Oliver Braid: My Five New Friends

For 18 months, artist Oliver Braid has been on a mission; aiming to become friends with the five most attractive male undergraduates from Glasgow School of Art, documenting each relationship, sparing none of the details. Described as ‘one part teenager’s bedroom and one part labyrinthine fantasy film’, My Five New Friends scrutinises our attitudes to social media and ‘real life’ relationships; how we initiate friendships; whether we really get to know people; and ultimately how we search for happiness. We caught up with Braid as he was installing this ‘solo show with lots and lots of special guest cameos’  at The Royal Standard Gallery.

The Double Negative: Where did the ideas come from for My Five New Friends?

Oliver Braid: While studying my MFA at Glasgow School of Art there were these boys I would see around, and they stood out because I found them very beautiful. Around this time I was getting worried about my social life – I felt like I really had to be in the studio working but, even though I loved it, it was detracting from life in the real world – meeting new people is tricky if you’re always locked away cutting and gluing on a Friday night! So I began trying to make work which might ‘inject’ me into people’s lives.

One of my works in the GSA degree show was a drawing that included each of these beautiful boys; I took their photos from Facebook without them knowing and surprised them when the show opened. It was like a compliment and an invitation all in one. I had real difficulty relating to men when I was younger, even until about the age of 22 or 23 I was still very shy about talking to men. M5NF is a DIY therapeutic experiment to help me better understand how I related to men in particular.

After the exhibition, I started to see each of these boys as regularly as they would allow, after-which I would write up a diary for each boy. The diaries were edited by myself and two great writers, Sam Ball and Stephen O’Toole, and an online archive was designed by amazing curatorial duo It’s Our Playground. The exhibition at The Royal Standard is the culmination of this on-going evolutionary process.

TDN: Your interaction with the 5 men involved, and the aims of your relationship with them, has been quite mischievousness from the beginning. What has been the reaction to the ideas within the exhibition and its focus on individuals who you have a ‘questionable’ relationship with?

OB: I suppose the first people whose reactions you might expect me to consider are that of the boys who inspired the project. I said boys, but I notice you say men. I should probably say men too; there is something admittedly a bit more disturbing about using the word boys! Each reacted in a fairly different way and I would say that three of them expressed initially more interest in getting involved, two of them were harder and required a bit more chasing!

I tried to be honest and open with them during the whole situation and actually wanted to, however optimistically, become their friend. I suppose what I forgot about friendship is that sometimes no matter how much you try to work on a relationship things come up, making it harder to continue. My resolve to really understand these relationships meant that at times I was put in extremely emotionally draining situations and I don’t think people really consider how emotionally invested I am – it’s easy for people to assume what I’m doing is just a bit of a LOL.

I think one of the biggest issues that we faced was trust and trying to implore them to let go of any pre-conceived ideas about my intentions. One told me his friends thought he was crazy for getting involved with me, but I think again that comes from people thinking they know me or know what I’m like.

The idea first came from a Derek Jarman story; he says how when he was a young man he thought he was an ‘ugly duckling’ but looking back as an older man he realised he wasn’t that bad. I always feel like an ugly duckling too and I think I projected that onto the boys I saw around me at school. I worried that they might think they were ugly, and I wanted them to know that at some point in their lives there was someone telling them otherwise. So it starts with a positive and optimistic intention; whether that positivity and optimism is correctly received or antagonises is something I’m totally interested in exploring.

TDN: Are you guilty of directing the participants in your exhibitions, portraying them as more hideous or embarrassing than they actually are?

OB: I am only interested in truth, or truths and stories generated from honesty. I’m not saying I’m there yet or I’ve reached a point of full honesty with myself – but I’m really very interested in trying to continue to develop this focus in my life.

I don’t think there are any incidents and sentiments in, for example, My Five New Friends that everyone isn’t able to identify with if they very honest – and not being embarrassed. But also realising that embarrassment is actually a very warm feeling because it reminds us of the universal capacity to embarrass ourselves.

For me the emotional empathy triggered by perceiving a loved one to have ‘failed’ in their attempt at seriousness in a cultural or social situation is a very physical reaction – the clench – but also very unifying. Addressing the role that seriousness plays in my life is currently an obsession of mine, I’m also thinking a lot about the impact of fear.

“There is something about stalking that is almost the ultimate in optimism”

TDN: The arts scene can be pretty small; aren’t you concerned about offending people that you may work with at some point?

OB: Ever since my project of 2009 called Jamie Radcliffe: The Exhibition (I invited 100 artists to make works in response to the Facebook profile of a high school crush I had hacked), there seems to be the assumption that I am setting out to offend. I spent so much time hearing that from other people that I almost began to believe it myself.

