Q&A: Stephen Tansey

One of 20 alternative artists contributing to Nanny Cam – a film screening of work by artists without fine art degrees, at Bluecoat, Liverpool, 11 June

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Tell us a bit about the Nanny Cam project.
Nanny Cam is a showcase for work by artists who don’t have a degree in fine art. Some have degrees in other subjects, some of us left school in 2003 without a single GCSE, but absolutely none of us have anything that looks like a degree in fine art. Since we’re artists though some of us could probably draw you something that does look like a degree in fine art.

Tell us about the film you submitted for Nanny Cam.

It’s 30 seconds worth of footage consisting of two pre-existing sources that I knew were meant for each other when I came across them. By the time it came around, the reference was very, very old hat but something beautiful happens in the final few seconds that perfectly sums up the corruption of progress. I don’t want to spoil the surprise so my advice to all is attend and watch, otherwise you’re just going to have to live with the decision to not have.

What is your educational background?

I spent my youth in a school that had a particular staircase whereupon if you put your foot on the third step on the way up then it was said that “THE NUN” would get you, and ever since I have avoided every third step on every staircase. This was 20 years ago so it’s now just second nature. After that I went to a high school, which had an art teacher who once decided during an assembly to sing a cover of Wonderwall by Oasis but with the lyrics changed to be about the importance of taking your NRA (National Record of Achievement) to every job interview. As far as higher or other arts education, I went to a community college where the main objective seemed to be convincing young homophobes to draw pictures of John Lennon using teabags. I think all in all I have two GCSEs and a merit in a two bob BTEC that doesn’t exist anymore.

Do you think it helps to have a university degree in fine art when making art?

I think it’s incredibly important for anybody interested in art to have an environment where art is their sole focus, and for me that’s what college provided. I can only imagine university is the same. Having a place to go to three times a week where art is drilled into you, no matter how simple the course – it was very, very helpful and I discovered and learned a lot during the time. I didn’t give a hoot and a holler about the actual qualification to be honest. Just having the course itself and that particular college was all I cared about. Anything that happened otherwise was a bonus. I guess having a degree gets you noticed and so you’re going to be one of the desirable 200,000 graphic design graduates of your year. So the courses? Yes. The degrees themselves? I didn’t think so, but then I was once convinced by a friend that the last royal baby was to be named E HONDA so I’m not the best judge of anything.

What is it about film-making that appeals to you?

I guess it only appeals to me when the reason for using it is right. I couldn’t have done anything I’ve done on tape on anything else, or vice versa. I don’t know, to be honest. There’s something about the disconnect between a viewer and a video. You take something in a frame, a sculpture, a poem, anything and it’s sort of just there for you to interpret and stew on, but with video there’s an almost human presence in it that makes it a little stranger and more intriguing. I saw Assume Vivid Astro Focus and DIAL History at Tate Liverpool on the same day about 12 years ago and it totally changed the way I view video and photographic work. Here’s all this footage of people and places from recently to decades before, all of it real at one point in time, all of it physical but so much of it free of context or explanation. Maybe it all exists still, the people still alive; maybe they’re dead, maybe the places burned down. Existence is sort of just happening in front of you, but it’s no more real than any painting or sketch. It’s like a memory made physical.

Do you have a favourite film?

Robocop, Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol, Descendant Of The Sun, Cruising, John Dies At The End, Portrait In Crystal, Police Story, The Last Picture Show, The King Of Marvin Gardens, 3 Dev Adam and People’s Hero. All of those.

Why do you think projects like Nanny Cam are important?

I guess if you haven’t gone through university then it’s a difficult and confusing mess if you want to get deeper into the arts. A degree is probably about as important as a wristwatch in the grand scheme of things, so anybody with an idea deserves a chance to share it.

Read more about Nanny Cam here. Photo taken from Stephen Tansey’s film, Windows 95

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