Dress-ings: An Interview with Franko B

• Caryn Simonson (2008)

Toynbee Studios, London, UK, September 7, 2006, and email June 2008.

No “repeated questions about pain” - states Franko B on his website.

I am relieved... I don’t want to focus on pain in the interview - this has been addressed many times

before.[1] I want to focus on cloth.

Many of Franko B’s installations, performances, and object-based works have used cloth as a significant medium and signifier. Cloth has an uncanny ability to trigger memories - its qualities can cause it to be marked temporarily or stained indelibly by the body leaving it permanently “scarred.” These scars hold value by imbuing cloth with the “story” of its “wearing.” Cloth can record memory and evoke this through the absorption of smell, stain, and other human trace. Cloth’s intimate relationship with the body when worn, means that cloth is both touched by and touches the skin.

In his performance I Miss You, Franko B’s skin is painted white, matching the canvas cloth catwalk floor that he touches as his feet come into contact with it. An intimate relationship with the cloth strengthens when his blood seeps out of his punctured skin surface and drips slowly onto the floor he walks upon. There is a visual continuity in many of Franko B’s works between the cloth in the “live” performances, blood-stained in real time by Franko’s bleeding body, and the bloodied cloth that captures the trace of the “body in performance,” the cloth of the aftermath, which he uses to wrap objects or cover surfaces in his installations. The marked cloth has been a material central to some of his earlier work often reemerging in different forms - it is reused.

The cloth used to wrap the objects is built up in layers, like a protective “second skin”, like dressings or a cloth-skin. As Franko engages in wrapping the objects, he simultaneously “dresses” them-the found objects can be

wounded when he happens upon them, psychologically or physically. They are lost souls, relegated to the dustbin, the roadside, the skip, the gutter or just broken. He does not engage in mending the objects or reinventing them into bizarre sculptures either - he wraps them, cares for them, he gives them a home in his archival collections.

This interview seeks to uncover some of the motivations behind Franko B's use of cloth and the different applications of it in his earlier work. I interviewed Franko at Toynbee Studios. I followed him downstairs to the basement and along a corridor to his studio. It was organized and minimal in terms of color - black and white predominate. An aIl-bIack painting of the stars and stripes of the USA flag dominated the wall near where we sat. This was part of Franko’s new work.

Caryn Simonson: Cloth has played an important role in your work but have you departed from cloth now?

Franko B: Actually I haven’t, because in a way I still work with cloth because I paint on it, on canvas, in a more traditional sense. I use acrylic paint and I make drawings but before this I was doing it through performance, through action[2] - I wasn’t particularly marking the cloth, the cloth was a working canvas generally. I did “action” where I would bleed, walking up and down on the canvas, not in any particular order. If a stain marked the cloth, I could never direct it a bit like action painting but with blood. In the past I cut this cloth into small pieces, from one inch by one inch square, to five or six inches square, and used it to create a picture. In a way I wanted to save the blood, as a record aside from photography. Actually, I thought about it on a cerebral level. It is a reminder of something that happened that was quite private although the action wasn’t so. Now I have come back to cloth the canvas in a more traditional sense. I don’t bleed anymore.

In a way, I wanted the canvas to have a life of its own by using it to wrap things that were discarded in the street, things I found in skips. When I began I realized that I started to create a vocabulary that was all about life, using structures from a chair to a television to a broken television set or a cup.

CS: Do you see the wrapping of the objects in cloth as a “second skin” or the object?

FB: Giving them protection, giving them an identity, reinforcing what they were originally. Yes  it’s interesting

CS: The objects are bound together well with the cloth. Did you teach yourself how to stitch?

FB: No it’s all glued. It protects the objects. Instead the glue becomes protective. They’re not stitched.

CS: Some kind of “humanization” of the object seems to occur with the wrapping of the objects in blood-stained cloth - even though we know it is your blood, not the object's blood on the cloth. it’s as if the object is bleeding from inside. The inanimate object has the residue of the animate. Do you think the cloth with the blood humanizes the object in some way?

