Mark McGowan (performance artist)
McGowan in his taxi in Westminster, 22 June 2013
|Born||9 June 1964
Clapham, London,, England
|Education||B.A. Degree in Fine Arts, at Camberwell College of Arts|
|Known for||Performance art, video blogger, social commentator, political activist, installation art, shock art.|
|Notable work||This Is Not a Recession, It's a Robbery
The War Machine
Mark McGowan (born 9 June 1964) is a British street artist, performance artist and prominent public protester who has gone by the artist name Chunky Mark and more recently The Artist Taxi Driver. By profession, McGowan is a London taxi driver and occasional University speaker and arts tutor. McGowan is known internationally for his performance art including shock art, street art and installation art, and as a stuntman, internet personality, video blogger, social commentator, social critic, satirist, political activist, peace activist, and an anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-capitalist anti-monarchist and anti-power elite protester.
Under the artist name "Chunky Mark", McGowan entered the mainstream news in the early 2000s for his unconventional, satirical, sometimes comedic and/or ironic, and often absurd approach to public protest and demonstration. Chunky Mark conducted hundreds of performances in the UK and dozens around the world, stirring up some international attention, further debate on what "art really is", controversy; and both support and mockery alike from intellectuals, the art world, private corporations, the police, the military, the tabloids and the public. Often McGowan has not applied for police permission beforehand.
McGowan abandoned the Chunky Mark persona in late 2010 and fully adopted the "Artist Taxi Driver" persona for his web blog on YouTube, where he films himself alone in his taxi between fares, often wearing dark sunglasses, and in which he rants passionately and emotionally about the news and issues of the day. The Artist Taxi Driver's official YouTube channel (still under the "ChunkyMark" name) by 2013 had thousands of videos made by McGowan, with almost 30,000 subscribers, and his most popular video viewed 220,000 times.
- 1 Biography
- 2 "Chunky Mark"
- 2.1 McGowan's explanation of his performance art
- 2.2 UK protests, demonstrations and stunts
- 2.3 Cancelled protests
- 2.4 Controversy and legal challenges
- 2.4.1 Assaulted 2001
- 2.4.2 "Keying" hoax and vandalism accusations
- 2.4.3 Water wastage
- 2.4.4 Westminster protests
- 2.4.5 Row with soldiers
- 2.4.6 Swan eating
- 2.4.7 The Reenactment of The Conception of Prince William
- 2.4.8 Corgi eating
- 2.4.9 Support of Jade Goody
- 2.4.10 Reenactment of the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes
- 2.4.11 Scotland Yard protest
- 2.4.12 Support of Raoul Moat
- 2.5 International protest and demonstration
- 3 "Artist Taxi Driver"
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Born in 1964 to a working class background, at the Salvation Army Mother's Hospital in Clapham, McGowan grew up in Peckham, South London, on the North Peckham Estate where he still lives. He has made some claims about his past such as he was always good at football and running and ran for his school; he has also made claims of being involved in gang culture and football hooliganism for a while in his youth and has "known numerous London gangsters" yet walked away from the lifestyle. McGowan is now critical of football, citing it as a "distraction from the realities of being a slave". McGowan has claimed that he has spent around a decade as an expatriate in Spain, where his first job was at a beach bar that was frequently visited by Mick Jones of the punk rock band The Clash. McGowan has said that despite eating animals in a number of his protests, he is in fact a staunch vegetarian in his private life, which made the animal eating protests more difficult for him. McGowan has stated that he is married with a son and a daughter but has their only inclusion in his artistry work has been off-screen in some of his more light-hearted Artist Taxi Driver videos. His son has joined him on anti-austerity marches. McGowan is critical of the British royal family, is a Republican, and claims he has never voted since "all politicians are the same" and the developed world has become "kleptocratic" rather than democratic. His political views have been described as libertarian, and/or socialist, he opposes privatization and capitalism.
McGowan supported himself financially through higher education in a wide variety of different jobs; as a barman, milkman, cleaner, scaffolder, builder, and Hackney carriage driver around Inner London and the Square Mile, which he often refers to as the "City of Corruption". The latter of these professions, a taxicab driver, he now does full-time. McGowan became a self-employed taxi driver in late 2010 after an altercation with his former taxi firm boss of eight years.
Art, education and speaking
Before concentrating on solo performance art, stunts and protests, McGowan was affiliated with the Young British Artists, although not officially a member of the YBAs. McGowan was heavily involved with The Children of !WOWOW! movement of visual, performance and musical artists which had a strong presence in his native Peckham and was controversial for its affiliation with rave culture. In 2003, !WOWOW! organized warehouse parties in Peckham which had thousands of attendees including Lauren Bush, the former US President's niece, who was accompanied by two bodyguards.
McGowan did menial work but still painted for a decade before entering the art world. One of McGowan's earliest works was at the London Art Biennale in 1998, a "do-it-yourself" free arts festival organized by Filipino performance artist David Medalla. In 2003, at age 33, McGowan earned a B.A. degree in Fine Art from Camberwell College of Arts, where he still occasionally lectures as a second year elective performance art tutor. McGowan also occasionally lectures to MA students at Chelsea College of Art where he is an associate, and he also occasionally speaks at Goldsmiths University of London, a public research university. McGowan has a second degree in the History of Art from the latter institution. In the past McGowan has worked with the Scottish Arts Council, the University of Central England in Birmingham, and spoken on the issues of public art and how it can relate to protest at the Royal Academy of Arts.
From 2001 to 2009, McGowan made dozens of unconventional street art protests and notable stunts under his "Chunky Mark" stage name to garner public attention to matters he cared about, or to raise attention to issues he believed were not in the wider public knowledge. They promote or bring attention to, through unconventional means, community awareness and personal responsibility. In his native country, McGowan as "Chunk Mark" performed hundreds of pieces of performance art, stunts and protests from 2001 to 2009. According to arts magazine My Village London, "His witty and sometimes bizarre performance work has attracted wide media attention, and he has been featured in nationwide tabloids, Art Monthly, has been covered by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4." Daniel Scagnelli of Arts London said: "McGowan could arguably be called one of the most controversial performance artists in the country and has added depth to his university’s alumni list.
McGowan's explanation of his performance art
When asked if he considered himself an "attention seeker" by My London of BBC News in 2003, McGowan explained his reasoning and motives behind his performance art and demonstration:
"I grew up on the infamous North Peckham Estate in south London... I turned to performance art because I found it a much more accessible medium to deliver what I was trying to express... The way to engage [poorer people in London] in art is to bring it into the street, which is what I'm doing - not by putting it in the White Cube or the National Gallery. Most people from Peckham are not going to go there - there's no-one walking around the National Gallery or the White Cube with a string vest on."
Explaining the transition from fine art to performance art to Arts London in 2009, McGowan said:
"The former is not enough for what I am trying to do; that is to comment on society. I feel that the 2D image of a painting is limited, whereas today performance art can widely communicate its message to the public. My art is all about the narrative. People will watch me do my stunt and it can be sh*t, but it’s the narrative before the performance, the act itself, the aftermath and the interpretation that people are left with. That is performance art, the collective narrative and not simply the unusual act which catches people’s eye originally... I say to my students: be risky. More students are doing art than ever before and that is a good thing. Everyone should do art. Art chills you out. The more chilled out people in the world, the better the world would be. People get hung up on watching trash like X Factor which is destroying their brains."
