An Angel of the North in Helmand? Perhaps not, but attempts to regenerate Middlesbrough inspired artist Scott King to take Anish and Antony to Afghanistan
The idea came from a thought I had to make “sculptural transplants” from the West to Afghanistan. That is, I thought, if the New Labour policy of commissioning the likes of Anish Kapoor to create a public artwork like Temenos in Middlesbrough, was so successful in helping to regenerate Teesside, couldn’t this same tactic could be used in aiding the regeneration of Afghanistan?
I had someone Photoshop images of huge public sculptures on to the plain of Helmand Province, and although these images were quite funny for a second, ultimately they seemed trite and too easy. This lead me to think more about the real story: what might really happen if someone in the UN actually came up with the idea to rescue Afghanistan through public sculpture? So, I wrote the story, then I asked on Twitter if anyone could do “Victor comic-style illustrations”. Only two people got back to me, one of whom was Will Henry, and he was perfect. Over about two months, Will and I worked out this whole story and he did these brilliant illustrations.
It wasn’t originally a book. I had an upcoming solo show at Between Bridges in Berlin, so the idea of Anish and Antony Take Afghanistan was to make a room in the gallery that was actually a graphic novel on the wall. It became a book after I showed the whole thing to Lionel Bovier, head of Zurich art publisher JRP|Ringier. He loved it and immediately offered to publish it as a small graphic novel. So, we transformed it from a wall-based artwork into a real graphic novel in a week, and it was published very soon afterwards.
The idea of a graphic novel in fine art is perhaps a real no-no. It’s very uncool isn’t it? So, I found that prospect very attractive. But, more than that, once I’d written the story, I just needed to find a suitable medium. It could have been an actual story, a novella or something, but I really wanted Anish and Antony to take on this kind of cartoon heroicism … to become these dashing characters, so the cartoon approach worked. Also, and something I didn’t realise until we did it, with a graphic novel, you can go absolutely anywhere. You can very easily make the characters and scenarios completely ludicrous because the structure holds the story together. So Will and I enjoyed that. There isn’t really a single central message to the story. There are no good guys, only buffoons.
People loved it. It sold lots of copies and had lots of glowing reviews. People still email me about it, even though it came out more than two years ago. And the original artwork has now been exhibited in London, Berlin, Munich and New York.
There was no public response from Anish or Antony as far as I know; though apparently, Anish’s studio did order 10 copies from the publisher.
Anish and Antony Take Afghanistan by Scott King and WIll Henry is published by JRP|Ringier
Read the full version in The Northern Correspondent #9