Nothing on the telly? Allow us to introduce you to the parallel universe of New Brighton born artist, Duncan Pickstock.

Re-calibrate your DAB, re-align your satellite, and you’ll find a world where Desert Island Dissidents is a popular radio show featuring interviews with ex members of the Angry Brigade (a pocket-sized left wing terrorist group active in the early 70s), where the Arab Spring is brought uncomfortably close to home, and where Sunday evening TV features Time Watch-esque explorations of corners of the Earth’s surface we’d rather remained off-limits and buried for good.

Unsettling, yes, but engaging and unflinching too, Pickstock’s work invites us to take another look at the growing pains of a restless and troubled world. We caught up with him ahead of the launch of his new walking tour of the main sites of the G20 protest in London, by Italian anarchist-philosopher, Federico Campagna: not something your regular Blue Badge Guide can offer, we imagine.

You can follow the links to watch/listen to Pickstock’s work.

You address knottily unresolved issues in your work – how do you choose the subject matter?

I suppose you make work about things which engage you or upset you or anger you or confuse you; things that force you to respond. These things, I suppose, have tended to be, broadly speaking, socio-political issues like the credit crunch and the inequities of the banking system in MONUMENT, The Arab Spring in THE SQUARE or, most recently, the plight of migrants, in DIG. This has maybe stemmed from my earlier work The Believers and Testament which were about belief or faith and where it comes from or, maybe, what it is a response to.

Much of your work is concerned with ‘documentary’ – what, exactly, are you trying to document?

Though it’s true a lot of my films would broadly come under the heading ‘Documentary’ I’d have to qualify that. I hate, and I certainly don’t think my work is anything like, a lot of TV documentaries where there’s a lot of repetition in case the viewer hasn’t ‘got it’ or to summarise what has happened after an advertising break, or where there is a very definite beginning, middle and end and a point to be made in the last few minutes. Though I would admit that a lot of my work refers to that form- or is a pastiche of it.

I think The Believers [ where I interviewed people who believed they had ‘the one truth’ about what they were like before they found their truth] and in Testament [ where I interviewed people who had fought and killed in defence of a belief, not because they had to…] are certainly documentary in the purest sense: they are documents of people talking about something.

The thinking behind those being that one person’s story, though unique in itself, will have elements that strike a chord with everyone. Micro-histories some people call them. You know, the people in those films are perhaps extremists – they are on the streets spreading their truth in The Believers or have resorted to violent action and killing in Testament – but I think their experiences are something we can all have empathy with.

In much of your work, you play with, or otherwise subvert, familiar memes, or styles. Why?

I’m not sure about these things. I don’t have everything fixed in some sort of fully formed intellectual framework. I tend to have an idea and think ‘That’d be smart..’ and then maybe it’ll bubble away for a while then, a bit later, I’ll think ‘Oh yeah, that’s an idea..’ Then it all pieces together.

So, with DIG (Pickstock’s ‘Time Team’ pastiche) for example I wanted to do something about migration and about how brutally migrants are treated by us. You know, they are simply trying to get ahead, to improve their lives. They are showing the characteristics of ‘get-up and go’ that they are told are essential if they are going to access the Western, liberal free-market utopia. We tell them how ace it is having lovely cars and fitted kitchens and Gap and smart-phones but when they think ‘God, I’d love a bloody smart-phone and a pastel coloured polo shirt’ and try and get it we call them parasites and scavengers and a bloody menace and let them die by the boat load or rot under tarpaulins on the French Coast.

And, of course, there’s the passivity of sitting in your chair watching awful things happen but doing nothing. The complacency. I thought that was also interesting.

MONUMENT from duncan pickstock on Vimeo.


Some say the art of a good documentary is not to explain. Just to show. Do you agree?

I think the idea of ‘explaining’ isn’t really documentary. It’s not a lecture or a public information film. Of course, if you make a documentary you have a standpoint or a position but I suppose your role is to show something and not say ‘This is shit because of this…’ but to show what it is that made you feel as you do. But, to go back to what I said about documentary/ documenting before, maybe really… it’s difficult because there is always an element of editing and authorship: you think of the questions and you edit the answers, but you should be trying to record a position as best you can – if you disagree with it or not.

How important is your audience? Do you attempt to make pieces that are, essentially, enjoyable to watch?

I hate hierarchy and I hate the way, in art especially, there is a deliberate strategy to alienate people. So, I like the idea that the work I make is accessible and approachable and not dressed up to make someone think ‘This isn’t for me..’ and another person think ‘Marvellous, this conforms perfectly to the socio-economic group I aspire to be a part of..’

That said, I make the work how I want it to be. It’s not tempered to have broad appeal. It’s not made for the lowest common denominator…

How do you want your work to be consumed? What are your thoughts of video installations in art galleries?

I like accessibility. People go to art galleries a lot now but I also like it when something is put in a context that isn’t so obvious. I’ve done quite a few things in the windows of empty shops where there’s a pile of tellies with The Believers or Testament on with subtitles and people get caught up in it and spend ages looking at the films and that’s smart. There was one thing in South London where Testament was in the window of an old video shop and it was right next to a bus stop and people would go into the shop complaining that they’d missed their bus ’cause they were watching the films ….

Do you see your films as a starting point? You work with strong ‘issues’ – so what are your thoughts about their after effects?

Though it would be lovely to think something you did would change the world that would be load of self-deluding bollocks. If one or two people like something and maybe even think differently about something as a result of having seen something, then that’d be great. Ultimately, however, I make things for my own peace of mind not because I’ve any sense that they’ll change anything…

What are you interested in next?

A few things – I think there is something very powerful about boatloads of African migrants being allowed to die in a rowing boat by a NATO ship that was busy bombing Libya and about the fisherman [Peruvian, I think] who were adrift in The Pacific and were spotted by the passengers of a cruise ship who alerted the crew who failed to go and save them. Two of the fishermen died after that and the lad who survived has brought it all to light. I’m thinking about that J K Jerome book Three Men in a Boat and the symbolism of a boat representing a community… Anyway, we’ll see…

Duncan Pickstock