Interviews with Artists

Rene Matić

Interview by William Noel Clarke


Published in December 2020


Born British, Die British, installation view, Vitrine Gallery, London, 2020.
Photograph by Jonathon Bassett.

'Born British, Die British' is your first solo show. How has it been working on this during one of the most tumultuous years in recent history?

I have to say, it couldn't have come at a better time. It is imperative for me - mind body and soul - that I continue to read, write and make in such a precarious time... in order to gain back continuity and control. Everything in the show has been swimming all over around everything... all up in my body and brain for months if not years. It makes you sea sick after a while...having a show is the opportunity to throw it all up and settle your tummy... now I have all this extra room for food and thought AND as we all know, the best thing to do during lockdown is eat.

It's interesting that you say it couldn't have come at a better time as your show will also finish shortly after our transition period into Brexit ends, marking a new era for Britain. In relation to your show, which engages with what it means to be born British and to die British in modern-day, multicultural Britain, has Brexit affected or influenced your understanding of Britain and its people?

Brexit is a very loud evidencing of Britain, its people and the power structures that pervade it/us... I wouldn't say it has influenced my understandings but rather - sadly - echoed and confirmed them.

Could you elaborate on this?

I think it brought/brings to light (or dark) the mechanical malfunctions of Britain that have always been there. I often talk about my work as an interrogation, interruption and undermining of the myth of a ‘pure’ and ‘unadulterated’ Britishness. I think Brexit does this too... it's just embarrassing enit.

Do you consider your tattoo, that states the phrase 'Born British, Die British', to do this as well?

What does it mean for you to be marked with these words now and into the future?

I think so... for those words to make sense on a skin and a body like mine is a system failure - an irreversible, irresistible breakage in the infrastructure.

Getting this tattoo was me embarking on this very strange lifelong performance by which I am both forcing occupation and being occupied. this is what Black Britishness is... incorporation and resistance.

It's interesting to refer to the tattoo as a continuous performance, something that doesn't end at the video or photograph documentation exhibited in the show, but instead evolve with you throughout your lifetime.

Born British, Die British, 2020. Single channel video, pin. 00:49:18. 
Photograph by Jonathon Bassett.

The way you have documented it was a very collaborative process. Who did you collaborate with and why?

I think that Black Britishness is a continuous, evolving performance. I collaborated with Lal Hardy and Derek Ridgers who I’ve been a huge fan of for years! Both of them have made their dent in British history and I suppose I wanted to insert myself into their way of storytelling. Both of their practices involve dealing with bodies in such intimate ways and I think that the crux of the show is about this idea of ownership, access and imaging of people, bodies and culture.

Muddy Puddle, 2020. Household paint, carpet, Levi jeans, Fred Perry, Dr Martens, dimensions variable.
Photograph by Jonathon Bassett.

Your work 'Muddy Puddle' includes the Fred Perry polo that has recently been withdrawn from shelves in the US because it has been adopted by the Far-Right, Neo-Fascist group 'Proud Boys'.

Why have you chosen to include it? What relation does that have to Britain and yourself?

The Fred Perry polo is part of this huge cultural pattern that [Dick] Hebdige describes as a kind of reservoir "a pre-constituted 'field of possibles' which groups take up, transform and develop".

Throughout British history, the FP polo has become coded as a form of refusal. That's why it is part of my uniform too. Uniform is a weird thing... it’s this extension of skin and identity.

Having the yellow tipped polo in the show after its ban from the US and Canada is like a trophy; a battle won, a re-definition, a staking a claim but most importantly an overthrowing of hegemony.

Reserved for Mum and Dad, 2020. Metal, spray paint, cotton, metal, rubber, cigarette. 85 x 45 x 45 cm.
Photograph by Jonathon Bassett.

You also somewhat provide uniforms of representation for your parents in 'Reserved for Mum and Dad' which reflects their identities. How have you done this and what is this work about?

'Reserved for Mum and Dad' is comprised of two traditional 1950’s stacking chairs and a few cigarettes. They sit at an angle next to one another. One is cream with leopard print upholstery, this one represents Alison (Mum), the other is brown with bleached denim upholstery, this represents Paul (Dad). It’s a staging of a conversation that never occurred but perhaps/definitely should – what happens when you mix leopard print with bleached denim?

It is about the (ir)responsibility of bringing a mixed child into this world - it’s about birthing a Black Briton.

The fabrics and patterns I have used are weighted with incredible histories... especially concerning class...but really, privately... it's humorous.... because I can really see them there. They lead such separate lives and yet here I am - the meeting place of these awfully clashing patterns.

What's next? You have had a really full year of back to back shows and I'm sure you have some more on the horizon?

I am taking a little bit of time to recalibrate and meditate on all the works I have produced and shown/not shown in 2020. There are so many things I can take forward with me from 'Born British Die British,' everything is yet to be stretched and kneaded. I have started writing a documentary about my Dad's upbringing and I am working on a photography book with Arcadia Missa. 2021 is looking to be a lovely year of growth for my work.

Destination/Departure, 2020. Blueback photographic print mounted on MDF, photographed by Derek Ridgers. 152 x 101 x 1 cm.
Photograph by Jonathon Bassett.




If you like this why not read our interview with Angus McCrum


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