Interview with Alastair Philip Wiper

Alastair Philip Wiper

Alastair Philip Wiper
Unintended Beauty

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ISBN 978-3-7757-4677-9
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Ian Chillag: It’s been such a pleasure to look at these images. One thing that happens is, I look at one and I think, “Wow.” And then I think, “What? How can this be what this is?” And I wonder how often you had that feeling when you were actually in the space. If you gave me a thousand guesses of what the image from the Playmobil factory actually was, I would never guess that it was making tiny Playmobil figures.

Alastair Philip Wiper: Well, that’s good, because that’s what I want to achieve. The goal is to make people look twice. I want them to have an immediate reaction to the picture and think, “What is that? I need to look closer.” And then, when they look closer, they realize that they can’t quite figure out what they’re looking at, and maybe then they have to read a little bit more or wonder a little bit more about it. It’s a feeling I often have when I visit these places.

Ian: With some of the facilities, if you study the image, you can guess what is being produced. Like the Kvadrat textile mill (you can tell something is being woven) or the vinyl pressing plant (you can tell that there’s a record being made there)—but the actual process that you’re witnessing is totally new.

Alastair: I suppose I like to try to touch on something that represents what is happening in the place but leaves a lot of mystery as well. Not all the questions need to be answered. 

 . . .

Ian: I was also struck by the image of the slaughterhouse with the pigs hanging from the ceiling how ordered and clean it was. That was nothing like I expected. The pigs, which are organic things, look like they could have been produced at a factory that was making identical pigs. A pig stamping plant.

Alastair: Well, actually that was definitely the nicest looking part of the slaughter house, so I’m not trying to pull the wool over viewers’ eyes and convince people that the whole place is like this, because there is a point where they also take out all the guts, and it gets pretty bloody.

. . .

Ian: Has the process of doing this work and spending time witnessing the process of the creation of these things changed your attitude to and your reaction to these products in your life? I mean, when you walk by a Steinway piano or an Adidas shoe, has what you’ve seen of how it got there changed the way you think about it?

Alastair: Yes. This whole process has been an education for me. Having the chance to go into all of these places and see the way that things are made, I just become a little kid again in a lot of ways. I’m often shown around a facility by somebody who’s worked there for twenty years and knows the processes inside out, or a scientist who is extremely well qualified and understands the intricacies of the experiments and the machines that they’re using. I can’t understand myself what is going on in a lot of these places, especially the scientific places, and I don’t expect to ever be able to really understand them properly. But getting an insight into the way these things are made and the way that they work is just fascinating. It is an utter privilege, and sometimes I think I have the best job in the world.

I do spend a lot more time thinking about what a complicated world we live in, and how the products we use and the way they are made contribute to that world. With this project I’m trying to celebrate the ingenuity of humans, and the way that we come together and we create these machines and we supply the needs of society, and we try to answer the questions about where we come from and what’s out there in the universe, and that kind of thing. I’m trying to stay as neutral as possible with the images, to give an insight and then let people make up their own minds as to how they feel about what they are looking at.

But while I have been making this work, especially in the production facilities, it has become increasingly impossible not to think about where we are going as a society and what we are doing with the environment. The human ingenuity that I am celebrating with this book can also be seen as a symbol of where we are going wrong in the world, symbols of over consumption and the negative aspects of capitalism. I’m confused about it myself: how are these facilities and products contributing to the world we’re living in, what has to change, and is it going to change? And is this human ingenuity going to save us or is it going to be our downfall? 

. . .


An interview by Ian Chillag. You can read the complete interview in the publication Alastair Philip WiperUnintended Beauty  (pp. 12–16).

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