UK protests, demonstrations and stunts
- 2001 Dunce - McGowan stood in the corner of the Centenary Gallery with a dunce hat on for eight hours to protest against what he believed to be the stifling of originality and creativity in the modern art world.
- 2001 Glasgow, Scotland - Bribes in Glasgow City Council 2001 was a performance art protest against political corruption in Scotland, McGowan dressed as a snake and stood outside Glasgow City Chambers. Labour politicians there had been exposed bribing and even threatening their colleagues to vote for public sector cuts. McGowan repeated the demonstration in 2009 in which he offered brown envelopes marked "bribes" and bottles of Teachers Highland Cream Whiskey to anybody coming in or out; a bottle and an envelope were accepted gratefully by one politician who didn't notice the word "bribe". Some locals gathered around the video recording of Bribes in Glasgow City Council 2009 to tell their own experiences of corruption within the City Chambers.
- 2002 Freight 2002 - McGowan packed as many foreigners as he could into the House Gallery in London. It was a piece criticizing negative attitudes towards immigration, but at the same time was also a critical comment on multiculturalism.
- 2002 Begging - McGowan pretended to be a beggar outside the Centenary Gallery in London, to test people's reactions to the destitute.
- 2002 Beat The Queen 2002 - At the Camberwell College of Art, London, McGowan dressed up as Queen Elizabeth II on her birthday and invited the public to bash him in her face.
- 2002 Roll Over - At Christmas 2002, McGowan rolled along the pavement from the Elephant and Castle to Gallery 1,000,000 mph in Bethnal Green Road, a distance of four and a half miles, wearing yellow rubber marigold cleaning gloves and singing We Wish You A Merry Christmas. He did this in an attempt to "get people to be kind and polite to cleaners for Christmas." The concept of the performance is based on Mr McGowan's experience when he was part-time cleaning and in one particular office that he cleaned he said that he never received a "kind comment or a thank you". McGowan explained: "I never missed a day's cleaning, but even at Christmas there was no 'have a happy Christmas' written in the comment book. This performance is in response to the feelings of resentment I have towards the people of that office whose only thoughts were to criticize my cleaning." As of the stunt itself, McGowan suffered severe bruising, saying "I perform better if I do not practice beforehand." He later said: "It was definitely worth it and I'm feeling emotional - it's been unbelievable. Lots of artists have been called mad in the past, I'm just going join a long line of them." He also told the BBC that the inspiration for rolling came from an Indian man who rolled 2,400 miles across India and became known as the "Rolling Saint."
- 2003 Poor Little Lamb 2003 - Starting at Bloomberg Art Gallery, Manchester, McGowan circumnavigated the city on 1 July 2003, spending several hours pushing a dead sheep around in a pram. It was a piece about proposals to cut child benefits.
- 2003 Monkey Nuts 2003 - In a protest against student debt, McGowan pushed a monkey nut along the road for several miles using only his nose to move the nut, starting at Goldsmiths College in South London and ending at Number 10 Downing Street. It took him twelve days to complete his challenge, with him covering about three-quarters of a mile every day. Upon reaching 10 Downing Street, he gave in the nut to Downing street staff, who congratulated him and offered him a cup of tea, and the police security applauded. McGowan also described his journey, saying: "The streets were dirty. There was hair and spit and bird poo. There were unmentionable things." McGowan had to apply for police permission to go up the door of 10 Downing Street. Mark admitted the nut he gave in at the end was not his original - he wore out eleven others and one was stamped on by yobs. Talking to The Sun newspaper, McGowan said: "David Blaine sitting in a plastic box is boring, what I do is much better. It was hard and lonely work... A lot of people treated me shamefully and I felt like giving up. I felt a bit like a dog down there on the pavement, on my hands and knees with people laughing and jeering. But I expect Tony Blair will have to declare the nut as a gift. It's probably worth more than my £15,000 student fees debt as a piece of contemporary art."
- 2003 Rocket 2003 - McGowan famously catapulted Aida Lipscombe, 71, wearing a beaded miniskirt, in a foil-covered home-made "space caspule rocket" up a ramp from launch pad, through some thin wood to create a "crashing" effect and into a water-filled container outside Camberwell College of Arts, central London. The stunt was intended, according to McGowan, to raise attention to the plight of the pensioners who McGowan believed were being increasingly abandoned by the government, and also to highlight the attitude of the young towards the elderly. He told BBC News Online: "A lot of my stuff is about the community, this one is about raising awareness of the elderly. I saw this old man being pushed over in the road and couldn't believe it, this young guy knocked him down because he was in his way... I want people to acknowledge we have as much rights as them." When planning the stunt, McGowan had received over 70 letters from pensioners expressing interest in the project and whittled down the hopefuls to seven, but decided to contact Age Concern and found out about a group of pensioners and youngsters who meet fortnightly at the Peckham Pulse Center, his own local community center. Through the Peckham community center, McGowan was introduced to Mrs Lipscombe, and it was her baseball cap and hair beads caught his eye. Just before doing the stunt, Aida told BBC News: "I'm not nervous or anything - I've done much worse things in my life." She completed the stunt without any harm, as did an Asian elderly lady who "wanted to meet an alien", and the video of it is on McGowan's YouTube channel.
- 2003 "Lying Down 2003" for Channel 4 Television, London.
- 2003 Welcome Doormat 2003 - McGowan used himself as the doormat for the Trade Apartment Gallery in October 2003. It was a protest about "how 'stale' the art world has become" and how "up-and-coming artists and thinkers outside the box are used as doormats." McGowan said to people entering as they walked over him: "We’ve noticed that the gallery is becoming quite dirty, can you please wipe your feet?"
- 2003 Chips and Beans - McGowan "turned himself into a full English breakfast to celebrate English culture and food" for this stunt. For this stunt, McGowan sat in a bathtub for twelve days which had been set up in the shop window of the London House Gallery. The bathtub was filled with baked beans and tomato sauce, and McGowan sat in it with two chips up his nose and 7 lb sausages wrapped around his head. Explaining the stunt to BBC News, McGowan said that the stunt came about after being visited by an Italian friend who criticized the English diet and McGowan felt he had to do something to defend it. According to the gallery manager, Sarah McIntyre, "He got so cold that his system went all funny and he was weeing in the water. The place stank."
- 2004 Big Toe Bus Pull - On 18 August 2004 in Camberwell, London, McGowan dragged a 7.5 tonne RouteMaster bus 30 meters with his big toe, making several attempts before completing the task. The bus had a driver but only for health and safety reasons. Speaking to BBC News, McGowan explained: "This project was a protest against the excessive use of bus lanes and against mayor of London Ken Livingstone's ridiculous traffic strategy. It is stupid that our all ready narrow roads are being carved up, causing endless road nightmares for car drivers."
- 2004 Autumn Leaves Protest 2004 - At Yesvember House on 6 November McGowan nailed his toe to the gallery wall, protesting against leaves. Explaining the stunt, McGowan told Artshole: "I will remain with the nails in my feet for eight hours. This performance is a protest against leaves. At this time of year I am sure there are those of you who love the autumnal colors of the fallen leaves. But for some of us they are a living nightmare... Hopefully this nail driving foot protest will be recognized by the Environment Department and all deciduous trees will be banned." The nails caused significant bleeding to McGowan's feet, who was visibly in pain. After the stunt, McGowan said "It didn’t hurt that much, I just nipped at the webbing. I didn’t hit the bone."