I’m never setting out to offend, I’m always trying to bestow complements and be their friend – it’s just people are not really very used to nice-ness, they find it easier to imagine darkness behind that.

Sometimes I am definitely guilty of misunderstanding people’s desires or mis-predicting what they are going to find pleasurable, but this is because by nature I’m a very optimistic person and find it hard not to just keep on trying and trying with people. Possibly that’s what stalkers say too, but there is something about stalking that is almost the ultimate in optimism; you get an idea of a future happiness in your head and nothing can stop you from trying to pin it down or follow where it leads.

What I love about the UK art scene is that you can move anywhere you like and almost instantly have access to a whole new set of friends!

TDN: What and who influences your work?

Other people and my relationships with them have always been something I’ve paid a lot of attention too, so they end up feeding into my work. For a long time I felt that this wasn’t ‘legitimate’ enough to present to other people and it took me a long time to get over that, and to realise that I didn’t have to fit into other people’s ideas of what is legitimate and serious.

Often my best ideas come from spending days working and thinking in my studio and then going out with my friends at night. Usually when I’m out, all the disparate ideas I might have during the day find a resolution. It often comes from a sentence and then I begin to map it out from there. I usually start by trying to answer the following three questions accurately: What do I want to do most in life, how does it relate to contemporary art and histories of art, and why does it need to be shared with an audience?

The artists that have most directly influenced my work are usually artists I’ve had regular contact with while growing up – most usually my peers…Ellen Wright, Roxy Topia, Ellie Harrison and It’s Our Playground were all very influential as both friends and artists.

Beyond that I always find myself returning for the philosophical input of Quentin Crisp (especially his book Manners from Heaven) and I am also very interested in a certain dual nature that I can identify in the work of David Hoyle. In addition to this it’s difficult for me not to mention things like Big Brother contestants (especially Makosi Musambasi and Craig Coates), time lurking on Facebook and the comic work of Julia Davis.

How did you come to collaborate with Its Our Playground and what do they bring to your work?

Joey, one half of IOP, was in the year below me on the MFA at Glasgow.  I think I was quite drunk the first time I met him and I remember hugging him but also being a bit outraged by his wildly stylish French look. His studio was just two down from mine and so we spent a lot of time chasing each other round, throwing balls or Frisbees at each other and looking at funny things on the internet.

He was involved with a project called White Corners at that time, which he ran with Camille (the other half of IOP). As with many artists who are friends, we have similar aesthetic and conceptual interests and this probably played a role in us spending more time together and finding common ground between our own practices.

I was always really into John Water’s Dreamlanders and how they’d all known each other and grown old together through their involvement with those films. I love it when people’s relationships begin to be articulated through their collaborations.

TDN: Why The Royal Standard?

OB: Basically I just LOVE Liverpool. I lived there from 2006 – 2008, had an amazing time and met lots of  great people. I can’t wait to be in Liverpool again for the whole week of the installation, I’m going to go to Lobster Pot and Buffet Star as much as I possibly can! But I’m also expecting some changes.  I was really sad to hear about A Foundation’s Greenland Street site closing down. I worked there for two seasons and enjoyed it so much, it’s a real shame it isn’t there, for visitors and workers alike.

For me to come back to Liverpool with this exhibition is sort of like a strange homecoming. I feel a real attachment to it. In Glasgow I work as part of a therapy group for artist’s called Artists Anonymous and one day I found myself talking about my teenage ideas of ‘my first solo show’. I think when I was younger I imagined that this momentous occasion would be filled with characters from my past, all living members of my family, the whole caboodle.

But actually that’s rarely the case, and although I know it won’t be 100% like that at The Royal Standard, I am hoping to see some faces that I haven’t since for a few years and I’ll look forward to that a lot.

Additionally I always think of Liverpool as being the first place I ever held a solo show – again a collaborative venture – A Proper Horrorshow at the old Red Wire Gallery, with Roxy Topia.

TDN: What’s next for you?

OB: Every Friday lunchtime during 2012, from 12-12.30pm I am co-hosting a radio show with my friend, flatmate and artist Ellie Harrison. Quite soon after M5NF opens I’ll be presenting a new short performance at Tramway in Glasgow. Called ‘You’ll Get Used To It’, it’s based on the reception of unexpected aesthetics; I’m only working with collaborators who are either going through or have gone through the male pattern balding process.

My Five New Friends Previews Friday 3rd February, and runs 4th February to 3rd March


Posted on 02/02/2012 by thedoublenegative