What excites you most about live art/performance as a genre?
AS: The delicacy of each moment. The shifting, fluid possibilities of each minute. What could be more thrilling? How each person involved can alter the piece, the power it gives to each participant to shape and grow the work. I enjoy offering the gift of co-authorship with each live piece. The focus needed. The hugeness of the power of live art: the transformative possibilities inherent for everyone. How much I learn each time… that each piece takes me beyond what I know already.
What made you want to undertake a Sculpture Shock residency?
AS: I trained as a sculptor, and I have always thought of my work as much as sculpture as live art. Each piece is sited, has a clear shape, is fashioned by hand and experience… I think about the architecture of a moment, with a shape that can be moulded. People often like to label work clearly as one thing or another, yet I have always recognised a dual understanding in a work. I am glad in some ways also for the weight of the tradition of the Society… a weight it confers on the live work… live art, because it may be ephemeral, is often described in terms of its fragility… this seemed to appreciate its power. I like that it can skip round you, but still hit you like a sledgehammer.
Could you explain the process of creating one of your works from the germination of an idea to its realisation?
AS: Sometimes ideas can come very quickly, in that glimmering moment before you are fully awake perhaps, a bit of a Eureka moment, and then it is a question of trying it out, effecting the plans, making it and seeing what happens along the way. This was a residency however, and I wanted to start from an empty space (the gift of this beautiful studio), and see what developed. I knew I wanted to start from the beginning, from nothing. I had ideas of working from a seed or a fall. So I literally started with nothing. I chose to use the time to think all about falling, because it seemed to be the very first step – even before the very first step in fact – that before a walk there is a fall, a flop, a drop.
You are often asked where the artwork resides. You say that it lies ‘in the architecture of a moment that is made between people’ in situations which you facilitate. I sense that this belies the conceptual strength of your ideas. What is more important to you, concept or execution?
AS: Concept. No, execution. No, no, wait. Concept. No, execution, I believe in rigour. I believe in months of work and research that you can throw up in the air at the drop of a hat for a moment that was born, well, … of a moment, and a situation that arose with that one person, in that one place, at that particular time. Which might have been different a second later. It may be my concept that each work springs from, but it is utterly malleable in the execution by the person who meets me. And thank goodness for that. I believe that we have all fed into every moment that we have now, and that ideally, we can be alive to all those possibilities and memories, and draw on them to shape the moment. But each moment is otherwise shaped by someone else, and it would be a poor exchange not to let them in. I’m not in this just to get my point across. It is of course everybody’s right to squander time as anyone sees fit.
How do you feel about the intangibility of your work? In what ways are traces of your work left for people who did not experience the live work?
AS: Occasionally I long for some solid mass to exit my studio into the world, that I could point to and say “Look at that! I did that!”, but it always seems a little grandiose. I have no less grand claims - I want to change people’s lives, explode their minds with the possibilities of things, change their days and ways – but I don’t make grand claims for things, but for people. (What traces have your favourite artworks left in you? If they are really great, they have changed your ideas about the world.)
There’s always traces left of work… there are a lot of photographs, but I reckon you mean something different… For the people who weren’t there, there’s the story your friend tells you the next day… the conversation you have had that might stick with you, there’s the idea that occurred to you – perhaps while you were thinking of something else – there’s your response to the photo you saw, the feelings generated in you by looking, talking, almost being part… maybe you’ll take part next time eh?
I am a bit weirded out that I have a growing number of websites… I have a slight horror of being formulated, so I make sites (yes, intangible, virtual sites) for the works, not for me… but sooner or later I will have to own them under one banner perhaps.
I get my joys from people’s responses. People contact me and tell me wonderful things. Sometimes they wait a long time on the off-chance they can make a piece, and I am so thankful of the time and effort people offer sometimes. Sometimes it’s not easy to leave the house, but some people cross the countryside, spend hours getting there: someone once drove from London to Cambridge to drift with me, and people came from miles and miles (Northampton, Whitstable, Brighton) to donate water to the Museum of Water. I am pretty proud that 3 people have written poems after joining in different works of mine.
And I love word of mouth – from one person to another, in huddles of excitement perhaps, or dreamy memories? What could be better than to be on somebody’s lips, the voice in their ear… ‘you wouldn’t believe’…, ‘I did the most…’, or even, ‘I still don’t know what to think…’ and it always begs the return question… ‘what did you do?’… ‘how did you spend your time?’…
The first time I visited you in the studio, you had a book of etchings of Elisabeth Frink on your bookcase, and nothing else. As an extremely emotionally receptive artist, how did you react to working in the studio where such a great sculptor once worked?
AS: I gathered stories about her for a while… My dad said he had met her once, and shook her hand and been amazed at how strong her handshake was… She would do, wouldn’t she, being a stone mason… but I felt for a while that I could feel her handshake. I like a cool, strong woman, uncowed.
That book came from my mother’s studio, and was a gift from my sister, so I guess I was taking Elizabeth Frink in… into my story, making my own connection with her and the other women in my family… and seeing how we got on together… I had a slight sense that I was trying to get on her good side too. She’d been kind enough to let me in. I am very thankful to her (and very pleased to borrow her vacated space). I like that idea of leaving space for someone. What a gift it’s been for me.
During your residency for Sculpture Shock you are creating a series of works that examine falling. How have the boundaries of the work changed during the residency?
AS: I’m not sure there were any boundaries to the work, that’s one of the things that has been most interesting. As you said, I started with nothing, and have been entirely open to everything. I have welcomed every suggestion, every sketch, every gift that I have been given since the start, and tried to be as open as possible to any one of their prompts. And not only people… I have looked at nature closely for 3 months, noticed the changing of the seasons, chased after each moment and stage, each tree and flower. I have lurked in parks for weeks on end. I have made sculptures and films, live works and my first performance piece. A dance, of sorts! I couldn’t be more surprised! I have used my body and other peoples’ as material. I’ve used us all as research. But we have also been co-conspirators, co-authors, colleagues and supporters. Now we will be dancers and participants too.
You have a pronounced interest in literature and the significance of words. How have you applied this to your Season of Falling?
AS: Concept. Execution. Words.
Who are the artists you most admire and which have had the greatest impact on your thinking and your work?
AS: Rembrandt. TS Eliot. Sophie Calle. Luce Irigaray. Susan Hiller. Adrian Piper. Orlan. Baudelaire. Bas Jan Ader. Yayoi Kusama. Yoko Ono. Martin Creed. Shakespeare. Anne Norman. Leon Kossoff. Marina Abramovic. Lone Twin. Roni Horn. Paul O’Kane. Cornelia Parker. Sarah Lucas. Arte Povera. Richard Long. I think that’s enough? I like a lot of specific pieces: The canned shit and fistfuls of plaster by Piero Manzoni, Alighieri e Boetti’s Airplanes, Baldessari’s The backs of all the trucks. The Merzbau. The impossibility of death in the mind of someone living. I am part of a marvellous artist’s group, full of extraordinary and strong women artists, whom I admire. I am enjoying the way we are impacting on each other.