Sculptor Gavin Turk is perhaps best known for work about Gavin Turk. He has dressed as Sid Vicious and posed for a waxwork, or dressed as a vagrant. He has posed for photos as Andy Warhol or Che. And his degree show consisted simply of a blue plaque confirming his historic residence at the RCA.
But his booking at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery for Museums at Night was always going to be a bit different. There might not even be a self-referential artwork in sight as Turk fills the exhibition space with monitor screens, â€˜flyingâ€™ carpets and skeletal pyramids, which he promises have occult powers.
The sculptor plans to install pyramids big enough for visitors to sit or stand in, and talks of â€œmaybe getting some crystals as wellâ€. Monitor screens all around the space will relay found footage to do with the structuresâ€™ fabled power. Turk hopes to raise awareness of their potential.
Now he lists the benefits of pyramid power like a true, if wry, believer: â€œIt can preserve stuff. It can make you sleep at night. It can help you think more clearly. It can make plants grow quicker. It can generate battery electricity.â€
The Persian rugs also have potential. â€œIâ€™m feeling the carpets,â€ quips the artist. â€œI mean feeling the sensation of flying, not just sitting here rubbing them.â€
The 100-year-old museum is new territory for the former YBA.Â Its wealth of Egyptian artefacts seem to have little to do with the pop culture within which Turk operates. â€œI was a little bit struggling,â€ he admitted to me over phone.
Pharaoh: King of Egypt is the British Museum touring show currently showing at the museum – complimented by their permanent collection of exhibits from that ancient world.
â€œI started wondering where it fitted, â€˜where was â€˜Iâ€™ in this thing?â€™ and also â€˜who are these pharaohs, what are these pharaohs?â€™, because in a way theyâ€™re not really a ME theme,â€ he explains. â€œI havenâ€™t really done or touched anything to do with them.â€
Then his sculptorâ€™s eye for form fell on one of the most fundamental structures of all time. â€œI thought â€˜Oh, we can work with pyramids.â€™â€ So his discovery of pyramid power could make for one of the eeriest events Museums at Night has ever seen.
But none of what he says is without a sense of humour. Turk is ever ready with a quiet chuckle. It’s not quite clear how much credence he gives to the wisdom of the ancients.
â€œObviously some of the earliest pharaohs were – what was it 3535 BC? – so they’re 6,000 years old,â€ he says with yet another laugh. â€œWhich is pretty cool.â€
Talk gets round to the present day situation in Egypt, which is, according to Turk, â€œvery oddâ€. â€œEgypt has in its history been so super advanced and then it kind of fell back into a curious setback.â€
Most strange of all was the attitude of Egyptians to the arrival of archaeologists in the 1800s. â€œThey were kind of mesmerised,â€ says the artist, â€œand almost happy that various parties were coming and taking things away.”
But the history of overseas plunder is, of course, tied up with the history of museums. â€œThe whole thing about museums is very interesting as well. With the idea that the museum was invented to bring back things from all around the world, like trophies,â€ says Turk.
Nevertheless, the artist is cheerful at the prospect of late opening museums throughout the UK come mid May. â€œYeah, itâ€™s great,â€ he says. â€œI mean, if youâ€™re there during a nine to five day it feels like work. Whereas if youâ€™re there after work, it feels like â€˜after workâ€™. It feels like holiday.â€
His sense of fun extends to giving kids access to art. With partner Deborah Curtis, he runs childrenâ€™s charity House of Fairy Tales. I mention sleepovers taking place in other museums and he enthuses about them:
â€œWe just love that idea, you know where everything comes alive when the lights go off everything in the museum will come alive.â€
His dual role may complicate his artistic practice, but he is happy to work outside his comfort zone. â€œI can kind of make mistakes, so this idea I couldnâ€™t normally do, with this kind of crazy power of the pyramid,â€ he says with another chuckle. â€œIt allows me to have a bit of fun really.â€
It might even appeal to a certain incognito street artist from the Bristol area. A homecoming show by Banksy was his biggest to date here in 2009. â€œHeâ€™s going to show up, yeah, letâ€™s get him to show up. Weâ€™ll do little cut outs of Turkses, big Turkses and Rameses.â€
To the best of my knowledge the Pharaoh Turkses has just been invented by Gavin. Perhaps the pyramids have been about this mercurial artist all along.