- 2004 Artist Eats Fox 2004 - In public at Trinity Buoy Wharf, McGowan roasted and ate a dead fox whole, in protest at "the public's fixation with a government ban on fox hunting and society's misplaced priorities." 
- 2005 On The Road To A Miracle 2005 - McGowan followed around an anonymous volunteer for seven miles from Camberwell to London’s Maudsley Hospital, taking a slow journey over a period of ten days. The volunteer was also a drug addict who had been denied medical help. The drug addict did this in the foetal position and only took a step after taking a kick from McGowan's Doc Martens. McGowan said he did this to symbolize what society had done to this individual who was deserving of help, and to arouse public empathy for the issue. McGowan had arranged for a doctor to offer his addict a consultation. After the stunt garnered significant local attention, the drug addict was finally allowed the medical help he sought.
- 2005 Brighton Rocks 2005 - In protest of what he believed to be diminishing coastlines (and specifically gardening programs suggesting people take large builder's sacks of beach stones home) McGowan attempted to cartwheel sixty miles from Brighton Pier to Margaret Beckett’s office (the then-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Nobel House, Smith Square, London SW1. He attempted this with two 12lb (5kg) rocks tied around each ankle and eighteen sticks of pink Brighton candy rock sellotaped across the front of his face. McGowan sustained a back injury early on but continued, finally collapsing after four days and went to consult a chiropractor. The stunt brought attention to the issue and afterwards local authorities said they may be looking at prosecuting anybody taking away large quantities of beach stones.
- 2005 Canterbury Tale 2005 - McGowan crawled on his hands and knees for 60 miles, starting out at London Bridge on 26 December 2005, and finishing at Canterbury Cathedral on 6 January 2006. He did this with a rose clenched between his teeth, 18 boxes of chocolates tied around him and ankles and a triangular sign on his back saying "Could You Love Me?". The stunt was intended to make people consider those who are on their own at Christmas, and especially to the loneliness felt by many elderly. McGowan was greeted by Canon Ron Diss outside the Cathedral and was amazed to be allowed to crawl inside. The stunt was also covered by Al Jazeera, who McGowan told: "Last Christmas I had two fish fingers, I was on my own. This Christmas I didn't want to be on my own, I wanted to do something about it. I was fighting crowds of cynics, exposure to the elements, and extreme fatigue. Crawling through both city and countryside was an emotional and physical battle. There have been lots of times when I wondered why I was doing it. New Year's Day was the worst day. It was quite tearful."
- 2006 Road Rage 2006 - For this piece in March 2006, Chunky Mark dressed as a traffic warden and allowed members of the public in Bethnal Green, East End of London, to attack him with items he himself provided, such as rubber piping, for 8 hours. It was intended to have a "therapeutic value for angry motorists."  Pictures of McGowan as the parking attendant being beaten made it onto the BBC piece In pictures: 50 years of the traffic wardens.
- 2006 The Mouse That Roared - at Project 133, Peckham, on 20 April 2005, McGowan attempted to beat the world record for eating baked beans. It was a piece about third world hunger.
- 2006 Reuse before Recycling - McGowan was the artist-in-residence at the 2006 Knebworth Salvo Fair, the world's largest exhibition of architectural and antique salvage. Reuse Before Recycling was a performance intended to raise awareness of the dangers of over-recycling and the benefits of reusing. Starting at the Gherkin in Central London at 10am on Friday 16 June, McGowan rolled head over heels, carrying an old hinged door, four reclaimed house bricks, and protected by sponges. McGowan chose the Gherkin because it was the site of the old Baltic Exchange which was demolished and its materials not reused. The continuous somersaulting took McGowan over two weeks to reach his destination at Knebworth over 40 miles away. The publicity included TV especially Richard and Judy, radio, newspapers and magazines. Coincidentally this campaign succeeded when the EU produced its waste framework directive spearheaded by Tory MEP Caroline Jackson which enfranchised in law reuse over recycling; this is now part of UK law in the 2011 Waste Regulations.
- 2008 Stabbed to Death 2008 - McGowan portrayed a corpse with a knife protruding out of him around central London, explaining it was a piece about knife crime.
- 2008 Sandman 2008 - As part of the Margate Rocks art and environment festival on the Kent coastline in May 2008, McGowan conceived of this stunt to encourage people to take more British seaside holidays rather than going abroad. McGowan intended to stay buried up to the neck in sand on the beach for two days, but only managed 30 hours.
- 2009 Mad Susan Boyle was a critical comment on celebrity culture, reality television and Simon Cowell; after the alleged mental breakdown of singer Susan Boyle due to the pressures of fame towards the end of Britain's Got Talent Boyle was admitted to The Priory the day after the show ended. Mad Susan Boyle was performed live on London's Resonance FM with Simon Ould and the press in the studio; McGowan wore a straitjacket and a box over his head with a picture of Mrs Boyle, and acted erratically.
- 2009 Burn Gordon Brown 2009 - McGowan burned an effigy of Gordon Brown outside the Guy Hilton Gallery, London. It was a protest against the then-Prime Minister's staying on in his position after the Parliamentary expenses scandal and also Brown's poor handling of the economic recession.
- 2010 Sorry Performance 2010 - For this performance on 21 February 2010, Chunky Mark crawled on his hands and knees with a cardboard sign which read "SORRY" through the streets of Royal Wootton Bassett. It is a town known for its military funeral repatriations of British soldiers killed in action, often organized by The Royal British Legion. Sorry Performance 2010 caused some attention among the townspeople but avoided any significant controversy since the streets were mostly empty of officials at the time. He said: "This performance/art event is an attempt to say sorry for all the civilians that have been and that are being killed due to this country’s foreign policy."
- 2010 The Impossibility of Art in the Mind of a Fucking Moron - This was a protest against the UK Coalition Government from April through May 2010 in which McGowan put up a large photograph of David Cameron outside 10 Downing Street during the 2010 UK election, and prostrated himself in front of it 10,000 times.
- 2011 24 Hour Olympic Statue - Hackney Wick Gallery, London, a critique of the 2012 London Olympics.
Where's Daddy's Pig?
In April 2013 McGowan launched a new piece of performance art protest entitled Where's Daddy's Pig in which he would give a letter written by him and his two children to David Cameron. On 24 April 2013 he pushed a "daddy Cameron pig" oinking pig toy on wheels along the pavement with his nose from Kings College Hospital (where his cancer had been diagnosed) to 10 Downing Street and the Bank of England.
He launched a "2nd leg" of the Where's Daddy's Pig? protests, in which he would take his protest to the city bankers. McGowan announced that he would push his pig toy with his nose on his hands and knees from 10 Downing Street to the Bank of England against greed and the "controlled demolition" of the economy, with a letter addressed to Governor. McGowan did this on 22 May, starting at 8am at 10 Downing Street with a crowd of supporters
Cancelled sailing project
In late 2003 McGowan announced to The Independent that he intended to "sail" a shopping cart 400 miles from Peckham in London to Glasgow in Scotland as part of a performance titled Ocean Wave Part 1 and Ocean Wave Part 2, using his feet as a rudder and an artists brush as an oar. McGowan intended to apologize to the people there for the hanging of William Wallace in the 14th century and collected numerous gifts from people along the way for that purpose. The stunt was however cancelled after 17 days and 65 miles by bad weather and never resumed.
