Could you tell us a little more about your Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2017 selected video work, ‘Season of Doubt’?
Season of Doubt is a film I made with Ladan Hussein from the band Cold Specks. She approached me to work on a film for a song from her album, ‘Neuroplasticity.’ The video didn’t have a promotional purpose - rather it was an important song for her and she wanted to do something more with it. I saw it as an opportunity to work with an artist I greatly admire.
We wanted the film to speak in some way to the events that were playing out in the time in Ferguson, USA, following the murder of Michael Brown and the acquittal of the officer who killed him. Ladan’s song centred on mourning, and that’s one of the responses I saw coming out of the protests - a collective mourning under intense pressure and the threat of police violence. One thing you learn quickly when going through the footage of the protests and marches in Ferguson is that the slogan and gesture ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ was not just symbolic, or a rallying cry. It is a rebuke to an immediate threat. The police - armed with tear gas, rubber bullets, shotguns, their rifles raised and pointing at peaceful protest - could shoot at any time. In these videos, they often do.
We started with simple ideas: holding one’s eyes on these images, masking up, one and many. I made a few test films that I sent to Ladan and we spoke regularly about the film before we shot the final version together. It was important that Ladan’s voice came through on this issue and that she felt ownership of the film.
Technically this was a very difficult film to pull off. I used 16mm film and laser cut masks to create quite complex in-camera collage, using optical printing techniques to edit, slow-down and transfer video footage from the protests onto film. I thought there might be a double take when seeing these contemporary images through an old format, that might attest to how little has changed, in some ways, since the protests of the civil rights era. I wanted a viewer to not be able to tell exactly when or what they were looking at until the end - to really look and stay with it. I felt using 16mm could carry some of the weight of the meaning of the work.
What were your initial thoughts about presenting this work across the two successional locations: BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead and Block 336, Brixton?
The experience at BALTIC was amazing. The curators took my request to show the work in 16mm seriously and we were able to do it in the end (16mm can be an incredible nuisance when shown over a long period). Considering what a huge curatorial job New Contemporaries must be, it felt very generous. I was delighted with the result, and I felt the whole exhibition was put together with sensitivity and imagination. For a young artist that means a great deal. BALTIC has a brilliant education department as well, and it seems like they incorporated the New Contemporaries show into their programme which was great - it was interesting to get feedback from local artists, students and general public who’d seen the film and wanted to know more about it and how it was made.
The exhibition at Block 336 is starting at the end of January, and no doubt there will be some obstacles on the way (there always is with film!) but it’s exciting to show it in London as well.
How are you finding producing work outside of the university structure? Are there any processes or services that make producing work easier for you?
One thing you leave behind is access to facilities - whether that be equipment, workshops or studios. There are a number of ‘makers’ spaces’ in London - where it doesn’t cost a lot to become a member, that have wood and metal workshops, laser cutters, and space for manufacturing as well. I have worked at a space called Hackspace in east London recently which has been really useful.
When I am working on films I have found KitMapper helpful for sourcing lighting and sound recording equipment, and also for hiring things like video projectors and monitors for exhibitions. It is often cheaper and more efficient than more traditional hire companies for smaller scale projects, when you are not necessarily working with a production company (big rental places often need references which you might not have as an artist or working individually or in a small team).
As an artist working with moving image, what advice would you give to other artists using this medium?
Get hold of a Bolex 16mm camera - most universities will have one gathering dust somewhere, or there are film labs around the country that might be able to lend or rent you one. The first time you work with film can be a magical experience - and I’ve found it can change the way you approach shooting digitally as well.
What are you working on now and/or do you have any projects planned?
At the moment, I am working at Gasworks in Vauxhall, as their ‘participatory artist in residence’. It is a position that combines education and outreach alongside the support to make a new body of work. I have been working for a year with the Polish and Latin American communities in Lambeth on two separate, narrative films, that explore the biographies of the people I have worked with, their family histories and how these intersect with national histories of Poland and Colombia. It has been an incredible privilege working with different generations of women from these communities (grandmothers, mothers, young women and children) and there will be an exhibition at Gasworks in the new year. You can find out more about the project here.
What are you hoping to gain from being a part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries? Has it had an effect on your career as an artist so far?
I am proud of the film I made with Ladan, and to know that established artists whose work I really respect thought there was something in it as well - selecting it for the exhibition - meant a great deal. I think the exhibition as a whole is really strong, and it’s been great to be in the company of, and meet such a diverse and interesting group of artists.