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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

Biteback and James Wharton
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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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