Sunday, 20 March 2016

INTERVIEW WITH FINE ARTIST CHRIS GRAHAM

"The art wankers that wear the right clothes, say the right things and smile in all the right places. They might get the jobs, but they'll still get caught wanking off in the toilets."


When did you first realise you wanted to become an artist? 

I don't think I always wanted to be an artist, or at least what I thought an artist was as a child. I remember wanting to be a soldier, an astronaut and having a short mental dalliance with ballet, but I think that was something to do with the tights and tutus.

As a child my mum said I was always drawing and painting, sitting in front of the television, scribbling, high on new experimental markers from me dad's printing job. I thought an artist was someone who made beautiful pictures in gold frames for rich patrons and they worked in a studio full of their drawings and paintings and smelled of paint and solvents. Or markers? Not knowing how to use my particular skill set back then, I ended up doing a degree in Illustration. Much later, after a failed attempt with an illustration agent at an unsuitable London agency, I soon realised I was an artist with a capital 'A'.

I realised I didn't want to, or maybe I wasn't actually capable of, painting and drawing 'nice' pictures that made the whole world look beautiful. Not like them other artists, the 'art wankers' as I now affectionately call them, with their pseudo-scientific intellectualism, their international art language, the mere producers of 'chewing gum for the eyes', colourful interior fucking decorators for whom it's just a job, with tax breaks and jollies, like Dolly Parton's 9 to fucking 5. The art wankers that wear the right clothes, say the right things and smile in all the right places. They might get the jobs, but they'll still get caught wanking off in the toilets.


I think trying to look and sound the part doesn't make you an artist, but it will get you into the interview. I'm working class. I'm the son of a miner and a nurse. I mistakenly believed the life that was being prescribed to me and that my making skills had to be used for a 'job', for employment, for a career, for capital, to sell more shit and further the illusion that we are at the peak of human existence and we are all winning. I think I always wanted to be an 'Artist', but it wasn't until 2014 really, after completing a masters degree in fine art and critical theory, that I fully realised that I already was an Artist and had always been.

I work 24/7, 365 days a year as an Artist. I have no fucking days off. There ain't no money in it for me, but I don't make my shit for the money, I make my shit because I have to. It's a form of therapy for me. It keeps me able to continue. I often say that we all have mental health issues, but luckily, I ain't fucking suffering. Do you remember the 80's cartoon Dangermouse? That was made by 2 blokes called Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall. At the end of the cartoon, the credits rolled and the words 'Cosgrove Hall' were shown. I always thought it was a physical place, a building somewhere that the animators worked in, a bit like Bletchley Park, but for cartoonists. I remember telling me mam and dad that I was going to work there when I was bigger. I never did work there and I am still only 5 foot 3.


What brought you to Sheffield Hallam University to do an MA in fine art? 

Geography and economics. It was the nearest and the cheapest. Well, that's not strictly true and does Sheffield a disservice. Sheffield Hallam University and the city of Sheffield have a long history of art excellence and making and Sheffield has always had a vibrant night life in its darker corners at the blurred edges of the map. At the time of first enrolling at Sheffield Hallam, my dad had just been diagnosed with myelodisplasia (pre-leukaemia) so I deferred for a year and looked after him with me mam. I was helping me dad to the toilet in the early hours of the morning and as I held the piss bottle to his penis, he placed an arm around my shoulders for stability and pissed all over my forearm, "Make some art out of that fucker", he said. We laughed. He died during my final year.


What did your MA exhibition mean to you?

After me dad died, I was gutted obviously, but I threw myself into my work harder than before, determined to make my Art do something, say something. Anything. I'd spent the previous 2 years of study, leading up to the final exhibition, thinking that I didn't know what I was doing, thinking that I wasn't producing very much. I realised later, that I was producing shitloads of work and doing shitloads of reading and research when compared to some of the other art wankers who just talked a good talk. I just didn't know yet, where it was all heading.


I started off by making my Kate Moss screen prints and then I made a deformed (by depleted uranium) Fallujah baby and then I made 2 cast bronze Abu Ghraib prisoner statuettes, a full size fibre glass donkey, fitted with a masturbation cup, cardboard letters spelling 'capitalism' that I made anagrams from, a large ceramic Chinese baby in a McDonalds box. I was just purging and making and remaking and purging, unconcerned by the final outcome, lost in the madness and chaos of the world around me. Because for me, that's what an Artist is. What an artist should be. It's not a fucking job (getting paid sometimes would be a bonus though). It's about showing the world back to ourselves so that we can see it afresh. I think Art should try to reconnect us to life, not hide life from us, in some art wankery, intellectual, pseudo scientific, international art language, codified, elitist fucking bollocks. In blue, to match your fucking sofa!


After the final show, I was reviewed by David Gilbert from Axis web and I was happy as fuck and felt I had done my best for me and me mam and dad.

How do you feel about the concept of fame, as expressed in your Kate Moss piece? 

I've been eating Kate Moss for years. Eating her image. Consuming Kate Moss. I do lo- fi postcard collages, paintings on furniture, screen prints, whatever tools I have to hand. Whenever my wife buys a glossy magazine, there's always a Kate Moss image in there somewhere. She's an icon. A manufactured goddess for the every man/ woman. They're either using her image to sell more shit or attacking her image for not looking beautiful every minute of every day.


