“The most interesting art, for me, tries to acknowledge our inability to imagine a better future.”
Could you tell us about your creative process?
I work in quite a nebulous way. I will always have one specific focus at a time in my work, and then I try and find the medium that works for that. But also I don’t have one specific area of interest in life, so it’s quite erratic in that nature. That’s perhaps the unifying theme, that it’s very disparate. For Premiums, I drew inspiration from own personal memory, by trying to use my personal memory to analyse wider changes through technology.
Technology, and more specifically connecting through technology, seems to be a theme throughout your recent work. Why is this?
Yeah. Even though there are disparate themes, my work always comes back to it. I’m kind of obsessed with what futuristic technologies allow us to do, or have the potential to do. For example, my work Red Green Blue is about the mediation of how we experience sport, specifically how we experience football through technology. In the 90’s it was through projectors in pubs, and now more through television. I think everything comes back to technology, everything. Culture is always interconnected with technology.
Your work ‘Device to Sort Everything Out Once and for All’, first of all: is it a Lord of the Rings reference?
Some people look at this as the Celtic. Personally for me it’s not Lord of the Rings-like. I don’t like Lord of the Rings, to be honest.
The piece seems to be what the world needs right now. What do you think about the artist’s responsibility to affect change?
I think within art you have the freedom to say things that don’t make sense, and don’t necessarily work in the real world. We always talk about the real world, or what is possible, what is realistic. In art, you can propose the thing that is extremely unrealistic. I think it’s dodgy ground when you start thinking as an artist about affecting change, thinking your work is going to be like “wake up, sheeple … let’s start the revolution”, or something.
It’s more of a space for me to try to work out our inability to imagine things getting better. Things only seem to be getting worse, across the board. In many ways they’re not, but on a grand scale they are. I was worried that people would read this piece as being about Trump or Brexit and stuff. But I was thinking about this piece last year, it took me like seven months to do it on the computer software, so it was way before all that shit popped off, basically.
The world is still in trouble though…
Exactly, things are still bad. The most interesting art, for me, tries to acknowledge our inability to imagine a better future.
What do you think it will mean for artists as technology further encompasses our lives?
Someone once told me that eventually there will come a time, where the people doing cut and paste on a computer will have no knowledge of the actual physical action of cutting and pasting.
Yeah, but it makes me think about the film Her. It is quite a dystopian thing that the guy falls in love with an [operating system]. But I try to look at it as a simple romantic comedy. He just happens to fall in love with his phone – and that’s not necessarily that bad.
But I think it already has affected the way artists make. Art has always gone with technology, and has pushed forward what you can do with it. And a lot of the time artists use technology in a way which just signifies a sense of future, or to say “this is current because I’m using a 4k TV.” Which I think is a bit dangerous, because actually it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a signifier of being current. If people can use technology in a way which challenges or questions our relationship to it, I think that’s honestly more interesting.
We’ve started doing stuff on iPads. We’ve been given a load of iPads with Apple pencils. At first I thought I wouldn’t really use it that much, but I started drawing. I used to do drawing, I used to do painting. And then I stopped because I started doing more video and computer-based work.
It takes away the messiness, doesn’t it?
Exactly, it satisfied my obsession with cleanliness. I don’t need a palette when I have every single colour there.
You can bring it on the tube…
Yeah, although I don’t want to be some guy drawing on the tube. That would be really pretentious… Maybe I should?
“We always talk about the real world, or what is possible, what is realistic. In art, you can propose the thing that is extremely unrealistic.”
What advice would you give an artist who feels it is now a necessity to complete a postgrad course?
The only reason I am doing a post graduate course is because this is free, and the RA helps you out. We have a bursary, it’s not that big but… I wouldn’t be doing a postgraduate course if it wasn’t for this place. So the best advice is to try and get in here. Having the debt from the BA is bad enough, let alone if you want to pile on top of that. Unless you are dead certain you want and need to do a postgrad course, but then you can never be dead certain. If you’re only doing something because you think there’s going to be stability or a financial reward, then it puts pressure on it and stops you from doing it.
What did you learn from exhibiting in Premiums and how has this experience helped you as an artist?
Did you not like it?
No, it was brilliant. I went to see the Anish Kapoor’s show there when I was about 16, and they had the wax cannon (Shooting into the Corner) in the same room. And if you were to go back and tell a 16-year old me that you’d be showing some work in this room in ten years’ time, I wouldn’t have believed it.
I learned a lot, I don’t know if there’s one thing I could take away from it. I learned that people like flowers. If you make political work but you make it aesthetically pleasing, you’ll get a response from it.
After the big lead-up to the Interim show, what are you working on now?
I am now making physical objects rather than video. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t like making physical objects, trying to push that. And I’m working at getting better at darts.
Words Eleanor Sutherland Photography Oliver Vanes