Art & Design

August 23, 2016

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd on Cocaine and Caviar

The artist takes inspiration from R Kelly, Eurotrash and Norwegian octogenarians

  • Written by Alexandra Pereira

The artist formerly known as Spartacus is known for work that celebrates pop culture. Nominated for a Turner Prize in 2012, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd has referenced everything from Miyazaki to Michael Jackson to Chaucer across film, installation, painting, sculpture and most notably, moving and often hilarious performance art. She’s not afraid to poke fun and you are allowed to laugh. What’s sassy and tongue-in-cheek from Chetwynd is also robust and thought-out, and that includes her numerous name changes.

At this year’s Bergen Assembly—Norway’s counter-biennial that takes place every three years—Chetwyn will be unveiling new experimental practice with PRAXES, the Berlin-based Center for Contemporary Art. This year, a trio of clear-cut propositions arrives from artistic directors Tarek Atoui, freethought, and PRAXES. The work has been unveiled in instalments throughout the year, with Cocaine and Caviar and The Cell Group (Episode Two) opening this September and offering reflections on contemporary culture.

As the daughter of an Oscar-winning production designer and a former soldier and aid worker, Chetwynd has always been drawn to theatrics and human behaviour more than the average person. Cocaine and Caviar explores the clunky, sometimes gaudy, physical parts of performance, like costume and staging.

In contrast, another of her works for the Assembly, The Cell Group (Episode Two), rallies Bergen residents of all ages to create choreography around Chetwynd’s fascination with futurology and body-borne technology, such as computers that are stuck to you (something you could debatably call your iPhone). Here Amuse caught up with her about her new artwork.

What is Cocaine and Caviar about?
The title comes from a photo of an 80-year-old lady who is obviously a “cool cat”, as she wears a jumper with “Cocaine and Caviar” written on it. I was researching what older people think. In the film Soylent Green (1973 sci-fi from Richard Fleischer) there is a group of elderly folks who are kept working in the library. They are called “The Exchange” and are able to remember the world before food ran out and overpopulation became rife. I wanted to know if a group of octogenarians could be assembled and if they could be as useful as “The Exchange”. The abundance of images of old, cool cats wearing crazy rude and daring t-shirts is really cheering. “Cocaine and Caviar” is gestural; as if when you know you can’t have that lifestyle, at least you can have a t-shirt that says the motto.


Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Iron Age Pasta Necklace Workshop, 2016 Event documentation, Bergen Assembly 2016. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

How do you like to take in pop culture that’s not immediately around you?
It’s usually that I’m discussing popular culture with someone and that someone then says, “You’d love this.” And they show me something as brilliant as R Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet, or as stressful as Adventure Time. It can be from the internet, TV, books or a shop window.

Whose work do you admire in pop culture in 2016?
Stephen Chow and Shaolin Soccer. Whatever he is working on now will be exciting. But I’m also learning about junk on iPhones that is really fast and fresh. I like all the pop culture I see from the young adults I worked with in the Liverpool Biennial project. I used to love watching Eurotrash with Jean Paul Gaultier and Antoine de Caunes, but now I enjoy watching Rude Tube. I obviously want the world to operate on emojis and abandon text, and am totally over-excited about electric driverless taxis and video drones. I want to be buried in a mushroom death suit and so much more.

There are great elements of classical theatre, absurdist theatre, mime and drag in your work. Who are your favourite performers?
This one is easy. The Marx brothers, Ed Wood, Mae West, John Waters, Cronenberg, Powell and Pressberger, Ken Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pumping Iron, Cocteau, Pasolini, Paul Verhoeven, Andrzej Wajda, Luis Buñuel, Jan Svankmeyer, Stephen Chow, Dennis Potter.

You’re unveiling Cell Group (Episode Two) this September. What themes does it explore?
The performance I made in April in Bergen was called The Elixia App (Episode One) and this explored euthanasia (via an elixir/elixia), playfulness with death, “village elders” as a potential source of primary info on recent history and Insect Protein. I’m excited about tech and I can see shifts taking place where it provides possible measuring and monitoring of our ability in order to enable humans to be better, and provide a bright future for our race. I’m accepting that our planet is exciting and has a future, even if our race does not. I’m weirdly proud of our solar system and find learning about satellites and space stations better than sex, or at least as good as.


Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Iron Age Pasta Necklace Workshop, 2016 Event documentation, Bergen Assembly 2016. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Cocaine and Caviar/The Cell Group (Episode Two) open during Bergen Assembly from 1 September.


Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London


Recommended on

More from

Featured on