What is art?
Do you remember at school in a game of tag you could cross your fingers and declare "fainites" which was a sort of street injunction rendering you briefly immune to the normal rules of the game?
Perhaps art exists in such an interregnum.
Who's your greatest influence?
My parents. Then artists, writers, directors too numerous to mention. After a while, one's own work develops its own set of possibilities, its own momentum to generate ideas.
Tory MP Ed Vaizey says that modern art is right- wing. Do you agree?
Dalston, north London
I think the art boom was driven by Thatcher's children. Free enterprise is probably the way to describe the artist-led shows in Docklands at the start of the Nineties making a direct appeal to money over the heads of the audience.
Do you believe in God?
Which God would that be? There seem to be too many to choose from. I believe in James Joyce, who was a very Catholic non-believer.
How did it feel to walk around in a bear skin?
Very hot! As the performance unfolded over 10 nights it became more dignified than you might imagine. I hoped to build an audience of the curious by word of mouth and it was a strangely fulfilling experience. Sat alone in a huge Mies van der Rohe glass box in Berlin at 2am with no one around was to wonder at the places life takes you.
The Turner Prize used to be seen as something of a freak show. Are people starting to accept it more these days?
I would hope that there is a more engaged audience for contemporary art in general. But any competition in the arts is artificial because the contestants are working from different paradigms and maybe the prickly relationship the Turner Prize has with the media is in some way a response this.
Why should the Turner Prize go to you and not to Brian Haw since all you did was copy his demonstration?
I presume you are familiar with the original. Too many people dismiss Brian Haw who have never taken the trouble to see what he has to say.
Context is everything in art. If the Tate had not approached me for a work for the Duveen Galleries it would not have happened at all Brian's protest would have remained in a container somewhere in Hendon, and your question would not have arisen. I can't answer for the process that led to my nomination but I did give people eight months to take a proper look at what the Government is determined we should not see.
Are you friends with Brian Haw?
I am privileged to say I am. As I said in Liverpool, he is a remarkable man who sacrificed everything to make a stand against the folly and hubris of our government's foreign policy. As a result of his rectitude the Government framed the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, only to find it could not use a law retrospectively to get rid of him. This law cedes all power to the police to invent conditions on protest in a kilometre around Parliament Square.
How will you vote at the next general election?
Without much conviction, I am afraid. I voted Liberal Democrat for the first time at the last election as it was the only anti-war vote available. As a lifelong Labour supporter that made me a little queasy.
Do you think Gordon Brown is a good Prime Minister?
He sat in government over all the policies since 1997 so he was never going to be revolutionary. I think he has been too long in the wings. The lines are stale and empty. I have no idea what his vision for this country is but his wish for "British jobs for British people" doesn't square with membership of the EU and 42 days' detention without charge would be criminal. When we reach the point that Michael Howard can justifiably count himself more liberal than Labour's last four Home Secretaries then the degree to which the Labour Party has moved to the right is clear. There is the whiff of corruption and ineptitude which will be hard to shift.
And if I hear the words: "decent, hard-working families" one more time...
Why is William Blake so important to you? Should we be doing more to celebrate his 250th birthday?
Blake stands alone as an artist and poet. You are entering a new realm. This is not the feeling one has when looking at a Constable or his other contemporaries as painters. Nor is the poetry of a piece with the English romantic spirit that it helped conjure.
I love Shelley and Keats, but poetry itself and what it means to unite form, feeling and meaning is important to me. There is a great little book of sonnets edited by Don Paterson in which he says "we should never forget that of all artistic forms, only the poem can be carried around in the brain perfectly intact. The poem, in a sense, is no more nor less than a little machine for remembering itself; every device and trope, whether rhyme or metre, metaphor or anaphora, or any one of the thousand others, can be said to have a mnemonic function in addition to its structural or musical one."
What's your favourite work of art?
Velasquez's Las Meninas has long been my favourite and I urge people to read Foucault's essay in The Order of Things which eloquently explores the sophistication of its viewpoints, the shifting relationship between subject and object, observer and observed. I think one can trace a realist lineage from Velasquez to Manet to Warhol: the revelation of the real, deadpan and coldly beautiful.
Love or hate: which is more powerful?
I think tolerance is more powerful than both because it recognises that we have the capacity for both.
What was so special about Goldsmiths College of Art?
I attended the part-time MA course between 1983 and 1985, and taught there until 1992. I was introduced to ways of thinking and making that changed my practice forever. Jon Thompson [the dean of the school of art] recognised it was necessary to have practising artists teaching, whose work came from many different standpoints, even if he profoundly disagreed with them. Practice wasn't categorised as painting or sculpture, and group discussions were encouraged.
What do you think Britart has done for the life of the nation?
Do you remember the furore over the bricks or the outcry over the original proposal for the National Gallery extension? Twenty years ago who would have predicted Tate Modern would draw five million people a year? Looking back, I think that it was the acuity of visual awareness that developed in this country between consumers and advertisers which was bound to bear fruit in a decent generation of artists. Even now, travelling abroad the adverts and graphic language seem crude in comparison with the United Kingdom.
Do you take drugs, and does drug use help an artist?
I don't, so I can't answer you fully. Making art is a process of experiment and deduction and doesn't arrive like a genie out of the bottle.
How do you rate Damien Hirst?
His show at the ICA in 1991 was extraordinary. The works in Modern Medicine unforgettable as were the original butterfly pieces. He raised the game of every other artist in Britain.
Is Charles Saatchi a corrosive influence on the art world or is he too influential to slag him off?
The first half of your question presumes the answer to the second. It is accepted that the shows at Boundary Road in the Eighties of Warhol and other contemporary American artists were hugely influential. People have criticised the high turnover of artists and I have been bought and sold by Saatchi but he showed my work beautifully so who am I to complain? "The rich will always be with us," I remember him saying in an interview. But the same is true of artists, and it is much harder to make art than it is to buy it.Reuse content