An exploration of Science through Art – ArtAttack Interviews David Cheeseman

In anticipation of his upcoming exhibition, Slime Mould Logic, at Tintype Gallery, ArtAttack had the chance to speak with British artist, David Cheeseman.

Cheeseman, born in 1960, brings a fascination for nature and science to his work and was awarded the Gulbenkian Rome Scholarship in Sculpture as well as the The Henry Moore Fellow in Sculpture at Coventry University. Last year he completed a residency at The Lydney Park Estate in association with Matt’s Gallery London and also presented a Fig.2 at the ICA in collaboration with Ole Hagan and astrophysicist Roberto Trotta.

Cheeseman’s prestigious education includes studying painting at Maidstone School of Art and sculpture at the Royal College of Art (RCA). This new show, opening 19th May at Tintype, presents a series of innovative sculptures inspired by one of nature’s true wonders: slime mould.

Slime mould is a generic name for organisms that superficially resemble funghi. The incredible element is that they are able to navigate towards foods or hosts almost as if they have an emergent intelligence.

4 David Cheeseman, Slime Mould Logic, 2016 © David Cheeseman. Courtesy the artist and Tintype .jpg
David Cheeseman, Slime Mould Logic, 2016. c. David Cheeseman. Courtesy of the artist and Tintype.

ArtAttack: How would you describe your artistic practice?

David CheesemanI work predominately with ‘stuff.’ Physical materiality is more important to me than image and the work emerges as a playful response to my fascination with process, and the methodologies and philosophies of science and magic.

AA: When did you become interested in science and can you explain a bit about how and why you incorporate scientific ideas into your art?

DC: Although the traditional scientific paradigm is one that I have chosen to ‘reflect upon’ for the greater part of my career, it is not a research methodology that is appropriate for the development of any kind of art practice. I choose to incorporate a number of theoretical tools that ‘mirror’ different needs, problems and stages of art production.

The initial point of departure I would describe as dialogical, I specifically ‘stage’ a conversation between two frames of reference. The resulting conversation is a ‘stepping stone in the process of analyzing and constructing a visual proposition’ that is speculative and registers the signifying practices of art alongside those of magic and science. The resulting emergent condition fuels a ‘semantically saturated’ atmosphere; a chain of signifiers produces a condensation of ideas that are materially tested in the studio. The generative ‘heat’ of the studio, where a ‘mutually hermeneutic relation between theory and practice’ might exist, causes meanings and significance to coalesce, redistribute and fluctuate in a state of ‘thermodynamic interaction’ that encourages precipitation. A wave of material propositions are analyzed and evaluated through evolving methodologies that can appear contradictory, for example the immersive and experiential attitude of a phenomenological analyses in relationship to a teleological approach to a technical problem.

The final stage in the ‘making’ of the work occurs with the installation of the components. This is a crucial point in the process and it is here that (hopefully) a distillation of form and content occurs; it is a where the histories, conditions and contingencies of  ‘site’ provoke further material refinement, affect and ‘potency’. However the work does not ‘end’ at this stage as meanings and significance are provisional, and the contestable nature of the artwork’s knowledge disperses through evaporation into a new atmosphere, a slightly different climate, awaiting another conversation. 

I recently found a long forgotten book in the loft space of my childhood home ‘Magic with Science’ over 140 mystifying feats performed with simple everyday objects, magic tricks based on sound scientific principles, all safe, easy and fun to do… Published in 1970 by Collins.

6 David Cheeseman, More Than Enough (detail), 2016 © David Cheeseman. Courtesy the artist and Tintype.jpg
David Cheeseman, More than Enough (detail), 2016. c. David Cheeseman. Courtesy of the Artist and Tintype.

AA:Why slime mould?

DC: Slime mould is astonishing. As an ‘actant’ it poses questions around the development of our own intelligence and consciousness. I also think it can act as analogy or perhaps metaphor for the way culture operates more generally. I’ve reflected upon why Deleuze and Guattari opted for the rhizome over slime mould, but then YouTube wasn’t around to advertise its’ brilliance.

AA: I would be interested to hear about the significance of the glass in the works. I assume the magnets represent the innate navigation of the slim mould towards food sources, and am wondering if the glass has a similarly specific meaning. 

DCThe glass is present to  signify crystalline form. In that piece I was interested in there being a suggestion of ‘contesting’ morphological process; the arboreal structure of the tree, the crystalline forms and the presence of electromagnetic function, all in flux, materiality without a fixed condition. The glass blocks becoming soft and fractured. Glass as a material has been the most prominent, consistent and important ‘stuff’ I have worked with. I spent most of my time as a sculpture student at the RCA working in the glass department. Not only am I interested in its formal qualities, but its significance within the history of science — as an extension of our own fleshy empiricism. 

1 David Cheeseman, Slime Mould Logic, 2016 © David Cheeseman. Courtesy the artist and Tintype
David Cheeseman, Slime Mould Logic, 2016. c. David Cheeseman. Courtesy of the Artist and Tintype.

AA: Any upcoming projects you can share with us?

DCI am working towards a large installation. I have perforated each frame of a 1970 Swedish horror film. The resulting 110,000 12mm discs of celluloid are the basis of the work — 5,000 to 10,000 scans are rendered as an animation whilst the remaining concave dish of celluloid acts as a speaker and a circle of the 110,000 discs act as the event horizon.

I am also curating a sculpture exhibition with a colleague Rob Anderson at Birmingham City University, it’s for ‘Article Gallery’ and will open in November.

8 David Cheeseman, Endless In-between (detail), 2016 © David Cheeseman. Courtesy the artist and Tintype.jpg
David Cheeseman, Endless In-between (detail), 2016. c. David Cheeseman. Courtesy of the Artist and Tintype.

– India Irving

Slime Mould Logic will be on view at Tintype Gallery from 20th May – 18th June, 2016; Private View 19th May 6:30-8:30PM; 107 Essex Road, London, NI 2SL; Wednesday – Saturday 12-6PM or by appointment; Admission: FREE

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