Feud with Tate Galleries and "Artist Drowns Kittens"
In 2005 Tate began a feud with McGowan, saying that his lack of seriousness deflates the art world's sense of importance and significance of their activity, although McGowan had previously criticized the institution calling it 'stale'. McGowan responded by threatening to perform something he titled Artist Drown Kittens 2005 at the Tate Modern. He said: "The group Foreign Investments and myself are really angry about the current Joseph Bueys exhibition, where the Tate Modern has decided to take upon itself to sell key fobs with little bits of felt inside, small blackboards with chalk, jigsaw puzzles and biscuit tins making a mockery of the artist's work. We feel really bad about the kittens, but it's the Tate Gallery's fault, blame them." Artist Drowns Kittens 2005 remained merely a threat to Tate however and after Tate retracted their statements about McGowan and offered an apology McGowan never actually went through with the event.
Exhaust fumes protest
In 2005, McGowan was named irresponsible in a BBC article for planning to leave the engine of his Audi running continuously for a year in an art protest he would call The Unnecessary Journey 2005. It was intended to be a protest for cleaner air and to make people think about leaving their exhaust fumes running.
Halted effigy burnings
During his 2006-2008 tenure as the United Kingdom's Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, MP Liam Byrne suffered some controversy regarding his policies and soon after came under fire by Mark McGowan. In 2007 Byrne was widely criticized by London's cab drivers for his remarks that they were "low-skilled". This ignored the fact that the cabbies study the details of London's streets for an average of eighteen months before becoming licensed.
In March 2007, McGowan announced that as his part of The Event in Birmingham City Center (an open arts fair supported by Birmingham City Council, The National Lottery, Arts Council England, UCE Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, and the European Regional Development Fund) that he would burn an effigy of Liam Byrne, who was also the local MP for Hodge Hill, Birmingham. McGowan claimed this was in response to Byrne's decision to deport a group of asylum seekers to areas of the world which were dangerous for them to be sent because the regions in question were still in conflict, and those who are deported may face execution or torture. McGowan explained the concept of effigy burning to the Birmingham Post: "There's something English and pagan about it, and it's an interesting way of making a protest. We burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes every year." The Birmingham Post also noted that Birmingham City Council would not approve permission for "any protest of this nature." McGowan had also announced his intention to burn an effigy of MP Margaret Hodge in response to some of Mrs Hodge's prior comments on the same issues as Liam Byrne.
The attempted effigy burning on 31 March was attended by Tendayi Goneso, a 34-year-old activist for the opposition in Zimbabwe, whose wife had been murdered and he had fled to the UK under threat of torture. Under Liam Byrne's policies, Goneso was threatened with deportation back to Zimbabwe, was declared unable to work in the UK or receive benefits. McGowan said: "Tendayi Goneso has came along to the event; I have never met a more beautiful, passive, quietly-spoken man in my life. What is happening to Tendayi is so incredibly tragic, it makes me so sad. I believe right now dozens of Darfuris are being rounded up for deportation, with about 60 asked to report to immigration officials within the next 10 days." Police and fire authorities halted the Liam Byrne effigy burning; the effigy was confiscated in a tussle by a Birmingham City Council official. McGowan, Goneso and self-styled "comedy terrorist" Aaron Barschak were dragged off stage by security guards.
Artist Sets Fire To Himself was a protest stunt against the Iraq War, McGowan planned to set himself on fire in Parliament Square at 6pm on Guy Fawkes Night, 2007. Andy Hunt, curator at the Chelsea Space, which is part of Chelsea College of Art: "We have just commissioned the documentation of the event and have worries about the health and safety aspect of the performance, but Mark assures us that everything will be OK." McGowan said: "Millions of Iraqi children have died so that stunt requires a little more than usual. It's all a little bit dangerous, and I am scared, but i have been training with a stuntman for several weeks now and everything should be OK. I have my flammable suit and lots of unleaded petrol." As he doused himself in petrol and prepared to light himself on fire with a sparkler under Big Ben, a police officer intervened and stopped McGowan, noting that he not asked for permission or authorization to do the stunt.
Cancelled Irish protest
In February 2008, the Irish Independent reported that McGowan planned to drag 300 kg of potatoes through the streets of Dublin while dressed as Bertie Ahern; his aim was to symbolize the burden being carried by the Taoiseach. The protest was banned on the grounds that it would be "too politically sensitive."
Controversy and legal challenges
McGowan dressed as an officer of the Metropolitan Police in the window to Clapham Art Gallery on 7 October 2001 and invited members of the public to come in and beat him with his truncheon, as a piece of performance art entitled Assaulted 2001. The gallery said: "No resistance will be shown; no arrests will be made. This is an excellent opportunity for members of the public to vent their frustration, anger and resentment towards the police without fear of retribution. So if you have had an injustice done to you or if you just feel like giving a policeman a good hiding come along. No beating to take longer than five minutes. Booking is available and group beatings may be considered." McGowan said: "It’s because the police are the long arm of the law. The police commissioner said I needed my head seeing too, which I thought was really good. It would be really good if they decided to ban it. So what next? Maybe something about domestic violence, or some racially charged performance. Perhaps I’ll get a whole lot of Albanians and give them £2 and squash them all into art gallery and call it Freight Removal."  At one point they got carried away, and McGowan was chased from the gallery through local streets by a frenzied mob with sticks. "Point made", was all he had to say afterwards. The Daily Mail reported that the performance had aroused the wrath of Lord Harris of Haringey, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority.
"Keying" hoax and vandalism accusations
There was media outrage in April 2005 as images of McGowan emerged, in some of which dressed as a priest, allegedly 'keying' cars, a practice involving the scratching of cars using a key and possible criminal damage. McGowan claimed the allegations to be true in a television interview, admitted to vandalizing dozens of cars in Scotland and London for months, and stated that his actions had become "compulsive-obsessive" and that "I [McGowan] suppose it's like a social experiment testing why people do it." Artist Keys Cars 2004 was allegedly McGowan's part of a Scottish performance art festival and explained as such to online contemporary art resource AxisWeb:
"I commission myself, I do many works on my own without other people asking me to do them. I always think, is it what the public want or what do the public want. I remember hanging out of a tree, one of the really early things I did, and I said to this woman, 'oh look I'm a flying daddy', and she said to me really aggressively, 'You're a flying fucking idiot'. And I knew really early on that you can't really approach the public unless they approach you first. But it didn't stop me just going straight on and just doing things. I was invited to take part in Glasgow International, a big, prestigious event, that included Santiago Sierra, Barbara Kruger, all big shows. I was in a really little show in the arches; I felt it was a commission. So I went to Glasgow and I keyed forty-seven cars. I just did my own publicity. So Glasgow International marketing department, the first they heard about it was when I was on the news saying I've scratched forty-seven cars for the Glasgow International show. And they called me and they were freaking out saying, 'you just can't do that'. I said 'well I'm part of the show', they said 'no you're not, you never have been'. I then said but 'my name's on your website'. I got picked up by the police; I got loads of people accusing me of keying their cars. It was actually borne out of, my dad bought his very first brand new car, he'd never had a brand new car before and it got keyed within six months. I felt really bad about the whole process of car keying and I did a little bit of investigation and I found out it was a pandemic. So I'd got that power, like you were talking about and I had that power to say I'm an artist and I've just keyed forty-seven cars and its art. But it came across with such a strong message about the pandemic of car keying and I don't think it's ever been written about or talked about in such a way before."