When Kate first spoke on television in a make-up advert, all she said in her native Croydon twang was, "Live the Landon Lack", but those four little words, dropped her back to earth like a hot fucking turd. Only human. The celebrity machine finds new stars, chews them up and spits them out, perpetuating the objectification and commodification of the 'unattainable' female form. As to fame, I don't think I would want to be famous. Or maybe that's just my brain compensating for my abject failure. Can you imagine me famous, as some poster boy for disaffected capitalism? What with my yellow teeth and greasy tee zone and clothes way past 'oh so last season'. I'm more like Kate Moss's badly dressed, disfigured, disabled, illegitimate brother, than any 'goygeous' salesman of our as yet, unsold futures.


Your work references the fundamental dichotomies of beauty vs ugliness, good vs evil. 

These seem like simple binary choices. Beauty/Ugliness. Good/ Evil. Only ever one or the other? Incremental? Measurable? Clearly defined? Sometimes everything is everything is everything all at once, mixed into a world of fucking grey. The world will make hypocritical monsters of us all if we let it. I believe real beauty can shine out of the 'ugliest' of people and that beauty can be hidden, blackened and unseen in the 'goygeous' people too. We all forget to see humans sometimes and we can stupidly judge people on their external, physical, first appearance.

Chris round ours, talking to Brian, summer 2014.

People always ask me if I hate Kate Moss. They see my images and think I must really want to flay the flesh from her face, desecrate her body, be the misogynist of their first misreading of my work. Maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe I'm part of the problem. Can everything be understood instantly? Can contradictions ever create stability? Do you need to spend more than a 'micro slice' with humans to see them more clearly?

A few months ago, I was hanging my Kate Moss print in an art space in Doncaster, when a woman asked me if I hate all women, or just Kate Moss? I told her (told her? Maybe I am a misogynist) I love women. All of them. Told her she'd maybe got my work wrong. Told her I was making feminist work against the patriarchy that promotes misogyny.


I explained to her that Kate Moss was just, only fucking just, sixteen when she did her first topless modelling shoot. So, on her 16th birthday, just after the cocaine, champagne and chocolate cake, the photographer said something like "Now you're 16, you need to get your little titties out today love". Bosh! Done? No discussion? No coercion? No manipulation? No fucking grooming? No little girl needing to be talked into it? All in one day? Fuck off. Get a fucking grip you cunts. Or maybe Kate decided to do it on her 16 birthday because she just wanted to? It was her choice? "I know, as a recently empowered through capitalism, 16 year old girl, why don't I get me tits out for you today?". I reckon she had people talking her towards it from day one, before she even grew tits. After this quick explanation, she loved the work, said it was very powerful. I'm glad I was there to explain my true intention, as it was obviously lost in transmission. Like I say, I'm a failed artist. Maybe I'm just an arstit.



   How do you feel about religion? 

Personally, I think religion is the delusion inside the illusion. But each to their own, whatever gets you through the day and all that polite bollocks. I was conditioned into Irish Catholicism as a child. Well they tried to, but it didn't stick and I was apostate at 10 years old. Like Doubting Thomas, I would've needed to repeatedly finger Jesus to believe. As the nuns used to say whenever I questioned the miracles, just before I got the slipper/ ruler, "You've just got to believe Christopher" (my name means 'bearer of Christ'). Funnily enough, I don't think you do have to believe with religion. You don't have to really believe and be a 'good human' in the hope you'll get into heaven and be saved from a life of damnation. You just have to turn up to mass, wear the right clothes, say the right things, smile and genuflect in the right places, promise to say your prayers in penance for your supposed sins and then get straight back to the shit in your life, cheating on your partner, beating and raping kids, swindling expenses, doing what you like really, because there is no final judgement and retribution. Only several hail Mary's and a few Lord's prayers. And death. And even if, as I died and my soul/ spirit/ mind floats off into the ether, even if then, I see a black woman speaking in a middle eastern accent and 'God' and religion is finally 'proved' to me and she/ he condemns me to eternal damnation, I would still choose 'free will' and say "Fuck you! I'll take my chances in the void".


What is the funniest thing that's ever happened to you in your life as an artist? Or even just in your life? 

When I started university, I didn't just feel it, I was actually, the odd one out. During the first week I attended a lecture on the theme of Catastrophe with 200 other students, to watch a film by Renzo Martens called 'Enjoy Poverty'. It's an excellent film about a filmmaker getting 'black coolies' to carry his equipment across Africa, through jungles and deserts, from village to village, talking to them about western politics and their own continued enslavement in poverty, getting locals to take him to fly ridden corpses and famine stricken families so that he can teach them reportage photography like the white journalists who flock to disasters, and then sets them up for a fail when they try to sell the images. Hard exploitation to show the exploitation.

At the end of the film, the tutor asked "What is catastrophe?". My hand shot up straight away and when asked I replied "It's a catastrophe that they can't eat their own dead black babies". The whole lecture theatre fell silent apart from a few audible groans. The tutor said, "What a great Swiftian response", and me being the uneducated underclass that I am, thought she meant a fast response to the question, until someone told me about Jonathan Swift and his Modest Proposal and the Irish potato famine.

Another time, (there was several every hour) the head researcher quietly asked before the lecture "Has anyone got a dictaphone?", to which I replied "Use your fucking fingers mate, you won't get spunk on the buttons". Again, no laughter, only nervous silence. I pissed meself.


Have you encountered people finding your work offensive? 

From day one at university, some students, teachers and audiences found my work, ideas, presentations, offensive. I was even told on several occasions, not to become the 'irritating Other', for highlighting within the institution, those issues that my work critiqued. Some people felt that I was chastising them and their life choices, felt that I was telling them off, by using my artwork as a form of institutional critique. But that's their complicity guilting them, not me. We're all complicit. We're all hypocrites. The world makes us so in our silence.

