ARTSE Alternative Festival of Sculpture at Quenington: June 14-July 5

'Dame in Hearse', by Adam Loveridge

'Dame in Hearse', by Adam Loveridge - Credit: Archant

There's a new kid on the block at Quenington – colourfully creative, wildly witty, and just a little bit naughty. Candia McKormack braces herself for the enfant terrible that is ARTSE

'Separate Elements moving in the same direction against the tide for the purpose of conservation', b

'Separate Elements moving in the same direction against the tide for the purpose of conservation', by Far Q, aka Phil Cook - Credit: Archant

“ARSE?”

“ARTSE.”

“ARRRRRRRTSE?”

“Er, yes. Anything but ‘Artsy’, please.”

'The Chosen One', by Larry Rostant

'The Chosen One', by Larry Rostant - Credit: Archant

There’s something brilliantly liberating about having the permission to roll your ‘R’s (even when I say that out loud it sounds like ‘arse’ – blame it on my Severnside roots) with Gloucestershire gusto when pronouncing the name of Quenington’s ‘Alternative Festival of Sculpture’. Alternative, as not only is it run alongside its bigger, more established and, some would say, more grown-up sibling, ‘Fresh Air’ – held at the village’s Old Rectory – but also because the content is, shall we say, a little more ‘colourful’, with a cheeky irreverence that would make a rector – of Quenington and most other places – blush.

Before we go any further I feel I should give you an insight into the subversive souls behind ARTSE, and how a seemingly innocent delivery of wood for the living room burner created a monster…

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But before we ‘get wood’ (there’ll be a few of those, so best roll your eyes now and move on), let me introduce you to Phil Cook. By day Phil has an extraordinarily grown-up job working in operating theatres across the area, advising on minimally-invasive components and procedures. I shan’t pretend to understand exactly what it is he does, but I should imagine saving lives is a pretty big part of it.

And then we have the ridiculously – and I mean stupidly – talented Larry Rostant, who is something of an alchemical master on what can be achieved with an artist’s eye, lashings of technical know-how, bucketloads of creativity, and the latest version of Adobe Photoshop. Larry has worked on projects from Game of Thrones, to covers for DJ magazine, and book designs for almost everything you’ve ever read (Bernard Cornwell’s book covers are his work, as are Clive Cussler’s and Peter V Brett’s – Google him or visit rostant.com and you’ll see what I mean).

Larry Rostant and Phil Cook of ARTSE, Quenington

Larry Rostant and Phil Cook of ARTSE, Quenington - Credit: Archant

So, neither of them spitting, pubescent perils, admittedly, but the spirit of Punk is most definitely alive and well in these two.

I stumble across ARTSE on Twitter when chief tweeter Phil made some interesting posts about a selection of pretty cool bands. Being a huge muso – he used to be in a band himself (“I injured my hand in a freak drinking accident”) and writes music reviews for Backseat Mafia – ARTSE posts range from avant-garde artwork to 10,000 Maniacs album reviews. I got in touch and said, having naturally featured Fresh Air previously, we’d love to find out more about ARTSE. What followed was an eloquent email about anarchy, art and ‘trousers’. Now, for the uninitiated (which up until recently included me), a trouser is… and I’ll let Phil describe this as he does it so well: “the name given to a log which consists of two branches joined at one point, which, when turned upside down looks like... yes you’ve guessed it!” Thanks, Phil.

He went on to describe one particular trouser-log which grabbed his attention as it was “not only anatomically correct to the male species, but was also in the state of ‘excitement’.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

ARTSE's 'anarchistic' logo

ARTSE's 'anarchistic' logo - Credit: Archant

Phil decided to take his ‘piece’ along to his local, The Keepers Arms, where it got the locals talking and so it was decided they should enter their ‘erection’ into Fresh Air 2011. Are you still with me?

Unsurprisingly, the natural wonder didn’t quite make the grade at the well-respected sculpture exhibition and so Phil, along with his partner in grime, Larry, decided to set up their own alternative sculpture show.

