Franko B in conversation with James Morgan

JM On your website you say that you come from a visual art background as opposed to theatre or live art, so I’m intrigued why you came to perform in a theatre such as the Place?

FB Time is precious, there is no point in trying to specialise - I mean, based on what? You just say the things you need to say and then you move on. I like the idea of challenging the work, taking it into a different environment and challenging the audience instead of just serving a cosy corner, or a salloto - a living room, that you kind of create for yourself and nurture over the years. Everything becomes fascist once it gets established - its crap. I don’t want to do that, I want to move on and feel like I’m not arriving anywhere. If you arrive you are dead. A lot of artists do this, they build a reputation and they hold on - it kills them. And I think I’m good at not doing that.

JM Maybe thats something to do with your lack of discipline - as you said in the post show?

FB Yes! I can’t do it, I’m not a rational person. I say to people when they say I’m difficult: yeah I know, I’m very difficult!

JM You presented this new work in a theatre, and if it isn’t a piece of theatre, I wonder what it is that you think makes it not theatre?

FB Well, what is theatre?

JM I was just thinking that your presence on stage was very different to what a theatre audience might be used to seeing, you showed a different kind of vulnerability.

FB Yeah. I’m not an actor. I think the difference is that
I’m an image maker, and I’m interested in making an image rather than telling a story. In a way that’s what theatre is, telling stories - real or recognisable or not. Although, the work is very autobiographical. In a way I try to take an image from a memory that I have, and just try not to fall apart totally while I’m doing it. Its not easy not to fall apart.

JM I felt really invited into your experience, emotionally I guess.

FB Yes, its difficult though because I don’t get emotional when I try things out. But then when I get in front of the public I fail. I fail, but it is good. Sometimes it is too much maybe, but it is difficult to keep it together. I think the difference is that you have to have a presence, but that presence doesn’t require you to act or to pretend to be what you are not. Performance is a very uncomfortable thing -- Hey, how are you? Yeah, I’m good.

[A guy in cycling shorts interrupts us to say hello - It is clear this is Franko B’s home turf.]

FB He instructs at the gym I used to go to. I went to the gym for two years. I still try to do it now, but before I decided to do this show I decided to lose weight. I had to lose a lot of weight because I wasn’t fit and I had a personal instructor. I lost 22 kilos or something and now I’m just trying to stay fit, you know, to keep doing what I’m doing.

JM I guess that brings me onto the next thought.As dancers we are inevitably concerned with our bodies as art, an concept you obviously share. Would you mind describing your relationship with your body? It is simply something which is a medium or tool in order to make or present work, or is it where you derive inspiration?

FB The body is a canvas to talk about the things you need, or have to talk about. And its something you’re often not really in control of. Its something you have, and which you learn over time how to be able to use to say more the things you want to say in the moment, than what other people project onto you. And yes I agree, the thing with dancers - I know some dancers, they tend to be obsessed with their bodies in a weird way.

JM An unhealthy way?

FB Its not up to me to say what is unhealthy or wrong, but certainly, people have different aesthetics. I mean I’ve never slept with a dancer, they’d probably freak out about somebody like me - or be embarrassed probably. I tend to go out with artists, who are more like me, though of course still very different. I think there is something autistic about people who make art. An artist to me is someone who is dysfunctional, and in a way art communicates for them, or is their best defence. Anyone can be an artist if they think they are an artist. Someone who makes very nice cakes can be an artist. The moment we start to worry what is art and what isn’t or what is real and what isn’t we can get lost. Essentially most people I like, they are really dysfunctional people. And when people I meet are really good artists aesthetically, but they behave like businessmen, thats what they are, you know like Jeff Koons, or whatever.

JM You talk about the artist as a kind of, disaffected person, but do you think suffering or pain, is also essential?

FB I think everybody suffers. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what upbringing you had, everybody suffers. People just have a different awareness, I mean you can avoid it, and of course you can take drugs and self medicate. At the moment I’m on medication because I find it difficult to cope with life and my anxiety. Generally people think I’m a happy chappy, but you know, how can you be happy? Maybe its also my age, but every day you have to have a reason to get up.

JM I was actually going to ask you that question - what gets you out of bed in the morning?

FB My dogs. I have responsibilities. I have two dogs and I am in a relationship now. They give me love but they also give me discipline, which I need.

JM You said last night in the post show that this work isn’t so different from your earlier stuff, the blood letting and other more loaded, or spectacular material. You also talk about language a lot when describing your work and I wonder if you think of this as a different language?

FB No, I think I use different strategies maybe, but not language. I don’t think there is such a thing as different useless

language. I think maybe you have a different depth or understanding, but it depends where you are in your life. I talk about the same things - existential, personal things, my responsibilities to myself and to the world. Its personal work and that doesn’t just mean airing your dirty laundry in public. I think--
[We are interrupted and I am introduced to another of Franko’s friends who is passing by.]

