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‘TTTT': Interview with Heather Phillipson

14 Jul

I met up to talk to Heather Phillipson whose work Zero-Point Garbage Matte (2012) featured in the exhibition ‘TTTT’ at Jerwood Space to ask her about her practice.

Shama Khanna: Where to start? As I said in my email I feel there are a lot of questions I don’t know how to ask about yet, before we start a conversation.

Heather Phillipson: I liked it when you said you didn’t know how to ask your questions. I often feel like I don’t know how to ask something until it’s underway – especially with making – and then it’s too late and you’re midway through a conversation you didn’t anticipate. 

S: I think I meant that there are threads that run through all your works and I don’t know whether to start with those, or with one work in particular … 

H: I think it’s good to start with something specific, but either one of those approaches could be specific – a specific thread, or a specific work – working through the links. It’s something that I find challenging myself, and sometimes generative too – what are the specificities? How can I articulate them? It’s something you’re often required to do as an artist – to put a frame around your practice, to put names on bits of it – to translate it into words, to tie it down in some way. And, actually, on any given day, I feel I could speak about my practice differently – there are forking paths all over it. Maybe you could say that for all practices to some extent, but it’s definitely something I’m aware of with my own work. I could talk about it in terms of video, say, or music, rhythm, collage, language, the voice, the body, sculpture, architecture, physical and digital navigation of space, colour, line-breaks, metaphors… and that’s just the obvious, concrete stuff. And I have talked about it in relation to all of these things, which is sometimes the useful aspect of framing – having the opportunity to re-confront the practice, or to transpose it, or to change my mind, or to locate it differently. So that element of not knowing what something is, or where to start, or re-asking it what it’s doing, is the same for me – and that’s actually a big part of what I’m addressing.

Zero-Point Garbage Matte from Heather Phillipson on Vimeo.

S: Can you tell me about your decision to put most of your videos online?

H: There are different reasons. Probably the clearest one is that the internet’s a context to which the work is referring and, moreover, using. I take material from the internet, so by re-locating the videos there it feels that there’s an exchange – the videos return to (one of the) place(s) that birthed them. But the videos also take from and refer to multiple other real and imagined places, so why not push them back out into the world in multiple forms and places too? Maybe this also relates to the question of framing – I’m preoccupied by the possibilities of context, and what might be added, or lost, by, say, watching the video at home on your laptop as opposed to inside a highly controlled gallery installation. Maybe a small screen and crappy speakers is not, for me, the optimum experience of the work, but I’m interested that it can be an experience of the work and certainly a very different one. I think of it as the work having separate but related lives.

S: It’s a bit like the difference between the performance of poetry and reading it in a book, in a way, two such different formats. 

H: That’s a good comparison. Maybe it has something to do with live-ness? There’s the intimate relationship that you might have with something when you’re reading it in a book or watching it on a laptop, when it’s just you and the thing – being ‘alone’ together. And then there’s the experience of encountering it in a space where you have to engage with it physically, and with other people too. I think both involve a kind of ‘live-ness’, a mix of private and public in different proportions, but that ‘live-ness’ is qualitatively different .

A poetry reading has an obvious public live-ness, but there can be a brilliant intimacy to it too. The potency of just a body speaking in space, to other bodies – there’s something really physically intense about that. Speaking about it now, it imakes me think of when I saw Robert Ashley read live, with no musical accompaniment – it was mind-blowingly intense, and long too – and that seemed to the be the point, the drifting in and out – that it becomes about something else – not understanding necessarily, but the flow between the ‘notes’. In contemporary poetry, there’s a tendency to opt for brevity in readings, in order to hold attention – almost like an acknowledgment that you can’t take in that level of intensity (and intimacy) and really attend to it at the same time. Whereas artists often work with that intensity, and rhythms of distraction, in a different way – pushing it. 

S: I’d imagine you’d need to be brief if you want people to pay attention to the construction of a sentence, for example.

H: Yes, if you want people to hear what’s been packed into it… poetry’s so dense – you’re not really meant to ‘get it’ on a single hearing, or maybe not even on several hearings (or readings). Because it’s so dense you need space around it and, later, repetition. You need space around the words because they need to resonate in your head. And then you need to re-encounter them. Perhaps that’s like the different versions of the video installations too – what happens, or changes, with repeated exposure.

S: One of the hallmarks of your work is there isn’t enough time to reflect – you’re immersed in this barrage, almost, not barrage but a seamless flow of words … and you’re looking down, your body’s forming part of something that’s outside of you.

H: I think it goes back to this issue of multiplicity, and some idea of stuffing or snapping time, treating it spatially – making available different routes or perspectives or moments. Almost simultaneously, for example, you might become hyper-conscious of your body in relation to the video, and in the (public) space, and then a bit of music will kick in, or stop, and you’ll notice something beside you, and then the rhythm changes, and that might pull you into the video. But, again, all this is something you can come back to – there’s probably no desire, on either part, to give it all away, or to have it all given away.

