“Someone described the exhibition as The Blair Witch Project meets Teletubbies, which we’re happy with.”
Interview by: Natalia Gonzalez Martin
It’s the second time you have shown work at Block 336, this time, you have absolute freedom, how have you approached the space for this exhibition?
The space was perfect for the concept, a subterranean concrete basement with heavy pillars and lots of dark corners - it was very fitting for the creepy feeling we wanted to engineer. We were keen to not let an inch of white wall show and transform the space to make it feel like you were stepping into a totally different zone. The team at Block 336 were amazing and just let us run wild... we would have done an install in the office and corridors if they’d let us. They gave us complete freedom but with solid support, it was a brilliant set up and we really enjoyed our time there. Our vitamin D might be running dangerously low but our serotonin is on an all time high.
Could you tell us a bit more about this exhibition?
The exhibition is about phases of transition, confusion and precarity, and the coping mechanisms we employ during these chaotic and disorientating chapters. It’s about mucking around and kicking about and not knowing quite what you’re doing, but doing it anyway… and hoping for the best and that sometimes that’s enough. It’s about being in your thirties reflecting on your teenage years. It’s about why we watch horror films and play games, and continuously return to the hero’s/shero’s/theiro’s journey. It’s about play fighting, dramatic rehearsal, gaming, ruins, relics, pareidolia, pattern recognition, collaboration, friendship, failure and futility. It’s about the indifference, wonder and terror of nature, and how it feeds into catastrophic thinking and our daily anxieties. It’s about how gender is constructed and how we are expected to move our bodies and respond to our surroundings. It’s themes are as meandering as it’s delivery.
Could you tell us a bit about yourselves and your background? Where did you study?
Sarah: I come from a design background, I studied in Brighton, the course was actually Illustration but it was really broad, I spent my time there dressing up in odd outfits and making films and freaky props and packages, I’m not sure I drew anything in 3 years. I completed a masters in Communication Art and Design at the Royal College of Art. I then started making huge helium filled floating islands for international festivals and building Argos black ash shelving units in waterfalls, some jobs for fun, some jobs for money.
Harriet: I did an art foundation at UWE in my hometown, Bristol, then a film production degree at Bournemouth Arts Institute where I specialised in production design, though really I just wanted to direct and be an artist... After graduating, I got decent funding to make a short film which I wrote, directed and performed in, which felt very dreamy and encouraging. After that I was very sporadically making lo-fi DIY short films and performances either on my own or collaboratively with others, alongside working professionally in the film industry within marketing, festivals, events and training. I’m still doing a bit of that, though now mainly working with artists on the production side and coordinating organisations that support artists and artists’ moving image. I recently(ish) completed a Masters in Fine Art at the RCA on the Performance Pathway, which really helped me reach back in to the rhythm of making art and find my practice a little more.
How would you like visitors to approach it and what do you expect them to react?
We designed the space to be slightly labyrinth like, with objects and props intermittently spinning, popping, inflating, vibrating, bubbling and blowing. We spent a lot of time looking at why people watch horror films, and talking about those fleeting moments when things appear and disappear in the corner of the eye. We try to name theses things and give them meaning or reach for the most familiar or absurd explanation purely to have a concrete explanation. As human beings the unknown is a very tricky place and the coping mechanisms we employ to manage feelings of uncertainty are really broad.
We wanted to create an aimless, wandering feeling where things reveal themselves as you move through, but with a sense of spooky slapstick. Tongue in cheek terror. Excitement and fear are fairly close in feeling. Someone described the exhibition as The Blair Witch Project meets Teletubbies, which we’re happy with.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
Neither of us have a strict studio practice, we seem to work in intense phases often in situ. We are either doing 18 hour days covered in green wax, wet fabric and live moss or we are casually chatting on Skype (meaning to work) but actually discussing Sarah’s obsession with steamed spinach or Harriet’s Rightmove addiction. However the bizarre and winding weekly conversations we have, that are superficially unrelated to our practice, always feed into the projects somehow. Sarah lives in Berlin but seems to spend more time on Harriet’s sofa than she does in her own home. We do have a 25ft shipping container on a paintball site in Essex but we don’t think we can class that as a studio.
What is the collaborative process like?
With two of you, you can really pull a subject apart and layer up ideas, put stuff on the table and then take it away again. It’s a great editing process and a constant lovable power struggle. Collaboration is a good thing as you can create a safe space together where you support and push one another into new and exciting realms. You create this third character, an amalgamation of the two of you, and it’s challenging, revealing, unpredictable and a lot of fun.
