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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

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 15 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The coming anarchy

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times