Some people hated the Kate Moss prints when they first saw them and moaned about sexism, pornography and misogyny and that I could be seen to be promoting it. I explained that as an Artist, all I am trying to do is hold a mirror up to our lives and if you don't like sexism, pornography etc, then don't shoot the fucking messenger, use your own skills and perception to make artwork about it or the things that concern you and the wider world. Or don't, as was the case in the majority of the art wankers' output.


What about the limited exhibition space in Tel Aviv and the scroll? 

I was asked to submit art work for an exhibition in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, called Entrapment and Engagement. I knew straight away that the work I wanted to send would fit the brief perfectly. Quite a few of my friends and colleagues questioned my choice to send my work to exhibition in Tel Aviv, what with the Israel boycotts, but I sent the fucker anyway.  I wasn't sending them some nice 'happy clappy' interior decoration that would enable them to carry on killing Palestinians without ever questioning the atrocity.

I sent them my 'Corporate Holocaust', 7 metres of drawings that deproblematize WW2 propaganda, reconnecting the political, religious and corporate players of the time, Nazis and dead Jewish babies, hand drawn using 3 bic biro pens, using 6 million millimetres of black ink, displayed in a mock T' Orah scroll that showed 1 metre of drawing at a time, in the hope that the audience may review our/ their recent history and see the similarities between then and now. 100's of international corporations made money before, during and after the Trading with the enemy act. As they still do today. War is business and we're all fodder for the Industrial Military Complex one way or another.


You're a supporter of Exaro News' campaigning investigative journalism into child abuse, what do you think about the UK elite's attitude towards and ways of dealing with the survivors of child rape by those in power? 

I'm always interested in alternate histories, other voices, that fight to appear, that break free from the dominant history of the victors. I was groomed and sexually assaulted as a child by someone who was lodging with us. I wasn't repeatedly raped or killed, I was lucky, but it destroyed my trust in the adults around me and I entered into drink, drugs, crime, violence and ended up in young offenders at 18. I then spent 10 years on self destruct in those environments before I got me shit together, spending another 10 years on self-reeducation and self -rehabilitation outside of institutions.

Now don't get me wrong, I most probably still would have entered into those things anyway, coming from a working class, ex mining community, underfunded in education and health care, with few real economic prospects beyond a shitty factory job at the local knocker factory. But the broken trust made me more vulnerable to being in those environments and it took me another 10 years of self-education and self-rehabilitation to correct those wrong behaviours, with the love and support of my family and a few great art teachers.


But, because I was a child when it happened and because I was unable to understand it and then subsequently couldn't report it until 10 years after the fact, the police called it 'historic' and told me there was nothing they could do. Hold on a minute. Nothing you can do? The cunt is still working with kids. But it was my word against his and in the eyes of the law, nothing could be proved that anything had happened and I was not allowed to name him. He was an army cadet instructor and part time territorial army instructor and full time fucking paedophile.

I did all the police work for them, trawled the internet and found the cunt working in Japan, where they sell used schoolgirls' knickers from vending machines. He was working as an English teacher to toddlers and holidays/ volunteers in a Thai Orphanage, frequented by other fucking nonces, well known to the authorities. What fucks me off the most, is when people defend celebrities, politicians etc who are accused of paedophilia. "No, they wouldn't do that. They're so nice. They do so much charitable work with all those sick children. I can't believe it". That's the fucking point you blind cunts! They ingratiate themselves into positions where it looks like they are whiter than white, beyond reproach, beyond questions of guilt. Have you forgotten Jimmy Saville, Gary Glitter etc etc et fucking cettera?

Since the dawn of time, humans have fucked children in the belief that it creates purer bloodlines. Then we got psychology and learned from the survivors that fucking children really fucks them up. We need more conversations on all forms of abuse that we accept daily. Prisons and psychiatric wards are full of incurable child rapists and sex offenders. There's no cure for heterosexuality/ homosexuality/ bestiality/ paedophilia. Your own sexual predilections are your own sexual predilections. I think the only way to try and change paedophilia, is to try and educate the abusers to the damage that they inflict. To make them realise that the victim does not see their actions as they do. I didn't see my abuser wanting to fuck me. I just saw someone paying attention to me, taking me to school, buying me sweets, taking me to a fucking gun club, the dirty bastard. If I would or could have seen his motives before he tried to buy my silence for the upcoming deed, I'd have said "Fuck you" from the start.

As to our elite rulers? They're just sad cunts who haven't learned from their own institutional raping, fagging, beastings at private schools. To them it's normal to oppress the weak and the vulnerable. It's normal to not consider the well being of those they govern. They don't give a fuck. They are all venal cunts.


Has any of your work to date dealt with this subject? 

As you can imagine, it can be a bit of a conversation killer whenever you mention paedophilia, but I am open and honest about my life when I meet any fucker, I have no guilt or shame, because I did fuck all wrong. I was lucky. I think so far, my work has just tried to get people to see the unseen and accepted abuse that capitalism creates, maybe as a precursor to thinking about paedophilia? I don't know. Much like spotting paedophiles (you can't), as people generally don't see the abuse that corporations inflict, they just see the happy smiling face of the corporation/ monster that's abusing them and others, without seeing the horror of their actions in bringing their products to you. Usually, the only people to see/ catch paedophiles, are those caught underneath them, the victims, or those that open the door onto their actions.


What is the most joyful thing that has happened in your life recently?

