“Run for the Hills the Chapman Brothers are coming,” the slightly annoying poster at Sussex Coast college said, annoying because it meant the opposite, just in the way that businesses calling themselves the Secret Toy-shop or referring to themselves as the best kept secret don’t actually want you to stay away. At the due time – 12.00 on Friday – some seventy or more students congregated in one of the classrooms and we waited. The report went round that Dinos was not coming, and we waited some more. Then we heard that Jake was parking and would soon arrive and we waited a bit longer. Then we heard there were problems on the motorway. He was not exactly up to the Justin Bieber standard of keeping people waiting but when you are trying to get work finished before your final exhibition, you can think of better ways to spend time.
At 1.00 some people started wondering whether this was performance art and just about everybody disappeared for a bit to find something to eat. Finally at about 1.20 when most of them had come back, Jake arrived accompanied by some bloke who sat up at the front and didn’t introduce himself. I guess he was a PR. Jake seemed very affable and rather bored and the PR kept talking which was irritating, as we were there to hear Jake.
Damien Hirst had been on Desert Island Discs that morning and Jake told us he was a good chap and implied he didn’t much like Tracey Emin because of her attitude to tax and because she was a Conservative supporter, which seemed fair enough. He explained about making a replica of her tent, All the people I have every slept with,” the one which got burnt in the fire at the Momart Warehouse. “We called it ‘The same only better’ “and went on to say that they had been thinking about making a number of replica tents, which people could sleep in at a music festival. So that sounded quite fun.
A few of us asked questions – I asked about the relationship the brothers had with each other, which he had clearly been asked a million times and then about whether they had ever rejected any idea on grounds of taste and Jake said they didn’t set out to shock – which you might believe, or again you might not; but it was all quite friendly and jokey.
Then one student asked why his work featured pre-pubescent girls, which seemed a fair question but brought a slightly odd reaction. Now anybody who knows anything about the Chapman brothers, must be aware of the fibreglass mannequins which have penises instead of noses. Not everybody will know the name of the work, which is quite a mouthful – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal. Instead of answering the question, Jake started prevaricating about which work she was referring to, and then the PR stepped in and said they weren’t human, and Jake said they weren’t pre-pubescent and it was easy to misunderstand, or something like that. Then his mobile went and we didn’t get a full answer and he went off to talk to someone more important. We had had all of 20 minutes.
I reckon if you are a celebrity artist you ought to be able to manage to talk to a bunch of art students without a PR to support you. If you have one, you really ought to have a ready answer to questions like that. One possible answer might be that he depicts pre-pubescent girls to satirise the way that the media sexualises them. That they are ‘not human’ really won’t do, particularly when the dehumanisation of women and girls is part of what drives rape culture.
That evening Jake was holding a session at the Jerwood Gallery. I had the offer of a ticket, but I decided I had had enough. Those that went said it was quite good fun. He had people playing Exquisite Corpse, you might have played the game at school. You fold up paper and then different people draw heads, bodies and feet and you unfold the paper and – bingo – you have a result. It sounds as if a reasonably good time was had by all. A group of Sussex College Students almost won the competition for the best drawing. They were down to the final two. The first prize was a visit to the Chapman Brothers studio. The second prize – you’ve guessed it – was two visits to the Chapman Brothers studio – actually it wasn’t – I made that bit up.