It seems that your artwork spans so many disciplines and stimuli — would you say that you take inspiration from all sorts of catalysts?
Yes and no. A couple of years ago I looked around at the artwork I’d been making and realised the stimulus for almost everything in the studio was the point of contact between the pencil and the page. A dot! Without really knowing it, all the questions I’d been asking in my artwork had been about this tiny, ever-moving, myopic point of contact with the page. I’m now thinking more intently about this dot, and I’m learning more about it by feeling my way, almost with my eyes closed, in directions that present themselves as I go along. For instance, I noticed something about the way the hand moves when it draws a figure on the page; this led me to research calligraphy, then dance, then choreography. I read something about the white space of the page in poetry which led me to experiment with 3D printing techniques, in relation to writing but also to drawing. I watched someone translate a dialogue into British Sign Language and something about it made me think about that point of contact with the page. To better understand the connection I was half-seeing, I took a beginners’ course in BSL, learned about sign linguistics, and devised a couple of collaborative performances with deaf poets and actors. From the outside, these all look like different disciplines, but in practice I’ve approached each one from the inside, and from there have tried to persuade all of these ideas, techniques and forms to meet and interact over this little dot—they all occupy in ways that are quite different but also startlingly alike.
Do you aim to produce coherent pieces that feed into one another and have a tangible structure, or do you prefer not to restrict your creativity by having preconceptions?
I don’t tend to work with a plan. I make things that interest me, and I make them by asking questions that interest me, but I don’t tend to know why these particular things and questions capture my attention. An analogy might be a sense of humour: you know what makes you laugh because it arrests you in a certain way, but you couldn’t necessarily explain why. I know an idea is worth pursuing when it arrests me in a certain way. It’s only when I look back over a few years of art-making that I notice the same ideas and interests turning up again and again in different guises. My interest in the point of contact between pencil and page has turned up in videos I’ve made, in drawings, in sculptural assemblages made of funnels, glass tubes, projectors, masking tape, in bits of prose fiction and critical writing. At the time, I might not be thinking about the point of the stylus at all, but in retrospect these works all have something to say about it. I’m sure they speak about other things too, which I haven’t yet noticed, or which only another person could spot.
How does an initial thought or concept develop into a fully fledged piece of artwork, and does the process vary depending on the stimulus?
I have a suspicion that I’m interested in the point of contact between the pencil and the page because it’s emblematic of a certain kind of making process that goes on in my studio. A kind of blind, groping process of making; making decisions based on what’s immediately in front of me at the time; proceeding according to the logic or the practical needs of the materials I’m handling, at the breaking edge of their coming into being. It’s rare that an idea for an artwork occurs to me fully formed, so that all I have to do is create it. More often an idea will develop gradually over days or weeks or months of open-ended experimentation with forms, materials and ideas. As a rule, those few artworks that occur to me fully formed turn out to reveal something unexpected once I’ve actually made them, and then I pull them apart, extract that unexpected thing and use it as raw material for more experimentation.
Your real-time blog on your residency website enables us to follow your thoughts and insights to your own work – do you feel that this is a significant reflective process that enables you to develop your work? In what ways will you use this to propel your next venture?
When I was working in studio in January I tried to post something on the blog every day or two. Quite often I’d post partial transcripts of those recordings I’d been making along the harbourside; there were also videos, photos and descriptions of what was happening in the studio, and some things I wanted specific collaborators to see as part of our ongoing conversations. Since leaving Bristol I’ve continued to post notes, photos, links and some more carefully researched bits of writing. The important thing about the blog is that these are all scraps, all partial and unfinished, and generally posted quite spontaneously, without trying to read too much into them at the time. This spontaneity is another way of trying to let the project progress somewhat blindly, feeling its way like the tip of a pencil on paper, only able to see the matter in hand—and now and again I will be stepping back from the page, so to speak, and reading through the whole blog to see what kind of picture is emerging. That picture will gradually turn into a new book I’ll be developing with Spike Island to conclude the residency, and I’m sure it will continue to inform my artwork long after the year’s end.