We are both frightfully stubborn, total control freaks and huge maximalists but don’t have too many scraps, as mainly our ideas and moral motivations align and we are only debating minute details, like which exact hue of purple is best for a small strip of fabric we are going to use in a performance. One of us will like the one half a (undetectable to the naked eye) shade darker and an hour later we are still in the shop delicately trying to convince the other one of our choice. We then end up buying both options. Fair’s fair. We are both very hands on practical people and love exploring materials and buying the weirdest stuff we can get our hands on, usually online, and then hijacking it.
We both have a solo practice which we find helpful to keep a little hold on who you are as an individual and you always have something to put into the pot. Often there are subtle and sometimes unexpected references to our solo work in the collaborative work, recurring themes or actions that pop up here and there. It feels nice to plant these within a dynamic where there are two of you taking it on, it really switches it up and interrogates it in a different way. It feels nourishing and exciting to develop ideas this way.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Sarah: I saw Ivo Dimchev in Avoiding deLIFEath at Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin. Dimchev for me is a modern rendition of a Shakespearian court jester, a sarcastic gently knowing trickster who tackles big stuff with flirtatious lethargy and wry humour. Pinballing between tender love songs and dark comedy, he is a master of transformation and plays with ideas of impermanence with the greatest of ease.
Harriet: I went to a double-bill of music and performance at Concertgebouw Brugge that was part of The Cosmos Festival. The first bit was composer/sonologist Hugo Morales Murguía’s new work, with percussionists slowly moving in sequence around a hypnotic spinning light that triggered loud pulses and crackles as it hit them. Then a collaboration led by choreographer Marc Vanrunxt between dance company Kunst/Werk and percussion ensemble Slagwerk Den Haag, who performed Gérard Grisey’s ‘Le noir de l’étoile’. We sat in the round for both performances, one pitch black and on a dizzying spiral of multi-floor seating looking down onto the floor, the other starkly lit on the concert hall stage with an empty auditorium and dancers moving through the audience. I loved the contrast and similarities between the pieces, especially what was motivating the movement of the performers’ bodies.
Your work is performative, sculptural, digital… is there a hierarchy between the different media you use? How would you summarised what your practice consist of?
We’ve always been keen to create events or experiences and use whatever medium seems appropriate at the time. Our work together is always a big mix up - installation, interaction design, digital design, kinetics, sculpture, performance, film, sound… and we’re interested in how all this stuff aligns and bounces off each other. Give us a space - a car park, cupboard or toilet and trust me we’ll max it out. There is no hierarchy between materials or forms but maybe if we were pushed to say, filmmaking might come out close to top. We really love the physics and chemistry of things; how things move and react; what happens when materials are added together, and we enjoy special effects that feel tangible and unedited, which is probably somehow poetically related to the fact we are a collaborative duo…
How do you go about naming your work?
We really struggle with this as the projects are always very intuitive and we are always feeling them out step by step, so suddenly giving them a name in the final hour often feels a little contrived. Plasma Vista had its title from day one as it was always about slippery, shoppable scenery and originated in the name for the business concept (that never quite happened)… but Lendable Mendable Vendable and Another Funny Turn were mad brainstorms close to the promo deadline. We constantly try to steer ourselves away from making daft puns and trendy taglines. We take it in turns to throw absolute nonsense into the void and somehow something comes out that feels genuine and fitting.
Another Funny Turn was about playing games, about taking turns as there are always two of us. It also references that moment in horror films where the story turns scary or the character literally turns into something else. In Victorian times you might describe a woman being emotionally hysterical or unpredictable as taking ‘a turn’, having to be brought round with smelling salts or shaken back to normal after a sudden ‘episode’. It can be used lightly to describe or underplay very serious conditions or strong emotional responses, and feels like a very British turn of phrase. Dorothy had a funny turn the other day, when she actually had a life threatening stroke. ‘Another’ also adds to the sense of exasperation or fatigue, as well as a sort of retrospection or nostalgia perhaps, that on reflection life is full of funny turns, transitions and phases. ‘Funny’ can often mean strange and inexplicable, a word we use when we can’t quite put our finger on something...
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Yes we have Art Night London coming up, where we will be showing a new project called Vast Forward. Vast Forward will be a live interactive performance that embraces the reassuring, yet slippery and sometimes addictive, process of predicting a positive future.
For Art Night we will be celebrating how pop songs from across the ages have repeatedly offered a sense of hope and comfort to people at all life stages. Sitting in the bottom of a two hundred-year-old ice well at The London Canal Museum we take the guise of a digital oracle avatar and deliver personal prophecies in the form of rephrased song lyrics. This floating character will mimic our facial features and speak our words via character animation technology and synthesised sound alteration.
Guests are invited to ask questions central to the themes of future love and hope for the oracles to answer.
Come along, open from 7pm - midnight, June 22nd 2019 at The London Canal Museum!
Publish date: 13/06/2019
All images courtsey of the artists and Block 336