William Mackrell Interviewed - Part 1 / by Claire Mander

William Mackrell, 1000 Candles, 2010. Image: Courtesy of the Artist

William Mackrell, 1000 Candles, 2010. Image: Courtesy of the Artist

ZK: What made you decide to become a sculptor and when did your interest in performance develop? 

WM: The fluidity of working from a sculptural perspective has always appealed to me. Much of my work doesn’t follow a particular medium, its Sculpture’s looseness that embraces my shifting process and the varying materials both made and readymade that I work with. Though sculpture is probably the closest category I identify with, I actually started out studying Painting for my BA when I was at Chelsea College of art, but even over the course I could see my approach to working was moving quickly into the realms of installation and sculpture. Yet the work now still retains a strong relationship to my background in painting and also very much drawing. It’s the immediacy of mark making, putting down an initial gesture or a thought that stays central to my work.

I fell into Performance quite accidently and only really began to recognise my work as performative or as actions in around 2009 / 2010.  Around that time I made a work called 1000 Candles, which was a response to a pocket torch I had in my studio that claimed to have 1000 candles power. I attempted to assemble 1000 candles in my studio and light them all. This turned out to be very difficult, I couldn’t reach, it got very hot, and then of course as soon as you got near the end, one would go out and you’d be faced with the decision whether to stop lighting or continue. When I first made that piece I had only ever thought about it as being a photograph that documented this task, but when I got a video camera next and started filming the work, it really stopped me to think about its physicality, the duration and power of the sound. I realised this work was full with the potential of performance. So in a way I guess the performance aspect of my work was introduced through video and more precisely the moment of sensing the work from the other, seeing it on screen, this altered viewpoint helped me to feel the piece as a live work that move beyond a static image. In fact that’s what I really like about performance, that it started freeing the work to be ‘it is what it is’ rather than trying to be ‘Art’.

But, to confuse things further, I had actually been making performances long before then, but hadn’t thought of them as anything more than a shot at finding a solution to a problem. In 2006 I was invited along with thirty artists to a tiny island, Susak in the Adriatic to see what might happen in a completely unfamiliar and isolated location. It was an idyllic place to be, but with all these artists it soon turned into an intense and claustrophobic atmosphere, a lot of people fell out. Everyday it became more like a Big Brother scenario, so I tried to escape for an afternoon by borrowing a table, umbrella and chairs from one of the two bars on the island and carried them into the sea in the hope to begin a conversation offshore. Soon locals and others from the project joined with more chairs and then the guy working in the bar waded out and asked if we’d like some drinks? That was probably the first performance to happen unintentionally, but in retrospect it holds a lot of value to me now for how I approach collective and participatory projects.

 ZK: Who are the artists and theorists you most admire and who have had the greatest impact on your thinking and your work?

WM: When I was at Chelsea, my tutor Angela de la Cruz was hugely influential in breaking down my work. She really helped guide me to find my way with my language. We are still in regular contact and Angela remains as direct as ever about new work. I admire her as a good friend and the most uncompromising artist I know.

Of course other figures I hugely admire are; Joseph Beuys, his appetite for art as teaching, the blackboard pieces are great and then his shamanistic activities have always added this twist to his mystic personality. Bas Jan Ader and filmmaker Andreas Tarkovsky are also strong influences for me. Their works delve deep into the poetic, political and absurdities of humanity. Also Paul McCarthy, particularly his early video works, which really bring out the madness of being an artist in the studio, some of those works resonate so politically about their time and again the folly of man. 

The two theorists I have been looking at a lot recently, both particularly useful to the ambulatory residency, Henri Lefebvre and Paul Virilio. Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysisbrings together the overlooked connectivity of rhythm, time, and movement in the everyday. This book has been in continuous use in the last few months, and Virilio’s, The Aesthetics of Disappearance unravels the delicate juncture between dreaming and being awake in the dizzying and relentless speed of 24-7 culture.  For me both texts are really interesting precursors to today’s rapid age of the Internet and how time feel’s lived through a flow of images on screens, forming a kind of constant time of perpetual wakefulness.

ZK: When did your interest in the site specific develop and how/where did this happen? Can you talk a little about what you would define as a site-specific work as and how performance, which doesn’t always have a fixed location, fits into this?

WM: It certainly starts from the body being central to or itself site specific. The intervention that culminates from this residency in early September called, Gaps, glitches and speed bumps will be an interrelated piece between the internal and external effect of the mechanics of bus travel on the body. Looking at airflow and the way air moves through your lungs on the bus, how your diaphragm is affected by the reverberations and vibrations it creates, and then how your body is almost thrown into a spherical direction by the bus in transit.

It’s a hybrid of body and site that makes Gaps, glitches and speed bumps site specific. It is also about the rhythm of the city as a site of flow and the disruption to this flow by the traffic lights, negotiating other vehicles and then there are the constant automated announcements by the reassuring but assertive female voice on the overhead loudspeaker that form marker points on the journey. The whole thing is about how time is always moving and in a way addresses the fact that the site specific itself is more often than not a temporary experience.

I guess my interest in the site specific started around the same time as my interest in performance developed, around 2010. The site specific has always just really been there, I don’t really know how to work without it, because I feel like it’s intrinsic to producing work. Whatever I am producing it is always in reaction to a particular time and space and the set of circumstances that goes with this.

Written by Zana Kingwill