S: Do you edit your videos to a score?

H: No, I edit relatively spontaneously, like composing, which is how I write  as well – it’s really about rhythm. It all happens in the editing, in that process of banging things together, trying to find the electricity.

S: Do you think about an audience?

H: Not really – at least, not when I’m inside the making. Bonnie Camplin once said to me that she thinks about art as a ‘private epistemological adventure’. I love this expression. It’s about going on an adventure with the material. Once the work’s made it finds its audience and I don’t really mind who that audience is. It doesn’t need to be for everyone, but it can be for anyone.

S: Is there anything you’d like to talk about in your work that doesn’t get spoken about?

H: People often ask about the structure of the videos – how words are used, or music, or collage or sculpture, but one thing that’s important, that doesn’t come up that much, is emotion – love, terror, anger, joy. Maybe it’s not that fashionable to talk about emotion in relation to art – that thing we can’t control, and then try to.

Somebody asked me recently why I like irony so much. This threw me a little, the assumption that I’m aiming for irony because, for me, it’s not irony – my work isn’t ironic. In that way, at least, it’s really quite straightforward – despairing or celebratory, resolute or terrified, or all of them at once…But I found it interesting that the work was being interpreted like that. Maybe because it holds what appear to be conflicting positions simultaneously…

 S: Maybe because the humour is quite deadpan.

H: Yes, maybe because the tone isn’t easily read, it resembles irony? It doesn’t for me, but I see how the tonal shifts are confusing – how one tone comes to a sudden halt, and just as you’re getting into the fun, it becomes anxiety – it flips. But, for what it’s worth, the emotions are what they are. Often the starting points for the videos are things that I feel deeply troubled by, or ecstatic about. The work frequently begins with an emotion. Or mixed emotions. So it’s less about irony and more about contrariness and complexity, not knowing whether to be in love with the world or to smash its face in – the difficulty of sustaining

S: I felt that from the Splashy Phasings (2013), that it was really moving, even though it was just 3 minutes long, like a commercial.

H: I’m glad. Superficially, you wouldn’t necessarily read it that way – there’s a veneer of absurdity, which is comedic…but then the tragedy is rammed in, or is riding along beneath it all along, or floods in when it stops.


Splashy Phasings from Heather Phillipson on Vimeo.




These Things Take Time

26 May

Oliver ‘Laric Mansudae Overseas Project’, 2014

The exhibition title ‘TTTT’ originally referred to the acronym for ‘These Things Take Time’ but the phrase has since been replaced by the internet shorthand for ‘Too Tired To Type’. The change may be indicative of a changing conception of time since 1984 when the pop band The Smiths produced an album entitled These Things Take Time (15 years before CDs became commercially available) up to the present moment where the internet is the dominant medium used for work, play and procrastination. Boredom means something completely different now our smart phones are here to accompany us while we wait for the bus. Waiting for a letter to arrive, and reply sent by snail mail is a distant memory – such an inefficient speed of communication is remembered almost like a fiction. These things are no longer expected to take up our time.

  Cécile B. Evans ‘How happy a Thing can be’, 2014

Cécile B. Evans has spoken about how September 11th marked a sea change for her, from which point on she could no longer distinguish images documenting the event from her subjective experience of being in New York and witnessing the planes fly overhead towards the World Trade Centre. The proliferation of image culture has the effect of conditioning our awareness and our memories in exactly this way. Oliver Laric’s Mansudae Overseas Project (2014) cleverly reverses the normal flow of images, rethinking what it means to be part of a globally networked society. Mansudae Overseas Projects is a construction company in North Korea which makes monuments and memorial statues for a Western audience. Laric’s project was the first commission the company accepted from an individual client. Instead of an heroic sculpture of some recognisable public figure, the sculpture is of an anonymous Asian man in non-professional workers clothing – possibly putting a face to the anonymous North Korean sculptor himself. This one-off gesture suggests the limits of the internet perceived as universally accessible and democratic – pointing to somewhere where the conception of time and production are purposefully different from our own.

Johann Arens Marte e Venere – A Hand Held Monument (video still), 2013

In his recent video Marte e Venere – A Hand Held Monument (2013) Johann Arens presents an imagined continuity between the surface of a touch screen and the smooth, strokable surfaces of classical monuments, in particular the Venus and Mars from the Museum of Roman History in Rome. In his installation The Nest of the Wild Stones (2014) Nicolas Brooks also considers the ‘not quite real’ materiality of digitally printed objects putting together a landscape of exceptionally flawless surfaces and textures framing a video showing a series of 3D printing mishaps.

Nicholas Brooks The Nest of the Wild Stones, 2014

In the moment the printing process is interrupted, the difference between the perfect image of the model on the screen and the physical impossibility of that image is made clear. The delicate infrastructure supporting the surface planes relates to natural structures such as honey combs and webbing, making the installation, otherwise devoid of the natural world, in fact very natural by introducing ideas of entropy and fallibility. Although we are ever closer to mechanising many human processes and products of nature these things still take a lot longer than the ceaseless rhetoric driving technological progress within capitalist economies.