McGowan told the BBC: "I keyed 17 cars in Glasgow's West End in March and 30 in Camberwell, south London. I do feel guilty about keying people's cars but if I don't do it, someone else will. They should feel glad that they've been involved in the creative process. I pick the cars randomly. I got the idea when my sister and brother-in-law's cars were keyed. Is it jealousy that causes someone to key a car? Hatred? Revenge? There is a strong creative element in the keying of a car, it's an emotive engagement." There was widespread condemnation of the stunt. Michelle Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Arts Council, said: "Mr McGowan is more likely to get a visit from Strathclyde's finest than any funding from us." Strathclyde Police said: "We are aware of Mr McGowan." A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Clearly this would be criminal damage and if we receive any allegations we will take them very seriously and investigate."
McGowan then soon admitted to BBC News that the whole keying escapade had been a hoax; there were only two cars, one belonged to a barmaid friend of his from Camberwell and the other belonged to his brother-in-law. McGowan reiterated that he had never scratched any cars, he just said he did and had photographs of himself taken next to already scratched cars. McGowan told BBC News: "I never keyed any cars... the whole thing has just been a nightmare. All I wanted to do was highlight the plight of people who have had their cars scratched, which has somehow spiraled out of control. My family and friends have shunned me and someone rang into a radio show and said they wanted to rip my head off. But at least I've shown people do care about car crime."
McGowan was in the news in July 2005 for his installation The Running Tap, a stunt whereby he left the water running in the backroom kitchen of House Gallery in Camberwell. This was done to raise attention to the issue of water leakage and water wastage. When it began to receive publicity and controversy, McGowan told BBC News: "We are all culpable, we all waste water and that includes Thames Water [London's privatized water company who at the time were considering a hosepipe ban for the public at a time prolonged drought in southern England, whilst simultaneously being accused of massive water wastage], The company itself wasted millions of liters of water through leaks. Mine's art." McGowan said: "Basically it's an art piece for people to come and look at and enjoy aesthetically, it is also a comment on a social and environment issue." His installation used 9,200 imperial gallons (42,000 L) of water a day, and if left on for a full year as he intended, would have wasted 3.9 million imperial gallons (18,000 m3) of water and cost £11,400. It was turned off several times by protesters of the protest.
McGowan had some surprising support. Sarah McIntyre, part of the collective that runs the House Gallery, said: "I was a bit nervous at first because I'm against wasting water, but I think it's a good cause. The amount wasted can be justified because of the awareness raised," she says, adding that visitor numbers have doubled in the past week, from a trickle to a small stream. Plus it's a damn sight better than the other time McGowan conducted an in-house action, sitting in a bath of cold baked beans for a fortnight to celebrate the great English breakfast after a foreign friend criticized our national fare. He got so cold that his system went all funny and he was weeing in the water. The place stank" said McIntyre. At one point, a US computer analyst was told he can buy the "artwork" for £1,500 - despite the fact McGowan had used the gallery's own sink and taps. McGowan received a cease and desist order from Thames Water with threats of legal action on 29 July 2005, McGowan told the BBC: "I have inspired the public to save more than 800,000 liters by making them aware of water shortages. I will just turn it off - maybe have a drink afterwards."
In March 2006, McGowan announced his plan to try again and to leave six taps running for a year at undisclosed locations around London, saying that it was a continuing protest against private control of water in the UK. A Thames Water spokesman said: "For the sake of the environment we call on Mr McGowan to abandon this childish game now." McGowan later dropped The Running Tap for good.
In December 2005, Maya Evans was convicted under Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act for reading out the names of soldiers who died in Iraq at the Cenotaph War Memorial. This stated that demonstrators must get police consent before protesting within a half-mile radius of the House of Commons. The new legislation were intended to remove Brian Haw, an anti-war protester who had camped in Parliament Square for ten years and had fought numerous legal battles including one in the High Court where he argued that his encampment was started before the legislation.
Mark McGowan attacked these decisions and the new laws: "It wasn't very democratic and it wasn't right. I've seen Brian Haw's protest and it's true what they say, it is quite unsightly. But he has a right to be there and we have a right to have our voices heard." In protest, McGowan walked backwards around Westminster and Parliament saying aloud the "this is not a protest" slogan written on his T-shirt; he was cautioned but not arrested. Speaking to BBC News, McGowan said: "The fact that I did not get arrested shows that it is really stupid law, because I was protesting. This law should not be allowed, it is everyone's democratic and constitutional right. It's the only area worthy of protesting in because that is where laws are passed. If you lose the right to protest, something's really wrong. The protest was a success."
Later McGowan smeared himself with peanut butter and rode a tricycle around Parliament Square for a whole day. The message was to highlight hunger issues in the third world. Drawing inspiration from his surroundings, McGowan explains that: "An artist’s role is to be a witness to their time. With the role of the internet, video and all the various mediums, we can make work about our times and be true to it."
Row with soldiers
McGowan's week-long performance in November 2006, funded with £4,000, entitled Dead Soldier 2006 was in conjunction with a retrospective of his work at University of Central England, in Birmingham. The money had come from the university and the Arts Council. It was intended to raise questions about the horrific nature of conflict whilst at the same time McGowan was supposed to do a piece which was neither anti-war or pro-military. Widespread criticism appeared in the tabloids when it emerged McGowan intended to lay down on the floor for a week in Birmingham's busy New Street, a pedestrianized area, to impersonate a dead British soldier. McGowan told AxisWeb: "I think the idea of doing sensitive things, you know, other commissioners wouldn't touch it, not in a million years, they're not going to let you. They just wouldn't let you do it because it would affect them, wouldn't it? It'd be too strong."
University of Central England Curator Andrew Hunt, who commissioned the work, defended it, saying: "I think it is worth spending public money to prompt people to think about these issues. It's very good value for money for a month-long exhibition and the new performance and we'll get a lot of visitors both locally and nationally." McGowan said to BBC News: "It's a comment on things that are happening in the world at the moment. It's not anti-war or pro-military but my response to things that are happening as an artist. It's about the reality of the soldier, we see an image of them on TV but the reality is that it's horrific sometimes. Hopefully the performance will make people think, they'll come in and out of offices and shops and I'll still be there."
McGowan did so for one day, on 14 November during which he was criticized in a national newspaper for being a "disgrace" in light of British deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite receiving no complaints from the public at the time of the protest, West Midlands Police decided to ask McGowan to move along for his own safety on the second day. He was defiant and returned until the 20 November. Talking to BBC News, McGowan explained: "The role of a soldier in war is to be used as a weapon and my role as the artist is being a witness to our time. What am I supposed to paint, pictures about nice things? Well, things right now are not very nice." Dead Soldier 2006 generated large crowds of onlookers and press.
Soon after McGowan said: "I’ve been reading various army blogs after Dead Soldier hit the press – they all say they want to Taser me. Then some old soldiers got through to me on the phone. They were really angry and upset, I didn’t know what to say. I don’t respond to nature; I can’t go out to a field and do an oil painting." Chunky Mark followed up Dead Soldier with Withered Arm For Peace 2006 during Christmas 2006. For this stunt McGowan got himself tied to a lamp post with his hands above his head (one of which was held up for the entire duration) for two weeks, and during which time he was attacked by refuse collectors. McGowan said: "It’s a protest act, to ask for peace throughout the world for Christmas; I just want the world to stop fighting."
