As My Dog Sighs heads out this week on the start of his tour to talk about his book 'Inside', I got a chance to read the 256-page hardcover that looks great sat on my coffee table and depicts the incredible exhibition held over the Summer in that old, disused casino. I also got a chance to rack My Dog Sigh's brains about the book and ask him a few questions.
Sat devouring each page, the first thing that caught my eye was how creative the book feels in my hands just from the rich, red cover. It gathers you up and makes your mind explode with questions and an atmospheric flow, drawing you into the world of MDS and the whole 18-month experience he had bringing his installation INSIDE: We Shelter Here Sometimes to life. Having a visual display and documentation of the journey it took to bring an old casino to life for 2 weeks and carry 10,000 visitors through its doors, is as much an achievement as the installation itself.
Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time to talk about the book.
- Why did you want to have a book that you could view from either the front or the back?
The book is a legacy for what was a very ephemeral exhibition. It’s the thing that lasts. Inside was about mystery and discovery and in that end I wanted the book to have some of the same playful discovery that was in the exhibition.
2. Do you have a favourite page you always feel drawn to? And why?
That’s like asking me what my favourite body organ is!! The book represents all aspects of Inside, both the two-year journey of creating it as well as a visual walkthrough of the exhibition. Saying that, I did have some fun hiding different elements in the book. There is a hidden poem, images that reveal themselves as you bend the pages and even a secret portal that leads you to a full two-hour audio guide. Little details like that were almost an extension of creating the exhibition.
3. The cover, is it the pattern of wallpaper from the casino?
Well spotted, yes!
4. Why did you want to have a different texture to the book at the front of the Inside section which is grainy and matt paper compared to the back of the book where the images and pages are glossy?
The book is split into two halves, the first is the documentation of the creation of inside. The gritty, exhausting part of the journey. I chose a flat matt paper for this. The second half of the book is a virtual walkthrough of the exhibition. From entering into the foyer, climbing through the hole in the wall and leading onto explore the space. You’ll notice there are no people in this section. I wanted it to be like the viewer has their own private tour. It finishes with some photos of the exhibition open, the buzz and the incredible team that helped make it happen.
5. The actual exhibition was created during the pandemic but the book has been a project after this time. Do you feel that it made you view the project in a different way? Having come out of the other side of the most serious part of the pandemic (I mean with lockdowns and the numbers of deaths), do you feel that you have had more time to reflect on the project as a whole? And do you think this influenced how you wanted the book to be?
There’s rarely any time to reflect on anything with a project at this scale. Creating the project in the depth of the pandemic was tough. Let’s face it, life was tough full stop. As the exhibition finished I dived straight into creating the book. That’s no mean task. While I had some help from my designer Tony Stiles and of course amazing context from almost entirely local photographers, creating a high-end art book like this is a major undertaking. Brexit played havoc with lots of elements (I used a top Italian printer to create the book) with paper shortages and huge issues with transportation and import issues. Having said all that, covid forced the project to extend and gave me the opportunity to produce more work and make everything much grander and more intricate.
6. What was it like putting all the images together in the book? Did you have to narrow down a lot of images to be used?
There were literally thousands of images taken by the photographers. Sorting and choosing them was both a huge task and an amazing honour. It also gave me a chance to look back on the journey. I barely had time to think about what I was doing when I was in the thick of making it and opening it to the public so to go back through and remember what was involved was very cathartic.
7. Thinking how the Inside exhibition got you to do sculpture for the first time (and the book reflects this in your interview and images in the book), has this opened up inspiration to try other mediums too in the future?
There’s never a problem coming up with ideas as to what I can do. It’s just trying to fit it all in that I have a problem with. I loved pushing my practise to explore new ways of working. As an artist, it’s always about keeping things fresh and exciting and new. You only produce your best work when you're pushing the limits of your comfort zone.
8. The book is very visual which of course you would expect from your work and the exhibition but the writing sits in the middle of the book, was there a reason for doing it this way?
I didn’t want the words to lead this book. It’s a visual journey just as I’m a visual artist. I wanted the book to be something to slowly paw over; to offer an opportunity to go back and discover new things. I often feel that text-based books can be ‘finished’ and I didn’t want that with this. But I also appreciate that sometimes reading things help gain an insight into how people think and work, so it made sense after you’ve ‘seen’ the book, you have a chance to read the interviews. The book kind of ends in the middle, so it made sense to me to put the text there.
9. Has the book and the exhibition inspired you to want to do other projects?
Of course. Every piece an artist does should be a springboard to the next and I really hope both the exhibition, the book (and soon to the film) will spring me to try other ideas and projects. What they’ll be, I’m not sure yet. You’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully, they won’t take two years to produce like this one.
10. In the book, you talk about how you want your art to be accessible to all children of all backgrounds and gave tickets for the exhibition to children who might not have otherwise been able to go. Do you think there needs to be more done in the art world to help all children from all backgrounds gain access to art and opportunities in the city?
Art is for everyone and I knew I wanted the exhibition to be accessible for as many people as possible. That’s why we allocated 1000 free tickets to local schools, community groups, areas of low socio-economic community and low cultural engagement.
11. Do you think there should be a dedicated area where children could visit an art section that means they could read and view your book like the library? or an indie place like Pigeon Books? where children could pop in and there be an art corner for them to feel inspired and encouraged to enjoy your art and the cultural things you bring to the city?
Do I think there should be ‘art areas for kids’? No. I think the kids should be in the thick of it. I think art providers should create situations where everyone is welcomed and discussion and engagement should happen between all groups of people. Some of the most astute questions and observations at the exhibition came from young people. Dedicated sections reek of dumbing down. Let’s get the kids stuck into the main attraction. Despite amazing art educators in schools, the arts are getting squeezed out of their educational experiences by our current government. This means, giving them challenging and ‘real world’ art experiences is all the more important.
12. What was your favourite process of putting the book together?
I really liked playing with the conventions of a traditional book. Who says you can’t have two front covers? Why can’t you hide secrets?
13. Where can people buy the book from?
The book is currently available exclusively from my website mydogsighs.co.uk and popping up to my studio, above the Wedgewood Rooms in Albert Road, Southsea (where I’ll be happy to sign it).
You can catch My Dog Sighs on his book signing (and wall painting) tour of the UK over the coming months. He will start the events with a discussion about his creative journey and the project and then hold a question and answer session with the audience. Books, prints and merchandise will be available for sale and there will be an opportunity to get books signed. Visiting Leicester, Peterborough, Cardiff, Bristol, Cheltenham, Exeter, Plymouth, Preston, Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool and London gives a chance for any big fans to go on a trip and explore another city, especially if you didn't get to go to the book signing in Southsea. To find out more details of the venues involved and how you can go visit, check out the website below.