Nicholas Brooks Applications (excerpt), 2014

‘TTTT': Benedict Drew ‘Mainland Rock’, 2014

23 May


Forming part of the exhibition ‘TTTT’ recently opened at Jerwood Space, London, Mainland Rock (2014) is a three-part video by Benedict Drew filmed in and around New Zealand while the artist was on a residency there earlier this year. The video takes the form of a strange drug-addled trip – strange in that it seems to climax in a paranoiac come-down where buildings are accused of ignoring us and libraries stocked full of books advertise our body’s ‘lackness’. We watch as the camera pans past rows of shelves fading in and out of focus while a voiceover reads, “It lacks all those books, all of them. It hasn’t read them. And what it does have, its ‘have-ness’, is so lossy, so compressed, so full of holes and gaps and … voids. Connected by images not words and writing. But not even images (connected by intensities)”.

Drew’s work at once embodies a feeling of alienation within the built environment around us, while using the same level of technological sophistication to express these insights. His collaging of sound and image defines a particular space, whether of the gallery architecture, or of the structure of our minds.

He straddles analogue and digital technologies, scoring visuals to a soundtrack that recalls the noisy rhythm of a slowed down film projector, here simulating the heightened sensations of a panic attack. At different points during the film the grading of the image separates into red, blue and green, a glitch used to different effect in the video’s epilogue as pink and blue frames flicker strobiscopically, imitating sight as if through eyelids closed tightly against bright sunlight. Drew points to a consciousness shared with the progress of technology where its ‘lossi-ness’ can be compared to our own.



New exhibition opening: ‘TTTT’

7 May

TTTT is a new exhibition opening next week at the Jerwood Space (14 May – 22 June 2014) featuring new and reconfigured works by Johann Arens, Nicholas Brooks, Benedict Drew, Cécile B. Evans, Oliver Laric, Nicole Morrisand Heather Phillipson. Curator Sarah Williams has conceived of the exhibition as an exploration into the new materiality of screen-based culture where our day-to-day experience of being online influences our perception of and our interactions within the physical world around us. In this sense of a newfound reflexivity between our on and offline selves, Williams observes how this shift is reflected in language;

“Where the acronym TTTT refers to the phrase ‘These Things Take Time’, an internet search engine further reveals other associated meanings – ‘Too Tired To Type’ ‘Too Tired To Talk’ and so on. These slippages subtly hint at rapid developments within our language which are influenced by the internet, and to our own experience of ‘things’ and ‘time’ which are also changing in the current technological, economic and political environment.”

All of the artists have a strong online presence already so, before the exhibition opens next Wednesday 14 May when I will begin blogging about the show, I thought I’d point in the direction of a few of these links:


Agnes is an online bot who you can visit on the Serpentine’s website.


‘Heads Will Roll’ was the title of Drew’s recent solo show at Matt’s Gallery, London.


Transit of the Megaliths(excerpt)‘ (2013) shown recently at Rotterdam Film Festival 2014.


Images from Phillipson’s recent solo show at Art Brussels entitled ‘THE ORIGINAL EROGENOUS ZONE


The latest in Laric’s series of Versions (2012) videos.


Documentation of Arens’ recent moving image and installation-based projects


Documentation of Morris’ recent performance and installation-based projects









Lucy Clout and Marianna Simnett selected to develop their #WWTSOM? projects for the next stage in the awards

22 Apr

Film and Video Umbrella and Jerwood Charitable Foundation have announced that artists Lucy Clout and Marianna Simnett are the winners of the second edition of the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards. Both have been selected to receive commissions of £20,000, to allow them to work on major new moving-image projects. These new works will premiere at Jerwood Space, London and CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow in 2015. Looking forward to seeing what comes of this fantastic opportunity – building on the successes of all four artists up to this stage in the awards. Below are some clues of which direction they might take their work in. And for background on their projects, re-read my interviews with Lucy and Marianna on this blog.

Lucy Clout

In her new commission, Lucy Clout will continue her focus on the background noise of everyday life, moving beyond the background voices of the TV extras who were the subject of her first-stage project, The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips, to the thoughts that lurk at the back of people’s minds. Casting her eye over an online world where private lives (and private parts) are increasingly on public display, she will look at acts of self-exposure, such the case of US politician Anthony Weiner, not for what they reveal in a shocking or scandalised way but for what they lay bare about the mundane complications that occur when words refuse to disappear. 

Marianna Simnett 

In Marianna Simnett’s The Udder, the purity of milk and the struggle to keep it free from outside contamination are symbols of other forms of pristine innocence, and the wider threat of corruption. Further developing the central themes of her original work, Simnett will broaden her focus from the farmyard to more far-flung, mythological horizons – from the ‘sworn virgins’ of the mountains of Albania (and their esoteric oaths of chastity), to the figures of medieval saints as embodiments of female virtue.

