My Cultural Life: Maria Fusco

Director of art writing at Goldsmith's, University of London on eating with The Third Policeman, teaching the craft and watching bad films in good cinemas

When did you move to London? I've been living in London for fourteen years now. I left Belfast to go to art college in Sheffield when I was eighteen - half of my life has passed away from Belfast. 

Was it enlightening, from a cultural perspective, to move from little old Belfast to London, with its plethora of cultural institutions and attractions? More and more I realise I carry Belfast with(in) me - its speed, its words, its humour, its sorrow - meaning that I feel that when I see something, like an exhibition, a film, or a lecture, I see it through Belfast. So, in a counter-intuitive way, Belfast has continued to be my enlightenment, as a way of looking, especially in London, when there's so much to choose from. 

The Happy Hypocrite: Hunting and GatheringWhat does your position as director of art writing at Goldsmith's consist of? As a writer, I have many hats. One of these is director of art writing at Goldsmiths, a famous art department, of course, because Damien Hirst studied there. I lead a new postgraduate programme in the area of art writing, which spans across different ways of writing about art, for art, and perhaps most importantly 'with' art. We play a lot. And we fight a lot. I like to think of it as a transubstantiation in that the writing 'is' the art. 

When did you first fall in love with art writing? Me and art writing are more like undeveloped twins rather than lovers. Writing has been inside me forever, I just didn't know how to manifest it. I write across different genres: fiction, criticism, theory. When I was at art college I was always writing but didn't see it as real way to make art, now I do. 

I remember sitting on the 93 bus and driving past this big building which always had interesting/odd/scary looking people buzzing around outside it. One day when I was about nine I saw a fella carrying a six foot papier mache lipstick, very realistic looking it was too. I asked my mum what the building was, and she said, 'That's the art college, Maria.' I knew I wanted to go there, so I went. Had there been a more visible entry into writing when I was nine, I probably would have gone there instead. 

If you could have three cultural figures from throughout history round for dinner, who would they be and why? I'd like to sit down with all three policemen from Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. I'd like Sergeant Pluck to cook pancakes, Policeman MacCruiskeen to manufacture tiny eating utensils, and Policeman Fox to entertain us with complex muffled oratory from inside a wall cavity, I think the acoustics would be wonderful. 

What cultural event has most inspired you over the past few months? I was lucky enough to have been invited to spend a month in Paris recently on a writing residency over Christmas and New Year. I spent much of it watching bad films in good cinemas. I re-watched John Boorman's Zardoz - a metacritical sci-fi starring Sean Connery - and whilst it was dreadfully boring in parts, I was greatly inspired by its ambition of scale and handmade special effects, but mainly the virile vernacular of colour and texture that's largely played out on Connery's hairy body. His sweat can cure people of lethargy. 

What cultural event are you most looking forward to in the months ahead? That's a hard one. I'm very excited about the Belfast Book Festival. I think we Northern Irish people understand the intrinsic relationship between reading and discussion. Here, in London, I've been invited to be the inaugural writer-in-residence at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, where I'll be programming a series of events over the next year. One of these is a little art writing festival in August, which I'm trying to twist into a street party spilling out of an abandoned house in Whitechapel. I can't wait for that. 

Why is art important to society and, in particular, why is the teaching of various artforms in schools important (in light of Obama's call to reintroduce art back into American curriculums)? As Sergeant Pluck would say, that's a very 'tricky pancake'. Maybe art education is so important because not everyone's head works in the same way, and at its best art (in a general sense) can encourage the individual to forge their own connections between things, their own 'world-view' so to speak. To cherry-pick. To graze. To reconstruct. To build. 

If you could give advice to the struggling artist, what would it be? If like me, you didn't have anyone to show you what to do, or how to do it, then you have to make it up yourself, and continue to make it up as you go along. 

Lee Henry
Click here to read about The Happy Hypocrite, an arts journal edited by Maria Fusco.