The LuckyPDF collective (Ollie Hogan, John Hill, James Early and Yuri Pattison) make TV shows, put on parties, subvert the internet and famously sold their mailing list. They also make art and curate exhibitions. Next stop: world domination. Interview by Ben Vickers.
BV: LuckyPDF has held multiple incarnations. I first heard about your exhibitions in a community centre in Peckham, but there’s been the touring advertising light box , the sale of your mailing list, flash mob holidays and now the TV station with Auto Italia, all of which are vehicles that carry other people’s content. Even your parties are curated to project something that isn’t necessarily fixed. Is that a conscious decision, to create containers for other people’s content, or did this just happen?
L/PDF: It’s not what we started out to do, but it is now a defining feature of our practice. What’s true of all those projects is that the display has been appropriate to the content in a way that’s often not possible within the conventions of a gallery exhibition.
BV: There’s often an absurdity to your projects, with the print adverts, newspapers and now TV, you’re bringing old media forms back to life, how does that sit with what you’re doing?
L/PDF: Certainly, obsolescence has its appeal. As a medium becomes obsolete there is a vacancy to occupy, and an interesting position from which to view the change. Established connections inform our understanding of and our relation to new media forms.
BV: So talk about that community then, was LuckyPDF consciously a South London project? Or was that through the necessity of living here and not wanting to be part of an existing scene? Do you find it difficult to programme the TV series with the limited pool of artists in Peckham?
L/PDF: It’s a combination of practicality and necessity but also the idea of South East Londong being a space in which something new can happen, an opportunity. The TV project is our first to involve artists from around the world, not just from the area. The programming has been a collaboration with Auto Italia. It’s largely people we know or have worked with before and often they then suggest or invite other people, so the project allows this network to expand.
BV: So have you made a conscious break from the solidification of the art scene in South East London? The few spaces that work with South East London-based artists often retain their autonomy; has that become a brand that defines the South East London hype?
L/PDF: With regards to the hype surrounding Peckham, it’s a mix of lazy journalism and London’s condition of always wanting somewhere new to go. Peckham is in some ways an outside to the more established areas of London’s art world, a place where we can act more independently and experimentally. Practically, we can use the press attention to distribute and disseminate our work and ideas. LuckyPDF tries to play with and within media forms, and perhaps there’s some bluff and double bluff in our relationship to media and the wider perception of our projects. There’s a certain amount of pretence and theatre to helps make things exciting for participants but hype only gets you so far. BV: But there’s something systematic in the way our generation understands branding. The more savvy you are about publicity. especially on the internet, the more opportunities will arise and it’s inevitably how you’ll be judged.
L/PDF: The brand is flexible, we can present ourselves in different ways to different audiences. It creates opportunities for us but it’s also something we can share with people that are part of LuckyPDF for the duration of their involvement in a certain project, so it’s more than cynical self-promotion. Everybody who has a Facebook profile has an image they produce for the public. Self-branding has become a real and constant thing people have to negotiate. LuckyPDF is a brand that we apply to things we do to make them work better. It allows you to sustain energy from one project to the next because more people know about what we’re doing but we always hope that a participants identification with a project is quite genuine, that people are actually involved in the project. We are not tying to sell something hollow, we try to create an opportunity for others to get involved and take part. You decide your own level of participation.
BV: In our generation, few people seem to talk about politics explicitly instead it’s done pragmatically through what you do, but branding is often considered a dirty word. Perhaps we’re experiencing a new type of branding that doesn’t play into the hands of what, say, Nike is presenting. So where does LuckyPDF fit into that?
L/PDF: Somewhere between Nike and Apple? Seriously though, some of these things happened a generation before ours, maybe even before that. Previously, artists would be branded by someone else, now it’s expected that you brand yourself. That comes almost before the art production. It’s taught in art school now. In one way we’re trying to escape that by creating this brand – you as a person can be hidden by it. By allowing fluidity and accommodating the varying practices of its members, LuckyPDF acts as a congregation point, like a franchise born through association. BV: So would you actually give LuckyPDF to someone else? If so, would you then have a hands-off involvement? is that a point you’ve reached or is it an ideological aim?
L/PDF: We’re not so previous about the work we’ve put in for our number of followers on Twitter or something like that. The association comes from people with similar ideals.