Artist Eats Swan 2007 was a protest against royalty, the rich and the upper classes in which Chunky Mark ate a cooked swan he claimed he had found dead on a West Country farm, outside the Guy Hilton Gallery in East London as part of the galleries' January 2007 "So Sad" exhibition which also included such art luminaries as Will Self. Speaking to The Times, which noted that prosecution was a possible outcome of the stunt, McGowan said: "I read that the Queen is the only person who's allowed to eat a swan - it's outrageous. Mum will freak out if I get arrested, but then again, I could be a martyr for the working class. Let's see what happens." The rest of the 'swan' was offered to the audience, they could have some marmalade with it too. The protest featured on Channel 4 News during which it was revealed police were investigating McGowan as eating a swan is a privilege only legally available to the Queen. McGowan received death threats from animal rights activists, although no legal action was pursued against him in the end.
The Reenactment of The Conception of Prince William
The Reenactment of The Conception of Prince William 2007 was performed by McGowan and volunteers at Brick Lane Gallery, East London on 28 April 2007. The entire walls of the venue were painted with murals of Buckingham Palace, royal insignia, the Union Jack and the National Anthem was played. The matrimonial bed was re-constructed and placed in the center of the gallery with visitors and guests surrounding it. During the one hour ticketed event/performance two actors, one with a Prince Charles mask on and the other with a Princess Diana mask (reportedly McGowan and his wife) re-enacted the conception of Prince William and included "what might have been said" and "how the conception would have taken place", the performance will also be "x-rated as it will have adult material". McGowan said, "This is an historical piece, it is a moment in our history few people ever thought they would or could see. It is at times like this that art shows its true power by making things appear real, it would have been easy to paint a picture or create a sculpture of the conception, but I hope by using actors it will bring a sense of authenticity to the piece. I believe this is probably one of my most important works, the gallery only holds a certain amount of people, we will however be making a DVD of the performance so a wider audience can enjoy this fantastic art event." McGowan told the Daily Express: "There is to be no simulation." Admirers of the late princess were furious about the planned exhibition and consider it an insult to her memory. Margaret Funnell, a devoted member of The Diana Circle, said: "I sincerely hope he does not harm her memory in any way- she is not here to defend herself. Diana was one of the most beautiful women to walk this planet and if it distorts her in any way we will be down on him like a ton of bricks." Video from the event is on McGowan's YouTube channel.
Throughout her life and reign, Queen Elizabeth II has always publicly maintained that her favored breed of dog is the Pembroke Welsh corgi. On 30 May 2007, Mark McGowan conducted two pieces of protest performance art he entitled Eating The Queen's Dogs, in which he ate the meat of a Pembroke Corgi; one in a radio broadcast on London's Resonance FM radio station, and the other was live and outside a posh cafe surrounded by press near Downing Street. McGowan, who had made the corgi meat into kebabs, told the BBC that the corgi had died of natural causes at a dog breeding farm. McGowan explained at the live event that he did this to protest against the failure of the RSPCA to prosecute Prince Philip for "images of him stamping on and beating" a fox "with a flagpole", and the inability of the police to identify the individual in the potentially incriminating photos. The alleged incident in question was said to have occurred in January 2007 at Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, with similar allegations having been widely reported on the press at the time.
Eating The Queen's Dogs is perhaps one of McGowan's most definitive pieces of performance art protests, having been widely reported at the time by the press and tabloids. It was claimed that Yoko Ono was present at the radio broadcast version of Eating The Queen's Dogs and even joined in; Ono later denied this to the BBC. The live stunt received some significant global attention and was covered by Yahoo, was shown on American television by CBS News and on Canadian television by CBC News; the Queen is also the monarch of Canada and the protest there was described as "shock art gone too far." Despite counter-protests and threats of legal action, the stunt went ahead without incident. Mrs Poorva Joshipura, of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and director of Peta’s European arm, supported McGowan, saying: "The idea of eating a corgi will make many people lose their lunch, but certainly foxes who are hunted for so-called entertainment, are no less capable of feeling fear and pain." Further defending Eating The Queen's Dogs at a later date, Mrs Joshipura also said : "It is high time the royals joined the rest of us who are opposed to cruelty to animals."
Support of Jade Goody
The infamous Celebrity Big Brother 5 reality television show was surrounded by controversy regarding the late Jade Goody's alleged racist comments, bullying and class prejudice directed towards fellow 'house mate', Indian actress Shilpa Shetty (such as calling her an "Indian Princess" and "Shilpa Poppadom"). Goody became a national hate figure; effigies of Goody were burnt and she received death threats. Shetty later withdrew her claims of racism against Goody (who was mixed-race herself), stating she did not think Goody was being racist during their arguments and despite Goody issuing an apology, the furore continued. Mark McGowan, who claimed he knew Goody and claimed that she was not a malicious person, publicized an event in support of Goody and freedom of speech. On his website he claimed that an effigy of Shetty would be burned by supporters outside Bermondsey tube station. McGowan later deleted these statements and announced on his site that the protest had been cancelled due to the website being cited by internet forums of both right-wing extremists and Islamic fundamentalists. McGowan said due to this the point of any potential effigy burning had been lost, it was solely about freedom of speech, not racism, religion or politics.
In 2008, Shetty offered Goody an opportunity to make amends by offering her a place on the Indian version of Big Brother, Big Boss. Goody accepted but left after only a day due to learning she had terminal cancer and went back home to put her children's affairs in order. In 2009, after Goody had succumbed to cancer, Mark McGowan revealed his desire to re-enact the final hours of Jade Goody's life on 18 May at London's Cordy House. McGowan said "I am from South London and I loved Jade. The last months of her life were in the public eye, except the moments of her death. As an artist, this is my tribute to Jade. I always supported her, even through the Shilpa Shetty incident." McGowan told Arts London: "The topic questioned the public’s demand for reality television and the voyeuristic treatment the media gave Jade Goody in her battle against cancer." The Jade Goody Death Reenactment was posted to YouTube under McGowan's channel.
Reenactment of the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes
On 29 November 2008, McGowan performed The Reenactment Of The Assassination of Jean-Charles de Menezes, an ode to an innocent Brazilian national shot dead by the Metropolitan Police outside Stockwell Underground station in London the year previously, less that a fortnight before the verdict on the death was due to be released. McGowan told This Is London: "I am not doing this to raise my own profile. I think there is a real sense of apathy about what happened to this innocent man. People need to take note of what is happening here, rather than thinking about who is going to win X Factor and what they are getting for Christmas. Hopefully this performance will do this." For this performance, McGowan played down by the entrance surrounded by press, with a box over his head with a picture of de Menezes and covered in ketchup as fake blood. An accomplice pretended to be a police officer with a large fake gun; conveniently police sirens blared down the street at the same time. One of the "box head people" was a regular contributor to conspiracy theorist David Icke's website forums, who described McGowan as his "tutor". The Londonist reported: "It could be seen as a rather confused and distasteful attempt to treat the public’s post-traumatic stress disorder, forcing the public to confront the event one more time to gain some kind of control over the event itself and our reactions to it. It could be seen as live protest art, an expression of dismay and discontent at the current inquest."
