Amazing fact: in 1985 Andrew Logan‘s Alternative Miss World was won by a robot called Rosa Bosom (pictured bottom). Never mind that it was the only time a non-human has won the competition, but that year Rosa beat fellow entrants Leigh Bowery and Grayson Perry to it!
Click images to enlarge.
Rosa Bosom’s creator, Bruce Lacey, is a British artist who has been described variously as a performance artist, Dadaist, musician, shaman, satirist, painter, ventriloquist… in fact he defies categorisation. What has run through Lacey’s prolific artistic career for more than half a century is his anarchic spirit and an ability to approach every artistic challenge with childlike wonder. He is the subject of artist Jeremy Deller and film-maker Nick Abrahams’ new film The Bruce Lacey Experience, which premiers at the BFI on 5th July and is a complement to a major retrospective of Lacey’s work at Camden Arts Centre from 7th July -16th September 2012.
You can’t help thinking that Lacey would be more of a household name if he hadn’t taken such an anti-establishment stance throughout his career. But then that’s what’s so appealing and admirable about him. His life revolves around his art and likewise his art is his life. His large family have all been involved in art works and rituals, even appearing for several days as a living piece of art at one stage. Technically, his robots, who wear their mechanisms proudly as part of their beauty are astounding. Add to that his love of tribal, ritualistic, elemental expression and early English culture, even his sense of style – he appears throughout the film in rainbow knits, patchworked cardigans, tie-dyed trousers, knitted hats… “not many people can wear that sort of stuff and look good” (Jeremy Deller) – and you’ve got yourself one unique Englishman worth celebrating. The soundtrack’s fabulous too, featuring great British music from Vaughan Williams to Add N To X.
Nick and Jeremy have cut an exclusive clip of The Bruce Lacey Experience especially for i-D online, where Bruce models some of his ritual outfits. I [Pippa Brooks] met the pair for fish and chips to talk about Lacey’s extraordinary life and career.
Pippa: When did you first meet Bruce Lacey and why did you want to make this film?
Jeremy: I remember seeing a picture of him in a Blue Peter annual when I was a kid. Then my girlfriend Tash and I saw a show of his in Norwich around 2006. We asked to buy a photograph off him and ended up going to his home to pick it up. Spending time with him and seeing his amazing house… I immediately wanted to make the film.
Pippa: What’s wonderful about the film is there is only one voice – that of the artist himself – throughout, as opposed to a lot of expert theorising or anecdotal talking heads…
Nick: That was a conscious decision at the start. The storytelling aspect coming straight from the artist himself.
Pippa: Storytelling is a nice way to describe it, especially given Lacey’s belief in the importance of the inner child. Much of his creativity comes out of “playing silly buggers” as he says in the film. It’s impressive how many different ways he has expressed himself, that he doesn’t confine himself in any way.
Jeremy: He gets bored. If he can master something then he’ll just go on to something else. He doesn’t think of it in career terms. In a way he sabotages his career consistently.
Nick: He doesn’t stick to one medium. One minute he’s a performance artist the next he’s constructing assemblages.
Pippa: I was a big fan of Michael Bentine’s Potty Time as a small child. I had no idea Lacey was the man behind all the mechanised miniature characters and exploding sand! That’s one of the revelations about this film: the list of famous collaborators and incredible circles he’s moved in over the years, yet he’s somehow stayed out of the limelight.
Jeremy: He’s hung around with all these incredibly famous people but he’s not at all impressed by them. Spike Milligan, The Beatles, Peter Sellers, Tommy Cooper.
Nick: I once tried to ask him about the Beatles in one of our interviews and he was like, ‘Oh, BORING!’
Jeremy: He doesn’t really admire other artists that much. The only ones he had good things to say about were Arthur Brown, Peter Cook and Lenny Bruce.
Pippa: Whoah, back up a bit, he worked with Lenny Bruce???
Jeremy: Lenny Bruce asked him to come to America with The Alberts, a musical theatre of the ridiculous group Bruce was in, who were very anti-establishment. But by the time they got to the States Lenny Bruce had been arrested for obscenity so they had to come back!
Nick: You know, when we first met him he’d tell us what we thought were tall tales, then later he showed us photographs of all this stuff and it was TRUE. He’s had an extraordinary life.
Pippa: Lacey discovered art as a form of therapy, when he was recovering from TB in 1945 after doing National Service in the Navy. A lot of his early work is quite dark; about his fears, assemblages made from junk store finds about his hatred of war and cruelty. Somehow he has become more known for his persona as a “piss taker”, for satirising the British Empire and for the frittering and playing, not for the more emotional stuff.
Jeremy: Hopefully this film and the show will put that right. Ken Russell made a lovely short film about Bruce fifty years ago but it’s time people looked again at this body of work.
Pippa: Jeremy, you made a film about Adrian Street as part of your “Joy In People” retrospective at the Hayward earlier this year. He is another unsung creative individual, a wrestler from a very macho Welsh mining village who created and made his outlandish, camp costumes and went into the ring in pigtails to his own pop record. How did your experience with Lacey compare?
Jeremy: Bruce isn’t in a bubble in the same way Adrian Street is. He’s more interested in the world around him. He’s a social activist, protesting about the cuts and things we should be concerned about.
The Bruce Lacey Experience will be premiered at the BFI on 5th July, followed by a Q&A with Jeremy, Nick and Bruce.
Text: Pippa Brooks
Film: Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams
Images courtesy Bruce Lacey