27 Nov, 2009

Reality bites

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

From a disco marathon in Ramallah to a series of interviews with reality show victims, Phil Collins shines a darkly humorous light on exploitation. Just don’t confuse him with the drummer from Genesis

Tempting though it is to confuse him with the middle-aged pop star, visual artist Phil Collins is probably best-known in this country as the man who set up Shady Lane Productions at Tate Britain during the Turner Prize in 2006. Fascinated by the smoke and mirrors of reality television – especially as once-popular shows succumbed to reports of questionable management and racism – he has thought long and hard about the responsibilities the media has towards the people it features. After inviting ex-reality show participants to come forward and be interviewed, he compiled the results into a film, The Return of the Real. It made for sober viewing, as a rollcall of victims from well-known television programmes dished the dirt about manipulative production antics. They included the hapless Kerry Hillhouse – dubbed the worst mother in Britain after her appearance on Supernanny – and Lindsay McCurdy, who lost teeth and suffered from cellulitis after operations on a plastic surgery show.

Born in Runcorn in 1970 and now based in Berlin, Collins is a master of revealing the harsh realities of repression and political impotence through social interaction, often using apparently anodyne acts. In the past he has staged dance-offs in the West Bank and invited fans of Morrissey in Bogotá to record an album of Smiths covers. It’s like having Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney turn up and put on a show in Rwanda to unite the locals through song – except that Collins’s dark humour never prevents him from revealing the heroism of his subjects, nor their exploitation by people more powerful than themselves.

His new exhibition is inspired by the Latin American phenomenon of the telenovela – a form of mini-series soap opera – and is indirectly inspired by Jean Genet’s The Maids, a violent exploration of power between unequals.

Why we like him: For his 2004 installation They Shoot Horses, a film of a disco marathon in Ramallah inspired by Horace McCoy’s novel about the great depression in America, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and its film adaptation by Sydney Pollack. On the screen a group of kids dance frenziedly, save for interruptions from the call to prayers and power cuts. They don’t stop until, exhausted, they bow to the inevitable and leave the floor.

I want the one I can’t have: Collins is a lifelong fan of the Smiths. “I’d say even now I think about Morrissey at least ten times a day every day,” he claims. “I can’t have a cheese and pickle sandwich without wondering if Morrissey likes them.”

Where can I see him? Phil Collins’s exhibition Soy Mi Madre is at the Victoria Miro gallery until 18 December.

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