WWTSOM? Interview with Kate Cooper

9 Apr

Unknown Species in Full Resolution is 4 mins long – the length of a TV commercial break, but the models and narration are selling digital post-production rather than fashion or cosmetics. Can you tell me more about the flow of digital image projections of ourselves compared to our interactions in real-time?

When I approached producing this piece I had been interested in how we might occupy images to create new forms of agency, how images in themselves perform and how this is divorced from what they represent. I wanted to explore surface using a particular set of tools; creating images that were instantly recognizable from mass advertising whilst at the same time combining abstract liquids within the same frame as the performers. The product shot is usually kept quite separate from the models in commercials and as I started to combine the liquids and the women and became interested in strategies that allow us to refuse or re-direct our own image. I wanted to create silent images, images so recognisable that they almost disappear in this intangible flow of liquid; in turn becoming a substance for the performers to camouflage themselves with; a technique of survival.

I liked the idea of the film commission being a proposal and I approached it as a set of questions; slogans embedded with this extended trailer. I have also been exploring what forms of labor have been re-directed as art practice within more mainstream culture. The production of yourself and your image becomes a kind of labour. How you might harness your digital image in new ways and create strategies in which to do this, to refuse work and refuse labor and refuse the production of your own image.


Is beauty only as deep as your skills in post-production? Does having a digital double offer us more possibilities to act in the world?

I guess this question comes back again to agency and asking what room to manoeuvre we have. I’m glad you mentioned mass advertising as I was interested in these kinds of fictional spaces and how they could be hijacked. The language used in some mainstream adverting campaigns talks of digital technology and the production of your own image being more important than the real life skin you live in. Again, I thought this was fascinating, as advertising now completely understands the values of our individual digital image production and is selling it back to us. Advertisement’s use of this absurd ‘bio-tech’ language – a fiction itself – along with this constant abstract creation of CG images really appeals to me. I felt there was room for a re-thinking of this fiction, and a starting point was thinking what would happen if artists occupied certain mainstream brands.

Thinking about what Hito Steyerl says about image spam, I really like the idea of these lost images having a use, something seen as obsolete having a function which is maybe separate from what they actually represent. As I mentioned before, I’m interested in how images perform and are distributed and how it’s no longer really related to the images themselves. The idea of digital doubles and new ways of moving producing multiples really appeals to me and in that way I feel like the film is a proposal to think through some of these ideas. I’m also fascinated at how we are all amateurs yet highly sophisticated in how we  augment and post produce our own image. I like the idea of your image doing work for you and how you might be able to re-think its function.


You’ve described previously how images of ourselves accrue a kind of ‘capital’. How does this concept relate to the position of art and artists in the wider economy?

We can take the figure of the freelancer or ‘creative’ worker as a model that has been adopted directly from the economy of the artist. We all carry around and accrue a capital as mass consumers, with everything we do being ‘creative’ and every part of our lives a kind of negotiated labour.

This constant influx of work taking over every aspect of our lives has huge implications for most people I know, with serious ramifications – such as on our mental health. However I’m also genuinely intrigued by what this means for the creative work that artists produce. What autonomy do we have and how do we understand formats and structures now available for artists? One of the reasons I have been working with Auto Italia for many years – and working through the framework of collaborative projects – is because of the particular freedom it provides us with to make work. It provides an opportunity (and more crucially a degree of autonomy) to dictate the formats and approach to the way to work. I’m interested in refusing certain types of labor, taking control of the means of production and forming new systems, communities and ways of being.

In this piece I’m addressing advertising to a certain extent, but I think it is important to mention that most of the artists I work with also work within these economies and I’m interested in the possibilities of how this might produce new structures for producing art. One example I think of is the designers Metahaven. They collaborate and produce commercial work through their design studio responding to briefs but also produce a critical artistic practice. I think this is a really fascinating model as it is at once both commercial and critical and I feel like they negotiate it in an interesting and uncompromising way.

To return to the piece I made for the FVU/Jerwood project, I wanted to explore how much our own bodies are related to us as workers, how we have to constantly perform being artists and to think this through with women who have to use their own bodies to perform.


How come you chose to focus on women in this piece? 

I wanted to distill so many ideas and produce a really precise piece. One of which was a return to what this type of performance of labour means for women and what type of work we label women’s work. I really wanted to think this through in the film with a group of female performers and in my case commercial models.

The film naturally developed out of a couple of projects I have been involved in over the past few years, particularly thinking of a collaborative piece we presented at Tate Modern called IT’S LIKE STARING SOMEONE OUT WHO ISN’T EVEN LOOKING AT YOU. The project came out of working with Cinenova and was a way for me and two other artists (Leslie Kulesh and Jess Weisner) to respond to the their archive and really think about what it means for women to produce moving image now. Although that performance is now a few years old I think it brought up lots of interesting conversations, particularly about digital representation of women what agency images have and what that might mean for a wider community. There was a quite heated conversation which took place after the performance that really stayed with me, which was essentially a cross general debate about what images and digital representational meant which I felt really at odds with.

