In his examination of England’s industrial landscape, artist Theo Simpson draws on historical, material and cultural legacies to reflect its initial creation, and its future. His assemblages of photography, archival material and sculpture offer new readings of these complex environments. To delve a little further into Theo’s practice we sat down with the artist, just as his work is profiled in the fourth issue of True Photo Journal.

'Composition V'. Single colour lithographic print 560 x 450mm
'Chromogenic print from the portfolio ‘of the parts, of the hole’
'Chromogenic print from the portfolio ‘of the parts, of the hole’

On his subject…

I have always been motivated by the environments and circumstances around me. And have always had a long and close relationship with them. I think what moves the work forward is that I've never really settled on a single strategy. It’s an ongoing sort of reflection and discovery, which in many ways is expressed in the way I create and express my ideas – it’s often made slowly with diverse strategies and methods.

On Britain’s industrial past…

The industrial heritage of the landscapes I’ve been working with is crucial to the narrative of Britain and the globe in general. It’s shaped the very places we inhabit and formed the dynamics of the landscape physically, culturally, ecologically, ideologically, socially and so on. I'm also concerned with the legacy of these landscapes, and with their future: the new industrial landscape, how we proceed in this landscape now and with the mechanisms and industries we invent to sustain us. And what shape these will take.

On dialogue and subtext…

The approach I have all stems from photography, that’s my background. But it also shows some cynicism in its ability to express my ideas, which is why I’ve constrained it to being an element in a broader communication. I believe where ‘a simple landscape or factory’ becomes so important is by bringing it into a dialogue with other material from different sources, expressed and realised using many different techniques. So, maybe then we can start imagining the complexity of a seemingly simple landscape as a kind of stage and reflect on how it’s been used, changed, manipulated, corrupted. Its geological make up, its beginnings and its future. I want to work in a way that opens up these questions instead of locking them up in the surface.

Chromogenic prints from the portfolio 'Of the Parts, Of the Hole

On processes…

Each piece is realised differently. Some combine multiple elements of data and material from different sources and times on one surface; others use just one or two elements. A piece may take the form of a structural work or it may consist of just one solitary fragment of material. The process of arranging and organising these materials is key to its expression and function, and also its ordering in installation. I’m interested in potentially unlocking a pattern between something newly sensed, between the past and the future.

On artistic mediums…

The structural works are simply demonstrative of physical properties, facts about the nature of steel, and the processes implicit in its manufacture. I employ a usually invisible variant of steel – in an exposed and expressive way which enables it to take on another language, one of construction, tectonics and architecture. Man’s ability to create and to also destroy. The archive [of material related to these sites] is as critical to my work as the use of physical materials. It binds a lot of the work together with a language of its own – the way in which it has been archived, torn or spliced from a book, magazine or newspaper offers another layer of narrative. For me, the strategic appropriation of the archive, re-working and re-imagining it with my own original images and the contrasting syntax is what energises the work. Enabling a new conversation through some sort of order, yet disorder too.

 Above left entitled, Timing marks, and above right, LT77 Flywheel. Both are silkscreen prints on 18 – gauge cold rolled steel (British Leyland Diamond White / Azure Blue body colour / lacquer ) in stainless steel angle iron case 700 x 500 x 20mm
Pieces above: ‘Roads End’, Wirephoto and gelatin silver print 500 x 380mm, and ‘LI parts, (LVII parts)’Silkscreen fly poster 490 x 370mm

On the use of repeating images …

My original interest in them stems from press images and propaganda imagery. The images I worked with for the fly-poster pieces often depict details from events that took place during industrial action in England in the 1980s. These particular press images express an institutional truth, they impose heroes and villains upon shared consciousness. They are able to mold history and distort memories. I’m interested in how these representations become imprinted in our minds, become definitive in our recollection of history and can create phantom realities. Working with the fragments of this material reveals its make-up, exposes its blunt authoritarianism, re-disseminates it by its own means, and perhaps treats aspects of what we consider the truth as something yet to be properly uncovered.

On social progress…

I think there is perhaps a new emphasis in the way I see it, now we are within a new degree of existence. Industries, economies, ideas, and technologies invariably shift, for good and bad, and with varying consequences. But between these shifts there is displacement, of people, purposes and places, cultural and physical borders. This is what part of my work speculates on and indeed tries to encourage a further acknowledgement and reflection upon. As the world opens and broadens up before us, finding our path through it will seem ever more challenging, it appears.

Theo Simpson, and his body of work, is featured extensively in the latest issue of True Photo Journal– an exciting
magazine that showcases the unpublished personal projects of established and emerging photographers.