He is an arresting hybrid: a knife throwing, intellectual, multidisciplinary artist. A polymath operating under the disarming nom de plume ‘Vivian Seabright’. It also doesn’t hurt to mention his striking resemblance to Humphrey Bogart circa 1936. We met to talk about Seabright’s experience with ceramic and glass and, of course, the compelling art of knife throwing. A master of fleeting, ephemeral experiences, you can only hope to be there when it happens. For you can’t record or buy Seabright’s art. It is, after all, sheer experience.
So you are Vivian Seabright. Quite an ambiguous name, don’t you think? Tell me it’s story.
I think it’s very enjoyable. I like the sensuality of it. And I like the fact that ‘Vivian’ would most commonly be used for a woman. ‘Seabright’ alludes to the notion of ‘Albion’—the historic Britain as it was before the industrial revolution, something that Blake would speak about. Britain before those dark, satanic mills took over the landscape and destroyed the pastures and the endless green.
There is a contemporary kind of nostalgia about that concept of archaic Britain. It’s referenced a lot in the popular culture that’s been generated here, I’m thinking of the past decade in particular. Do you have a feeling you live in the wrong era?
No, not particularly. I think the present time is perfectly fine. Any point in human history would be equally shit, barbaric and strange. People romanticize the past too much. In fact I think we probably live in the least violent age of existence. And certainly I wouldn’t want to have been born three hundred years ago.
So going back to your name—you’re not bothered by what some might perceive as ‘feminine’?
No, I am completely content. Believe me there are more than enough elements to my persona that are masculine. I don’t need more elements. Being both on the one hand extremely strong and unpredictable but at the same time potentially ambiguous in my gender or sexuality creates a really delicious confusion. To me it’s very powerful, because if you can leave someone confused then you’ve disarmed them.
So knife throwing…you told me you’ve been practicing it for several years. I find it interesting that the skill you’ve chosen to pursue also kind of harkens back to the same pre-modern era as your name. I mean you could have chosen a weapon of the machine age to play with, say like William Burroughs and his pistols. Would you agree your name and your knives refer to the same ideas? After all there’s something very elemental about knife throwing. Like fire or sex or…it has a very distinctive energy.
It’s an extension of the self into space. It’s inherently penetrative, it’s precise, it’s meditative. But it’s not actually something that I focus on in the sense you describe. It’s more an extension of my interest in martial arts as a whole. I’ve been interested in martial arts since the age of six, when I went to my first Judo class. That was a very emotional experience and its been a psychological obsession ever since. I’ve engaged in many different forms of martial arts, which have involved different weapon disciplines, like sword fighting, throwing knives.
I’m getting the distinct feeling your attachment to martial arts practice is probably a bit unique in its nature. The knife is quite a phallicsymbol, a representation of masculinity…
Yes, I see where you’re coming from, but at the same time I mostly practice with swords. They are wooden for obvious reasons but actually I enjoy the warmth of wood over steel. I also like empty-handed forms (what I mean by that is, combat without weapons). What I’m getting at is that the sensuality of fighting you’ve identified is very real, but it extends beyond the weapon. That’s something very interesting to me. Fighting of any kind (in the disciplined manner that I’m talking about) extends the possible intensities of interaction that you can have with other people, even beyond sex. See normally the only time you’d have someone pinned down to the floor, leaning on them with your full weight, is when you are fucking, but if you fight people you do that as well.
Would you mind telling me your waste basket story from the school you mentioned when we first met?
I had a teacher at school. He was cool. I didn’t have anything against him personally but ultimately he represented the school. And I (to say the least) had a conceptual problem with the school. There was something about the prison-like quality of the environment that I thought one had every right to take offense at. Every little gesture possible, under any circumstances, to work against that establishment apparatus was something I took delight in. Intellectually stimulating, emotionally satisfying, therapeutic. Anyway so this one particular teacher, I [would] walk into his class and pick up the waste paper basket and turn it upside down on my head. [I’d] empty the entire contents of the bin on my head, you know empty food wrappers, banana skins, the works. [I’d] cover myself all over in rubbish, then put the bin down and walk out. I did this once a week at the very least and that was the only interaction I had with that teacher!
Oh you didn’t actually take any classes of his?
No! I’d walk into his class, put the bin on my head, empty it onto myself and then just walk out. [Laughs] Ok so you do it once, it’s just a stunt at best. But then you keep doing it. Why? I did it to show him that there was a pattern. That I’d be back. And I did that all over the place—these absurd gestures, but systematically.I think absurdity is a very, very important reaction to what I consider fascism in any scenario.
Do you still do that?
No, not so much.
What are you involved in now?
At the moment I write short poetry. I am interested in things surrounding vocalization, which is an extension of my passion for psychotherapy. I am interested in something called ‘automatic speaking’, which is to speak in pure free association and leave the words uncensored in a continuous flow so the ideas are not inhibited and free from any fears or anxieties.
