From 2005 to 2006, artist Leo Fitzmaurice became a Detourist: while traveling to Berlin, London, Shanghai, Stavanger, Zurich and back to his own city Liverpool, he made around half-a-dozen temporary artworks by rearranging found materials such as catalogues, flyers, or cardboards in their own environment creating some unexpected new meanings. By placing those rearranged objects in public spaces, and sidewalks he made art in the form of small, temporary interventions. PingMag wanted to find out more about Leo’s theory behind his objets trouvés and met him at Berlin’s General Public gallery…
Written by Leslie Kuo
After an exhibition at London’s Mot International, now galleries in each of the remaining five cities (General Public, The Royal Standard, Island 6, Rogaland Kunstsenter, K3) are presenting all that’s left of Leo’s ephemeral project that initially happened out on the streets: a stack of free posters documenting the interventions. It’s a full-circle gesture for Leo, who works mainly with designed and printed advertising and packaging, recontextualizing the material with a wide range of techniques.
In Leo’s studio- and gallery works “design-bending” can be as simple as setting a tight stacked ream of folded 4/4 brochures on its side on the floor, so that the top face of the stack curves gently towards the ground.
Other works look more complex and representational: rows of commercial packaging, with each printed word carefully cut away, becoming villages of oddly Modernist cardboard houses: boxy, with peculiarly arranged rectangular windows. Again the original designer’s message is blocked so that new images and forms can emerge.
With Detourist, Leo’s collaboration with curator Marie-Anne Quay took this investigation of common visual materials into common space combining printed materials and packaging found on site with other common urban media.
Leo, when and how did you first start working with pre-designed printed materials?
I gradually slipped into it. I was trained as a painter but was always refiguring objects on the side… and I found myself exploring a certain period of sculpture: the early work of Tony Cragg, Bill Woodrow and Wentworth. It is only in the last, say, eight years that I have focussed on predesigned printed material and probably on the last five when I started to realize its potential.
How do you feel about the actual design of your materials used – positive, negative, or non-judgmental?
Most of the material I stated working with was truly irritating. But it is funny, once you start to work with this material you realize and admire its qualities both as a physical object and the level of design. Something like the Argos catalogue [see below] with 2,000 colored pages of complex design is a dark star to me.
So if you make a judgement on what material to use, what flyers or magazines to pick to transform – on what criteria is it based?
I make a judgement on it’s availability primarily. It is the material that is around us most and most in our faces. I try not to search for stuff. I feel that the material chooses me.
The material I deal with is often short lived, loaded with a multiplicity of trivial meanings that have to be made important using various design strategies. My tactic is to disable these strategies and use the material for my own purposes. The energy of this advertising material [is like] a huge meteorite heading towards a planet. It is targeted towards one aim, but only a small amount of force is necessary to send it into a different orbit, keeping the energy of the material but redirecting it in some way.
Have you thought about what the original designer of those materials you use would think about your remix? Or the client? It could basically be anything from a critique to a compliment, or just seen as confusing…
I guess the designer would probably quite like it. There does not seems to be much freedom in some of these designs despite their levels of sophistication.
However, I am sure the client would not like it — they may feel it mocked them. But having said this – powerful companies like Tesco in England buy works that mess with their brand. I guess it is about power and the cultural clout. Tesco was an iconic brand when I was a kid… Tesco was Lidl then. I remember there was this punk rocker who had the Tesco logo painted on the back of his leather jacket. I was so jealous…
You’ve said you are interested in public spaces and that they are “disappearing”. Do you mean it as physically disappearing or rather being overwhelmed by visual, commercial intrusions?
In England many public spaces are disappearing to developers — as parks and football fields being sold — but this isn’t really what I mean. I guess that as we spend more time in front of a screen or with our heads in magazines and listening to MP3 players, we spend less time when and where we actually are.
I realized after reading Michel de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life that one thing I am doing (and we all do in some way) is to consume public space and by consuming it in some way we make it our own thus privatizing it to some extent. But instead we spend our time consuming other stuff…
To describe this positive thing you do, and hope others will do, with public space, you’ve used verbs that are often used critically to describe corporations and consumer culture, e.g. privatize, or consume. Is this conscious — are you trying to reclaim the words or reclaim the activities?
I think I am more interested in reclaiming the activities in some way – it is more fun.
What do you want to do with public space through your work? How do you wish for your interventions to affect passers-by?
I would like people to become more aware of the potential around them and encourage ways we can consume material and space that is not prescribed.
I want to make something my own in some way but also for this to become a dialogue with other people. I would like people to think of A to B as a destination. The side of the road or a car park is a public space. I like to feel my feet on surfaces — I like to stop where people are normally going. I want to create space for myself — and others.
Thank you Leo Fitzmaurice for your fine as well as ironic “Detourist” remixing works!