Scotland Yard protest
For this piece of protest performance art entitled Ballerina Pig 2009 on Saturday 14 June 2009, McGowan danced around outside Scotland Yard (the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police force) for ten minutes whilst dressed as a pink ballerina and wearing a pig snout over his face, before being threatened with arrest and moved on by police officers. McGowan claimed it was a protest in response to new laws being brought in to stop police being photographed or video recorded by the public whilst the police are on the job, because there should be transparency in public service and the laws may stop police misconduct being recorded. McGowan explained: "The law is outrageous and should be reversed immediately, and I will be looking to have my photograph taken with as many police men and women that I can find."
Support of Raoul Moat
In September 2010, McGowan used the opportunity of a National Lottery-funded and Arts Council-funded stage show to create The Re-enactment of the Assassination of Raoul Moat. This was conceived by McGowan to commemorate the life and crimes of Newcastle upon Tyne-born murderer Raoul Moat, only 11 weeks after Moat had left prison, injured his ex-girlfriend, shot dead her new lover, and blinded a policeman, all the while taunting Northumbria Police whom he blamed for his predicament and sparking one of the biggest manhunts in British history. Moat shot and killed himself in the picturesque riverside village of Rothbury after a six-hour stand-off with armed police. Explaining the play, McGowan said: "Raoul Moat was a very jealous man and some people did sympathize with him. He became an anti-hero. I thought what happened was really tragic. He was a very sad figure in the end. People let him down. His rage was born out of his girlfriend’s infidelity and he found it difficult to cope with. He was a victim. The play has not been created to shock and upset. This is just an interpretation of the story, everyone has to take an angle. There were no winners in the case of Raoul Moat." The play was supported by some including Moat's family. Raoul's brother Angus Moat said: "I was aware that Mark McGowan was planning some form of performance art about the events surrounding my brother. Anything which provokes debate, thought and reason about the tragic events of last summer rather than instinctive knee-jerk positive or negative reactions has my support if that is Mark McGowan’s sincere intention."
The play saw McGowan wearing a mask of Moat who claimed he had for years being a victim of police brutality and police harassment which has cost him his business, his family and his freedom; McGowan also played other roles such as a newsreader and the blinded PC David Rathband. Despite being slammed by victim support groups (especially Victim Support) and also David Rathband, who suggested that McGowan should "let the dust settle" and await the findings of the inquest, the show played out to a packed-out London gallery and a packed-out gallery in Newcastle and both times were critically supported well. McGowan said to the Sunday Sun: "I always worry about impact. I’m sensitive about people affected by stories. It went really well. I talked people through what it would be like to have their partner with someone else. I got a very strong positive reaction and I couldn’t get away after the show because everyone wanted to talk to me. I got the audience to imagine they were Raoul and they were experiencing rage. Of course I then explained it would be inappropriate behavior to shoot someone and I got a lot of laughs."
At the time there was wide controversy in the tabloids about a large number of Facebook pages being set up calling Moat a "legend" and "hero", many of which were taken down, and legal threats were made over them. This issue along with Mark McGowan's stage play The Re-enactment of the Assassination of Raoul Moat were discussed on British national talk show The Wright Stuff under the topic "waste of cash?"; the host claimed that he "hates the Facebook culture promoting Moat as a hero" and McGowan was described as the most "self-promoting, publicity-seeking sicko out there." McGowan later apologized in The Londonist for any distress that may have caused by The Re-enactment of the Assassination of Raoul Moat, but still defended it to the BBC, saying "Moat was a bad man, he killed people. That's inappropriate, more than inappropriate, you can't go round expressing anger in that way, it's just wrong. There's no way in the world that I'd want to hurt anyone, but being an artist, that's always difficult. Being a witness to your times is very challenging, it's difficult not to affect people if you are doing your job. One of the things that people have a problem with is art as a form of representation of a contemporary issue. The role of art is to challenge."
International protest and demonstration
- 2001 Staatsbank, Berlin, Germany - Videoidyll was a 2001 protest by McGowan against state-controlled media in the European Union.
- 2004 Milan, Italy - Earless 2004 McGowan traveled to Italy to protest there against the corruption of then-European Union head Silvio Berlusconi, the P2 scandal (an Italian Masonic lodge involved in a financial scandal with the Vatican Bank and accused of cooperation with the underground NATO organization Gladio) and the media's cover-up of the scandals. McGowan pulled a large television set along the road tied to his ear and secured with a bandage for six miles from Milan central train station to Silvio Burlesconi's house, but he ended up at headquarters of Fininvest, the holding company of Berlusconi. The stunt received little attention in his native Britain but was covered extensively by Italian media
- 2006 HFBK Gallery in Hamburg, Germany - Artist Attempts World Hamburger Eating Record on 23 January 2006; McGowan attempted to eat seventy patties in eight hours. "Apparently 21 is the normal advanced stomach threshold", McGowan noted.
- 2007 Kulturhuset Plaza, Stockholm, Sweden - The Reenactment of the Appalling Abu Grahib Human Pyramid This performance art was in protest of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse in which McGowan recreated one of the infamous photos with six naked Swedish teenage girls. McGowan explained to Now Republic Crowd Powered News:
"This piece is intentionally provocative and is a comment on the representation of images from the war in Iraq. The girls are aged between 16 and 19 years old, they will be naked except for green hoods placed over their heads and is potentially very disturbing. We receive images and reports from Iraq on a daily basis, how they are delivered and represented within the media are I believe biased, doctored and misrepresented. When a soldier from the West dies we have nice clean images of the family sitting at home in front of a library back lit with a picture of their dead family member; it's tragic. Any death of an Iraqi is accompanied by a bunch of wailing, screaming mothers fathers uncles grandmothers. It's to suggest that we are all sane and they are all mad, and it's not fair. The film Three Kings with George Clooney, Mark Walberg and Ice Cube, where the three American soldiers steal all the gold but liberate the Iraqi people is still regularly shown on Sky television and terrestrial television; people in Wyoming, Coventry and Rome watch this film in their homes and believe it is a reality. This is really wrong."
- 2008 Suffix Contemporena, Seville, Spain - Are All Spanish Racists? McGowan rode around in a horse-drawn carriage, donning a cardboard box over his head with a picture of an ape on it. A sign across his neck read "Are all Spanish racists?"
- 2009 Roma Contemperanea in Rome, Italy - Tutti Gli Sono Italaini Razzisti ("Are Italians Racist?")
- 2008 Cosmicmegabrain, Rua do Poço dos Negros, Lisbon, Portugal - A Arvore De Natal Humana Que Chora (Crying Human Christmas Tree) - Starting at 10pm on Friday 19 December 2008, McGowan dressed as a Christmas tree and attempted to stand crying for 72 hours. McGowan said: "Hopefully this art performance or sculpture will carry a message to the people of Lisbon and Portugal who are lucky enough to have their families and friends around them at Christmas, that there are some people who are less fortunate and maybe we could extend our goodwill to them as they find the holiday season quite painful and sad. It is particularly moving that this event should take place in Rua do Poço dos Negros, surely a horrible area to be in during the 15th century, when King Manuel I decided to build a well where dead black slaves were to be buried in piles. Its going to be very very difficult to keep crying continuously for 72 hours dressed as a Christmas tree."
