S. Mark Gubb grew up in a seaside town in the eighties where he was introduced to Iron Maiden at the age of eight. In his artwork he develops collaborative projects and gallery installations, drawing from his lifelong fascination with music, films and skateboarding while referencing politics with a small ‘p’. Resident in Nottingham, Gubb’s work has been shown locally at Moot Gallery, at the ICA in London, at Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery and will be a major part of the launch of Liverpool's Ceri Hand Gallery this month.
What are your influences?
I draw on my lifelong fandom of music, films, TV and all that kind of stuff – I don’t really like to use the term 'popular culture' because people assume a particular kind of work. I’m equally as interested in the politics I grew up with; the eighties was possibly one of the crappest decades, with The Cold War, the Berlin Wall, the miners strike, Thatcher’s Britain. My cousin introduced me to Iron Maiden when I was eight years old and I’ve never looked back. That’s the kind of music that I’ve listened to throughout my life. So unavoidably it’s ended up influencing what I do in my work.
A Real Rock Archive was your exclusively commissioned artwork for The Public art space in West Bromwich. How did that musical influence manifest itself?
Some really seminal rock bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Judas Priest have come from West Bromwich. So I researched a fans' archive in the West Midlands region, in particular trying to track down seemingly throwaway stories and bits of memorabilia. I was interested in people who'd had a pint with Robert Plant in the pub one night and maybe kept the pint glass. The sorts of stories which act as cultural gold dust for fans, that don’t really mean anything to people who aren’t into the music.
What inspired your film The Scooby Dead, which was part of the Terra Incognita exhibition at the former Angel Row Gallery?
In 1983 Driller Killer and loads of 'video nasties' disappeared off the shelves. I’m interested in what they are as films and objects but also in their political position, as the government decided that this stuff was unsuitable for us as a nation, and so it all got banned. The Scooby Dead was partly a realisation that Scooby Doo is a bit like the horror film Evil Dead, in that you’ve got this group of characters who are always surrounded by zombies and nasty things happen to them.
Elements of youth culture are evident in your projects particularly Among the Living, which took place this time last year, combining art and skateboarding. How do you forge that connection?
I recognised a very particular kind of artistic culture within skateboarding, which when fused with contemporary art could make something interesting happen without compromising the culture of either. When I used to skate, there was a kind of statement in the graphics or some political allegiance being held up, which doesn’t really happen anymore. So I approached ten artists, none of whom were people you’d think would make something to exist on a skateboard, to have artworks produced as the graphic. There were five live events at skate parks around the country and five different gallery partners on board who all exhibited the decks. Dave Bevan, who puts out a proper old-school fanzine called 88 Shades of Grey, is producing a fanzine based around the show. And an LA-based filmmaker called Damon Packard has made a cut-and-paste film. They are both documents of the project, but also artworks in their own right.
Your film The Death of Peter Fechter shown at the ICA late last year showed a young man being killed as he tried to cross the Berlin Wall. What was your idea behind re-enacting such a disturbing event?
Peter Fechter wasn’t the first person to be shot for going over the Berlin Wall, but it made the international news because whilst his work colleague got over, the East German guards shot him and he fell back into no-mans-land, bleeding to death for an hour shouting for help whilst neither the East Germans or American guards stepped in. What I was interested in was this 18-year-old lad who believed that he would have a better life on the other side of the Wall, and there was actually no reason at all why he died. He was a victim of the wider political situation. It has a really strong contemporary resonance, whether you’re talking about Iraq and Afghanistan or the border between Mexico and America; literally thousands of people dying every year in their attempts to cross these borders for a better life on the other side.
You lecture at Nottingham Trent University and have developed your career whilst being based here. Is Nottingham good at nurturing emerging artists?
I think that Nottingham is a good place to develop a career; you can graduate, get a studio, work part-time and still pay your rent. There’s some really interesting artists here and interesting stuff happening too, particularly with Nottingham Contemporary opening next year and the international focus that will bring. Its central location is fantastic, too; in the early stage of an art career it's vital to go to different cities and meet artists and curators and see shows. I would say 95% of everything I’ve ever done has come about through chatting to people.
What are you up to at the moment?
I'm just in the process of finishing two new multiple works to celebrate the launches of Ceri Hand Gallery and The Public. I'm also involved in a fantastic exhibition through the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh. In September I'm undertaking a residency west of Glasgow. So it’s a busy summer all in all. Just the way it should be!