For this piece I was thinking about really early work I had made with young women and I wanted to think what those images might mean now, and what means of production younger women might have in a performance of the self. I focused on a certain space within commercial production which is now more than ever increasingly available domestically and I was interesting in exploring particular images, fashion, pop music, averters, beauty campaigns and the role of the female model within that considering digital representation and how these relate to our own bodies. I wanted to explore this idea of surface of highly post-produced image as something we invade. How could the images themselves be manipulated? I wanted this liquid material to be inserted within the same frame of the images of the models as an act of refusal through not allowing their image to be completely presented.


The soundtrack is very minimal but full of suspense. Can you tell me about how you conceived of the sound and image working together?

I haven’t worked with sound very much before so it was a really great opportunity to work with someone on this piece. I am fascinated by how sound produces affect and wanted to really try and have something that made you experience the images differently. For me I guess I’m really interested in cinema and moving image in general – specifically how sound and images work together on a very basic level and what kinds of affect they produce. I really wanted to try out something different with this commission and it was really great to experiment with someone.

I worked closely with a brilliant sound designer Shervin Shaeri who mainly works in advertising as well as working and collaborating with artists. We talked a bit about the parameters of working commercially and the length of certain and type sounds used to create certain viewing attention- and it was great to have something to play with and react to this certain set of parameters. I guess I worked with the sound in a slightly similar way to the images, inhabiting as well and reconfiguring them for the piece.


The last line read by the narrator ‘Some people feel a basic minimum wage would lead to more people shopping’ is dystopian but also, probably, true. Can you talk about the work in relation to sci-fi?

Sci-fi is interesting because it is always about imagining new futures but as a way of narrating the present. I like that sci-fi brings genres together to comment on the current world we live in. There is this great paragraph in the Momus Book of Japans (which annoyingly I can’t seem to find) where he talks of a Japan of the future in which everyone will work either in advertising or as a sex worker. He talks of this dystopian economy where the currency will be a straight exchange between these two forms of labour where every conversation will be concerned with dropping in a slogan from a campaign and every look or glance will be an exchange in sex work. I also really enjoy Sophia Al Maria’s writing on gulf futurism particularly how she describes the gendered space of the shopping mall, which she talks about when critiquing the architecture in the Middle East. For me it resonates so much with the regional cities here in the UK.

I’m interested in the future of industries where women particularly are paid directly with luxury goods. I was thinking about how that becomes a shortcut to an economy of your own body and a currency of our own image; like a flattening of things. Who is co-opting who? It moves towards the completely dystopian future that Momus talks about, bringing together new ways of existing. For a while I have been fascinated by the figure of the fashion blogger as someone who is always working through this production of their own image and receiving luxury goods through product placement and brand endorsement. Although this phenomena is perhaps a little less prominent now than a few years ago, I have always been interested in how gendered this is and thought it was interesting in terms of accruing the kind of capital that we spoke of before. A kind of extreme short circuit that is both interesting and terrifying.


Unknown Species in Full Resolution (2014) by Kate Cooper was commissioned for the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’. A collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella, in association with CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow and University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries. Film and Video Umbrella is supported by Arts Council England.

The precarity of video in depicting the world as it is: Interview with Anne Haaning

31 Mar

Anne Haaning KhoiSan Medicine’ (excerpt) 2014

Anne Haaning is one of the four artists participating in the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’ (#WWTSOM?) exhibition, the first stage of a major awards-giving process for moving-image artists in the first five years of their practice, a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella. In the following interview I asked her about her new work ‘KhoiSan Medicine’ (2014) in which she analyses digital culture through a wide historical lens and a reading of the mythologies of the ancient KhoiSan people.

What is KhoiSan Medicine? 

My starting point for making this work revolves around hunter gatherer myth. I’ve tried to approach the age I live in (and particularly the digital) from the same distance an archeologist would when trying to unpick lives and identities of humans thousands and thousands of years ago. The KhoiSan are a people descended from the first human beings to arrive in a desert (in what is now called South Africa) more than 100,000 years ago. I’ve been to that desert; it’s an extraordinary place, in a sort of subtle way. At first glance the most impressive part about it is the vastness of it, it’s not like the picturesque screen saver sand dunes at all, it’s just rocks and bushes for miles. What makes it so special is its unique geology; the ground there has been dry for hundreds of thousands of years which meant that there was barely any erosion of the soil, and for this reason stone tools from different generations and human species divided by millennia lie next to each other in the same field. In theory you can access all of human history just by sifting through the sand with your hands. For me this really recalls what is happening with the digital and the internet, not so much the access to everything but more the levelling out of time. The ‘shallowness’ and the ‘flatness’ (and I don’t mean this in a derisory sense) (I’m tempted to make the reference you’re making! “It is the flattest and the dullest parts that in the end have the most life.”)