BV: It might now be quite an interesting point to bring up the fact that you sold your mailing list. Many companies would identify that as the thing that’s worth the most; you are who you know.
L/PDF: We were really only selling our mailing list to people already on the list, given that it was an invited audience from that mailing list. So it cemented those people together and highlighted an existing group of people. It was also cathartic, a way of shedding ourselves of ‘who we knew’ and hoping that in making it public we would be judged on the quality of our content, though to an extent our content is our connections. We’re quite happy for people. there’e plenty of space for everybody to be doing what they want to be doing.
BV: That’s something that’s quite unique to Peckham; it seems there isn’t necessarily the competitiveness found elsewhere.
L/PDF: There’s friendly rivalry but it wouldn’t be the case that one artist wouldn’t show with one group because of another, there’s not that sort of conflict.
BV: Isn’t that a result of being liberated from a commercial relationship?
L/PDF: It’s more being liberated from a commercial mentality. We don’t reject money economies, it’s not like there isn’t real money involved in the projects we do and it’s not that we reject selling things, but professionalism is something we play with rather than aspire to. The idea of a ‘professional artist’ – is that just someone who’s good at branding?
BV: Do you think perhaps LuckyPDF is out-growing its current model? Parties pay for a certain amount of stuff but it’s probably a bit of a stretch for them to pay for continual TV production and actually there’s a possibility you’re reaching the limit of what your production is currently capable of?
L/PDF: LuckyPDF is ambitious but it’s not a career path, so the size of the projects can decrease in scale again. The problem is we think there’s a false dichotomy between professionalism and amateurism. We don’t thinks it’s true that there’s only one way of continuing to make work, but to break that down we have to operate between both perceived realities. BV: So you seem averse to funding, or at least you’ve never sought it? So is there a new model emerging? Or could it be an old model you’re expanding?
L/PDF: LuckyPDF is entrepreneurial and exists in the politics and economy of art production. Our independence empowers out production and informs our experiments, as opposed to a funded project that has to be judged by preset criteria. But we’re trying to realise how work based with this liberation of a commercial mentality could be, eh. . . commercially viable.
BV: Or sustainable?
L/PDF: Yeah, that’s what we meant.
BV: What’s the difference between sustainable and profitable if you’re always pouring the money back into the project?
L/PDF: Well exactly, some things have to make money but then the trouble is there’s a sustainability of the project and the sustainability of ourselves. Trying to work full time on projects and paying for ourselves to live.
BV: The girls?
L/PDF: The girls, the drugs. . . taxis, Waitrose, you know.
BV: The money doesn’t lead to a situation that predicts the future. It’s more that you come up for an idea for a new project then you work out how you’re going to pay for it.
L/PDF: Yeah completely.
BV: So, money aside what is the future of LuckyPDF TV?
L/PDF: That’s what we want to find out! We can’t answer until the project is over. But we’re enjoying working at Auto Italia, and the project will continue in some shape or form. The best thing is working so so many great artists. And it seems to be really mutually beneficial, a situation in which all of use get something tangible and lasting out of it, not just a product, but by learning. So out of those relationships will be what comes next.
BV: Do you think the people you think of as the audience are the same people that are producing for the show, like with YouTube culture?
L/PDF: Maybe what LuckyPDF as a brand can do is interest people in things that they weren’t interested in before. There’s this idea that LuckyPDF gets people to make things they wouldn’t have in ways they wouldn’t have with people they wouldn’t have. Similarly, we hope to show our audience something they wouldn’t have seen before.
BV: I think that’s inevitable with your wide selection of people from different scenes, it incorporates those different audiences.
L/PDF: It’s not about bringing people together from different ‘scenes’ but rather not choosing people because of those sorts of groupings
BV: So you make choices curatorially depending on the project and it’s not led by an aesthetic choice.
L/PDF: No, it might be an aesthetic choice but certainly wouldn’t be a commercial one, or about who’s trendy in a certain scene. A lot of it is chance, we quite like to punt. I guess we try to find the person who would make the best title sequence or do the best camera work or edit, but the hope is they’d do it better for this project. In a way we hire ourselves to them. We help with the production of what they’re doing, so they’re using us as much as we’re using them, it’s mutually exploitative.