Winner of the Baloise Art Prize 2001.
In 1994 Scottish artist Ross Sinclair had the words “REAL LIFE” tattooed on his back in uppercase letters. This marked the beginning of a project that is still ongoing today, and that has become the trademark of his artistic practice.
First came photographic series in which Sinclair always presents his naked back to the camera—in fact the “REAL LIFE” motif soon recurred in all the mediums he was working with, from photography and film to installations and performance. Over the years the poses have changed, as have the haircuts and the environment, but the writing, the tartan shorts, and the face turned away from the camera have remained unaltered. Not unlike Caspar David Friedrich’s famous figures painted only from the back, Sinclair becomes a figure of identification for the viewer.
But what does “real life” mean to Sinclair? Above all, Sinclair explores the relationship between the individual and society as a whole. He engages with individual, collective, and national identity. What makes us who we are? And, in this era swamped by digital images, are we still even capable of distinguishing real life from fiction? However, this is not to say that Sinclair is against events communicated by the media and in favor of “reality”; his aim is to investigate and better understand the way these two worlds relate to each other, questions that have become all the more urgent over the past decades. In “Decline and Fall,” for instance, we see the artist’s body lying on a shore, but the circumstances are unclear: is this person dead, or merely unconscious? Maybe the notion of Sinclair being washed up by the water can be read as a national portrait with an as yet uncertain outcome, since the title alludes to the first novel by the English author Evelyn Waugh, in which he presents an ironic snapshot of British society. Outcome uncertain.
Besides these self-portraits Sinclair has also created a number of text-based works on the notion of “real life.” The ten points in “Real Life. Geography” recall the instructions pasted by Sinclair on the blank side-wall of the Riquet building in Leipzig during Expo 2000. Whereas passers-by there were still given a choice in the heading “DU SOLLST / NICHT” [Thou shalt / not], in the Baloise collection there is no ambiguity: “1. Burn your passport 2. Ignore continents 3. Embrace statelessness 4. Renounce citizenship 5. Explode borders 6. Annihilate nations 7. Abolish geography 8. Dissolve cities 9. Abandon republics 10. Secede.” The question as to whether borders and national identities still make any sense these days does not even come into it.