The NS Interview: Jake and Dinos Chapman, artists

“We look at our work and think: why do we have to do this?”

For your new show, you worked apart. Did you want to destroy the idea of your partnership?
Jake:
The idea of suddenly, in our twilight years, deciding to work separately might have led one to believe that this could produce some more personalised, emotional work - but when you look, it's just the same old shit.

Are you surprised that people take your work so seriously?
J:
Yes. There are serious elements in the work which are continuous with being funny. We're serious about laughter. It produces schisms in thinking and it's a political force.

We are besmirched by the term "shock", which really is a euphemism for idiocy. I've never met anyone who's shocked by the work, although I hear it all the time. The first paragraph of any kind of critical review is "children with penises . . . blah blah blah".

The critics are never shocked themselves - they assume it on behalf of others.
J:
It's true. I've seen people who don't know anything about art look at the work and piss themselves laughing. They get that the work is an incitement to laughter, rather than an incitement to some sort of moral panic.

Do you think that the moral boundaries we create around art are false?
J:
I think that moral constructs are so wafer-thin that when people are faced with something that supposedly tests them, they have to give an
extreme reaction in order to demonstrate they are on the right side of the ethical divide. The most offensive work you could make would be to put the penis in the right place on the mannequins - that would be outrageous! Putting it in the wrong place means it's a joke.

Would you ever describe your work as satire?
J:
Satire tends towards something cartoonish, non-transcendent - it's poking fun. Art has some longevity to it. But I wouldn't be averse
to thinking that our work had satire in it.

Do you vote?
J:
I have voted, yes. We're involved.

Are you worried about what the government is doing to the arts?
J:
Not just the arts. It's complete social suicide.
Dinos: The "big society"? Great, isn't it? No government responsibility.

Tracey Emin approves of its arts policy.
D:
She's an idiot. She wants to be a baroness.
J: I mean, how can you not pay your taxes?
D: Stop using the roads, stop using the air, stop drinking water. Buy bottled water, hover above the ground, don't breathe. Because, like it or not, you're part of this society.

Has art become commodified?
J:
The sublime is the ultimate capital. It's purposeless labour put to the service of people who can speculate on its scarcity.

Are you uncomfortable with the commercial success of your work?
J:
We've bent over backwards to try to future-proof the work from its inevitable success. You make a work called Fuck Face - you can't redeem it too well. It is only what it is.
D: Then it backfires horribly.
J: It becomes the bourgeois object par excellence.

Do you want to disown it at that point?
J:
We'll disown it when it's gone. We'll disown it when we've had the money and spent it.
D: We're not very bourgeois.
J: I don't know if we've acquiesced in this prostitutional exchange and thought: "As long as we spend the money on things you shouldn't spend money on, then that's kind of all right."
D: I think we're well aware that we are barnacles. We're not people who are desperate for the accoutrements of success.

Do you like your own work?
J:
We did a retrospective at the Tate and friends said, "It's lovely to see your old work" - and it's not, it's horrific. It's like seeing all your mistakes, like an autopsy laid out in front of you.

Why do you feel that disgust?
J:
There's a gluttony. You're led by the idea that this thing will fulfil all of the ambitions you have for it. When you look back on it, it represents those narcissistic desires.
D: Jake and I would love to make minimal sculptures and paintings. I look at the things I love and think, "Why can't I make those?"

Like what?
D:
I'm not going to tell you. You don't make the things you want to make, you make the things that want to be made. Sometimes, we look at our work and think, "Why do we have to do this?"
J: You're compelled for reasons that are not always clear. I feel disgusted I had the audacity or stupidity to do it, or that I was so self-important that I didn't notice I should shut the fuck up.

Is there a plan?
D
: Yes, to have no plan.

Are we all doomed?
J:
Yes, but in a good way. It's the tendency of successful species to accelerate towards extinction and that's a good thing.

Defining moments

1962 Konstantinos ("Dinos") Chapman is born in London
1966 Iakovos ("Jake") is born, Cheltenham
1997 They show work in the "Sensation" exhibition at the Royal Academy
2003 Show including defaced Goya prints opens at Modern Art Oxford
2004 Fire at a warehouse in east London destroys their sculpture Hell
2011 "Jake or Dinos Chapman" opens at White Cube gallery, London