JM You’re a very popular guy! I’m curious why you only did one date at the Place, when you sold out so quickly?

FB Well its a long story. I did a showcase for at Laban, but then I fell out with them - I didn’t like Laban. They said do a showcase and if we like it, we’ll do it. So, the showcase was for free and after that they said no thanks, we can’t afford you.The Place heard about it and said they would be interested. I think they thought it would be difficult to get people there because people tend to put you in a box - because you’re performing at a dance place, none of the people who follow your work are going to come, so they were relying purely on dance students to come. It would have been empty if I didn’t have a following. When it sold out they asked if I could do another show on the Monday and I said no, I’m not going to rush, and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve got two dates in London at Toynbee [Arts Admin], in November, and I’m changing the piece again.

JM What are you changing?

FB I’m getting rid of the fox scene, and I really liked theway the bear just fucked up, so I want to finish with that.

JM I loved the guy running down the stairs to turn it off, that was great.

FB It was real! Its like what Tim Etchells, my friend said, never work with children, never work with animals andnow, never work with robots.  And I agree.

JM So Because of Love was developed in dialogue with Gilles Jobin and Tim, right?

FB Well with Gilles, I went to him and asked, would you advise me what not to do, and how not to hurt myself. I didn’t want people to think I’m trying to do dance. It was good learning what I could do, what my body, my age and my shape could do, and also what was irrelevant to me. The movement needed to describe images I had, like punishment and childhood and I tried to learn how to do something that wasn’t tacky.

JM I guess its something very different to what you usually present because usually you just have one image - something that carries a lot of material just in its being. This stuff seems so much quieter.

FB I think I bleed more now. Now it is much harder to keep it together - the blood before was so much about the technical side.

JM I’m sure you had to focus more on the physical reality of the task.

FB Yes, now it is much more emotional.

JM And I think you could tell - I felt very emotional, particularly in a couple of scenes - like with the repetition of falling off the bed onto the floor. Maybe that was my theatre brain kicking in actually - the lights descending on such a beautiful image, it really appealed to me.

FB Yeah, that was probably the most theatre thing in the piece. It was also certainly a cue to tell me to move onto the next image. I don’t usually use cues. With this piece I just moved from one place to another and things change around me. Its a different way of working. And also, the good thing about Steve Ward, the brilliant technician, is that he understands that I can be unpredictable, but he trusts my unpredictability. Two hours before we were going to show we got rid of stuff. I got a wall of tiles made in Italy, and I said to him I’m not happy, so today I dumped it. He didn’t ask me if I was going to change my mind because he knew I wouldn’t. Don’t hold on to stuff just because you paid for it. Money doesn’t make the work. Unfortunately, I say that but the bear was thirty-three thousand pounds to get made. But thats life, fuck off. The fox heads, which I’m not going to use again were another two thousand.

JM What was it about the fox scene that didn’t work for you? I spoke to a few people afterwards that it was some their favourite moment.

FB That’s interesting, I like the red, because the red is a reference to the Rothko painting, but I just thought what happened with the bear was the end. What the foxes were supposed to mean is still too intimate and I haven’t been able to translate that, where the bear is much more clear. The bear is my father figure, but the idea of the fox was a way to acknowledge my dead friends, people I have lost. As I drag this sled around, they fall off and I pick them up and try to make peace with them. But I think the new end is the bear going crazy - I leave and the lights go to a red silhouette. Then I think it would be fantastic. In theatre that fuck up would have been a failure - imagine, ohh the show is ruined! But actually I said you know what, thats great. I think thats why Steve likes to work with me, because I’m not going to have a tantrum or blame people because actually I needed it. Not that I think things happen for a reason, but it was a moment of genius in a way - language and nature colliding. You can do fuck all about that, you can correct those moments if you want to, but why try?

JM So maybe you should work with robots?

FB Well, maybe you should, but I tell you that robot was crazy.

JM Who is it your art for?

FB Its for anyone who wants to see it. The point is that I’m dealing with language, like a poet or any other artist. I am presenting a series of images dealing with a subtle language which I can’t control. I always say to my students that you have to focus on your intention, but it doesn’t matter for anyone else. You have to be clear for yourself but then once you’ve done that and you’ve told the story that’s interesting to you, then its not any longer concerned with you. I can say my work is about this, but you turn around and say no, your work is about that. I say fine. The existence is in your memory, I can’t own that. And I think if you try to, it risks becoming propaganda. I always say that we work with language that already exists - we just appropriate it, and once it leaves us it becomes somebody else’s language - collective. Whatever you are are going to do or write about it [the work], or how people will talk about it, I’m just a coincidence. In the end I think art is a virus, it is a language that cannot be stuck down, even when its written - it is not what it says it is.

