interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, March 2007

The phrase Middle East, what does it bring to your mind? 

The first thing that comes to mind is 'heat'. That might be because it's February here in London. It seems appropriate though in other ways too: heated politics for example. Mountains and deserts. There must be an energy generated by all the attention directed at this part of the world. More prosaically the phrase brings a map into my mind that centers on North East Africa and surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean. Lastly come the names from the news like Osama Bin Laden and Al Jazeera, which have become iconic symbols to the West in the same way that Ali Baba was, something out of a bedtime story that was also supposed to be a bit frightening.

So did you get frightened by the Ali Baba story, when you heard it for the first time? 

As I say, those stories were "supposed to be a bit", but they were also very intriguing. The romantic fantasy for a child is that they could forget their schoolwork and imagine themselves riding through the desert on camels with a band of robbers, which might also be a rather frightening idea. I wonder whether many Westerners’ nine-to-five lives aren't being 'spiced up' with fantasies about the Middle East now. Perhaps a survey could be devised and some statistics gathered to find out.

Is that the sort of thing your proposed project for 'In Focus', 'The Point of Power ' is trying to address? Could you explain the project please?

The idea of suggesting a survey to find out the answer to something is a common notion for getting at the truth. For example if more than 50% of people answering that survey said that yes they had fantasised about the Middle East since 9/11, we could conclude that 'most' people did so. My point is that this type of reasoning avoids the complexity of the real situation and gives 'truth' a rather bad name. Nevertheless, this type of number crunching is pervasive and our sense of worsening or improving might easily become based on numbers of deaths per month, for example.

'The Point of Power' uses well known pedagogic and office tools to present data in graphs and pie charts as projections and on flip charts. The installation is situated in the 'homework' or 'nine-to-five' world but considers data from somewhere else in the real world. Numbers of suicide bombings, death tolls, cluster bombs used, migration figures, religious conversion rates etc. Of course presentation tools can give a gloss of respectability and reliability to statistics which may be gathered with a certain goal in mind, and that's where power comes in. The infamous dossier before the invasion of Iraq seems to have been a prime example of that: even the word dossier seemed to lend it authority.

Are you aiming to do some king of presentation or intervention?

The installation is the office/lecture room with the associated paraphernalia and a running presentation of statistics being projected. The intervention is the addition of the lecturer adding voice to those statistics, by entering the installation and appearing to give a lecture. For 'In Focus' that will be me. Another layer here is the repetitive nature of the media we interact with, and how statistics infiltrate and spread. 24 hour news gives a flavour of what I'm describing, where a real person says almost the same thing every fifteen minutes.

Your work centers on a collection of sketchbooks. What strikes me is that your practice revolves around archiving more broadly than just collecting data. Can you say more about that?

Yes, the sketchbooks span my adult life. Over time they have become, more reflexively, a trace of present moments as they pass. The mind has a peculiar way of constructing past and future scenarios that are more or less in flux. Any archive we construct for ourselves can begin to provide a check, or balance to that flux. Even as a charting of variations it can be useful in providing an overview that means we can make allowances for cycles that become apparent, which we might not be aware of if we only rely on memory in the brain. This is a very different process to using an archive provided for us by others, which cannot have a representation of our individual natures, but will be more likely to reflect the nature of a wider culture or hegemony.

You are correct to distinguish between the private archive and the appreciation of data gathered from external sources. My critique of the latter does not apply to the former. Rather, I would see the personal or private archive collection as an exercise or practice that will inevitably lead to the suspension of belief with regard the meaning attached to most statistics.

I have to ask about that plastic Al-Aqsa mosque on your desk. Why is that there?

It must be some synchronicity. I found it yesterday wedged between the railings of my local Anglican Church, St Marks. I left it to dry out over night and this morning put some batteries in, and surprisingly it works. So I now have a call to prayer.