I had a 4cm, suspected benign, slow growing, suspected DNETS, grade 2 tumour removed from my right frontal lobe at the end of January. Suspected. When they actually cracked the top of me head off, it was a 4cm diffuse astrocytoma, grade 2 to 3. I became ill during the summer and rapidly began to suffer ever worsening symptoms as the tumour grew and increased the pressure inside my head. My neurosurgeon said he'd never met anyone like me, or seen anything like what happened when the anaesthetist began to anaesthetise me ready for the operation.

He said that I was wheeled into the operating theatre and as they prepared to anaesthetise me, I was in the middle of a conversation with him, they injected the anaesthetic, I then went unconscious and he performed a six and a half hour 'stealth craniotomy' operation, with full resection of the tumour. He said that when the anaesthetist injected the reversal to wake me up, I woke up and carried on with the exact same conversation in the exact same place I left off, before the anaesthetic was administered. He repeated that he had never seen anything like it, to which I laughed and said "You must have seen thousands of patients, just like me".


I'm just lucky. On first waking in the operating room, I found myself, imagined my mind, my soul, my me, curled up inside the void left behind by the tumour and I went through the most sublime human experience as my brain and consciousness were 'rebooted' and all my feelings, thoughts, memories, ideas, fears, came back 'online' all at fucking once.

As an artist, I have a massive visual memory and vocabulary, and with that, I was treated to the most awe inspiring, internal, visual light show that displayed in my mind's eye, every single idea, thought, bit of knowledge, book, film, food, fight, fuck, memory, everything, ever, that I had had. All at once, in the deafening sound of a singular, pink, synaptic pop. Imagine everything your brain contains being 'shown' to you and 'felt', all at fucking once. I was remembering facts and figures that I didn't even know I knew. As I lay in the recovery room minutes later, sucking in oxygen, hot piss drips stinging my glans from the catheter removal, I told the nurse that the date needed changing on the cannula in the back of me hand, as "I've just had my operation today and this is yesterday's date on here". She said she thought that I was going to be alright. "Alright? I'm going to be fucking fine babe" I replied. You try making sense of that shit without scaring the life out of your wife and family.


I had a week of super steroids and opiates and I was high as a cunt. I couldn't see my daughter for the first few days as I was too high. When I did see her, I cried my eyes out. I couldn't see her eyes. I was staring right through them. Through her eyeballs, through the orbits of her skull. I could see the base of her brain and it was on fire, electric, just like mine. She was sucking in the planet.

Facebook Post by Chris Graham, post brain surgery, 3rd February 2016


To produce this turd, today's menu consisted of...
5 hours unmedicated sleep.
06.05 Half mug of tea, 1 small spoon of sugar, splash of milk.
06.08 2 paracetamol.
06.10 Small one skinner spliff, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
06.20 2 weetabix, 2 slices white toast, margarine, raspberry jam.
06.30 Half mug tea, 1 small spoon sugar, splash of milk.
06.45 Small one skinner spliff, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
Gently (for me) running 5 hours of internal physical/ mental system diagnostic checks on the new hardware upgrade from the NHS neuro ninjas. All appears functioning well.
30 minutes in the garden on anaesthetically disconnected legs, waiting for the sun to shine.
5 skinny cigarettes.
2 litres of tap water.
11.45 2 slices of toast, margarine, 1 runny, crispy, fried egg, salt, brown sauce. Large mug of tea, 1 sugar.
4.5 hours unmedicated sleep. 2 paracetamol.
2 large plates of beef stew, over fried chips and 3 slices of white bread and the rest of me mum's dinner too.
1 blackberry and raspberry yoghurt.
1 bag of sweet and salt popcorn.
A warm bath. Wife had to wash me arse.
A couple more one skinners, toxic AK47, pussy amount.
2 hours listening to Zoviet France to soothe my void.
38 minutes listening to television static.
Several repeated conversations with worried wife, family, friends, assuring them that I know what the fuck I'm doing. For the first time in 42 years, I am in control. Autonomy is not just a word. It's a state of fucking mind.
Now for more sleep.
Tomorrow I see my daughter again.
Anew.


Friday, 29 January 2016

INTERVIEW WITH A SYRIAN LOVE STORY FILMMAKER SEAN MCALLISTER


“One of the most brave and powerful filmmakers around.” Michael Moore

With A Syrian Love Story nominated for Outstanding Debut at the 2016 BAFTAS for himself as director/producer and Elum Shakerifar as producer,  for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards, and for Best Documentary at the Berlin Peace Awards, plus having won the Grand Jury Prize at Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival 2015, Sean McAllister is once again getting the recognition he deserves as one of the finest documentary filmmakers the world has ever seen. 



I first met Sean a decade ago in the bar of the Novotel hotel in Sheffield during Sheff Doc/Fest where he was showing The Liberace of Baghdad shortly before winning the Sundance award for Best World Documentary 2005. I knew I was in the presence of a singular person, not only is his filmmaking honest, raw, probing and revelatory, but as a person (as anyone who has met him will testify) he is one of life’s characters, someone who once met you will never forget. 


I interviewed Sean twice after that, once in 2008 about his multi award-winning film, Japan, A Story of Love and Hate, and once in 2012 about another of his multi award-winning films, The Reluctant Revolutionary

With The Guardian giving A Syrian Love Story a five star rating and its film critic Peter Bradshaw hailing the film as the third best feature film of 2015 as well as winning Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Grand Jury Prize, A Syrian Love Story is shaping up to be McAllister’s most successful documentary yet.


