Laura Kendall on Spartacus Chetwynd

Spartacus Chetwynd is an artist who loves to create an experience. Her art hails from the do-it-yourself and mash-up trends, taking iconic pop culture moments and re-creating them for a fun and participatory experience. A flair for the theatrical, Chetwynd’s style of creating elaborate costumes, props and sets on a shoe-string budget expresses charm and a down to earth sense of fun. In addition, her work includes participation from the audience, friends and family who come together for little or no rehearsal before the event. But who wouldn’t want to participate in a reenactment of Michael Jackson’s Thriller? Or be one of the sexy slaves to Jabba the Hut? Her whimsical style grants the audience a chance to enjoy the common language of popular culture and yet, have it synthesized through Chetwynd’s point of view.

In this video from 2004, An Evening with Jabba the Hut, Chetwynd re-created the infamous Jabba the Hut from the Star Wars movies. According to the BBC, the character is depicted as a ‘Stevie Wonder type smooth-operator.”  Here Chetwynd mashes up an iconic villain with another pop culture reference and creates a brand new entertaining performance. Working with a seemingly low budget she creates all the costume, sets and props herself.

Chetwynd’s appreciation for the everyday entertainment that we take for granted show up in her work.  A mix of popular film, music, and history, Chetwynd delights by re-imagining what we’ve become accustomed to. In her biography at the Saatchi Gallery, Chetwynd states, “Enthusiasm makes sense to me, my work is more like comedy or carnival rather than something that is professionalised; it has a fun rebellious energy.” As an artist, Chetwynd’s whimsical performance art is unconventional, using amateur performers and a penchant for bringing people together for the fun of it. Frieze online magazine comments about Chetwynd,  “Although carefully produced, these spectacles seem always to teeter on the brink of joyful anarchy: the performers sip beer, extemporize lines and distractedly check their text messages, as though what’s important here is not persuading the audience to suspend their disbelief but instead to introduce a measure of the carnivalesque into everyday life.” In this oversaturated landscape of advertising and marketing for every product that the average person is exposed to on any given day, having a bit of whimsical fun while viewing art seems refreshing and reminds us that we do have a choice about what we consume. And why not consume something fun?

In fact, Spartacus Chetwynd was born Lali Chetwynd in London, 1973. She changed her name to Spartacus when she was 33, “to annoy people” and to “remind people that you have a choice in life” (BBC,  Currently, she is one of four artists nominated for the prestigious Turner arts prize from the Tate Museum to be announced in December of 2012.  Chetwynd received her masters in painting from Royal College of Art and has shown her work at the New Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, and Performa, just to name a few. Chetwynd lives and works in London.


Works Cited

Chakelian, Anoosh. “Erotic Egg Whisks, Maoists, and Fecal People: It Must Be the Turner Prize.” May 1, 2012.

Morton, Tom. “Spartacus Chetwynd.” May 2007, Issue 107.

The Saatchi Gallery Online.