FB: Not really humanize, but give something else a second chance to have a life of its own, to give love to an object, like a broken TV. Like the computer screen for example, if I hadn’t taken it from the skip, I knew it would take years to be found and for five years I constantly wrapped and rewrapped it... a kind of saving it from oblivion. The wrapping was a way to memorialize things that in some way touched me. Ones that were wrapped became “mimitized,”[3] the blood and cloth is like a vocabulary. Say if you take the things separately—a child’s pair of shoes - thinking about the child’s shoes, it is the cloth of the child’s shoes that is lost. it’s never going be worn again but it is a memory. The cloth shoe found a new home. You come to it [the object], you as an individual, in a way to come and collect it and it finds a new home. Like a library archive but it goes deeper. You have a different part ofthe things that represent life, death or childhood, or a rite of passage. I remember I wanted to wrap a car, but I wrapped a bicycle. Because I found a bike, I did a bike. I wouldn’t have bought a car - this would change the object’s meaning and the work, it then takes on a different value. This way I think it becomes more conceptual. It has to be things that come to me—an emotional connection.

CS: Quite spiritual?

FB: I take you [the object] in. The point is, I wouldn’t buy a single object because why would you want to?

CS: You mention that the objects become “mimitized” when they’re wrapped in the same type of cloth. They become quite uniform...

FB: Yes when you “mimitize” the environment - like camouflage That’s what I meant. I cover everything except the window in a space. You cannot really wash any of it either. The environment becomes like a museum in a sense, on more than one level, in terms of archiving everything you come across and bringing it away, everything we come across such as plates, cups - it becomes in a weird way a museum. The museum is about death but also about memory and, in an archaeological sense, it’s about collecting and collating what went on say two years ago. I like it.

CS: I saw a piece of your work at Home Gallery, south London, in 2001, Oh Lover Boy: The Exhibition. Works were shown in various rooms of this domestic setting, a children’s nursery, the bathroom, the kitchen (where you were hanging out when I visited)  but the most striking room was the bedroom, taken over completely by your cloth. I was struck by the whiteness of the installation and the purity of the white cloth, marked by your blood. The stark contrasts held a visual beauty and tranquility despite the disturbing quality when seen in this domestic context. I wondered whose bedroom this belonged to and whose garments were hanging blood-stained on the clothes rail? Did you want the garments to be seen as your garments-was it important that it was your bedroom?

FB: In a way I focused on the place, it’s somebody’s home. It was a domestic environment so I thought let's make a bedroom installation. If this was the place where I lived, I had to make it believable. The idea was kind of to create an unsettling narrative and the garments were part of this. The straitjacket is from a different context but then the work becomes poetic - you cannot make up stories.

CS: How and why did you come to work with some of the fashion designers for this installation?

FB: I knew some of them, some more than others, and they asked me if they could do it. It was A supposed to be a collaboration in a way. There were about ten of them and I gave them about ten meters of my cloth so they could do what they wanted with it. Some people lost the cloth and some never did anything with it. I remember it was Jessica Ogden who originally asked me if she could make a garment for a catwalk from my cloth... she lost a lot of the material though. She’s a friend but she lost it... she left it in the loft of her house! Then I gave her some more from a performance.

CS: Jessica Ogden’s work has often utilized antique cloths, stained and worn to re-create her clothes. I can see why there’s a connection here in using your cloth. What types of garments were hanging on the rail?

FB: There was an Elvis jumpsuit  straitjacket  a nurse’s outfit.

CS: You created another bedroom installation at the Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street. Home Gallery, was a domestic setting but this seems more staged as hotels are public spaces that house anonymous private spaces—the bedrooms? Some of the objects referred back to the Home Gallery installation like the cross on the floor. Was it different, making the hotel room installation?

FB: Yes, stuff was already there in the room but also I brought in my own stuff - the table, and I did the chair. Yes, it was interesting in a way which we don’t see necessarily, the fact that a gay porno was filmed there. I met a porno camera man from America and he asked if he could use the room so I said OK, yes, do it. In a way hotels, especially those hotels that are for business, have a surface quality, they are very lonely places. I was invited to stay for two nights at the Great Eastern Hotel a couple of years before in 2001 for another project. I couldn’t have stayed the night but I did do the project. I should have gone but I took photos instead. In five-star hotels costing £600 per night, it's all about surface. In response to the first piece I did, I made a new piece. The first piece - I Feel Lonely Please Call Me - was a neon sign in the foyer for two months. It had a phone number you could ring and leave a message for me. I had a phone call from a genuine guy staying in the hotel. He said, “I know whatyou mean, nobody wants to talk to me. What do you look like? There is no contact between me and the people around me.” I got messages from many people saying, “I saw your piece and I like it. I feel lonely.”