I have a collaborative project called Dead Drop. A friend of mine is a musician and the last time we performed publicly was winter last year. We did it in a hotel, a very inauspicious location, just off High Street Kensington, which itself is quite a prestigious area of London but this building was very incongruous for the area and largely the rooms are hired out by prostitutes for ‘trade purposes’, so it’s very grimy. The hotel was being used for an exhibition of work by some artists, mostly etchings and paintings, all arranged in different rooms. My friend and I, we performed a spoken word piece, purely improvised. I used a microphone that was attached to a number of voice effect pedals that generated reverb and delay to give my voice different kinds of spatial qualities. I talked completely freely, about anything, from dreams I had had to certain memories. I continued until the language began to deteriorate and I said things that were nonsense, almost completely meaningless.
So you’re using the performance to articulate subconscious material, which is somewhat of a high-wire act. How do you go into that space?
For me it’s incredibly easy. In the same way that one person might have a head for numbers, and for them it’s almost impossible to imagine why somebody can’t do algebra. It’s not necessarily a ‘skill’, it’s almost a predisposition, a physical possibility, which has always been inside them.
For me speaking completely freely, very personally, creatively, imaginatively, and without much in the way of hesitation or preparation has always been something I’ve been able to do. I free-associate like none else I’ve ever met and I do it without practice or training. For me, it’s a pleasure to be let off the leash, to be able to just create as I go along. I’m speaking, and as I speak I’m not thinking about the words. I have this drive, this feeling that is pushing something and I simply let my mouth go as if it’s a flag flapping in the wind.
The point is that the person who is competent or capable in those situations is someone who knows that they can trust their mouth, that when it comes to the moment they are going to be able to say something interesting quickly and effortlessly. They don’t have to think about it, they know that they are going to be able to do it. I could walk into a room full of people and perform a six hour spoken word piece. Everyone can fucking go home before I am finished. I could outlast anybody. In fact that performance in Kensington was six hours, and had been intended to be twelve hours long!
What seduces you about spoken performance? Such intimate, direct interaction provides an artist with a lot to draw from. It can be almost ritualistic.
My favorite things to do in the world are fucking, fighting and talking. Anything that is primary, where the canvas is removed and you are interacting directly with another person. I am not interested in things necessarily being recorded. I am not necessarily interested in having prestige, or something to hang on the wall, or generating things that someone can buy. I am very, very happy to make things that are fleeting and ephemeral, which can’t be bought.
Yes I see there’s a kind of atavistic line of thought running through all this. Like the Greeks never bothered (if that’s the word) to write things down, the Homeric odes for example. That culture of oral performance in a modern context makes for very much ‘one-off’experiences, don’t you think? Which are your favorite situations under which to perform?
Performance situations. One on one. Frankly, what we are doing right now I think in many ways would be my favorite kind of performance. A conversation with just one other person. I’m turned on by the phenomenal nature of what you mentioned, the oral culture—nothing is written so nothing exists, so to speak, after the performance,yet at the same time the performance exists forever, because the audience, even if it is a single person (in fact especially if it is a single person) carries away with them a residue of the performance.
I am an empathetic creature. I am a social chameleon of sorts. I have a very strong specific identity, but at the same time I am like liquid in so many situations. My second favorite social situation is where there is an extremely large audience, like being in the street.
I agree completely with what you say about the street. I’ve always been a bit of a Forrest Gump in this sense—walking is my meditation, and London is particularly good for it; probably the best city in the world from my experience.
I walk for miles and miles and miles. I love walking through crowded train stations, I love walking down busy streets. This is where much of my attention goes: how to dress, how to hold myself, how to interact with strangeand the possibilities! I mean walking in the street anything could happen! You could get hit by a bus, you could see someone experience a heart attack right in front of you. It’s where all theatre in its true sense, its human sense, takes place. It’s just in the street.
What other influences can you name?
Marlon Brando was an enormous influence for me. There were periods of time when I was very interested in representations of masculinity. I grew up without a father figure, so masculinity became something that I fetishized and idealized. I found my paternal role models within films, and specifically his films.
You showed me some of your ceramic and glass works but it seems you stopped using these forms some years ago.
Glass was something I did in this very intense way. I was spending a lot of time with it. I was spending a minimum of sixty man-hours on each object that I was creating. Then one morning I woke up and didn’t want to do it anymore.
Have you ever exhibited your work?
I exhibited a large ceramic sculpture in the Freud museum in North London. It was on Anna Freud’s psychoanalytic couch, where she pioneered psychoanalysis to children. The ceramic sculpture was the size of a 7-year-old child. It looked as if it was white sheet covering a child. White, very pale, earthenwareunglazed ceramic.
Where can we see your current work?
Largely that’s not something I am particularly preoccupied with. I could very easily allow years to pass without anyone seeing what I’ve done.
Vivian Seabright is a London based artist working across a plethora of media and mediums. His aesthetic of ‘Yuppie Noir’, evocative of Bret Easton Ellis, expresses a highly sexualized, almost infantile fascination for the zones of primal horror, emanating from the collective unconscious. This topography of trauma becomes the landscape of a very personal vision: a theatre of salvation. Follow him for more on Instagram.