It's a Battlefield Out There: An Interview with Kevin James Boyd and Mandy Niewöhner

Maya Caspari

18 Jan 2016
We caught up with BNC artists Kevin James Boyd and Mandy Niewöhner to hear about what inspires them and the challenges facing emerging artists today.

To coincide with this year's Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition, Maya Caspari caught up with artists Kevin Boyd and Mandy Niewöhner to hear about what inspires them and what they see as the challenges facing emerging artists today.

What motivated you to become an artist? Which other artists or artworks, past and present, have inspired you?

Mandy Niewöhner: This is going to sound very clichéd but the reason I became an artist is to give people that are seen as a minority a voice. I’m fighting for people and communities that are overlooked. By questioning certain aspects of life and transforming that into art and putting it out there, I challenge the viewer's perceptions. Artists that have inspired me and still do are Sarah Lucas with her masculine sculptures, Nan Goldin with her challenging photographs of the queer community in the 1980s and the queer community in London today that is very vibrant and full of the energy. We need to make a difference.

"The reason I became an artist is to give people that are seen as a minority a voice."

Kevin James Boyd: I became an artist as it was always something I had an interest in from my days at high school. Also, my father and grandfather were both artistic, which was an inspiration for my artistic career. Richard Billingham is probably the artist who got me thinking about the subject matter that my art is about. I always go back to Billingham’s photographic work to clear my head if I am stuck.

What do you see as the main challenges facing young and emerging artists today and how can we address them? Do artists have a responsibility to be politically engaged?

MN: Survival. It feels sometimes that it really is survival of the fittest. It is not only surviving in the art world, which is a highly competitive field... but perhaps even more about surviving in general and that making art on top of that - I know many young and exceptionally talented artists that can barely pay their rent and survive from their job, let alone make art. The ones that are privileged enough to have a studio where they potentially can make new work, don’t have time or money to actually make the work. You see all these young talented artists slaving away, serving coffee to people or invigilating in art institutes so that they at least are surrounded by art, while they really should continue making their own work, which is almost impossible. I don’t know the solutionor if there is a solution to thisbut I think that the big art institutes should prepare young artists more for what is coming. In the graduation speeches we hear the institutes say that it is a battlefield out there and that whatever you do, don’t give up because we are the new generation of artists that can potentially change the world. But how can we change the world if we ourselves can barely survive?

Let's say you have found the time to make new work, then because it's maybe the only work you’ve done for a few months it has to be good and politically challenging. Another layer of pressure. I think that young artists who have just graduated from their Master's or Bachelor's are already politically engaged maybe without even knowing it. They've been through an intense course where their views have been challenged. They have met people from different cultures and learned from them. And then after graduation it is all about survival and making new work. It’s not only that we have the responsibility to be politically engaged - we are engaged already by trying to survive and paying attention to what is happening around us.

KJB: I believe that the main challenge facing young artists today is the increasing amount of technology and social media that is diluting the work of serious makers. I personally do not think artist need to be politically engaged, though often I feel that artists end up making work that will provoke political debates, even if these have not been intentionally portrayed. This is down to how the viewer perceives the art.

Tell us something we don’t know about you or your work.

KJB: The most surprising thing that happened to me during my studies was four hours before my degree show deadline was when the Mackintosh Building caught on fire. The majority of my work was damaged - this was the same work that I submitted to BNC and has been exhibited in Nottingham and London.

"Four hours before my degree show deadline, the Mackintosh Building caught fire."

MN: Something you may or may not know about me is that I have three personas that make work together. One of them is me, Mandy, but the other two are Gerritwho believes he is a man but the society he lives in doesn’tand Maria, who is a dominant power woman whose body is empowering her and is not afraid to show that. All three of us have different life experiences and believe different things are important. At the moment we are on a residency in Rome where we have really started working together for the first time. The work that we’ve made is something completely new to all of us, which is exciting and challenging at the same time.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2015 runs 25 November 2015 - 24 January 2016.