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Existential Yikes! Viktor Void puts ‘Freedom’ through the wringer

Viktor Void has just applied his kooky wit and graphic flair to a BUILDHOLLYWOOD takeover in Birmingham. In a live event the artist and illustrator hand painted a vivid, eye-catching work titled ‘Curated Freedom’.

At first glance it appears to be a sort of cartoon memento mori, a visual whistle stop tour reminding us of all the vices that’ll ensure we shuffle off this mortal coil sooner rather than later: booze (99.9% ABV… Eek!), fags, debt, drugs, screens, fast food, (un)happy pills and more.

Amidst the frenzy, in the centre of the work, there appears to be a tablet computer with a hand hovering over options to select a virtual experience (which, we are assured, ‘Feels Just Like The Real Thing’). Hiking, Drinking or Drawing, anyone? And then, whatever you feel about the potential excitement afforded by these activities there’s a disturbing proviso. The hand apparently poised to make the choice is, erm, compromised somewhat. The index finger is lopped off. It’s also been severed at the wrist. The radius bone is sticking out. Ouch, it looks nasty! Oh, and on the back of the hand there’s also an open mouth. It appears to be screaming.


Words by Adrian Burnham

So, we maybe begin to question human agency. ‘Curated Freedom’ appears to warn us against vices and activities that take up our time and curtail our freedom. It’s not wrong about smartphones… We all know we’re carrying a personal panopticon in our pockets. Perhaps it’s the glut of choices that’s the real problem. There’s just too much going on in our crazy consumer culture and dafty digital existence. We can never be free!

Brummies will make their own minds up about what’s occurring in Void’s anarchic street frieze. It is without doubt a lively addition to the city. And if what’s presented is a touch dark and mysterious the animated style of the work can’t help but bring a smile to passer-by’s lips. Sometimes talking to the artist can help unpack what motivates them and even the thorny topic of what their artwork might mean. Let’s find out…

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

It varies from day to day really; sometimes there is a sense of purpose and sometimes there is an impending sense of doom and death related anxiety, but they both reach a common conclusion: I need to leave a mark, create things that will last beyond my life and remain as testimony of my short existence on Earth.

What is your first memory of ‘getting lost’ in making visual art?

Wow, great question, I mean for me it was probably cartoons; getting sucked into the alternative universes they offered is amongst my first memories of visual art. Also I remember I had this big old hardback illustrated version of The Jungle Book over which I spent countless hours, staring at the drawings and copying them.

Who and/or what would you say has been significant influences on your work?

My aesthetic and work have at its roots a trio of influences and I will run through them in chronological order, from my childhood to my teenage years and then adulthood.

Cartoons at the base. From them I took the absurdity and humour I try to inject in most of my work. I am a 90s kid and Cartoon Network was my Bible, so the likes of John Kricfalusi and Genndy Tartakovsky have definitely shaped my taste.

Then on top of that there is graffiti and street art, I was influenced early on by writers like Taps & Moses, Curtis, Phiesta, The Love Letters Crew and so many more and from “street art” it was the usual suspects Arsek & Erase, Cleon Peterson, The Weird crew and Gent 48 just to name a few.

The last layer is graphic design and from there my most recent wave of inspiration is coming from people that are doing grungy, hand drawn stuff like David Carson, Lincoln Design Co., Hydro74, 123Klan and a bunch of other stuff that I spend way too much time looking at on social media haha.

Looking at your art it seems you employ various visual languages for different projects. How do you decide which style to use when making work?

This is a result of working as a graphic designer and hating to draw the same thing over and over again. I base the style on the brief if there is one and if not, I usually just go to my shaky brush outlines and loud colours. It also depends on what my influence is at that time or what phase I’m going through.

Maybe one day I’ll settle for one particular style, but for now I like to experiment as much as possible even though there seems to be a lot more success with people that have “their style”.

Tom Moore by Viktor Void
North Shore mural by Viktor Void

For your live billboard drawing project in collaboration with BUILDHOLLYWOOD you explore the theme of ‘Curated Freedom’, could you say a bit about why you chose this multi-faceted topic to explore in a public display?

I started from the key word that the Birmingham Design Festival set out for their brief this year: “freedom”. At the start of it I was quite intimidated as it seemed like such a broad concept and with so many meanings that I didn’t think I could make one image that has any relevance.

But then I asked what is freedom to me and how do I see it as a construct and at the end of it I reached the conclusion that there are 2 types of freedom:

Natural freedom: the one that animals have, eat whatever, sleep wherever, screw whoever, you get the idea.

Societal freedom: which is mainly directed by what the rules, regulations and social norms are at the time of your existence. You’re free to do whatever falls between these lines.

I am leaning a little bit more towards cynicism and the “Freedom is Slavery” slogan definitely resonates with me. I see freedom as a transaction, you exchange your absolute, natural freedom for the comfort and perks of society. That is mainly a good thing as we have healthcare systems, policing, protection of some of your rights and it’s the thing that pushed us so far as a species.

The downside of it is that you’re only as free as you’re allowed and with the development of rampant capitalism you get pushed and pulled by different stimuli and incentives that make your life choices a lot less “free”. You are free to choose whatever you want, as long as it’s on the “menu”.

The different elements of the mural are referencing the different tactics and mechanisms that we employ and are being passed to us branded as “freedom”.

Have you made live public drawings before? And what are your expectations regarding interacting with passers-by whilst making the work?

I have made live and public art before and I’m hoping that some of the passers-by will stop to look and have a chuckle when studying the different elements. At the end of the day my main focus is to inject humour in everything I do, as serious as it is, call it a coping mechanism if you will.

How do you see your practice developing in the future?

I’m hoping to become an established illustrator and put my work on all sorts of things, create way more large-scale murals and spend less time in front of the screen.

Now we know. Freedom, it seems, is not always as straightforward as we might think. Huge thanks to Viktor Void for sharing his thoughts and for making such a fun and intriguing work on the streets of Birmingham.


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