i-Q: tim noble and sue webster
Fresh from the launch of their first show in London in almost five years, we ask the art world’s dastardly duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster 20 questions you wish you’d thought of.
Tim and Sue first met in art school in 1986 and began working together a decade later. In their Shoreditch studio, they sit beneath what Tim calls, "the wall of fame, or the wall of shame", which has a poster of every show they've ever done. "Whether we had money or not we always did a poster for it." Sticks with Dicks and Slits is their first show in London in five years. About a year ago, whilst cleaning out the studio, Sue found tiny wire portraits made from electrical cables. Expanding on this idea, they began making large wire maquettes, which they translated into wax and then cast into bronze. But enough of that, here are 20 things about the couple you never knew you wanted to know.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Tim: An inventor.
Sue: I wanted to be a belly dancer… or a barmaid. They were my two aspirations in life. I had an album of children's favourite theme tunes when I was little, and on it was the theme to The Magic Roundabout, and in the middle it turned to strip tease music and so me and my brother invited my neighbours round, we'd close the curtains and do a strip tease in front of them. I just remember my brother getting really embarrassed and running out of the room with his trousers round his ankles.
Do you keep a diary?
Sue: Weirdly, I have been working on a personal project for the past year where I have been transcribing three years of my teenage diaries. I only kept intense diaries for three years - but reading them now, I find them quite revealing.
Tim: I kept an intensely scribbled-in diary of daily activities I thought was personal reportage. Years later I tried reading it, it was illegible, like in code. Makes no sense to anyone. Scrawlings, hieroglyphics.
What was the last dream you can remember having?
Sue: Tim used to accuse me of stealing his dreams. I have very dramatic dreams. My dreams go on and on like films. I often wake up and wish I'd written them down, because I could have written loads of screenplays by now. Sometimes you want to wake yourself up because it's horrific, like that one when I was injected by a doctor and nurse, I wanted to snap out of it. And then sometimes I'm having such a good dream that I don't want to wake up. I've had quite realistic dreams about Prince, David Beckham and Brad Pitt.
Tim: Deep conversations were they?
Sue: Haha yeah, with Brad Pitt. Weirdly enough, I dreamt that I was in a relationship with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I was dating him and I had to turn up to all the red carpet events. I woke up and thought, where did that come from? It's weird because two of these have died. David Beckham and Brad Pitt watch out!
Tim: Brad Pitt is available now.
Tim: I daydream. It feels like hours have gone past and I go into a meditational trance. Then a sound happens, an incidental click and you snap out of it. I don't dream at night time, I definitely do dream, but I wake up and have no recollection of it.
Sue: He's absolutely right. He's a dreamer. But my other world happens when I'm asleep.
Tim: Full moon time, I have intense dreams, running from some malevolent force.
What would you most like to change about the world?
Tim: The colour, just stick with green. Well, you know it would be nice to stop fucking up the globe, its environment for a start, a world worth living in. All those kind of environmental things. Put Trump in a freezer for ten years. We could just end up with lots of birds that are grey, which would be sacrilege to the great triumph of evolution and its extreme beauty and diversity.
Sue: Put Trump in Trump tower.
What would you most like to change about yourselves?
Sue: Have you ever seen that film the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where you can erase your memory and start again? Sometimes I wish I could erase deep memories.
Tim: Erase the past like an apocalypse?
Sue: No, I wish I could choose bits of my memory to erase. Tim, what would you change about yourself?
Tim: Stubbornness probably. Probably you can be quite narrow minded although think that you're open to everything. So what's that? Whatever the word is, that.
Sue: The opposite to narrow-mindedness? Open mindedness. But you are pretty open minded. I think you are. You're more open-minded than I am so that's not a flaw. But you want to be even more open minded?
Have you ever pretended to be someone else in the mirror?
Tim: Good question. I used to dance a lot in front of the mirror, I don't think I had a set character in mind it was pretty free flow and improvised.
Sue: I was too busy trying to find out who I was to even consider being somebody else.
Who was your pin up?
Tim: I guess pretty obvious ones at first, Debbie Harry singing Heart of Glass, Jessica Lange in King Kong, Annabella Lwin.
Do you meditate?
