the performance artist using social media to take on the tories

Since 2013, British performance artist Mark McGowan has been confronting today’s endless stream of injustice and corruption with angry, politicised and hilarious daily rants as The Artist Taxi Driver. But who is the man behind the wraparound shades?

by Nathalie Olah
25 January 2018, 2:46pm

To his hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, Mark has become a cult favourite. His verbal dexterity -- showcased via DIY films shot in the front seat of his car -- cuts straight to the heart of the day’s outrage. The musical mash-up of his Theresa May’s Tory Magic Money Tree with Skepta’s Shutdown was one of the best uses of three minutes in 2017.

Now, he’s taking his show on the road with his documentary, Jezza: The Movie, vox-popping the UK’s most fervent Corbyn fans in a bid to dissect the Labour leader’s appeal. In the same week that construction company Carillion went into liquidation, and the Tory government seemed fully on its way to meltdown, we went for a few pints to get to grips with how a mild-mannered 68-year-old socialist became the political pin-up for a younger generation eager for change.

Jezza: The Movie. What’s the big idea?
I started interviewing yesterday. I met a woman in Birmingham, she was all dressed in red and wearing a Corbyn scarf. She said she was a lifelong Tory voter, but when it all kicked off she said, “Why are they attacking Jeremy Corbyn on his clothes? Attack someone for embezzlement, for their politics, for their policies… but not their clothes!” She had a look, saw that he’d made a stand against apartheid, saw that he’d made a stand against the Iraq war and said to herself, “This is the politician I have waited for all my life!”

It’s going to be a whole year, a bit of a Blitzkrieg. I don’t know where I’m going. I’m just going to interview lots and lots of people. You’ve heard of Man with a Movie Camera, the Russian film? Well this is Man with the iPhone.

How come Jezza’s not actually in it?
Because the real story of Jezza is the way he’s been a catalyst for social movements. He’s inspired Stomzy, JME, and they have huge, influential power… I’m making Jezza: The Movie through crowdfunding. I’m trying to make £15,000. I feel like that’s a lot. But in media terms, that wouldn’t buy you anything. On any given day, The Telegraph, The Mail, The Sun, The Times, The Express, they have the ability to get a team of camera people, journalists and producers… we’ve got so many journalists just itching to write something bad about Jeremy Corbyn.

Can you explain the concept of ‘Red Plenty’?
Vulture capitalism is a monster, it’s greed about pushing people down. We’re on the cusp of a revolution. In this country we have thousands upon thousands of social science, PhD kids who are going to cause a wave. They might have a job in Aldi or Iceland at the moment -- so their whole thing is about thinking, ‘Why do I have to work? Why haven’t I got more money?’ Which is the basics of what the punk band Crass used to sing about. What is this all about? What is this society?

Corbyn has been successful in attracting disenfranchised left wingers back into mainstream politics…
You’ve got student nurses who had their bursaries -- a £3 stipend per hour -- removed, mopping up blood, shit, vomit. Holding the hands of terminally ill people. And they’re doing it for nothing! What kind of morale is that going to create? It’s bubbling. What I try to do -- very purposefully -- is think of narratives for explaining what’s happening. So my explanation is: you’ve got patients lying on a trolley, or lying in an ambulance in a traffic jam waiting to get into A&E, while the bosses of these shell companies that are providing services for the hospital, are lying on a yacht in the fucking Bahamas, licking the coconut off of their pina-fucking-colada. And that’s the image you have to bring home to people. Because that’s the reality.

You have to say “vulture capitalism”. You have to portray it as a monster because they own everything. They own the petrol stations, the electricity that goes into your home, the company you work for, the shops, the Internet, the movies, the TV… and it’s still not enough. You know why? Because they want to come for your fire stations, your hospitals, your schools.

Does that show that the argument that capitalism creates so-called ‘healthy competition’ no longer applies?
A shell company would in fact just be six people in an office, but the company owns 200 schools, 100 hospitals, a handful of fire stations. It’s gambling. The hedge funders are betting against these companies. City of London NHS roulette. When I interviewed the guy from Sleaford Mods, he said, “Y’know a lot of people are very happy laying down for them.”

Why do you think so many working class people still vote Tory?
Lots of people are into the Queen, put their jacket down over the puddle and all of that. It’s grooming. Indoctrination. The Queen’s never off the BBC. This continual romantic coupling. They’ve got castles coming out their ears. They’ve got golden carriages. She puts that million pound hat on with like diamonds got at the expense of a hundred sub-Saharan Africans, on her head. And she talks about tightening our belts! It’s Stockholm Syndrome, y’know, where you see your abductor and you just… love them.

Lots of people are saying Jeremy Corbyn is too old, or that Labour will lose its current momentum if we don’t have another general election soon.
Donald Trump’s four to five years older. Hillary’s a couple of years older than him. They’re just saying it to wind everyone up. It’s hard to say if there’s going to be another election this year. They’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth. They’ve got a really slim majority. They’re really bad at social media, though.

You’re also an artist, and paint watercolours. Can you explain how you got into making these videos?
When I was young, I had problems with drug addiction and I was in one of those facilities you couldn’t leave. I started doing art therapy there and then went to art college. There I started immersing myself in performance. I did this practice around intervention into the media… I pushed a monkey nut with my nose to 10 Downing Street. I handed it into Tony Blair. I did Dead Shoulder in Birmingham -- lying down in the street in protest to the Iraq war. Later, I started doing Artist Taxi Driver. I think people should have a voice and be able to speak without too much control. And I like interviewing people.

Is there one idea that connects all your work?
Well I teach now, too. I always say to the students when they’re beginning a piece of work -- this applies to a journalist, too -- whatever you’re creating, or writing about, make sure your starting point, every single time, is: ‘I’m going to make something that is so extraordinary, that when people read it, or see it, they’re going to fall over and you’re going to have to pick them up.’ That has to be your starting point. That’s the meaning of creativity. And words are so beautiful, and there are so many things you can say. It’s amazing.

Mark McGowan
the artist taxi driver