I remember Sean visiting Syria time and time again before the war broke out, falling in love with the country and spending five years finding and then filming what was to become A Syrian Love Story. Ahead of his time as always, Sean instinctively knew that something was brewing out there, and he was determined to be around to see what would happen when the pot boiled over. On an undercover assignment for Channel 4 news, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Syrian secret services, where he spent five days in jail, often being forced to hear the cries of prisoners being tortured around him. You can see the BBC news report here:


Sean escaped unscathed and here, a fortnight before the BAFTAs, Sean talks about making A Syrian Love Story and touring the world showing it to constantly packed out cinemas.

Storyville's Nick Fraser and Sean's father Joe at a BFI screening, 2015.


You spent years trying to find a story in Syria, and, frustratingly, you were turned down by commissioning editor after commissioning editor who claimed that “No-one’s interested in Syria.”...

True, although Nick Fraser to his credit did eventually commission a film about Syria. It was a great story about a gay restaurant owner I'd met near Homs, but when I went to film him he got scared and pulled out. By which time the BBC money was in the bank and I was too broke to tell them the truth. The great thing about Nick and why he is unique in this business is that he takes the same risks as we filmmakers take and then he leaves you alone. So I spent the next three months looking for another story. I met Amer and started filming but there seemed no chance of getting Ragda out of prison. At the same time two different people who didn't know each other told me of this man they'd met who was a great "Sean character" - problem was he wasn't in Syria, he was in Yemen!



The Arab Spring had started but it seemed impossible to go to Syria. I'd left the UK for three weeks and came home after four months for Christmas with no film. My eternally supportive wife Ruth wasn't happy! So over Christmas I got in touch with Kais and as a tour guide he managed to get me a visa to Yemen. After Christmas I followed my gut instinct and went there. Everyone else was going to Libya.  I made The Reluctant Revolutionary without telling Nick Fraser - then whilst still in Yemen I heard that protests had broken out in Syria and Amer and his 14 year old son Kaka had been arrested held for a day. I flew home, handed my rushes to the editor and flew straight to Damascus on a tourist visa. No camera. I bought one in the Sony shop there. I continued filming the Amer film (which was to become A Syrian Love Story) while editing the Yemen film (The Reluctant Revolutionary.)



I remember Nick saying in the edit suite, "I usually have to ask how your story has changed, but on this occasion I have to ask, "Where in the world are we?"" I told him Yemen and he told me to play the movie. And he loved it. He has since said he loves commissioning me because he enjoys the surprise of what he's going to get.



What are the most important things you’ve learnt whilst touring with the film all over the world?

I've learnt that people really care about this refugee crisis and when given something deep and meaningful to engage people do go and support such films. It's been amazing

How have the film’s subjects, Ragdha, Amer, Bob and Kaka dealt with the film’s success?

 The family love the film’s success. For so long they felt as if the film was never going to be seen anywhere. Now Amer is with me whenever possible. Ragda, less so, although she was with me for a couple of days in Istanbul and loved it.


What effect has the film had on their lives?
Clearly the kids (Bob and Kaka) have new lives in France now. Without the film they wouldn't be there. Many of their friends are dead, others are stuck in refugee camps around the world.
On another level Amer and Ragda lost each other but the film has brought them back together as comrades to talk to audiences around the world about the issues close to their heart.



What effect has the demands of promoting the film had on your own life?

Having three teenage myself, being away from home is a constant struggle. One of the hardest things for me in making the film and films generally is the time away from my own kids. I think they pay a price. Especially my eldest son, George, who recently left home at the tender age of 17, for which I feel a bit responsible. But we are talking now and I hope he will come home again. Anyway I was so proud to see his lead role in the Devils doing a full on Ollie Reed role and magnificent performance. It was West End quality never mind Brit school. I was so proud of him, wonderful stuff. 

George doing an Ollie...

Negotiating my family situation is always hard but also touring is rigorous in other ways, for example keeping fresh with a different audience night after night, all who ask similar questions, but I love meeting people and seeing their different reactions. Like tonight it plays in Jerusalem and tomorrow in Ramallah where I've just had the most wonderful Palestinian breakfast although it's winter now and freezing cold...

You're vegetarian, right?


Yes, and since trying your husband Brian's wonderful home made vegan cheese I've been making vegan cheese myself, and am keen to go vegan. Enjoying your Nirvanosh vegan recipe blog by the way and spreading the word!

Vegetarian Sean having breakfast in Jerusalem.

How demanding was it starting off without distribution and having to organise independent distribution?

Very demanding and we were learning as we went. But distribution is Elhum's passion. She produced the film with me and is great at distribution. She steered it all masterfully although it meant many sleepless nights. I think the BFI are very impressed with the results. Especially for awards like BAFTA where you need to get DVDs to 6000 members - only big films with big distribution can afford the 20k it costs - we could only send links and do screenings wherever possible to get BAFTA members along. But we did it in the end.

Sean and Elhum.


What ended up happening with distribution? Did you eventually get mainstream distribution and how? 

No we didn't get picked up by anyone. They saw it as an uphill struggle, and it is, but we made it work by attending the films with Q&As and holding targeted screenings aimed at specific audiences, not trying to go on general release nationally and compete with mainstream movies.




How has being imprisoned in Syria and hearing other people being tortured affected you since?

 I think of it from time to time. I don't like enclosed spaces anymore and even found IMAX Star Wars in 3D too claustrophobic. I don't like noisy atmospheres I feel I can’t escape from either. Or maybe Star Wars was just a pointless crap movie, I dunno. I think these things have a subliminal effect on us and affect us from time to time when we’re least expecting it...

What are your feelings generally about Syria now?

 I'm generally sad for Syria that our inaction has deepened the problem there, not made it any easier for us to solve but harder. Standing by and allowing Bashar to butcher his people ignoring the barrel bombing of them every day by his forces and instead only showing what Isis are doing there. We now need to find a way to make safety zones inside Syria to protect the people and stop them having to flee.