So from that I did the second piece. I remember when a friend came with me and she took me for dinner she said you will want to do something here because it is very impersonal, comfy but in a way that is not intimate. When it opened

to the public, I did a lecture in the business room. It was also good to open the room to people to stay.

CS: In an essay by Sarah Wilson, she anticipates that the objects, furniture, and fashion in the Home Gallery installation (2001) will “set the scene of a blood-spattered crime” (Wilson 2001). I felt this when I went to the Home Gallery exhibition. Did you see this and the Great Eastern Hotel installations as staged crime scenes?[4]

FB: No. In the hotel, the gowns and slippers had blood on them and you could tell the difference between what was manufactured/staged and what was not. For the banner over the bed I used blood that wasn’t from performing. So then I did “marking.” I did it on the menu card and the information material. The bathroom did look a bit like a scene from Psycho though.

Personal things were wrapped in the cloth - I have to wear glasses when I read so I wrapped my glasses. I wrapped a bourgeois table and also a coffee pot and cups on a tray. Since the end of 2005, I’ve had an assistant to help me who helped with the installation.

CS: What responses did you have from the viewers to the work?

FB: The work makes people laugh. In the hotel I found a mouse, a plastic one, and I placed it in the corner of the room, people laughed. Someone corporate came to see it and he laughed.

CS: What about the people working there?

FB: The hotel manager told me all the staff were interested in what I was doing coming up and sneaking into the room and telling their friends from the kitchen staff to the manager’s son who kind of got everybody involved, you know. I would be in the room working and there would be three members of staff there. Some of the staff were busy with the laundering and cleaning the sheets. At first everybody wanted to see the work and in a way they were really curious, it got them talking and they became proud to be part of it. They would say to each other “it’s weird there’s blood everywhere” it made them smile. It kind of created a buzz—it made them smile about working there.

CS: There’s been a growth in boutique hotels in the last few years with themed rooms often done by designers and artists. Would you ever create a “themed” room for a hotel as a “designed” piece rather than a temporary installation?

FB: I was asked to do a room but no, not a themed room—it becomes a tourist attraction and I wouldn’t stay in the £150 per night hotel room myself but I would do an installation in the hotel room.

CS: There’s a striking contrast between the white cloth and the color of the dried blood in your wrapped objects and installations but can you tell me about the use of black in your more recent work—the black on black paintings?

FB: It's a different period, like the blue period. In a way it’s a way to talk about the period now. Black is a complex color - it touches on a mood of sobriety. The paintings will be exhibited in Milan in November (2006) - all black paintings. The exhibition is called The Black Period - it’s a pun on the history of art and refers to the wars in the last three years.

CS: Have you moved away from the body then with these paintings?

FB: Not away from the body, the body is in the painting. The body is a canvas, the canvas is the body-to paint it comes from the body. Eighteen years ago I couldn’t deal with painting on the canvas. A lot of my work is archaeological and carnal - if you come to my work in five years time or 2,000 years from now these things will remain as they are.

CS: Archaeological - do you mean preserved? Like the blood which is “frozen” on the cloth?

FB: Yes. My DNA is frozen on the cloth. It's not a fetishization of the objects which are wrapped in cloth - it’s more archival. I froze the i-Mac, they don’t make this one anymore, like the purple one. When I was looking for objects, I kept finding kids’ poo in pots things like that.

CS: Reference has often been made to your work in relation to Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject and Mary Douglas’ work Purity and Danger on leaking boundaries.[5] Have you let go of that?

FB: Not about letting go but in an organic sense moving on to something else, new work. lf you think about making work, you cannot deal in language. Once it leaves you it is no longer yours, it becomes collaborative in a way, it touches others, it is no longer yours. You get distracted by something else, which grips you and different things can happen. With language you check it - it’s not a route I want to go down. I’m interested in things that are much more politically motivated. Actually you change  it’s not what I am interested in actually. The work grows. Making art can be like growing up you know in public. I am in an interesting place, but generally I am dreaming about something and doing that for the work to feel that I am acquiring knowledge at the same time as making work. If I was making dead art then I would stop.

