In the first installment of our Artist of the Month series, we spoke to Darren Cullen, whose work satirises and challenges consumerism and the military-industrial complex in both 2D and 3D forms, occasionally even appearing on bus stops.
Or, in his own words: "Darren Cullen is an artist and illustrator who makes drawings and sculptures about our unceasing imprisonment in a dystopian nightmare in which every square inch of available reality is violently commodified and militarised. He also once made a badge about how dolphins are wankers."
What have you been working on recently?
I feel like I’m constantly spinning plates a lot, but at the moment I’m working on a working model of a Scalextric Daily Commute, which is a box toy that I made a while ago, but then I thought that it would be quite funny to make the real thing. It’s basically a Scalextric figure of 8 with about 50 Scalextric cars going to and from work in an endless traffic jam, but with scale model houses on one side, and scale model “work” on the other side.
There’s also a comic that I’m working on called The Birth of Palestine, which is set in the future, and is basically about the history of Israel and Palestine. So in the future, the UN decides that the Palestinian people have been persecuted for long enough that they need their own homeland, and they decide to give them their own homeland in what is formally known as Spain. Obviously there’s a long history of Muslims ruling in Spain, they ruled for hundreds of years, so I thought it would an interesting place to base it, having looked a lot at the history of the conflict - how would Europeans like it, you know?
What would you say you're looking to explore or acheive in your work?
The theme that has run through a lot of my work is the effect of advertising on people, especially children, and the point at which childhood and consumerism smash into each other. I think that’s because advertising had such a massive effect on me as a child, and I fully bought into the idea that happiness can be achieved by owning more things, or the right things. It took such a hold on my brain that it really took going to art school to actually de-programme that, and I’m sure a lot of people have gone through that but perhaps haven’t got to the de-programming stage, still wondering why the things that they have bought haven’t made them happy yet.
I also quite like trying to re-frame issues - much like the Israel / Palestine comic - that are really entrenched in the public consciousness. I think that empathy is essential to any real possibility of socialism, so I think it’s useful to use art in order to encourage people to be empathetic and consider other viewpoints.
What would you like to see change in society?
Well, society on the whole! As much as people try and blame a lot of the problems that we have on human nature, it’s worth remembering that there are specific structures that are created by humans that are the cause of the misery and strife that we see. For example, the way that corporations are legally obliged to maximise profit for shareholders above every other consideration that they can have - a CEO of a corporation is breaking the law if they put the environment above the potential profit of shareholders on their list of considerations. We as a species and as a society have created these structures, and they can be changed if we think that they are not right. People are not inherently greedy or selfish or violent, this comes as a result of the structures that are placed on people and that people live within. I’m optimistic that if we can change some of the structural inequalities and structural oppression in society, then we can allow humans to be better.
What else gives you optimism?
That despite everything, protest and activism does actually work, despite the impression given by the media that everything is hopeless, governments are actually afraid of masses of people in the street. Look at the anti-fracking campaigns in North Yorkshire, where people have been able to shut a lot of stuff down… that kind of stuff gives me hope. On a broader level, I get optimism from the fact that capitalism and advertising seems to be heading towards self-satirising itself, so maybe it will reach a point of such absurdity that it will just fall apart.
What advice would you give to other artists? Or to people in general.
Take magic mushrooms.
Words by Robert Greer.
All featured art by Darren Cullen.
For more on Darren, visit https://www.spellingmistakescostlives.com/