INTERVIEW: AJ GARRETT – VIDEOHEAD | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The art world – shocker! – can be a terribly self-indulgent place, and it’s a theme that Middlesbrough-based artist and filmmaker AJ Garrett presents on his latest work, Videohead, at mima in Middlesbrough on Sunday 14th December. His new film, Art Prison, is a collaboration with artists from Teesside and beyond; a fun, consciously non-pretentious attack on the double standards of art culture.

The story revolves around a very modern prison where the ‘wrong type of artists’ are sent to serve their time. “Whichever society you look at, there’s always one group in power who have values over what’s right and what’s wrong,” explains AJ. “In Art Prison there’s a lot of talk about the wrong type of art, but really, the right type is only really what the people in power make it.”

The set-up is deliberately lo-fi; shot in an actual gallery with local actors and music from electronic musician Joypette, a.k.a. Danielle Johnson from Year of Birds/ex-Witch Hands (“lots of lovely analogue synths!”). It follows the feud between a famous and powerful artist (played by Nigel Buckland) and an amateur water colourist (Danielle Boucher) who get sent to Art Prison.

I’d much rather make something that looks phoney and has a genuine message than something that looks real and feels empty

“I’m not really into directors like Paddy Constantine who specialise in social realism; I quite like being reminded that you’re watching a film. I’m inspired by a lot of 60s TV and [famous theatre director/theorist] Brecht, where everything is supposed to feel artificial.”

The film is his follow-up to 2011’s Cement Factory, which also comprises part of the Videohead programme. “Cement Factory was deliberately dreary because it was inspired by having a boring office job, so when I set about making Art Prison I wanted something that was just fast, funny, wild and as crazy as possible.”

The afternoon event at mima in December will also see the premiere of AJ’s first foray into animation, entitled Dorris, written and co-voiced by Teesside cult figure Shaun Elliot, member of band Pellethead and underground artist extraordinaire. “He presented me with this exercise book he’d done full of notes and ideas,” AJ recalls. “It’s about this lad who does a séance to contact his deceased grandparents, then his parents arrive and they all have this big domestic. It’s very dark, in a knockabout, very Shaun Elliot sort of way.”

A creative hub, mima encapsulates the spirit of the work AJ produces. “A lot of people from Teesside you’re just aware of for years and years, and you just wait for the right opportunity to come along to work with them. I saw Danielle Boucher, who plays the lead in Art Prison, in a sketch comedy show and right away I thought ‘I’d love to do something with this actor at some point’.”

He credits his actors for coming up with some of the film’s smartest lines. “It’s good to leave the actors to it sometimes, definitely. It adds to that sort of stripped-down rawness of it.” For AJ everything comes back to this low-budget authenticity:  “I don’t set out to make The Hobbit on a fifty quid budget. I’d much rather make something that looks phoney and has a genuine message than something that looks real and feels empty.”

AJ Garrett presents Videohead at mima, Middlesbrough on Sunday 14th December.

Art Prison – the trailer from AJ Garrett on Vimeo.

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