Jaysim Hanspal, Print Features Editor, interviews the inventive performance artist Richard DeDomenici
I met Richard through “Enrichment” a project at my school every Friday afternoon where students would choose an alternative project/skill to hone. We worked with Richard and the Chelsea Theatre to produce a piece of performance art based on the area’s history with the punk movement, Vivienne Westwood’s store was just down the road, after all. He introduced me to the power of performance art, and the exhilarating feeling of working with an active audience. With a signature mohawk that is still very much alive, Richard’s passion and quirky look at his surroundings have established a career that even saw him reestablish the Redux project for the BBC broadcast Live From Television Centre. I spoke to Richard through the classical medium of Facebook video messenger, where we discussed oblongs, Eurovision, and my future career prospects.
We got down to business with a classic question of mine; what shape are you? In classic fashion, Richard’s response is anything but boring. He explains that the GIF he sent me earlier is a hypercube, as it “exists in multiple dimensions at the same time, and that’s something that I also strive for as an artist.” He also offered a rhombus as “it doesn’t fit easily into any holes”.
“I try and create the work that causes the uncertainty that leads to possibility.”
DeDomenici’s work is exactly that, spanning mediums through live art performances, his famous Redux project, and most recently, a trip to the famous Philipino fast-food chain, Jollibee. He describes the confusion at his work portfolio, with most people asking, “landscape or portrait?’. In a profound way, he says that “I try and create the work that causes the uncertainty that leads to possibility.” This yes-man mentality has lead to many a funny anecdote and opportunity for expression, most recently he recounts painting a portrait of the first Muslim Lord Mayor of Sheffield, a man with the most conspicuous name of Magid Magid. During a tour of his office, Richard asked if Magid had ever had his portrait taken. Painting novice DeDomenici got to work and years later sent it to the Lord Mayor, who apparently received it well.
Richard’s most famous work, the Redux project, which recreates scenes from known and unknown films, has garnered a substantial online following, which he attributes to peoples desire to “dismantle the power structures and be active producers rather than consumers”. His first Redux, based on a piece of Thai cinema, was just a request for a site-specific piece of cinema in Bangkok. This sparked the project when “a reviewer from the local paper said that he preferred my version to the original which was a shock to me.” This happened again with his redux of Cloud Atlas, which was given one star more than the original by The Scotsman. These projects are scaleable – at the Festival of Thrift in North Yorkshire, DeDomenici filmed fifteen minutes of the Dunkirk evacuation scene from Atonement. Richard has made 60 Reduxes around the world since 2013, including 10 on live television. But, in fact, he acknowledges that “actually I think people mainly like it when things go wrong.” He mentions his parody of the Matrix redux, one of his most popular videos where “there’s a moment where we freeze time and everyone stops and it kind of works but then there’s a moment where a pedestrian walks past.” I admit that this is a reason I like to watch them myself because, in reality, we enjoy watching things not really work out, as is the joy of live theatre. Richard agrees; “Even though I strive for perfection with my limited means, people like it best when it all falls down. It reveals the artificialness of the cinema. By making fake things of things that are already fake, I hope that we’ll arrive at a greater truth.” The future of the Redux project is uncertain; Richard admits that he will continue until “either I’ll get sent to prison for copyright infringement or Hollywood will say to me would you like to direct the next Transformers trilogy.” I ask which one he would prefer, and he characteristically responds, “jail”.
This project has led to him being established as in the theatre world, with an upcoming directorial spot in Manchester focusing on the ever-political song contest, Eurovision, and its connection to the UK’s relationship to Europe. “We’ve been part of Eurovision since before we were part of the EU, since the ’50s, we’ve always treated it sarcastically. In a way, Eurovision has affected our relationship with the EU. Maybe Eurovision is to blame, and maybe that’s unfair, and maybe I’ll abandon that concept.” His work is often pervasive in the ironical yet pertinent message it tries to convey to its audience, and this is what makes it particularly entertaining. He intends to work with a group of young people to develop this passion project, chiding me over “the two wins” he has experienced in his lifetime for the UK. I find it interesting that Richard often works with inexperienced young people for his artwork, as I certainly was far from an artist at sixteen, but he attests their open-mindedness, optimism, and “malleable soft-brains in which you can plant seeds of creativity so they can grow into magical genius brain trees.” My smile grew.
“… By making fake things of things that are already fake, I hope that we’ll arrive at a greater truth.”
Although Richard’s work often is and seems political, this perception is far from intentional. He describes his work as at times “uncomfortably topical because artists have the instincts to pick up things that can’t be expressed in words and sometimes that manifests itself through art.” His mentality towards art is in many ways, extremely realistic and logical. Although he affirms his belief, like many, that art has the capacity to make things better, he interestingly observes that “art also has the ability to make things worse.” We then proceed to joke about an art supervillain that goes around making things worse with terrible art (an ingenious idea that I must copyright immediately).
“… artists have the instincts to pick up things that can’t be expressed in words and sometimes that manifests itself through art.”
Finally, I ask for some much-needed career advice. What should a lowly Humanities student do to find a job in the Arts? “I just apply for stuff, even though I get these knockbacks sometimes, it’s sometimes useful to practise the formulation of ideas. Every time you write something down, it’s useful. I do several applications a week, and most of them are rejected, and that’s okay. You might be ahead of your time.”
It’s safe to say DeDomenici will continue to “keep his feet in multiple boats”, or just continue to absolutely kill it in a very non-threatening and light-hearted way.