A life full of social interaction: Stewart Home
Active since the late 1970s, first as a zine writer and punk musician, and later as an art theorist, novelist, filmmaker and editor of experimental fiction, Stuart Home has operated – for fun and giggles as much as for aesthetics and activism – as a conceptual indigent, quasi-occultist, propagandist for psychic warfare. Rich in farfetched juxtapositions, his prolific output often connects the knuckles-and-raunch pulp fictions of early ’70s with Situationist critique, and puts the comic, burning brutalism that ensues to keenly-observed satiric effect.
What’s striking is not just the sheer deluge of output, but also, for all his obsessions and self-plagiarising tropes, its huge range. Situationism, psychogeography, anarchist history, countercultural movements, subterranean London, network art: not only has he participated in plenty of these scenes, he writes about them with clarity, wit and an attention to detail that would shame the broad-brush generalisers who flourish in academia today.
A case in point was an ‘action’ (entitled The Great Downtown Shredding Machine Massacre) he staged at White Columns in New York City, where, before giving a reading from his latest spam-and-porn-and-art world novel, he shredded a copy of his book Down and Out In Shoreditch and Hoxton (2004). This was, he announced, less an act of destruction as a repurposing of a mass-market paperback into a limited-edition art object.
But he is probably most famous for being the driving force behind the Art Strike from 1990-93, a reaction to the theory of post-modernism and London’s auto-destructive art scene at that time. In order to achieve the commodification of art, he gathered artist and they unified in the slogan “Plagiarism, Marxism, Commodities, and Strategies of Its Negation” and together they strived to close down the galleries. And rather than drawing up lineages of influence and possible appropriation – Gustav Metzger as well as John Lennon and Yoko Ono are theoretical precursors – it’s more important to observe how resonant this statement of refusal is today when the sheer profusion of cultural productions coming out of project spaces, start-up galleries and biennales appears flood-like.
At a retrospective of his work at White Columns in New York City in 2011 he showed Stewart Home Talks About The Art Strike (2004), a 45-minute video shot by Paula Roush in the studio of novelist Tom McCarthy, where he displays his sharp-witted, relaxed persona, and perks up his theoretical excursions by abruptly taking off his top and later his trousers.
‘Stewart Home Talks About the Art Strike’, video shot by Paula Roush, 2004. Installation view at White Columns, New York City, 2011