To mark the publication of his new book, Cosmo Chancer – chief curator and artist-in-residence of the Penge Sculpture Trail – talks to Colossive Press…
Colossive Press (CP): Judging by the amount of sculptures around Penge, you’re obviously a very busy man. Thanks for taking time out to talk to us today, Cosmo.
Cosmo Chancer (CC): No worries. I managed to move a few things around for you guys. And my tea won’t be ready until after Coronation Street.
CP: Great. We know you address a little about this in your introduction to the book – but can you tell us how you first became involved with the Penge Sculpture Trail?
CC: Sure. I saw an ad in the News Shopper asking for someone who had experience of rubbish clearance and/or public art. It turned out the ad had been placed by Sir Toby Carvery, who’s Chair of the Penge Chamber of Commerce and Street-Cleaning. He’s also an old friend of my dad’s, as it happens.
Anyway, Sir Toby was looking for someone to do something about the plethora of natural raw materials found on the streets of Penge – mattresses, fridges, shopping trolleys and so forth. I think he was initially looking for someone with a van who’d take stuff away and chuck it on a layby in the middle of the night, no questions asked. But he was also open to ideas. So that’s when I mooted the concept of a Sculpture Trail. And it all took off from there.
CP: Can you talk us through your artistic process?
CC: My work centres around ‘found objects’. It’s about repurposing and reappropriating things that are already there, rather than – you know – going to the untold hassles of creating something new and original.
CP: A bit like Duchamp did with his urinal then?
CC: Sorry. What?
No. I haven’t actually worked with any urinals – yet – but I have incorporated a lot of discarded toilets into my work. There are one or two in the book, in fact. But I’ve also tried to think beyond the obvious and expand the original brief to include other bits and pieces I’ve spotted around Penge.
CP: Ah yes, the half-eaten pork pie on the top deck of the 194 bus is one of our favourites…
CC: Mine, too. It’s wonderful when something just drops in your lap like that. I’ve also done quite a bit of work with traffic cones. Anything can become a work of art if you just look at it for long enough with your head tilted in a certain way.
CP: Quite. There’s also a thriving street art scene in Penge. Have you ever thought about joining forces?
CC: Absolutely not! Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got the utmost respect for those guys. But they put an awful lot of thought and effort into what they do. And that’s really not what I’m about. Their aim is partly to make the streets look better. Mine is to keep the streets looking exactly the same, but different. You get me?
CP: How has the Covid-19 lockdown affected your work?
CC: Mate, it’s been absolutely mental. With everyone stuck at home and the council tip reopening by appointment only, the streets have been heaving with raw materials. Every time I step outside, there’s a new ‘found object’ waiting to receive my magic touch.
CP: It’s amazing that you found time to produce this book. Speaking of which, do you want to tell us a little about it?
CC: Yeah, it’s basically yours truly talking the punters through some of my most celebrated works from the first three years of the Penge Sculpture Trail. There’s a lot of stuff people may not already know – behind-the-scenes anecdotes, local folklore, thought-provoking creative insights, that kind of thing… There are some lovely full-colour photographs and it’s also got a foreword by Sir Toby Carvery.
CP: Finally, Cosmo, do you have a favourite work on the Penge Sculpture Trail?
CC: Oh no! I knew you’d ask me that, and it’s really, really difficult to choose…
CP: It must be a bit like Sophie’s choice…
CC: What? Which of my works did Sophie choose? I bet she loved the stuff with mattresses.
Really, though, I’d have to say that my favourite work is always my next one. Yes, the stuff I’ve done today may be completely out-of-this-world – but just wait until you see what’s coming up tomorrow. The thing about the Penge Sculpture Trail is that there’s always something amazing just around the corner…