Sue: Good question. Yes. We both tried to do David Lynch's Transcendental Meditation because I read how to do it once, but I just couldn't switch off, my mind kept wandering. Then I tried to meditate at the Buddhist centre on Roman Road but I have found my perfect way of meditation is swimming, so I swim every morning and completely switch off. I have to do it every morning in order to clear my head. I can't step into the studio until I have swam. I can't count how many laps I have done because I totally go off into my own mind zone. I think that is total meditation.
Tim: I like the idea of meditation because my brain is running on overdrive sometimes, so it's just clearing away all that clutter. But I haven't trained.
Sue: But don't you think that daydreaming is a form of meditation though?
Tim: Yes daydreaming is a form of meditation, it just happens and you switch off. I also go swimming in the sea because I live by the sea at the moment. You definitely have to switch off because it's freezing cold.
Sue: I would say the opposite, in the sea you need to be more aware. In the sea it's more dangerous in case a wave gets you.
What would you look like if you were an alien?
Tim: I would look at what I think the future of the world is going to be and I think it's just brains in bubbles with conscious thought. Like thoughts we have now, with voices.
Sue: I often think I could just exist as a brain in a jar.
Tim: Not a brain in a jar, just like molecules.
Sue: There is a film, with Steve Martin where he is a brain in a jar.
Tim: I'm talking about things in buzzing around in the air, like an evolution. That's what we will become, which is an alien object in our minds.
What did you do on your last day off?
Tim: Swam in the sea
Sue: I love cleaning. Clean the house.
What's your greatest ambition?
Tim: Sounds a bit corny but just to fulfil our greatest potential.
Sue: Yeah. Exactly. To wake up every morning and do exactly what I want to do.
Do you have any phobias?
Tim: I grew up in a country cottage and those black spiders would come out hunting for mates and would come running towards you at night. They would go creeping up the walls. My Dad was a bit spooked by them, he used to get toy cars and scream 'spider!' and whizz it towards me so I became spooked by these particular spiders for many years. In the end I had to realise why and let them run up my arm, I love them now, fascinating creatures, completely harmless. Sue has a spider tattooed on her hand.
Sue: I wonder why (laughs). I don't know if mine's a phobia or a fear of being bored.
Who do you most admire?
Sue: That changes every day.
Tim: Martin Luther King was pretty cool.
Sue: Topically, I just saw the front of the Evening Standard yesterday and Julia Peyton Jones has become a mother at 64.
Tim: I thought that was a joke
Sue: Here we have Julia Peyton Jones, a formidable woman who has dedicated most of her adult life to serving the art world, and as soon as she retired from the Serpentine Gallery, moved to the West coast of America, to secretly become a mother at 64. I don't know the exact details, whether she gave birth or adopted, but I thought all of a sudden she has turned a corner and become a human being with a soft centre. I really admire that woman, I was almost in tears reading it.
Tim: Wow great answer, can you scrub my answer?
What do you talk about when you get your haircut?
Tim: I don't talk, I go into a trance
Sue: Me too. For twenty years I would cut Tim's and my own hair, but now I just shut my eyes and think of England.
What do you think happens when you die?
Tim: You die, that's it. You get eaten by the worms, the worms get turned into nutrients, which go up into the trees, into the leaves, and then the leaves fall off and then they become compost.
Sue: When my dad was dying, I asked him to send me a sign from the other side. I wanted something to believe in. When I saw him dead, I cut off a lock of his hair and it travels everywhere with me. When we left the hospital, my sister and my brother just sat in the nearest pub in silence and a Bob Dylan song just came on the jukebox. My Dad was the world's biggest Bob Dylan fan.
16. What would you like to be reincarnated as?
Tim: A bolt of lightning.
Sue: My Black Baby. (Sue's cat)
If you could do anything without fear or repercussion what would you do?
Sue: I live life like that anyway.
Tim: I would cut your head off. But of course I wouldn't.
If you could ask anyone a question who would you ask and what
Tim: Is there a God?
Sue: I would ask David Bowie what life looks like through a dilated pupil.
Describe yourself in four words:
Tim: Staggering work of genius.
Sue: Heartbreaking work of staggering genius.
Tim: Supreme, enormous, insignificant, blip,
Sue: Impatient. My Dad used to say I was always generous. Visionary. I like to think that I am forward thinking. Fearless.
Have you lied at any point during this interview?
Sticks with Dicks and Slits is showing at Blaine|Southern until 25 March
Text Jessica Draper
Photography Ithaka Roddam