The palaeolithic anthropologist Chris Low is an expert in KhoiSan peoples and their relationship to myth and wind; he was, clearly, influential in the course that the work took. One of the voices in the video is Chris Low’s’, it’s taken from a lecture he did on ‘Potency and the Role of the Environment in KhoiSan medicine’.

So finally, to answer your question. KhoiSan Medicine is a direct hint to where the work is coming from but also, I hope, a title that encapsulates ‘it’ – the video, as a substance: KhoiSan medicine; a drug that possibly intoxicates, heals or enlightens.

Is it a theme you’ve addressed in your work before?

I’ve been trying to dissect the digital for a while, but it’s the first time I’ve taken such a ‘profound’ stab at it. I got really fed up with talking about ‘the digital’ as ‘other than real’ – the thing that separates us from the world. For me the problem with the digital is the force that drives it (military, state and capital) and I guess I’m kind of going down a route where in theory I’m fighting for ‘digital rights’, the digital itself is just another emerging media, like the printing press was when Bibles were the only books to be printed. This work is the beginning of what I think will be a longer commitment to the digital as an ecology in its own right to be understood as an extension of the physical, rather than a removed data field.

I picked up on a comparison between the immaterial image and ghosts, or spectral digital identities – is this reading as you intended?

Yes. This sort of links back to my interest in myth. One of the reasons I’m interested in applying the idea of myth to the digital comes from their shared immateriality. In contemporary western society, matter generally takes precedence over the immaterial, hence the internet being some kind of ‘virtual’ reality. For the KhoiSan people, traditionally there was no division between mind and body, space and time and even dead and living – a worldview that, to me, both prefigures and recalls the digital. In the digital, history is always now or uncertain. The end is transitional, and so what we leave behind of digital evidence of our existence is indeterminate. Ghost translated into Danish is ‘genfærd’ which translated directly means gen = re and færd = journey. I like that definition of a ghost. The journey that repeats.

How did you make the imagery for the video – was it all done within the screen (ie. through graphics and found material) or did you film anything yourself (using a camera)?  

I usually pick up certain elements (video and sound) that anchor with the main idea. I then translate those elements through a number of editing tools, I guess to see what happens when those translations are compared and how meanings are linked to their mode of representation. It usually involves filming, making 2D and 3D animation, and processing found material. Eventually those elements start connecting, sometimes they don’t and then they have to go. Making ‘KhoiSan Medicine’ was a very different process from what I usually do in that I was lucky to get the opportunity to work in the studio of UEL (University of East London) which both meant I could be a bit more ambitious with what images I could achieve but also that I had to plan everything out beforehand. It was terrifying, but it really paid off, I think. Also, it was great to let other people into the work during the shoot, and see this otherwise extremely intimate process from the outside suddenly.

I’m interested in whether you’ve worked with celluloid film before? If so, how did you find the difference in quality of experience or filmmaking?

Briefly many years ago, but never professionally. The materiality and the presence of it fascinates me, and particularly the idea that the images are actually evidence of a place in time, but my way into film making was actually through architecture (i graduated from the Royal Academy of Architecture in Copenhagen in 2004), so my first experience of it was through making stop motion animation exploring temporality in architecture. In that way, I think my videos are made as animations even when they include shot footage; I understand the duration through frames rather than seconds. Also, the way I used video in relation to architecture was often to do with proposing a world that didn’t exist yet, so my relationship with video really hinges on its precarious relationship with depicting the world as it is.

Whose are the voices we hear? Are they reading from a script?

There are three voices, one is Chris Low as I mentioned before and the other two are motion graphics experts presenting the latest plugins and advances in the motion graphics industry. I’ve watched thousands of youtube tutorials, this is how I’ve learnt everything I know about 3D animation and motion graphics. So I know that language very well, and I’ve been struck by how often terms from the digital universe of the programs refer back to the physical world, and how these conversations taken out of context suddenly start to say quite strangely profound things about the physical world. In the original source material, one of the digital experts is presenting a plug-in that you use to make particles. This means making fluids, clouds, dust, sand… etc. anything that moves according to swarm-based dynamics, and I thought that was the perfect counter part to my fascination of the mythical ideas of wind and flow.

It’s interesting how you use the wide-format screen to mirror the space in front of the screen. Did you have an idea of how the viewer would encounter the film (using the two sets of headphones hanging from the ceiling) before you started, or did it come to you later in the process? 

Having the headphones in the space as a mirror of the video was something I decided quite early on. Practically, the decision of choosing headphones rather than speakers was a response to a logistical constraint. We are four artists in two rooms. And in the end I think this constraint was very helpful in driving the work. Having the headphones there as a mirror is a way of implicating the audience in the work and of extending the video into the space of the gallery. With youtube and vimeo being the primary platform for watching videos today, I think it’s important to emphasise the unique situation of actually watching this thing in a room, and that this is where this particular video works and belongs. I also like the way the hanging headphones stage the viewers wearing them, as being weirdly attached to the work with this pseudo umbilical chord. As for the wide-screen format, I knew from the beginning that there was going to be a lot of flow in it, and so it seemed suitable with a very wide and horizontal space for this to happen.