JM In your documentary for your work you talked about the battle between having a career and still being a person, and the hoops you are forced to jump through to make art... in training. Do you think art school is dead?

FB No, but it depends on the institution. And it also depends on the person, on the chemistry. I think essentially they are there to create a platform, but the unfortunate thing is that the people who teach there might just do it because its a job, you know? It pays somebody’s mortgage. In education its very rare to find someone who’s a brilliant teacher and a brilliant artist. I would rather find a brilliant teacher and know he is a crappy artist. If you cannot share then who cares? It is dead. When I was a student they were often too arrogant for their own good, and not generous, not sharing, and I guess in a way that inspired me not to be like that. I get a lot from my students - there were a lot of them there last night who traveled from Italy. Its like a family. People don’t just do things because you pay them.

JM So what are your students like?

FB I teach sculpture in Italy and at the beginning I got people that were really like, oh my god, this guy’s gonna kill me - they were totally traditional. One of them said “I want to be an artisan”. I said I’m not here to teach craft, I’m here to talk about art. If you want to be an artisan you are on the wrong course. Not because it is your fault, but because I cannot teach you that - ask for your money back. But he didn’t move on and he makes interesting stuff now. I get on well with his family because they think I opened up another world for him, which I guess I did, because otherwise he would be making...

JM Pretty sculptures?

FB Yeah, also working for somebody else. Actually in a way that is what he’s doing right now, working in a quarry for a big, famous sculptor. He was telling me, its a lot of hard work, and I say yeah, but he [the artist] doesn’t even do it - he gets you to do it.

JM A lot of artists do that, don’t they?

FB Yeah they do... I do everything! [Laughs] I stitch you know?

JM Yeah, I love your stitchings, there’s something very innocent about


FB Also I like the idea of men stitching, in this patriarchal society.And presenting something that is usually craft, as art - I’m using craft language to make art.

JM Which I guess is the opposite of what your student wanted to do - presenting art as craft.

FB Yes, that is it - he thought that craft was the artwork. And actually he really believed that with sculpture you have to get dirty, you have to sweat, and now that’s he’s doing it for somebody else, he says- shit... its a really heavy job. I say, where is the art?

JM It’s funny, that kind of reminds me of the relationship a dancer and choreographer often have - you can end up giving yourself up to serve some other persons idea. Then is that really art, for you?

FB When I started this project I met this teacher that taught classical ballet to kids in Italy and she put me through what you were supposed to do - it was crazy. She invited me to see the kids [perform], and I said no. I don’t want to be witness to what you call this mutilation, really. Its funny when people say about my work - you are extreme. Your [points to JM] life is extreme!

JM You could say waking up at 6:30 every single day to get to ballet class is mutilating.

FB Definitely more so.

JM I have one last, quite morbid question I’d like to ask. What will you do with your body when you die?

FB I don’t care. I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter once you are dead and I’m not worrying about that. One moment the light will go out and I will not have memory. I don’t believe in an afterlife. All this offering will be done. In terms of time we are all irrelevant - in a thousand years who is gonna know, or give a shit who Damian Hirst is, or Tracy Emin. Time is timeless. Why do people want to have legacy? I’m not worried about putting my work in museums, just so people can masturbate when I’m dead. This is the problem, a lot of people are so insecure - and I’m not saying I’m not - that they want to be remembered, as a decent artist or whatever.

JM It feels like such a shame we place so much importance in what people think of us, feeding our art-ego. Like - are people going to like it? Am I going to look intelligent or interesting, or useful?

FB But, I quite like the idea of useful. The way I try to make sense of what I do is that, maybe its delusional but, like society says a doctor is useful, I think that what I do is another approach to being useful. To whoever needs or wants it. Last night I fed you. Tomorrow you go to another restaurant. I guess my one fear or insecurity is, I don’t want to feel mediocre. But then I guess someone like Michael Clarke could look at me and say you are mediocre. I’m not trying to do what he does. I look at him and I think I would have gone to see him once, not any more. One thing for sure is to feel mediocre would upset me. But I don’t feel mediocre. Of course you have to create a safe environment, but within that you have to be able to go out as well, otherwise you just get comfortable with everyone patting you-

JM And saying how great you are.

FB For five minutes anyway. Growing up hurts, and you never stop growing up. It doesn’t matter if you are 22 or 60, the moment you stop questioning you are in mediocrity - dead. I’m not waiting to die. I find it difficult to live, but I’m not waiting to die.


Published in Because of Love: Volume 1 (2014),

and Garble, Issue 9 (2013)

© 2015 Franko B and the contributors