- 2009 Ghetto Gallery, Split, Croatia - The Body and Soul of Michael Jackson was performed by McGowan in support of the memory of the late "King of Pop" on 18 July 2009. McGowan supported the innocence of Jackson after he was exonerated in court, "the victim of Illuminati character-assassination, and later a "real assassination" when he threatened to come forward and expose them". McGowan exhibited some skin of Jackson's that he got from Jackson's chiropodist and the performance also included Jackson's glove (obtained temporarily through a London memorabilia collector), a video projection, bikini-clad models, a small drawing and McGowan wrapped in a white shroud, representing the dead body of Michael Jackson.
- 2010 Bremen, Germany - The Dignity of Man was a performance starting at the Focke Museum in which Chunky Mark crawled on the streets, railway and bus platforms on his hands and knees for 48 hours, impersonating a homeless man pushing his only possessions (empty alcohol containers) around in a box which read "If no man looks at me than I am no man" in German. The response from locals was positive and McGowan gave the money he received through begging to soup kitchens. The performance generated significant local interest and even featured on locals RTS news.
In protest of what he perceived to be ever-increasing totalitarianism in the United States such as the Patriot Act, and also the War on Terror, and in support of human rights, in early 2007 McGowan traveled to New York City to perform Kick George Bush In The Ass. In late February, McGowan crawled around the streets of Manhattan for 72 hours, and covering 36 miles in total, whilst dressed up as and wearing a mask of US President George W. Bush and a "Kick My Ass" sign on his back. "George Bush is mental," he says. "His global policies are terrible. I want people to get some satisfaction when they kick Bush." The event was covered by Reuters international news agency. McGowan told Reuters: "My work is no publicity stunt but definitely an art form. A lot of the things I do are a bit silly but they always have a political edge to them." In a mostly critical article in British newspaper The Guardian, which described the stunt as "juvenile", McGowan stated: "It's a kind of therapeutic engagement. Hopefully people will be able to come and kick me (the President, George Bush) as hard as they like, and gain some comfort in the fact that they can say I kicked George in the ass." The response from New Yorkers was positive.
In late 2007 to early 2008, McGowan performed Artist Sleeps With A Goat at as part of the Pavilion artist exchange project at Caucuses Biennale, Freedom Square, Tbilisi, Georgia. In the same year McGowan performed Beirut Breakdance Boys with local youths at Cosmicmegabrain, Beirut, Lebanon, as part of a community cohesion arts festival.
Killed By Plastic was a demonstration/stunt by McGowan commissioned by Global Ocean in early 2008 to raise awareness of plastics in marine debris, killing an estimated 100,000 sea animals every year, and noting especially the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Killed By Plastic was performed at the Salvador Carnival, Bahia, Brazil, described as the "largest carnival in the world" and attended by five million people. McGowan pulled a massive fishing net filled with plastic waste weighing 300 kilograms for 8 km along the official route.
"Artist Taxi Driver"
McGowan eventually dropped the "Chunky Mark" persona, street art and stunts in favor of his more popular video blogging on YouTube as "The Artist Taxi Driver". As the Artist Taxi Driver, McGowan films himself alone in his taxicab alone between fares, often wearing dark sunglasses, and rants about the issues and news of the day and often with a politicized stance. Typically he updates his YouTube channel daily. A large number of the videos are filmed early in the day and during sunrise; he also often begins the videos by laughing manically before going into tirades. The videos are usually ridden with passionate and random outbursts and expletives are often shouted when The Artist Taxi Driver gets carried away or "tops out"; he has promised to remain calm on occasion only to rapidly lose his temper again. Since February 2013, The Artist Taxi Driver has begun a daily "BBC sucks a cocks News" broadcast, his own personal take on the BBC Six O'Clock News.
McGowan invented the Artist Taxi Driver persona when he was denied entrance to the Frieze Art Fair on 14 October 2010, and for four consecutive nights; Frieze was an annual event he had been to every year previously. American-born colleague of McGowan, Jasper Joffe, had had his paintings banned from the same event; Joffe claimed he believed this was because he had debated with [Frieze director] Matthew Slotover at the Saatchi Gallery and during which debate Joffe had claimed that "the art world was becoming all about money." The first video McGowan made in persona as The Artist Taxi Driver, he sat in his taxi outside Frieze 2010, went into a diatribe against the commercialization and elitism of Frieze and the art world in general, and emotionally discussed his desire to leave it for good; he also claimed he had started wearing sunglasses out of respect for the "Chilean miners." In the same video he claimed that friends of his in the art world would be boycotting Frieze from then on. The Artist Taxi Driver has cited inspiration from George Carlin and Bill Hicks. In an interview with StArt Magazine in February 2012, McGowan explained about the Artist Taxi Driver:
The Artist Taxi Driver has conducted numerous political interviews inside his taxi. Some of his political interviewees include:
- Mohammed Ansar, an Islamic scholar, civil rights activist, lecturer on Islamophobia and frequent BBC panelist.
- Jamie, a London firefighter who joined in one of McGowan's protests.
- Celestine Akpobari from Platform, a formerly imprisoned humanitarian and anti-oil company activist from Ogoniland in the Niger Delta in Africa.
- Sonny Green aka "SGB", an 18-year-old poet and political rapper from Essex.
A clip of The Artist Taxi Driver calling for Liberal Democrats to be "stripped naked and pecked to death by pigeon chickens that have got no feet because they've been burnt off by their own shit" was featured on Russell Howards Good News. As his YouTube channel gained somewhat of a cult following, clips from his videos began to appear (albeit edited) on the BBC, Richard and Judy, and unedited on the Russia Today news channel. In March 2013, The Artist Taxi Driver was the subject of an article on the US website of Alex Jones' Infowars, regarding the current EU levy on bank accounts in Cyprus, entitled "A London Cabbie Explains The Great EU Bank Robbery And Much Much More". The Infowars article advises viewers to turn the volume down, notes the expletive-filled nature of the rants, but still calls the London cabbie's rants "epic". Infowars also makes a comparison between The Artist Taxi Driver and Kevin Rowland, an American video blogger popular a few years earlier in the "WalStreetPro" videos; videos in which Rowland would angrily rant about similar political issues and smash things up to heavy metal.
Rejected BBC show
In May 2012, The Artist Taxi Driver claimed that the BBC had offered him his own television show due to his rising popularity, but he claimed that he had turned them down saying that he would not sell-out. He used the opportunity to go into a diatribe against the corporation. Shortly after in a passionate and expletive-ridden video, The Artist Taxi Driver further accused the BBC of corruption, brainwashing, being politically biased, not reporting enough on the plight of Palestinians, being a pedophile ring for covering up for Jimmy Saville, and likened the BBC to the banks, labeling the BBC "vultures and whores". He called for people to boycott the BBC.
Exhibitions and film
The This Is Not A Gateway foundation has announced that it plans to show 1400+ of the Artist Taxi Driver's videos back-to-back at a 'dedicated cinema' at some point in 2013. In March 2013, he announced through his YouTube channel that he is in the process of making a documentary entitled This Is Not A Recession, It's A Robbery.
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- Profile: Mark McGowan
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- "Is This Man off His Trolley? ; Mark McGowan Plans to Sail to Scotland in a Shopping Cart. Last Year, He Pushed a Peanut from Peckham to Downing Street with His Nose. So What,..."
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- [dead link]
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- COMING SOON!!!! This is not a recession its a robbery THE MOVIE!. YouTube. 27 April 2013.
- Mark McGowan homepage
- The Artist Taxi Driver's channel on YouTube
- The Artist Taxi Driver on Twitter