How are your plans going to make a documentary about your hometown of Hull?

I'm moving more into that head space. I'd been resisting it I think but I can see the money is there and the appetite for BFI BBC co-produced film for cinema is the intention to be delivered sometime in the 2017 year of city of culture activities. Not sure what or who it will be about though. But I guess another story of love and hate, but from Hull this time!

Sean and Amer in Warsaw

What’s the stupidest question you’ve been asked during a Q&A?
I did a screening in the Jewish centre in north London. A little old lady disarmed me with the first question there asking how the subjects can afford computers and mobile phones if they are supposed to be refugees. I made a mistake in the way I responded.  I got angry and refused to answer her but an Israeli insisted I answer. It was just insulting to me. But I don't think she meant it to be. I then brought Amer up on Skype and they asked him why he left his homeland in the first place. He laughed and answered because some people came and stole his land when he was 3 and since then he has been a refugee all his life. He got them back for me. I stormed out wishing I'd never shown the film there at all.

“Sean McAllister makes filming look easy.” BBC Storyville's Nick Fraser



What’s the funniest thing that's happened whilst touring the film?

I remember Amer’s face when we'd lost the car after a night’s drinking in York after the screening there and he was just jaw-dropped looking at girls littering the streets, drunk, shouting and vomiting. He'd never seen anything like it and to him it seemed like another kind of war zone. Then waking up next to him as I've done on so many occasions in the 5 years making the film and seeing him asleep next to me in the car in a York car park - it was funny that the guy I used to wake up next to in Tartous all those years before was now in my homeland with me sleeping rough as we'd always done. Nothing had changed!


Sean in the speaker's chair, House of Commons.

“My duty as a filmmaker is to get beyond the performance” Sean McAllister


N.B. Some links and pics sourced from seanmcallister.com, thanks to webmaster Kevin Rudeforth, subject of Sean's first film Working for the Enemy which if you haven't seen yet is well worth seeing. Sean's mates stick with him...



Friday, 15 January 2016

INTERVIEW WITH VEGAN SIDEKICK

"It is something deep inside me that opposes injustice, exploitation, sadism, cruelty and suffering. It's simple to me, that I don't want anybody to suffer, and these animals are among the most vulnerable victims." - Vegan Sidekick



As of the time of writing, January 2016, veganism is in its embryonic stage of going mainstream in the Western world after years of being derided as a cultish movement for freaks and nutjobs.

It is often artists who bring about widespread social change and the vegan cause is no exception. Satirical cartoonist Vegan Sidekick has inspired and educated thousands of people to stop funding animal abuse through consuming animal products. His Facebook page is becoming exponentially more popular, shooting to almost 85,000 likes in only a couple of years.

It took 400 years to persuade America that black people were deserving of equal rights and not inferior beings to be used as slaves. It took 400 years until women were given the right to vote. The queer movement is still in its infancy. And the majority of society's attitude towards speciesism is still stuck in the Middle Ages.

Certain species, such as dolphins, lions and bees, stir up defensive behaviour in many people, but due to speciesism most people still do not care about the suffering of the billions of animals murdered every year in what is euphemistically called "animal agriculture." Pigs, sheep, cows, ducks and geese are routinely abused, tortured and murdered by the billion whilst society turns a blind eye and makes excuses.


Vegan Sidekick is single-handedly doing more to fight speciesism and campaign for animal rights through his cutting and brilliant satirical work than any other artist on the planet. I interviewed him recently exclusively for Into View.

How did you come to be a vegan?



I had been vegetarian since I was a child, ever since I learned what meat was. Over time, I just gave more and more thought to the idea of "owning" animals, and using them in whatever way seemed unreasonable to me. When I started at university I was buying milk and cheese etc for myself, and I realised how totally unnecessary it was. Looking at entire food stores with so many options, and I was specifically buying stuff which required exploitation of animals. So I stopped buying it. I never met a vegan, and I didn't have it explained to me that males are a byproduct and get killed in the egg and dairy industries, and that their sisters get killed when their production is less profitable. Now that I know that, it's one of the first things I tell vegetarians, as surely they cannot support that.

How did you start making comics? Had you been producing art prior to the Vegan Sidekick comics?



I began the page as a more informative project, trying to get across to other vegans how you can respond to typical arguments etc and I made videos and graphics relating to that. But as I made more memes, I noticed that the ones with a little humour did better, so I continued in that way and it just expanded into what it is now. I have always produced art since I was little, it is what I studied at college and university, and it's what I do for a living as a graphic designer.

How do you draw your comics? What software do you use and how long does it take you on average to produce one? 



I draw them with a graphics tablet and stylus using Adobe Photoshop. Most of the comics might take about ten minutes to draw. Others take a bit longer if they're more complex pieces like the wall of excuses, or the "I love animals" pieces that I do from time to time.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your comics? 



It is basically from my experiences of talking to people, and hearing what they consider to be justifications for harming animals. I also spend a lot of time in the day just trying to think of ways to get it across in an interesting manner to make people say "Hmm, I've never thought of it like that before". A lot of that is done by trying to view the entire planet and what we're doing from an outside perspective. If you hadn't been brought up with animal agriculture being the norm, then it surely would seem horrendous (which it is). Many people dismiss it as "just how it is" without really considering what they're advocating, and that it's so unnecessary.  Spelling it out, talking about meat as a dead body, talking about animal slaughter as stabbing animals, and holding people accountable for the results of the egg and dairy industries, is something that I feel is very important to get people to put two and two together. So much of non-vegan vocabulary hides the reality of what they support.

