Think of a box. Now imagine what’s inside.
Whether you picture something as prosaic as your Abel & Cole veg delivery or as magical as a baby unicorn watching a David Blaine DVD, it’s a creative challenge that probably provokes as many different responses as there are people reading these words.
There’s just something about boxes and their infinite potential contents that has the power to fire the imagination. Invite an artist to place an unspecified ‘something’ in a box and interesting things are sure to follow. Give them a theme and make multiple copies in a limited edition and suddenly you have a very intriguing project on your hands. Call it something unusual, sell it online, and by now you have…
Well, by now you have Stuplex.
Like Lister from Red Dwarf, Stuplex was born in a Liverpool pub. However, unlike Lister, Stuplex isn’t fictional. It has moved well beyond the lifespan of most pub-based ideas to become a living, breathing project involving a number of writers, artists and musicians from the city. At which point, I must declare an interest: I’m one of them. Between us, we have conceived, constructed and created two editions of Stuplex so far; the first was published in May 2014 while the second was launched at the Everyman Bistro at the end of June.
So what is it exactly? Well, it’s some things in a box. The form the contents take is down to each individual contributor but, broadly speaking, it is writing, art and audio on a specific theme. Everything is handmade, signed and numbered, and the result is a beautiful object that’s part box, part book, part portable art installation.
The first edition – or Stuplex 001: Decay to give it its full title – was a brown C5-sized package containing four hand-sewn booklets, two prints, a CD and a magic spell. The new one, on the theme of ‘decadence’, is a little larger, a bit heavier, perhaps more sophisticated. This time it also holds a variety of files and folders, a painting, a cassette, some photographs, some envelopes – each promising the attendant thrill of opening, unwrapping, and revealing something hidden.
Clearly, there’s something of the magic of Christmas morning in an edition of Stuplex, but beyond the childlike pleasure of opening a sealed container and discovering the objects within, does the project spring from any deeper creative urge? For the full Stuplex story, I turned to its co-founder, the writer A.E. Pearsall.
“I’d say the catalyst was originally Francis Bacon,” says Pearsall. “I’d been writing a lot of stuff about art, specifically Bacon’s work, and I was fascinated by the use of boxes and frames within his paintings. So when I saw a batch of brown cardboard boxes for sale, I just bought them, assuming I would think of something good to do with them.”
Without a coherent idea though, the boxes were just packaging without a purpose, and it took the application of beer and conversation with Paul Simpson, the ever-elegant artistic force behind Liverpool bands including the heavenly Wild Swans, to give the concept some life.
“I was spending a lot of time talking to Paul, and between us we came up with the word ‘stuplex’ – from the idea of ‘stupidly complex’. We joked about it being the name of something, but it was the next week when I met Paul in The Roscoe Head that he showed me a logo sketch, and the idea of putting the Stuplex name and the boxes together was born.”
The idea was to invite likely friends and acquaintances to contribute, creating work informed by the chosen theme – which in the first instance was ‘decay’ – and which could be contained within the plain cardboard shell. Initially, the invitees were playwright Jeff Young, and poet and composer Martin Heslop, but the list has since expanded to include academics, painters, musicians and more.
With two editions now published, it seems clear that the austere nature of the empty container plays a role in defining the Stuplex aesthetic. But what does Pearsall think were the original influences?
“It’s probably rooted in punk. Not the music, but a kind of punk thinking that pre-dates the 1970s. There’s a huge Dada influence and a lot of Russian Constructivism. The Situationists are lurking there too, along with some Discordian ideas. As a physical object it probably owes a lot to punk fanzines. It doesn’t look remotely like any of them, but I think it shares a kind of ‘something from nothing’ ideal.”
I owe my own Stuplex involvement to a chance meeting with Paul Simpson at Liverpool’s Static Gallery, and it’s been exciting to help nurture the project from thoughts on the breeze to physical product you can hold in your hands. I’ve learnt that it’s one thing having an idea, and another thing to turn that thought into an edition of 100 near-identical handmade objects. In my experience, working with Stuplex involves not only some intense creative work at the laptop keyboard, but also a great deal of hair-raising scalpel action at the kitchen table.
So now that Stuplex 002: Decadence is published and available to buy – with work by Mike Badger, Alan Dunn, David Hering, Martin Heslop, Richard Hughes, Lizzie Nunnery & Vidar Norheim, A.E. Pearsall, Will Sergeant, Jeff Young and me – how might the Stuplex concept evolve?
“I don’t think it would be a good idea to look too far ahead,” says Pearsall. “It’s good to keep it relatively immediate and hopefully retain the spontaneity. But it would be great to see the box idea become something more radical, and the publishing side to become a home for a more experimental kind of writing. I’d also like it to act as a platform for individual projects and bigger collaborative ideas – such as installations, and random acts of anarchy and nihilism.”
Spoken like a true Post-Punk Dada-Situationist, you might say. From concepts of decay and decadence to evocations of free-thinking 19th century revolutionaries, it seems that while it may be easy to put the lid back on a copy of Stuplex, the ideas that spring from within its cardboard cuddle could be significantly harder to contain.
Stuplex 002: Decadence is published in a signed, numbered, limited edition of 100. It is available to buy, while stocks last, at www.stuplex.co.uk
Follow Stuplex on Twitter at @stuplex_art