CS: Do you still perform your earlier work with cloth and blood?

FB: People ask me about pain - there is pain in my life. I think perhaps now feeling sadder about things when looking at the world. It is a sense of to depart, not about arriving. I feel I want to live all the time but I don't know why, it’s not about dying but leaving all the things behind. I don't want to escape, I’m interested in traveling but to be able to travel you have to be able to leave.

Nobody is offering me work that’s not about blood. Some people still ask me to perform and so they’re disappointed. They ask why I’m not doing it, because I can’t do it any more, I can’t open the tap any longer.

CS: Do you mean physically and emotionally or because of the direction of your work?

FB: Physically I can’t do it. What happened was I couldn’t do it anymore. I feel that with what is happening in the world at the moment, it’s a waste of blood. It's unnecessary. I don’t want people to become blasé about blood because they see an artist doing this. For me it’s more challenging not to bleed. Twenty years ago nobody wanted to see blood and now they want to see it.

I’m the “bleeding man.” When I’m asked if l might be contacted about doing some work, I want to be contactable to do something about nature, I want to be contacted about digging a hole.[6] Do you know what I mean? We’ve done blood, we’ve done the body. People have been working on the body for years.

We all bleed inside.

Caryn Simonson is Senior Lecturer and critical theory coordinator for BA[Hons]  Textile Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London, She is a member of the Textile Environment Design [TED] and Textile Futures research groups [TFRG] at the university, As an artist and curator, she has presented work across photography, video, sculpture, installation, and writing and is currently curating an exhibition of TFRG members' work in Second Life.

Textile, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp. 314-323


[1] Without doubt Franko B’s work does refer to pain, and he acknowledges this—this interview takes this as a “given.” Although the concept of “dress-ings,” on which I base the opening paragraphs. is inextricably linked to pain, this interview does not seek to revisit “pain” as a subject in itself but rather takes as its departure point the use of cloth in his work. For essays which explore the aspect of pain in Franko B’s work see: Wilson (2001) or Campbell and Spackman (1998).

[2] Franko B’s earlier works were called “Aktion.” Wilson (2001) likens these to the Viennese Actionists such as Hermann Nitsch who used his body as a site for action painting. Some of the “actionists” performed using their body as a site of transgression.

[3] “Mimitized” is Franko B’s own term which he used to describe how his objects and installation environments imitate each other—they are all covered in the similar blood-marked cloth.

[4] David Thorp (2006) describes the room as not being trivialized by “readings” of the crime scene but states that the scene in the room “accentuated the crossover between the illusion of stability that underpins bourgeois existence and the tragic condition of life” (www. Franko-b.com/texts.html).

[5] Both Douglas and Kristeva refer to the disruption of bodily boundaries and the leaking out of bodily fluids. Anthropologist, Mary Douglas, explored concepts of pollution and taboo and the conventions that surround these through rituals in societies that govern how order is maintained. She speaks of “matter out of place” as that which disturbs order (Douglas 1994[1966]: 41). For Julia Kristeva, objection is that which “... disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules” (Kristeva 1982: 4). See Kristeva (1982) and Douglas (1994[1966]) for fuller context of their work.

[6] Franko B’s newest performance work in collaboration with Australian lighting designer Kamal Ackarie has been touring since December 2007 and culminated in June 2008 at the ICA, London. In this work, Don’t Leave Me This Way, his naked body was shown as sculptural form for one-to-one or group viewings. As a performance it formally marked a move away from the “bleeding man” works he refers to in this interview.


Campbell, P. and Spackman, H. 1998. “With/OutAn—aesthetic—The Terrible Beauty of Franko B.” The Drama Review 42(4): 56-74.

Douglas, M. 1994[1966]. Purity and Danger. London: Routledge.

Kristeva, J. 1982. Powers ofHorror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: University of Columbia Press.

Thorp, D. 2006. “Franko B,” text. www.franko-b.com/texts.html, accessed April 2008.

Wilson, 5. 2001. “Haute Surveillance/Haute Couture.” In Franko B: Oh Lover Boy, catalog. London: Blackdog Publishing.

www.franko-b.com, accessed August 1, 2006—June 22, 2008.

Published in Textile Volume 6 Issue 3

[Berg] (2008)

© 2015 Franko B and the contributors