Anne Haaning 'Khoisan Medicine', 2014


The headphones seem to be an extension of the flow depicted in the film. But I’m curious about the two ‘dead heads’ pictured next to the head we see doing what we’re doing: They’re very cinematic! Has their wind expired? What do you mean when you say (in the notes accompanying the film) that digital bodies can have a more lasting presence than bodies?

In this constellation it’s clear which of the three is ‘the original’, but really, they’re all copies. As you say two of them are ‘dead heads’, but all three heads are doing exactly the same and are ‘made of’ exactly the same immaterial stuff; the only important difference is that two of them aren’t staring back at us. I suppose they are a bit further down the digital chain of transition. Their non-existent gaze kind of reminds me of the feeling I get when faced with ancient greek marble sculptures. They’re oblivious to the world, how ever much it’s changed and even when they lose their limbs. I think the same goes for the digital.

‘KhoiSan Machine’ by Anne Haaning, alongside the three other new works in the  Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’ exhibition is on show at Jerwood Space, London until 27 April 2014. The exhibition will also be installed concurrently at CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow between 4 – 21 April 2014.

Affective viewing: Interview with Lucy Clout

22 Mar

Lucy Clout 'The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips' 2014

Over the past few weeks I’ve exchanged online videos and emails with Lucy Clout, one of the four artists participating in the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’ (WWTSM?) exhibition, the first stage of a major awards-giving process for moving-image artists in the first five years of their practice, a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella.

Hi Lucy

I’ve been looking for a starting point for our video conversation. So far I’ve come up with three online videos. They’re all artworks, but that wasn’t necessarily intentional. I was thinking about a theme in your previous work – how the experience of watching can produce (non-cognitive) affects in the body. I’m curious if this is what you’re looking at in your new video for ‘WWTSM?’ – some sort of fleeting encounter or feeling, drawn out a while longer? Or is it more to do with how actions are produced from those affects – however minor or incidental, like the words the extras are miming? Feel free to pick a video to respond to, or all, or none. Look forward to hearing more about the new piece and starting our discussion.

Joyce Weiland and Michael Snow, 'Dripping Tap' 1969

Mark Leckey 'Pearl Vision' 2012


Hi Shama

I’ll leave out the slowness disclaimer.

It is friday night and I am sat at home waiting for parts of the new work to render. It is my sneaking hope that a title will come out of these conversations, but y’know no pressure…

The Joyce Wieland and Michael Snow is so very much ASMR. Except I guess you had to watch it in a room with other people, just like those same audiences had to watch porn in a porn theatre. The past was disgusting, no?

‘Fleeting and sub cognition’, yes there’s some of that in the new work I think/hope. It’s odd to write about it at this stage, hard to distinguish between what the work is and what it was going to be. I use a voiceover which might be recognisable to some and images of a beach that is not just any beach. These aren’t cameos, the voice and the place aren’t used to bestow status, the mild recognition is to be an experiential entry point for audience. It’s manipulative.

Manipulation Under Anesthesia

Speaking of which (ha) here is some of what I am looking at for my next work; manipulation under anaesthesia. here and (1.25) and here, those images of the unconscious body being moved in those odd ways for their own good are just fascinating; horrifying though funny at points too.

I can’t even look at those red trousers. I used to play the drums as a teenager, did I tell you that? I wasn’t good at it and I was particularly not good at it when others were watching. okay I am on the edge of just telling anecdotes, which is an annoying default of mine, so I am going to press send so at least I’ve begun.


Those videos are horrific! And those people are mad – it’s like watching somebody falling down awkwardly over and over, only at the (over-excited? mauling?) hands of others. The patients must wake up horribly bruised, no? For once I’m on the side of the insurance companies – one of the stated risks of MUA being ‘an increase in pain’ is surely decisive? Are these videos for educational purposes? Or where do you place this video on the ASMR > S&M scale of emerging spectatorship?!

I’m really interested in the difference you pick up on between videos which work better watched in a room with others and the experience of watching solo, behind your own screen. How will people see the finished video in the gallery – will there be headphones or speakers? (I’m quite enjoying the freedom of knowing my audience – talking to you by email rather than posting straight to the blog. Maybe I should include the NSA spooks in my unknown known audience??).

I can imagine how the voiceover and the familiarity of that voice, and the ‘not just any beach’ draw the viewer in, in an instinctive way rather than through rational instruction. For those who recognise these hooks, they become implicated in the work, through the coincidence of their own memory. But I guess something else happens with those who don’t recognise those elements. One reason I included ‘Pearl Vision’ by Mark Leckey in the last message was because he describes it as a self-portrait, I guess Leckey’s identification with this brand of drum is, for people who know about it, to also share in his affinity with it. For me the risk is of people not recognising those things. I guess then the clues would have a different, unintended effect? Despite not knowing much about drums (and despite his red trousers!) I still appreciated ‘Pearl Vision’ as a paean to something held dear.


