John Beagles and Graham Ramsay have worked together as a collaborative duo since 1996. Their work ranges from sculpture, photography and painting to video and performance. They often use aspects of self-portraiture to delve into a range of contemporary cultural, social and political anxieties, most notably political disenfranchisement, the culture of consumerism and the cult of celebrity.
They also owe a great deal to older traditions within art, specifically the counter tradition of the carnivalesque – a term used in literature to describe the use of humour and absurdity as a tactic to overturn conventional authority or everyday assumptions. Beagles & Ramsay used this approach to explore issues around consumerism in works such as Burgerheaven (2001) and Good Teeth (2009).
Historical artists, from the painters Brueghel, Tiepolo and Goya, to more acerbic satirists such as Daumier and Hogarth (as well as novelists such as Swift, Rabelais and Chaucer) have also exerted a profound influence. An influential aspect of these artists’ work has been their ability to combine their visual or literary aesthetic with political allegories and satirical content.
We Are The People – Suck on This (2000) is Beagles & Ramsay’s most explicit work on the subject of political disenfranchisement. It features Graham Ramsay in the Robert De Niro role of Travis Bickle from Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver. The video charts Ramsay’s walk through central London, and ends with him handing in a petition to Tony Blair, at 10 Downing Street. The petition reads ‘We Are The People – Suck on This’ and was signed only by the two artists.
The artists’ presence within their own work is not straightforward. They often use doppelgangers, such as puppets, disguises or assumed identities. These tactics allow them the freedom to explore aspects of contemporary culture, without the restrictions of a singular, authoritative voice. Ventriloquist Dummies Double Self-Portrait (2003) shows the artists as hapless dummies, reflecting their interest in the way we can easily be manipulated. The dummies appear again in the video New Meat (2004), where the sinister dialogue and fragmented soundtrack convey a deep sense of unease.