Shutter Hub member Mike Sutton is a British artist, working as a teacher in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He uses images and language to explore existential themes and has been working on ‘Octopus’, a kind of visual autobiography, since 2012. Immersed in the idea of identity, and delving into the core of consciousness, Mike looks directly at the things that make a person who they are. In 2020 Mike was awarded a Shutter Hub Membership Bursary.
My art has always been driven by an interest in existentialism – exploring impossible questions about the way things are. It has also been driven by my own fear of memory loss.
“I have a box in which I keep everything important to me, maps of places I’ve been, bus, train and plane tickets, hand written notes given to me about love. If the worst happens, for me that’s forgetting everything, I have this box of evidence.”
I’ve always found it difficult to explain what Octopus is, it’s about understanding identity. The explanation feels very reductive of the task that really was and how long that would take. My explanation always starts the same way – the project is a descent inwards to understand myself, to understand everything that makes me who I am, to try and understand what is formative of that.
Octopus has never felt grounded in one particular place, or approached in one particular direction, and I think that is why it was so difficult for me to accomplish, it changed a lot with doubt. Looking inwards is like looking into a deep dark pool, you can barely see past the surface, and just reaching in as far as you can, you can’t retrieve anything, but given enough time you start to work out the shape of things, you try to understand what is there.
I have worked on the project since 2012 and the book will be available Summer 2020, the book is also a chronological retrospective of my photographs taken throughout my twenties. Alongside the images, are short anecdotes about experiences which felt just as significant as the photographs. It was whilst studying in the University of South Wales that I began to include more text in my work, I was interested in the way people used language and how much this exploration enhanced meaning, in Octopus it cements a coherent atmosphere.
I always wanted it to be my best work, because it holds so many of the pictures I’m proudest of, that are part of me now. I really thought – or hoped – that Octopus would be my biggest achievement, because if it wasn’t what would that say of who I am. Denial has held me back for many years whilst working on this project, I have copies of drafts I sent out over a year ago and very little had changed about the book since, I wasn’t ready to end the project even when it really was done.
I feel now that finishing Octopus is like admitting defeat, I’m stuck with the completion of a project I’m not sure I’m happy with. Even though it’s done, I still want to pull it apart and start again, the paint never dries. The final step in the end was to accept the project as it was, to stop fighting with it, which was the truth I think I’d always been looking for. I’d know it was done when it really was.
I want this book to be wholly unique, that’s all I want for myself, to think that perhaps in the end I did achieve what I set out to. I would like if the project encouraged people to reflect on their own personalities and to ask themselves how they’ve come to be who they are today, to challenge people to be completely honest with themselves, it’s more difficult than it sounds.
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