Jon Wozencroft is a designer, writer, photographer, educator and co-founder of Touch.
What visual art impresses you at the moment?
Let's say I see, or notice, a thousand images in the course of any one day... It would be a fine thing if just one of them grabbed my attention long enough to want to look at it in depth. Which is not to say that there isn't some very good visual work being made – there is just so much of it. Which is most unfair on those who do have something original to say, visually... Such work gets drowned out not only by the non-stop nature of contemporary culture, it is a miracle if the viewer is able to pay attention for more than a nanosecond to something worth contemplating.
You see this clearly whenever you go to an exhibition of masterpieces/paintings/photographs. The visitor flashes past each canvas or C-print in the blink of an eye, so one has to conclude, human beings no longer know how to read images, they only know how to recognise whether or not they are to their taste before moving on to the next one.
But I haven't answered the question. I was pleased that John Stezaker got some recognition, recently, for the collage work he's been doing since the 1970s. And amongst the new generation of 'tumblr' photographers, Lena Scheynius is pretty good, whilst owing a debt to Marianne Muller. And occasionally I'll see some student work which is great, especially if they know what they are doing.
Any books snagged your attention of late?
I'm an avid reader. To not have a book on the go is like running out of coffee for breakfast, I just have to go to the local shop to restock, immediately. Currently I'm finishing Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle for Britain, which is a collection of oral histories from the Imperial War Museum archive, just amazing... And there for the grace of God go we.
Last week I went to a design conference in Porto, a beautiful city which had very little to do with WW2, and coming back to Gatwick, I felt immediately the smog of complete bullshit which clouds this Glorious Land at the moment. What the hell happened? How did the UK end up in this collective torpor, following the amazing spirit and fortitude of 70 years ago?
The best new book I've read recently is Alan Warner's The Stars in the Bright Sky, which I won't even begin to try and describe. It's very difficult to write anything that one might term 'a state of the nation statement', whether that nation is the UK or Somalia, but Warner does it here, to hilarious and chilling effect. I didn't want it to end, and the way he ends it is genius.
You run the ‘audiovisual publishing company’ Touch which releases lots of interesting music. Are you able to listen to music for purely recreational purposes? If so, what's on the Wozencroft iPod?
Music for pleasure? Well if it wasn't, I'd pack up and retire right now, but I have to say as I get older I choose silence more often than I choose to put on a CD or a record, but I think that's an ecological necessity.
As for iPods, I cannot abide listening to music on the move. I have to listen to it, if I'm going to listen to it, and I'd much rather hear the sounds of the street and the environment as I go about my day. The funny thing is, I eagerly bought the first Walkman that came out – the ‘Stowaway’. This used to have a button you could press that let in external sounds while you were listening on headphones. The subsequent editions abandoned this feature – a great loss to the notion of sonic interaction. Having said that, the Sony WM-D6C Professional Walkman is/was a masterpiece of technology, far more progressive to the cause of music than the bloody iPod, which is a disaster. The Sony Professional was compact enough to smuggle into gigs, and without it we'd never have a record of how great some of the live bands of the 1980s sounded. My penchant was to record New Order in 1982 when they were at the height of their powers.
Today, I'm always on the lookout for something that plays me something I don't already know. I look at Boomkat, visit Rough Trade, Honest Jon’s, etc., always in the hope that I'll be blown away by some new record. It rarely happens... Is it me? So I'm also re-listening to the past with an ear to the present, and wondering if there will ever be such a thing again as the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1973, or Joy Division in February 1980. I still love the sound of music as a key pathway to other worlds; I just find most contemporary stuff, and the modes in which it is delivered, conservative in the extreme. If there’s one new record I’m impressed by it’s the new PJ Harvey recording, “Let England Shake”. This does seem to me to be an extraordinary fusion between commercial accessibility and difficult, often awkward content.
This is my litmus test for what we release on Touch... so my answer is that if our stuff doesn't rock my boat on a recreational level, it's back to the drawing board. I like very much the chemistry we have made between things that are sweet to the ear, and difficult to the brain, so I think of it like the best pop music, and feel that it's a sad thing that distribution systems marginalise us to the 'experimental' side of life. In the best of cultures, all work should be experimental in its own way - there once was a time when it was.
Been to any good exhibitions in the past year?
What is exciting you in the digital realm?
The idea of a revolution that will never happen, or put it this way – the idea of a revolution that ‘could’ happen if only people would stop obsessing that it had to be 'digital'.
I learn a lot by observing what’s possible with programming, and what people do when they experiment with code. However, all this does seem to be embedded with the same trajectory as the internal combustion engine… ie. The vehicle can only become faster, or smoother, more exciting to ride. Or it crashes.
Actually, one should be highly suspicious of ‘revolution’ as an event/horizon. We must first involve ‘re-evolution’ if there’s ever going to be change as such.