ROBERT MONTGOMERY IN TIME OUT ISTANBUL

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POEMS IN THE SKY

What led you to work on text-based art? 
I studied Fine Art at university but I was always obsessed with poetry, people like Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, John Ashbery. I think poetry led me to look into artists like Jenny Holzer, who became a big inspiration. Maybe I was lost somewhere between painting and literature, and I kind of forced a form that would merge those two things.

One of your most impressive works has the tagline 'All Palaces Are Temporary Palaces'. As an artist delivering such a message, what is your relationship with your own properties? To what degree are you connected to where you live or what you own? 
I don't own any property. I just rent a studio and have my workspace in one corner and my bed in the other corner. I live and work in just one big room. It's not a very domestic space, though I have just bought a new washing machine, which is quite nice. It almost makes it feel like a house when you turn on the washing machine.

A lot of your works appear on people's Tumblrs or Facebook cover photos. How does being appreciated by the 'Tumblr generation' make you feel? 
That makes me feel very good. I think that's maybe my favorite thing about
my life actually- to help people understand that the Internet is a really good place for art and poetry. I don't think the people who invented the Internet necessarily had that in mind, but wonderfully, it is.

You've been to Istanbul before, again as a guest of Istanbul 74. If you were to do a billboard piece or a fire poem for Istanbul's streets or walls, what would be its text? 
I think I already made that. It's a typical Istanbul workman's truck with a text on it called 'Poem for the City of Istanbul' it says "Everything in the city is perfect, the voices in the streets are sacred music, and the streets belong to no one." I think we have a print of it in the show.

This is your first solo exhibition in Istanbul. How would you describe your works to those who didn't see them before? 
I think this exhibition is probably my most important to date. It's almost like a mini-retrospective with a lot of the major light pieces. How would I describe them? Oh, that's not really the artist's job is it? The best way to find out is to come to the show, everyone in the city is very welcome.

Last year, you said that you believe poetry will be a big part of modern life. Do you still feel the same? 
I think poetry is a bigger part of my life everyday and I really do think that the Internet has given poetry a new channel to spill out into the mainstream culture. I think that what you said about my work being on people's Facebook cover photos
kind of proves that. I didn't set out to conquer the Internet or something. Actually there wasn't really the Internet as it is now when I started making my work- the Internet just sort of discovered it. It's funny, I think modern life lacks silence, and yet it has a bigger potential for poetry everyday. Is that a paradox? I don't know. I
am for sure interested in a poetry of the modern world more than a poetry of the
past. 

You have worked with billboard pieces, solar- powered light pieces, fire poems, woodcuts and watercolors. How do you decide on the medium you'll use? Do you have a kind of creative routine? 
I like the idea of replacing advertising with poetry, I like pretty lights in the night sky, the idea of words made of wood, and setting things on fire. I just decided to do the things I really wanted without worrying too much where they fit into "contemporary art practice". My creative routine? I think it's much more like a creative chaos. It would be horrible to have too much of a routine, unless you were Agnes Martin [a famous American abstract painter who followed an everyday discpline inspired by the Zen philosophy] who sort of made a poetry of routine, or a poetry of discipline. I like Agnes Martin by the way.

What about the role of religion and politics in your work?

Well I'd like us to find a sense of God that would bring peace instead of war. Wouldn't you like that?

What kind of feelings do you want to trigger in people with your work?

I normally say, "the job of the artist is to touch the hearts of strangers without all the trouble of having to meet them." I think I just want to speak to people quietly, in a sort of intimate but distanced voice so that it’s not really my voice but kind of like the voice of a collective unconscious.

Any music, film, or book you particularly enjoyed recently?

I like the new Sleaford Mods album, I think they are the poets laureates of "austerity Britain". I enjoyed ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt, she writes like a dream and I also adored her first book ‘The Secret History’. Her writing has a wonderful sense of weather, and with novels I think the sense of weather is often more important than the story. Virginia Woolf kind of has that too. Recent film? ‘Boyhood’ was amazing. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful that people would take so much time to make a film, just the quiet commitment of that is incredible and it really makes most of Hollywood look stupid.