You've produced a handy guide to which I regularly refer when talking to non-vegans, listing all the common defenses that they use for eating meat and cheese and consuming other animal products. How did you compile this guide? Do you find that people refer to it and use it?




I compiled it after spending so much time in the same conversations over and over again as a result of so many people being drawn to the page. I realised that it wasn't only myself facing this Groundhog Day phenomenon, and that a guide would aid everyone for copying and pasting, along with perhaps educating vegans on what to even say, and indeed non-vegans to just look through without me having to type it every time. I know that people use it, I even see them copy from it and direct others to it. And I think that some of what I am saying has influenced how people approach these conversations in the first place.


What is the most stupid thing that anyone has ever said on your page, can you remember?





Many to choose from.

"What about microorganisms?"

"Killing is part of life, you can kill my entire family and me if you want, as long as you found a use for our bodies"

"Plants create oxygen, and animals use it up. So by killing plants rather than animals, you are causing the world to run out of oxygen."

"Rape is a choice. I'm not trying to justify rape, I'm just saying, raping someone is a choice, as is eating meat."

"Giraffes would run factory farms if they could."


"I don't see a distinction between a mammal and a skin cell"


"Until the 1990s, marital rape is legal. You can campaign against these things as much as you like, but it is a person's right to act within the law"


"It is a person's right to kill animals. You are violating the rights of others to try to stop us killing animals"


"I would bet that the cows that I eat had a much better life than the cows that you don't eat"


"If cows produce methane which is harmful to the environment, then surely it makes sense to kill them"


"Eating meat is a matter of survival. Don't tell me that we don't need meat to survive, I know that, I'm not an idiot"

And what is the nicest thing anyone has ever said on the page?



I can't really decide that one. So many people have said that they love or adore me, and that my work means so much to them. Several people say that the comics are the first thing they look for every day when they wake up. One thing that is clear from a lot of people is that they feel very alone. They might be the only vegan in their area and they are made to feel like a freak. As well as giving them comebacks and a logical method or arguing, the comics remind them that they are sane, and it is the world that is so fucked up.

Veganuary has been more popular than ever this year and there are articles regularly appearing in the mainstream media about veganism. When I first discovered your Facebook page it had less than 5,000 followers. Now, less than two years later it has over 84,000 followers, and your Intagram page is growing exponentially and suddenly has almost 84,000 followers. Do you think veganism is finally going to go mainstream, and that vegans will stop being regarded with derision and suspicion by most people?



It is very hard to say. Veganism is definitely becoming more popular and is slightly better understood by the general public. However, we are still a tiny minority, so it's very early to say that it will become mainstream. Personally, I don't see any reason why not. I think that despite the many flaws that humans seem to have, society in general is becoming more civilized over time (some societies slower than others, and depending on who is in power at any given moment...). I think that over time, animal rights will be taken more seriously, and of course, that means not exploiting and killing them (veganism). It is a very slow process however.

Although your page is incredibly popular with more people liking it every day and constant positive feedback from thousands of fans - your images now regularly attract more than 2k likes - almost every day a troll will appear seemingly only to argue with you and cause disruption, or some idiot will appear saying ludicrous things to justify eating animals. How do you deal with them and does it ever get you down?


I experiment all the time, in terms of what could be effective in getting a troll to rethink what they're doing, getting them to rethink how they perceive vegans, and also preserving my sanity. I go through phases of ignoring comments altogether. I often block trolls immediately if they are posting images of meat or hunted animals, because they are clearly there for no other reason than to upset us and get a laugh out of it. I don't know what the answer is really, everyone is different.


Some trolls might not be malicious, rather, they think it is all in good fun and they can sometimes react well if you say "Look, vegans just want to avoid harming animals, why are you so against that?". But some really are just arseholes, and the best thing I can consider is ignoring or blocking them. Immediate trolls like that don't get me down. But sometimes these pseudo-intellectual types piss me off when they are just hopping from foot to foot with justifications, changing their argument as they are proved wrong again and again... They want to appear legitimate, like they have a genuine interest in debate, but when it comes down to it, there is literally nothing that anyone could say in a debate that would talk them down from bacon. Sometimes I wonder if they go through these conversations to validate it to themselves more than anything.


But the best you can do is calmly respond, and wait for them to inevitably either freak out, insult you, choose nihilism, or say "Plants tho".

These conversations aren't about them becoming vegan at that moment. They won't like being proven wrong or selfish. But they may go away and think about it later. That process is pretty tiresome to me so I am more inclined not to get involved. 99% of people who contact me to say they've gone vegan because of me, are people that I have never said a word to. My comics do the job, so spending hours in the comments is perhaps a trivial use of my time comparatively.



For one of the most important satirical artists of our time, you're very modest. Do you sometimes find it hard to take in the relatively sudden and enormous impact you're having on stopping animal cruelty the world over through your art?



Well I find it hard to even accept the phrasing of the question! I certainly have not taken in the impact I have made, and I doubt I ever will. Meeting people at Vegfest really opened my eyes, with them wanting me to sign books and have their photo taken with me...

So many people call me a celebrity and I try to talk them out of it, but have to give up because people are just so into what I'm doing, so in their eyes I am a celebrity. From my perspective, I'm just a guy who is sick of how the world works, and a lot of people are feeling the same way, so I guess the comics are a way for everyone to express this frustration.

Both the Facebook and Instagram pages have over 80,000 followers now. I can't even imagine what that many people would look like in a crowd, and the Facebook page reaches easily 500,000 people a week in terms of image views etc... I don't think the human mind is equipped for it really. I just keep doing what I'm doing, and don't worry about it. We should all do what we can, and I'll try to make the best of this opportunity that I have.

