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Interview with William Sweetlove

September 23, 2011

Q: What is your inspiration?

A: Climate change is the basis of my research. I was always inspired by art that is not busy with aesthetics, but where social, ecological and political issues are involved. In the 1970s, with Warhol and Pop, art was a media-based replay of what was happening in society at the time: the sexual revolution, Vietnam, freedom and religion.

I am particularly interested in the term “fossil.”

For me a fossil is: A natural fossil is something left from the past like dinosaur ;bones or animal footprints in stones. ;A cultural fossil is proof of human evolution like pots, ;buildings and weapons. ;A philosophical fossil is a way of thinking…conservative, ;humanistic, evolutionary, etc.

What is a fossil in art to me? I make sculptures in plastic, resin, polyurethane…All of these products are synthetic and made from oil. Oil is a natural, organic fossil.

If we crack the oil molecules, we get gas, oils and benzines. When burned, these are the origin of pollution and global warming. The second part after cracking are the synthetics used to make plastics, polyesters, nylon- all the products we need for everyday life. My glasses, shoes, pens and chairs are made of synthetic products. Without plastic tools, the medical world is not possible anymore.

What is the basic problem? All of these products are fossils for eternity– nothing can destroy them. In the past, humans just burned them which resulted in dioxide pollution and much more. We can recycle them, but we have to invest in that. My message is to recycle plastics and synthetics. We will need them for the future. If we don’t have oil, we don’t have synthetics.

When the climate changes, we will have a big problem. There will be too much water in the world, but not enough drinking water.

My most recent sculptures send the message to be careful and recycle. My animals all take a pet-bottle or a rucksack with them with reserves of food and water.

I also have another idea about future food problems. After climate change and global warming, humans won’t be able to raise animals like cows. When it gets too hot, we won’t have enough herbs to feed them. We saw in the 1980s that if we change the food for cows, they get Kreuzfelt-Jacobs disease. An herbivore needs to eat herbs and grass, and nothing else. Humans die within a year of consuming contaminated meat.

So artists find other solutions. We can treat animals by genetic manipulation and make them bigger. We take the best animals and clone them. Many things like adding hormones and antibiotics won’t be necessary any more. The question is can we change a live human’s genetics?

In medicine, we are developing new technology with the primary cells of human beings to cure cancer and other bad diseases.

So I make my animals bigger than normal and they are all cloned. Is this the food of the future? A good thing to discuss? The new meat factories?

Q: What artists or movements do you see your work as being related to?

A: I have always greatly admired important artists. At the moment, I think I am a lonely artist who collects work by other living artists. Over the last 35 years, I have bought work from many important art movements. Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, Mel Ramos, Roy Lichtenstein, Mario Merz, Alighiero Boetti, Joseph Beuys, Christo, Cindy Sherman, Keith Haring, Wim Delvoye, Jan Fabre, Paul McCarthy.

I bought my first multiple by Joseph Beuys when I was still a student – I paid $10. That day I didn’t drink. Afterwards, I could buy prints by Warhol and others for very “cheap” prices – I didn’t have the money for more.

I have a very special view on art, and I have always bought at the first opportunity with my small financial allowances. Every new movement is important, and I don’t only believe in myself, I am not Picasso, I don’t have the ego of many young artists. The most important movement in art was Dada. Without free-thinking, there would be no modern art, and no revolution and re-evolution. It’s a kind of Darwinism.

Q: Could you please describe your technique and process?

A: After an interrogation with myself, I decide which I will use to clearly send my message: a dog, cat, turtle, woman, man or other animal. I start with photos of the animal, which are projected onto a wall. A rude form is cut out from foam or made in clay or wax. Afterwards, the details are worked out. Then I make the mold in different parts. Silicon and resin forms are made around the sculpture.

Q: How has your body of work developed over the course of your career?

A: In the beginning, it was really difficult to be introduced in the art scene. I won a few important prizes, but the support after was nil. In the 1990s, I became more successful due to the support of a few galleries and the conservator of the Museum of Modern Art in Ostend. I have become an international artist since 2001. I also now participate in the Crackin Art Group in Italy. We have done large installations all over the world. The last was in Miami and Istanbul with 45 purple snails.

Q: Could you please describe your involvement with the Cracking Art Group?

A: ;In 1999, I participated in an art fair in Torino. I met some young artists who started to work with plastic. I started using resin and transparent resin in 1972. They found my work to be “similar” and in the same spirit as their philosophy. They called themselves the Cracking Art Group.Then they asked me if I would work together with them. In the beginning they used the name, “Crackingartgroup loves William Sweetlove.”

We participated in the 2003 Beaufort Triennial on the Belgian coast. We made half a globe with endangered animals in gold and new cloned red Sweetlove goats. All these years I have been doing the same thing, researching, recycling and conserving.

Q: How did you first get involved in art?

A: I was always very creative in school. Even in high school, they supervised me to continue what I was doing in art school. Artists like Marcel Duchamp, Alan Kaprow, Rauschenberg and Oldenburg opened my eyes. Studying art by myself and seeing underground films and real Living Theater also woke me up. I followed all of what was happening in the art world. I went to Amsterdam, Paris, and Cologne as a young man. Most of the new media were forbidden or censored in catholic Belgium. I had a revolutionary way of thinking against all authority; I was a student during the 1968-1969 student revolution. This all influenced my work in a conceptual way.

Q: Do you have any formal training?

A: I had a pedagogic formation in teaching art. I was good in painting, sculpting, and doing research to find new materials. I followed the art market. In the 1990s, I was asked to speak about art and politics, and trends in art business at the University of Gent. This was a marvelous time to introduce how politics entered art to young people, like Joseph Beuys, for example.

Q: Who are your favorite artists?

A: All contemporary artists are my favorites. I especially like James Ensor, who was the worst treated artist in his birthplace, Ostend. He was a real revolutionary, but was not loved at all until now. He died when I was born and could be my grandfather. I was also born in Ostend and I was treated without respect as well, so I left Ostend and now live in a small village, Koksijde at the Northsee.