The three of us meet at Larry’s house; a beautiful property in nearby Coln St Aldwyns, and previous home of none other than Joanna Trollope who was interviewed here for Cotswold Life by our very own Katie Jarvis, though I suspect the dynamics of that particular interview were somewhat different to today’s adventures.

Phil takes us back to the where it all began…

'Wood You Adam and Eve It!', by Far Q

'Wood You Adam and Eve It!', by Far Q - Credit: Archant

“I’ll tell you where it started: 1917, Marcel Duchamp. He walked into the Society of Arts, plonked a urinal on the wall, wrote ‘R.Mutt’ on it and proclaimed it as art. That was the birth of contemporary art. They rejected it, but who were they to decide what is art and what is not?”

So, we have Duchamp’s pissotière en porcelaine to thank for this particular shaking up of the Establishment.

“We took Wood you Adam and Eve It,” says, Phil, for that is the name of the trouser triumph, “into the Keepers Arms a couple of times where everyone sniggered at it, and from there we thought ‘well, shall we sneak it into the garden?’” It was almost immediately decided that they wouldn’t do that as Lucy and David Abel-Smith of Fresh Air are hugely liked by the community and they didn’t want to be disrespectful. Phil points out that they have also been incredibly supportive of their endeavours and so they wouldn’t want them to be too uncomfortable.

“Yes, but we don’t want them to be too comfortable,” interjects Larry. “We want to be on the edge a bit; if it’s comfortable then that’s no good!”

Ah, yes; I hear you, Larry. I cast my mind back to my 13-year-old ‘baby-Punk’ self and remember the rage, remember the filth and the fury, remember the green food dye from mum’s kitchen cupboard in a failed attempt to dye my hair. I was the only Punk in the village…

ARTSE use the classic ‘Anarchy’ logo for their branding. The two-fingered scarlet salute to the Establishment is their tongue-in-cheek mascot, and I find my upper lip rediscovering its upward curl as they hold it up and talk about their philosophy.

Larry continues: “A lot of our art is pun-based; it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek. For instance, one of my favourite pieces was The Leaning Tower of Pizza which was pizzas, piled up and supported by chips. It was a fantastic thing!”

“It became a biohazard,” adds Phil.

With many of the pieces – such as Larry’s fabulously thought-provoking The Chosen One – you strive to find a deeper meaning to the piece, only to be told that there isn’t one. This particular piece is constructed from an electric iron, surrounded by an almost Catholic-looking iconographic halo of fairy lights, with a tiny baby doll embedded at its centre. If it wasn’t for the artist himself telling you not to try to find meaning in this piece, you could find yourself lost in its beauty, in man’s search for a higher being and the hopelessness of sacrifice. Aha, the emperor is naked after all.

And Phil’s submission, the gloriously pretentious-sounding Separate Elements moving in the same direction against the tide for the purpose of conservation, submitted under his pseudonym ‘Far Q’ and constructed from a large fish tank with plastic farm animals on spikes moving in one direction with a model Porsche heading in the other, explores ‘the conflict between the values of town and village life’. He’s still naked, isn’t he?

A tangible crossover between the established Fresh Air and young upstart ARTSE very nearly came about when it was proposed that the village’s decommissioned phone box should become one of the show’s exhibits.

“A local benefactor put up 1,500 quid,” says Phil, “£1,000 for materials and £500 for a prize, so we put in a very serious submission.” The piece was to be the entire phone box being filled with yellow resin with a human-shaped void where a person would have been mid-conversation on the phone, then mysteriously disappears.” It was to be called Disconnected but unfortunately, yet again, the ARTSE boys found their idea rejected, but I suspect they’re secretly pleased.

Long live the spirit of Duchamp.

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ARTSE is held at The Keepers Arms, Quenington, GL7 5BL.

Both ARTSE and Fresh Air run from Sunday, June 14 to Sunday, July 5, 2015.

Follow ARTSE on Twitter: @artse2013

Visit Fresh Air’s website: www.freshairsculpture.com

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