“ There are a million Tracey Emin clones running around Shoreditch,” declares John Harrigan, who when I speak to him has just returned from rehearsing Dead Language in Prague.
The show – “ full on and very tough” - takes this idea to its logical ( albeit bizarre ) conclusion.
Set in the future, all artists are corrupt and ownership and truth in art is meaningless. The only way to establish value is for artist to create clones of their own identity. This culminates in an epic scrap between a load of Tracey Emin and Andy Warhol clones.
“ What I want to get across is that this cult of celebrity has taken over the art world. Now, the artists are more important than the art.
And people – particularly young kids – take on pieces of others’ identity.
It’s like, in my example, they’re running on Emin’s software,” says John, who runs Foolish People with two other core group members.
But does that matter? Haven’t we always tried to emulate our heroes and heroines ?
“ Yes, but there’s a layer to art and entertainment now that’s stopping us thinking, it’s coming between us and common sense.”
He explains: “ Entertainment has let us down, it’s meant to make us happy, but it isn’t working. It’s actually preventing us from living our lives.”
I can see that this conversation will get very deep.
Mind you, I can see his point: the stuff that should be merely marked fun and escapism is defining who we are.
But what’s the answer, what next?
“ As we evolve we’re going to burst, because we can’t hold any more ideas.
“There’s a ground swell that is turning more to spiritualism, and art is starting to reflect that.
In Dead Language we want to show that we’re almost diving downwards,
The terms we use now will soon no longer be usable – the things we define ourselves by will be a dead language.”
It’s a sobering, but also exciting thought.
There is definitely a shift among artists for something more meaningful and ‘real.’
And where artists lead, mass culture ultimately follows.
John – who spent 11 years as a social worker in large scale, secure units before studying at the London Academy of Performing Arts- takes his responsibility as an artist very seriously.
“ I’m ashamed that art has failed to bring attention to issues like Iraq and the environment.
“ I have blood on my hands, really.”
Not only that, but he uses magic, Gnosticism ( derived from the Greek word gnosis “ to know” which teaches harmony, and that the Divine is in all of us. Followers included Carl Jung, and writers William Blake and Albert Camus ) and drama therapy techniques to inform and write his shows.
“ I write the texts in a magical state,” he says, “ Which I get to through meditation. Some people use drugs, but I don’t as I tend to feel rough afterwards and can’t do anything!”
This may sound a little odd, but there’s no denying John’s commitment ( “I’ve given up my home to fund a show before”) and cast iron belief in giving himself to his art and making a difference.
“ I’ve got two young sons,” he says “ And I want to use my art in the best possible sense because I’m scared of the world that they’re growing up in.”
Some will call him a visionary, others will say he’s bonkers.
But, either way, there’s no denying that something in society has gone awry – and that maybe we’re the Foolish People.
Dead Language, ICA, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH, 17th – 23rd October