William Mackrell Interviewed - Part 2 / by Claire Mander

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

ZK: As chance encounters and happenings appear to be such an important part of your practice, what kind of preparation and planning goes into each of your pieces?

WM: Preparing involves rehearsing the context of a site or situation. With the upcoming public performance being worked towards for September, Gaps, glitches and speed bumps, the singers will have nothing to follow or fall back on, responding instinctively to how their bodies mould with the fluctuating movement of each journey. As my work often tilts speculatively between the possible and the unlikely, chance tends to enter into the work and carries the piece beyond its original intentions. It is this extension of the work by the unexpected that can break the work out of a singular construct or pre-intended point of view. Being able to adapt quickly to change and work out solutions is to keep moving, keep something alive, that’s inherent to everyday living.

Last June when Deux Chevaux was performed in London, in order for the work to fulfil its funding agreements it became utterly engrossed in licences, permissions and negotiations to a point that cocooned the activity of the work from its own precarious being. In some ways it was an interesting learning curve as I didn’t realise in advance the extent of the administrational work, which would amount to some 800 emails and 100-200 pages of police and local authorities documents carried on the day of the performance, particularly for something which in terms of its action appeared quite straight forward and common place just over one hundred years ago. By the end of the Deux Chevaux performance, the paperwork had so dominated my experience of the work I included all the documents in the final exhibition, Steam Horses at The Ryder as a swarm of paper stuffed onto a pin board.

For Gaps, glitches and speed bumps, I have tried to keep the administrative element to a minimum, with the intention to keep the performance as loose and fluid as possible within the everyday scenario of the city’s public travel network. The focus will be entirely absorbed in the very second when the bus is jolting along and the affect this will have on the singers’ vocal responses and line drawings made on each journey.

ZK: What is the importance of the audience experience to you and how do you hope your work will impact on those who witness your performances?

WM: Considering your audience is necessary, as the live element of the work hinges on how you invite or position the audience within a live dialogue. Whether the work will be liked or not is something I cannot decide, but how they might reach the project, begin to enter into it, has to be thought about and for Gaps, glitches and speed bumps being the most precarious and unannounced live work I’ve attempted, I have to consider a range of responses I might receive from the Public.

The key thing is really that the audience can step into the work quite quickly from a visual or sensory perspective. I am not looking to push a particular ideology or message onto the work, or onto the audience. It’s about letting the audience come to the work and then letting them run with the idea. I like there to be elements you can grasp that are just about everyday experiences, how the work highlights their own space, their journeys, and the motions they go through within this familiar but transitional space.

ZK: You recently performed a series of works titled ‘In an Instant' at FOLD gallery which involved you leaving a series of marks on the walls with black lipstick. What is the relationship between the marks, or on other occasion’s objects, you leave behind after your performances? Are they simply a form of documentation of the action that has taken place or do you see them as independent works in their own right?

WM: This is a very interesting point to me right now, as I am trying to find new ways to work through the relationship of live action, documentation and aftermath. When I first started making works that did leave physical marks I just thought about them as traces and residue, but now I think you have to consider them more carefully than that, before they end up being a slightly nostalgic left over object which will label the work in a certain way. I am also trying to consider works to be more of a thought than a concept. It’s also great when a work doesn’t equal itself or complete itself too much.

I feel that in the more recent work I am keeping the residue active beyond a finite mark and I like that even after the event at FOLD, the marks continue to hold a new tension or possible re-action.

Or with Deux Chevaux again when presented at The Ryder, the reigns draped down over the car bonnet onto the floor after the horses have departed signal the potential of the work to become something new or about to happen, the sculpture I think retained this propositional form I’m after. 

As to documentation, I am always recording and gathering sound, notes, and photos of everything I do. Even when I practice an action in the studio I like to consider how it looks from the Other’s perspective, the angles, the speed and balance of the piece. Most of this ends up being a private record for further research. For me documentation isn’t so important for recording something that’s happened but has more significance in enabling something new to take place.

ZK: Your recent piece Soprano for route no.141 included a live musical element as will your forthcoming Sculpture Shock intervention. What is it that appeals to you about using sound and in particular the unaccompanied voice in your work? What do you feel it helps you convey to your audience that actions alone cannot?

WM: With sound like time, it is the fragile and vulnerable qualities that attract me, its immediacy is an exciting prospect that leaves no trail of it’s self, but embodies the presence of memory by inhabiting a space for a moment. Like the smell of a club or music venue the morning after or a gallery the morning after a great opening, sound has this incredibly sensory power you can do so much with. In many ways I also find music more open, more democratic than ‘art’ in the Fine Art sense. So Gaps, glitches and speed bumps will attempt to work off music’s relationship to line drawing.

ZK: How has Sculpture Shock assisted you in the development of your practice and what are your future artistic ambitions?

WM: The assistance and support has come at a crucial time. This year has been quite busy with 2 solos, 5 group shows, and recently being selected for the Jerwood drawing prize. The residency has added a lot to the momentum to my work. The constant activity in and around the studio has been great, conversations, studio visits, photography of studio process, it has felt good to be part of this busy programme.

With the spiralling costs of studio rent and living expenses in London, to know this is supported through the Sculpture Shock award for three months has been a big chance to pursue new work and work towards a large final project in September. It will be hard to get me out of here, I love the studio space, whether the day is going well or not, it feels good every time to be in here.

Written by Zana Kingwill