I met Frog Morris in a Brick Lane warehouse where I was curating a performance event on a rainy night in 2007 and ever since have developed a friendship with him triggered by a mutual interest in combining comedy, music and art forms into innovative performance-based events around London and across the UK. Whereas I studied Painting at Winchester School of Art and then the Slade as my Foundation tutor exiled me from the Graphic Design specialism as I was too 'messy', Frog studied Graphic Design at the then Kent Institute of Art and Design and went on to do a Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths where he could utilise his talent for illustration and his emerging penchant for performance.
For the past twelve years Frog Morris Presents has been a regular engaging spectacle of absurdity, irony and nostalgia, time and time again exciting a range of audiences with it's ethos of aesthetics celebrating the outlandish, humorous, daft and peculiar, but as the below transcription of a recent discussion between myself and Frog reveals, Frog Morris Presents can also cleverly provide it's spectator with the most serious, contemplative, subtle and heartwarming of experiences.
LC: I am interested in how the roles of an artist and curator may coincide and how at times you may separate these and at other times combine them. How do you operate as Frog Morris Presents, as a curator, as an artist and a promoter of other artists?
FM: Frog Morris Presents started out as an attempt to mix performance art with elements of live comedy and live music to see what happens out of the 'mix'. These worlds can be insular but have mutual interests. I was interested in exploring the middle ground. It also grew out of the fact that often performance artists find it difficult to find somewhere to show their work so it's better to get out there and set up your own space with your own rules. Frog Morris Presents is experimental in its nurturing of artists, comedian and musicians. I like their work and can see a synergy between what they are doing.
LC: Talking about these forms as entertainment, how do you also see them differ from one another, to stop them being insular?
FM: The way you market them and promote them helps. Time Out (magazine) is problematic because you have an 'Art' section, a 'Music' section and 'Comedy' section, there isn't a section for events which encapsulate all these different forms. Artists have a mutual interest in combining these forms but become segregated as it makes them easier to publicise. People know what to expect from a 'music' night or a 'comedy' night.
LC: Location is absolutely crucial for you; it dictates what the audience expects from you. Is there a hierarchy in the kind of environment that you like to perform in both as a curator and as an artist? Taking on a DIY aesthetic, how would you sort through the different kind of locations you could choose from and what is your strategy for finding and securing those locations?
FM: I have worked in quite a broad range of spaces as I have been doing it for quite a number of years now. I think about the performer's individual needs more now. Different types of works may mean that they situate themselves in quiet spaces or more contemplative spaces rather than thinking 'oh it's band it must be in a pub' or 'oh it's quiet, it must be in an art gallery'.
LC: You utilise the traditional behavioural patterns that exist in a particular location by often subverting what is normally expected to go on in a space.
FM: When you learn a lot about a space, particularly pubs, you know how to play with it; from quieter reflexive pieces early on in the evening in a pub setting to later with something more 'boombastic' when people have had a few to drink. You can create subtle nuances in a pub. It's learning how to read the audience's behaviour. It's the same in the white cube. They (the audience) are normally quite well behaved the first part of the evening and then after a few glasses of wine they're a bit noisier and probably aren't looking at the work so much. You can put something a bit noisier on then to try and get their attention back. There is also something to be said for completely breaking those rules as well.
LC: So the performances reflect what is expected in those locations but they also subvert audience expectations.
Moving on and thinking about your background, what strategies have you deployed as an artist into your curatorial practice?
FM: The two are inextricably linked to each other. It's a lot about taking the lead and encouraging artists/performers to create work in spaces which they may have disregarded. Don't expect others, though, to do what you wouldn't do yourself. It's also a form of research to find out how others work in relation to what I as a performer do. I wouldn't say I am an accomplished musician but I have mucked around enough to know the basics.
LC: Could you tell me a little bit about your fine art background? You not only come from a performance and musical background, you trained in graphic design and received an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths. We both have an interest in object-based practices like painting, drawing and sculpture. I am interested in how you promote events using flyers which have an instantly recognisable style, crucial to the Frog Morris Presents 'brand'.
FM: When I was young I was particularly into comic book art. I drew obsessively at art college and made little books and prints. There was a crunch point in my early twenties, I got fed up with people not taking graphic novels seriously at that time so I started making comedy performances, initially as a joke. But then I realised when I was doing these in galleries, I was getting a much larger audience than anything else I was producing so that seemed like the best way forward. I could engage people much more by doing performance. That's what I have been doing the last few years but always on the basis of drawing and trying to reconcile performance and drawing together. Maybe the posters for the gigs are a way of working the drawing back in again.
LC: I see your posters as performative objects which have a function but the performances also have a function, they illustrate the posters.
Theme is also something crucial for you. In a lot of the performances I have been to that you have organised in the Montague Arms, many of the performances are quite similar but the theme differentiates them. How do you utilise 'theme' as something Joe Public can identify with?
FM: Once you've broken down the categories like 'Music' 'Art' and 'Comedy, when you a put a theme at the centre of it, it helps people to get a handle on the event if they are unsure what to expect. Theme can offer an access point for people into something which can be experimental. The drawings (posters) act as illustrations of the theme that I have in my head.
LC: Very often these (posters) can act as the documentation for the event.
FM: It's documentation beforehand. Drawing a picture of what you hope the night will be like, what I would really like to happen.
LC: Out of all the events you have curated, what's the highlights for you in terms of location or a particular performance which you look back on which has encapsulated all of your ideas, and what's going on in the future?
FM: You've always got to set yourself goals which you can't quite achieve. Once you've achieved it, it gets boring as you've done it. There have been moments when I've got close to what I want to do. Maybe the night at the Montague Arms where the guy covered himself in yoghurt. It all went a bit wrong but people went away and talk about it for ages afterwards. People saw something that they weren't terribly comfortably with but they took away something. Duncan Ward has done some really profound performances where he has got the whole of the audience in the Montague Arms to go completely silent. And some of his strange dark mediaeval ritualistic performances have been some of my favourites. We have given acts like Ben Target a platform who has gone on to have success. The next thing is I am giving a lecture as part of your comedy conference (With Humorous Intent) at Mostyn in North Wales in March and tomorrow night I am doing something for a fantastic night called Oh For the Love of Dada! and various projects in the pipeline.
Discussion conducted in Crystal Palace, London in February 2012.
Frog Morris joins Gary Stevens and Gillian Whiteley as one of the speakers at 'With Humorous Intent', a symposium exploring art and humour at Mostyn, Llandudno organised by Lee Campbell 2nd-4th March 2012.