When did you start weight-lifting? Are people surprised to discover that you lift weights as a vegan?


I used to be pretty overweight in my teens, and I got into fitness when I was 17, and I've done it on and off ever since. When I am in decent shape, people are surprised that I am vegan and say "Well you don't look vegan...".

I've often given training and diet advice to people, including non-vegans.  There are some really good examples of vegan bodybuilders and fitness people now, I'm just a guy who draws comics and tries to stay healthy and active.  (For anyone interested these are all worth looking up: Max Seabrook, Josseline Nayad Jeria, Ed Bauer, Chakabars Clarke, Jessica Ortiz, Ed Goins, Robert Cheeke, Mindy Collette, Derek Tresize, Patrik Baboumian, Kelly Schlegel, Paul Kerton, Simone Collins and Torre Washington.)

What do you do to relax?



I like having long baths, or watching some TV shows that I enjoy like Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Sopranos etc. Stuff I've watched a million times so I can just zone out and get comfy. I also enjoy ASMR, and it's cool that it is becoming recognised and that there is a nice community around it now. I'll often stick a video on and just take a nap.

Do you care for any companion animals? Many people ask what vegans do to feed the animals in their care. What advice would you give?



My partner rescues a lot of injured or unwanted animals, and any that can't be released into the wild end up staying. Regarding feeding carnivorous animals, I recommend doing your own research. It is an area which causes massive rows between vegans. Nobody wants to support animal agriculture. But if someone thinks that feeding their animal a plant-based diet would harm them, then they'd say they would do what was necessary for their animal which is part of their family. The reason people argue so strongly is because we all love animals and we're doing what we consider is best.

From my own research and reading a bunch of articles over the years, it seems like dogs can very easily be fed a plant-based diet. Cats have some requirements which must be met to avoid certain hazards, but it can still be done. One of the main things that cats need is taurine. This doesn't have to come from animals, and indeed, most meat-based cat foods have taurine added to them anyway.


Of the cats we've got living with us, three have chronic health conditions which require specific food, and there is no plant-based alternative that we know of. The other two cats are healthy, and are fed a plant-based diet, and there have been no problems so far.


My primary advice regarding companion animals is to adopt from a shelter or sanctuary, and never support a breeder. There are too many of these animals needing homes and being neglected, and shelters are constantly overrun, and if they're fed animal products, then of course this funds animal agriculture. So the first step is to control the breeding.

There are people who would say "If you're vegan, don't adopt a cat, then".  That might seem like reasonable advice, but those cats are going to exist in shelters either way. If they're in a shelter, they'll be fed meat, that's a fact. So whether it is the shelter doing it, or you doing it, doesn't actually change how much money the meat industry gets.


So really, it is just your own accountability that you're removing, you aren't actually changing the numbers. To actually alter the numbers, you'd have to kill all carnivorous companion animals, which the majority of vegans would object to (although I have met people who advocate this).

The remaining alternative is to release all carnivorous companion animals into "the wild" and let nature take its course. The trouble with that is, they are not a natural breed, and releasing millions of animals into an ecosystem will surely cause all kinds of problems.

So I don't know what the solution is for the animals which exist today - I can only advise that people stop breeding them, then we won't have this dilemma in future.

Why are non-vegans obsessed with bacon, routinely using it to justify their eating habits?



I think it has become part of this strange culture of being proud to be unhealthy. Obviously, bacon is fatty and salty, so I assume that is the physical appeal of it. But it has become a perpetuated meme in itself. It seems to be cool to indulge in clearly unhealthy food, like it is macho to have no regard for your own health. I don't really know what else to say, you won't get any sense out of the people who go on about it.

What are your hopes for animal welfare over the next 50 years or so? Do you think there will ever be a time when animals will be treated as equals to humans and not enslaved, tortured and murdered for our pleasure?



Well my hopes are, everyone goes vegan tomorrow. But realistically, I hope we see a steady increase in intelligent, logical people standing up and pointing out the problems with farming animals, to educate people, get rid of these excuses, and change how people perceive animals.

I think that as more people become vegan, it will inevitably lead to a tipping point in societies around the world where it just becomes socially unacceptable to harm animals. Just as we still have massive amounts of racism, sexism and homophobia - it is as least understood to be unreasonable as a rule of our society (at least here in Britain), and not tolerated, which is how harming animals will end up. No idea when that will come about. But all these documentaries like Cowspiracy, Vegucated and Earthlings are so readily available that education can spread rapidly, if people are willing to open their eyes.


Veganism to me is just a logical practice.  We know that we can avoid harming animals, and so it doesn't make sense to choose anything else.   One large aspect of veganism is a plant-based diet which more and more people are adopting.  Whether they're doing that for health, environmental, spiritual or religious reasons, I think it is a good thing to do. But as a vegan it is 100% about ethics and it is acknowledging that animals are not our property.

It is something deep inside me that opposes injustice, exploitation, sadism, cruelty and suffering. It's simple to me, that I don't want anybody to suffer, and these animals are among the most vulnerable victims. When you see so many healthy athletes out there doing well on a plant-based diet, and as I know first hand how easy it is and inexpensive, there really is no excuse that I'll hear in modern society.

If you're not vegan already, you can find help on any vegan page, or google for vegan recipes and ideas, it's easier than ever before.  Cheers for reading.

***


You can see Vegan Sidekick being interviewed below, there are more interviews with him on YouTube and some on his YouTube video channel too.