TIGER AND BEAR
Tiger and Bear is a Korea based project originally headed up by British artists James Topple and Colin Riddle. Now a few years deep and minus the active participation of one half of the founding duo, Tiger and Bear has morphed into a bizarre and intriguing labyrinth of ideas and possibilities.
Originally based off of the Korean creation myth of Dangun and the totemic symbols of tiger and bear, the project began with the two protagonists wandering around festivals in suits and oversized animal heads, getting in the way, looking at things, and generally doing nothing. Then followed an attempt at media saturation with magazine and TV spots, drunken mistakes on stages at international festivals, an ambitious multi-national comic strip project which appeared in national newspapers, and a heap of shelved projects/works in progress, including a band, a video game, and a zine; all of which involved the duo generally doing not a lot (although the duo did successfully feature in a music video) .
Yet from its rather simple beginnings in the city of Daegu the project has taken on a bizarre life of its own, incorporating s many collaborators and mediums, in a twisted experiment based around the art of creating fame and infamy from nothing and then running with it. Despite various traumas and spilt milk there is no end in sight for the project. Aweh sat down with the project’s instigator, James Topple (aka. Tiger), to discuss the long, strange trip has been and the latest episode in this strange saga, Cave to Humanness.
Aweh: When did you first begin to consider yourself an artist?
Tiger: The moment I left university. Most people I knew were freaked out by leaving uni’, but I was excited and couldn't wait to finally be considered a real artist. I always wanted to be an artist; it was the one thing that stopped me completely ruining my life. Then again, maybe I could have been rich and successful if I pursued a different dream, but I think it was always going to be art.
Aweh: In no more than 10 lines give us a brief history of Tiger and Bear.
Tiger: That’s a difficult request. Tiger and Bear is a three year project which has been pulled around in all shapes and forms. It follows a very deep and layered narrative too, which further complicates matters, but helps conceptualize the project and keep it progressing. One theme we like to return to is how performance art can be documented in different ways. I’m very interested in Hayley Newman’s ‘connotations’ series where essentially she fakes performances through staged photographs posing as documentation. The history of Tiger and Bear may in fact be completely fictionalized. One thing is definitely true though, that Colin Riddle (Bear) has quit Tiger and Bear.
Aweh: What was the original inspiration for the project?
Tiger: The characters originate from the Dangun Korean creation myth. But I’ve grown a little tired of explaining that story. Since Colin quit I've been concentrating more on the role of the Tiger in Korean folklore and as a national symbol. He's very multi-faceted, in one way, he's this symbol of Korean pride, but then he's the big bad wolf trying to eat little kids. I have mixed feelings about Korea, and this twisted anti-hero is the perfect guise for me to explore those feelings.
Aweh: What keeps Tiger and Bear going today?
Tiger: The three E's: 'Exploration, Experimentation and Ego'. It certainly isn’t money. The great thing about being an artist or creative person is you have the freedom to just create whatever you want, it may just be in the comfort of your own home, a drawing, a song, but it was your own free will, I think that’s about as alive as I can feel, when I’m making something that is essentially just for me. I’m quite a selfish artist and that’s why I’m not sure I’ll ever make a living out it.
Aweh: How has the creative scene in Korea treated you, first in Daegu and then in Seoul?
Tiger: Like an abused nephew. Not really. I think it's been good to us. Fortunately we’ve come in contact with some really supportive people who appreciate and understand us. Things come and go quite quickly in Korea in terms of expat involvement. This project has been going for three years now and I can't see it ending any time soon.
Aweh: Where is Bear?
Tiger: He's around. He's my best mate so he still gets excited about what I'm doing with the project; it's just not really what he thought he was getting himself into three years ago. We've talked about collaborating in other ways though and will continue to work together with The Tiger and Bear Museum (an exhibition showcasing the history of the project) but as far as performing goes that's it for him, which is a shame really as we had a lot of fun together.
Aweh: Is art dead?
Tiger: No, I don't think it's dead, I just think it has a severe identity crisis, but then don't we all?
I think everyone has an idea about what art is. I often like to check out debates on Matthew Collings’ (renowned British art critic) facebook page about what happened to art? How do we ‘get out of the obsession that the art world has now with the mere present?’ ‘The current moment favours art about social problems or a display of concern about them, but is very tolerant of visual abjection (that has excruciating pseudo thoughtful credentials)’ It's all very interesting stuff, but I try not to get too tangled up with art history. I don't think I would ever get anything done if I worried about things like that.
The most important lesson I learned about being an artist was “just have fun with it” (Mike Chavez-Dawson). I have a very clear idea of what I am doing and I needn’t over analyze myself. The beauty of performance art is the newness and the excitement that anything can happen and will do, if you let it, don’t impose too many barriers upon yourself. I like to paint abstract paintings by dipping my scrotum in watercolour paints. Perhaps that is my attempt at adding to art history.
Aweh: You have an upcoming show at Roofers in Itaewon; can you tell us a little more about what we should expect to see there?
Tiger: It's probably the most ambitious thing I've ever done. When I first started making performance art, people started asking why don’t I do stand up instead. I thought the answer was obvious. My art nearly always has an element of humour to it. I like to make people laugh, but I don't want to do it in the most obvious way, in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t have the balls and the charisma to pull off stand-up comedy. Tiger and Bear's Cave to Humanness is probably as close as I can get to direct comedy without coming across all David Brent (fingers crossed!). There's always been a sense with our project of getting people to do it for you, our motto used to be 'do nothing', finally I want to try and give something back, although don't think you'll be getting away with it that easy. Expect a lot of 'audience participation'.
Aweh: Over the course of the project Tiger and Bear has involved so many different mediums and people, is there anything you would still like to add to this oddball legacy?
Tiger: I mentioned about going down the comedy route. I'm looking to experiment with Cave to Humanness with different settings and audiences. I've never been into doing the same thing twice, but I've often thought about making an actual 'production', I think I've found the middle ground here, in which I have a lot of leeway to do things off the cuff and change it about a bit and make it different each time.
The other avenue I'm thinking of going down is television, or some kind of online video series. I want to explore Korean tourism underneath the surface of expat travel blogs and the slightly clueless tourist board. There are some very unique places and activities out there to be experienced, what better way to do it than getting a great big papier-mâché cartoon animal head and filling it with a weirdo foreigner with a penis obsession?
Aweh: Where can people keep up to date with your shenanigans?
Tiger: tigerandbearkorea.wordpress.com; everything from the project gets documented there in some shape or form and is regularly updated. Also there's a Facebook page, but not twitter, as I have no idea what a ‘tweet’ is and what it does. Is it something celebrities do for their creepy fans?