Andrew Logan: Artist And Alternative Miss World Founder

Flamboyant London artist Andrew Logan, 66, discusses Jes Benstock's affectionate documentary The British Guide to Showing Off

There have been films made about the Alternative Miss World before. How was this presented to you and how was it different, conceptually, to the other films?

“Ever since I began, every single event has been filmed and documented.The first one was [Jack Hazan's film about David Hockney] A Bigger Splash, wasn't it? It really started with that one. I just felt that, living in a world where things are easy to be archived, it was an important thing to do. They're such wonderful events, I quite wanted people to be able to have a little glimpse of them."

So how did Jes Benstock's film about the staging of the 2009 event come about?

“We had three people up for the 2004 Alternative Miss World event,  which was held at the Hippodrome in Leicester Square, and we met three of the filmmakers. Two of them were very businesslike, and the third was Jes Benstock. I think he had an award-winning film and we just got on, really. So he documented the 2004 and went away edited it. And then he came back and said he would very much like to, in fact, cover all the events and my life. He felt it was an important part he wanted to give to humanity."

How long did he follow you for?

“For about two years. And then he spent two years editing. So it was truly quite a remarkably long time [laughs].”

Were you comfortable being followed around like that? You do seem – in fact everybody seems – comfortable on camera in the film.

“[Raucous laughter] I think, Stephen, you just have to get used to it. And he's such a nice man and all the people that work for him were very nice. So I think if you've got nice people around you, it doesn't really matter. He's part of the family now." 

Were you brought up around film?

"My parents never had movie cameras and things like that. Derek [Jarman, his friend] had quite an archive that his father shot, but I never had that. But I've always enjoyed being in front of the lens, I think. Showing off, really.”

Your art is very flamboyant so do you see it all as performance, in a way?

“Oh yes. When people say, 'What do you want to be called?' I say 'sculptor', because to me that embraces everything I do, from the small pieces like the little scuptured jewellary to the big one: the Alternative Miss World. It is still, to me, a sculpture. It's just working with a lot of people and they all have this amazing input.”

The Alternative Miss World is an ephemeral, one-night only event. So is that why it's also been important to document it?

“Well yes and no. I mean I do quite like ephemeral as well, because like all of us, we're only here for a split second really. We think we're here forever, but we're not. So it's really, I suppose, a reflection of our lives. But then I just think it's such an inspiration for future generations, hopefully.”

Were you surprised by the way the event took off and the way that it captured people's imaginations? Did you think, when you first did it in 1972, that it was going to be a one off?

“Every time I come out on stage or appear, there is an atmosphere that I've never felt anywhere else. And so far I have the same feeling every time I come out. It's just warmth, really. Just a warmth and expectation. It's just this feeling. I would like to carry on until I drop, really. And also because I think it's fascinating going over different generations. There are people who are now entering that are children of people who entered originally. So it goes from generation to generation. And it's such a simple idea. I suppose I do give it my little angle.”

Does each event, then, feel like the first time in a way?

“Almost, yes. Although organisation-wise it tends to get more difficult. I think when we first started we simply woke up in the morning and said, 'We'll do it,' and just did it. Now, of course, there's so many restrictions put on events and things.”

I got from the film that while you love the party, the organisational bit is not your favourite part.

“[Laughs] And that's part of it, I suppose. I've lived through it and come out the other end. Which is what's so wonderful. You do come out at the end and the event was exactly the same as before.”

Do you ever do these events to coincide with or as a reaction to events on the social and political landscape? In the film, Michael Cashman says he saw the event he co-hosted as a response to Clause 28, for instance.

“No, no, it comes entirely from me, I think [laughs]. I do it when I feel the time is right. Or I could be prompted. I remember Piers Atkinson, who is an up and coming Milliner now, and he was at the time working for me, some years ago, and he was sitting in the back of the car and said, 'Oh, why don't you another Alternative Miss World?' and I said 'Good idea.' And I did it. So sometimes it can be literally a response to somebody. It happens in mysterious ways, I never know what will happen. As an artist, I kind of open myself up to the world, which is important. So you open yourself up and all this stuff comes pouring through you, and sometimes you click in and sometimes not. I think that is exactly what the Alternative Miss World is saying: I will open myself up and see what happens.”

You talk in the film about transformation and people transforming themselves. Does this bring it into line with your work in general, because much of what you do is about transforming found materials into works of art?

“Absolutely. So that's very much the same, yes. The transformation. Through the different generations different transformations occur. Of course, I must say, I will see a costume come on and I'll think, 'Oh, that was 1978' or something. But they are different, of course. Nothing is original, as we all know. It's all interpretations of . . . . It's the same with this event.”

Do you think that through this process people sometimes discover things about themselves?

“Yes. I don't think we've ever had a baby born at the event but we've certainly had marriages formed and things like that. Life and death occurs. I think people do discover parts of their lives that they might have ignored or didn't know existed.”

Do you think there's a possibility that people then come away from it more complete?

“Yes, my message is about joy and happiness. Celebrating life. I think people forget it, don't they? They have so many pressures. So I'm hopefully there to be able to encourage them to realise this fact.”

Are you, in a way, giving people the space to play in that your parents seem to have given you and your siblings as children?

“I hand't thought of it like that, Stephen, but I think perhaps you're right. Yes, you're given a framework and you [play] within it. I give the contestants the day and the place and the time and everything, and then they do anything they want.”

I wonder if people sometimes feel that they need permission to express the more outragous aspects of their personality, and that's what you give them?

“I think this is true. As I said, there are so many limitations being put on us all the time.”

In the film it mentions that you had an experience with acid. How defining was that in terms of the way that you subsequently pursued your art?

“It gave me the confidence to actually create the art. Until then I had been an architecture student and thought about making things and doing things, but never had. I didn't have the confidence, which I think a lot of young people don't. Mine happened to be through that little trip. I only had one and I never touched it ever again. But it can come through other ways as well. This event, possibly will give people that confidence or make them think suddenly they want a change.”

How important was becoming part of the London scene in the early 70s?

“I suppose the London at that time was very open and the artistic community was very small. And fashion, really, things were very open. You could just move one to another. Everyone had gone to New York in the Seventies, so London was ignored, which was fabulous, because it was like a playground. You could just do anything.”

You went to New York but it didn't work out for you. Why was it a bad fit for you?

“Well there was a famous gallery downtown, I think Any Warhol was exhibited there, and I showed the guy my book of sculptures I had done, the Biba roof garden and things, and he just looked up at me and said, 'Smiling is out this year. Good bye.' So, as I say in the film, I became almost an alcoholic. Everywhere I went I was rejected. Everywhere. I was just interested.”

You've never lost your kind of joyful outlook. Has it been difficult at times to retain that?

“Of course there's pressures and things. I think you have to work on these things. That's why I took up yoga, which I've been doing quite seriously. And it's funny because it was age 50, I think, when my body suddenly said, 'I want to do yoga.' It wasn't my decision, it just happened. It was announced.”

You say in the film that if something is not flowing then it's probably not supposed to happen. So is this how you have led your life in general?

“It may indicate another direction, yes. So if something happens it means you just have to step sideways and you'll see another door, and you go through that door.”

How did you feel what you watched the film for the first time?

“[Laughs] I felt very humble. And yet, one thing that I thought that was fantastic was that Jes has created an entity. Okay, it's about the Alternative Miss World and me, and Michael [Davis, his life partner] and my art, and life and everything, but he has created something that stood up by itself. I just thought that was magical. He had created this living being. The message of joy really. He had created the message.”

The British Guide to Showing Off is out now

©Stephen Applebaum, 2011

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