Sculptor happens upon ideal rebel
Maev Kennedy, Arts and Heritage correspondent
Tuesday January 16 2001
For once in his life Gavin Turk, founder member of the Britart pack, whose creations include images of himself as Marat, Sid Vicious and Che Guevara, was both at a loss for words and quite unsure whether he was being a work of art or not.
As he began a two week residency devoted to Che Guevara, in a post-industrial space in east London, there was not a beret or cigar in sight.
The only "revolution" was written in white paint on an orange wall. "Don't know who did that it's great, isn't it?" Turk said.
When Gavin Turk was born, in the late 1960s, Che Guevara, the event he is creating at the Foundry in Shoreditch, as part of the Year of the Artist, would have been called "a happening".
There will be talks, films, music, poetry as well as several events on the timetable labelled "activists meet an organise". There is also a red banner, proclaiming Hasta La Victoria Sempte!, which he found in the street.
Turk explained that he became interested in Che Guevara two years ago when he was trying to think o f a defining image of the 20th Century. He became fascinate less in the Cuban revolutionary, killed by American trained Bolivian soldiers in 1967, than by the manipulation of his image since then, through the iconic poster. "It's a zeitgeist thing," he said. The very fact that everyone is here today is testament that people are still very interested and intrigued by this".
His own work has constantly re-examined the artist's image and inspiration. His degree show at the Royal College of Art was an entirely empty studio, apart from an English Heritage plaque proclaiming "Borough of Kensington Gavin Turk Sculptor Worked Here 1989 - 1991".
He was one of the young British artists, including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, shown in the Royal Academy's notorious Sensation, which created the Britart phenomenon.
He collected material for Che Guevara by advertising in the papers inviting anyone interested in Che to phone a number. He would never have responded to such an invitation himself, he said, but 80 people, including students, academics ad political activists, did.
Despite the public interest, yesterday the artist seemed in the grip of a most unusual attack of self doubt. "Maybe the question of whether it's art or not is not so important - but I'm not dissing art either".
The journalists who went to yesterday's launch press conference were told they would become part of the work of art.
It may all end in a fortnight with a passionate Che Guevara rally at Shoreditch town hall in east London. Or not.
"It all depends how this takes off, how much interest there is, really. We'll let you know," one of the organisers said.
caption: Gavin Turk, artist in residence at New Foundry in east Lodnon, prepares his Che 'Gavara' Story. Photograph: Garry Weaser