I imagine those videos are mainly watched by people desperate to regain mobility, there seem to be links from pain forums or sites about specific conditions. The combination of the authoritative medical (dangerous!) anaesthesia with the always-a-bit-suspicious chiropractor is particularly interesting to me. Would I believe in the healing possibilities of a chiropractor more or less if they had the full operating theatre set up? Over excited mauling- I love that. There’s something about one body handling another, one body the authority on the other. I don’t know how they fit into the world, there’s a fair bit of horror/glee in the comments about the sound of the body cracking, but I suppose it mainly talks to people’s desires to be mobile and understand the physiology of the body externally.  I am sure there is something of the drug rapist in the watching of it (and god knows I can’t face doing that google search), but I am interested in the subjectivity/experience where watching one of those videos might lead you to having this procedure, the decision to temporarily hand over your body.

Yeh it’s funny because I feel like almost everything is better watched at home, except 3d, blockbusters and art video. I wonder if this is partly describes my own comfort with the gallery space? What an unexpected thought. Also you know I am just your sham audience right? All this is fakery, like when you fancy someone and try to have hilarious conversations in their vicinity? I am going for quick and jocular whilst trying to hide my feelings of narcissism. And you?

In the Leckey thing (who I think is generally an amazing artist -I say to the imagined audience, and indeed to Mark Leckey who is probably reading this knee to knee with the NSA spooks) that lone drum drives me crazy. It seems like such a status object, all macho and smooth and fulfilling a fantasy only available to this man, a thing advertised to him, the word “paradiddle” hanging over it all. VOM. I want to watch a fat body, an old body, actual genitals or maybe some huge fuck off pubes, anything other than a slightly older yet still financially viable body expressing itself via a literally shiny new object of status, an object which wants this man’s attention. I think the work assumes not that you know the brand of snare but his brand, his earring, etc etc.

But I think maybe my work isn’t clear of that trap either.  I want that voice and that beach to activate a type of reading and bring forward these very known background objects (repeated at least twice daily). However I am aware of the risk that their position as disposable culture could be understood as part of the tedious reverse-snobbery use of pop culture that has filled review sections and dating profiles for the past 20 years. I really can’t bear for that to be how the work is understood. I don’t think these soaps are hilariously naff, or that my attention to them is democratic. They are rich and omnipresent and describe both a culture and a set of desires. I do like that grubby keyboard and mac in that Leckey work.

Here is my only link, a crane building a crane:


Thanks for that nice intermission! I like time lapse and have recently discovered the mesmerizing qualities of tilt shift (the cars are life size! Trust me).

I’m interested in how ‘minor speech’ and the disfluencies which interest you might have a more, resonant or horizontal affect – rather than an argument which would be more targeted. Previously, we’ve emailed about Silvia Federici and affective labour, which engages both our rational intellect as well as our feelings in an exchange. Typically air stewards and call centre workers epitomize this shift from mechanical to ‘feminised’ service economies. Now the ASMR you draw attention to in your previous work ‘Shrugging Offing’ (2013) complicates this as the actual exchange between the videomaker and the viewer is less obvious and more performative?

Lucy Clout ‘Shrugging Offing’ 2013 (trailer)

You were the first to tell me about online therapy, which I couldn’t help thinking about when I watched ‘Her‘ recently – have you seen it? It struck me that, increasingly, therapy is available to us as a consumable form, rather than something more lasting – we’re ok until we need the next update!  (In a less narcissistic, more urgent way, how you describe how the back pain sufferers might be prompted to impart their agency to those crazed chiropractors, is a selflessness quite apart from conventional therapy.)

I wonder, as the economy becomes progressively touchy feely and peripheral (the internet of things etc.) there’ll be less and less direct, or argumentative communication and it will be harder to distinguish fading memories of a certain Merseyside accents and Australian beaches we’ve never visited but remain in our vernacular. I think, as I understand it, your focus is very timely identifying the axis on which these things are turning on.

Anyway, all this talk before I’ve actually seen the new video, which I’m sure will prompt a host more ideas and questions for you.

Did you decide on a title?


I’ve never had Skype therapy but I imagine it to be very practical for some people. The idea of the lone chair with tissues beside it waiting to be activated seem no less problematic to me. I’m both intrigued and horrified by the art on the walls of therapists’ offices, these images which someone else imagines will be cognitively or emotionally useful to the imagined patient…. I’d much rather be in my own surroundings with the familiar distraction of the laptop. I don’t think that therapy really works in this country anyway, since the NHS is financially unable to offer the kind of long-term relationship that seems necessary and yet the idea of paying for medicine is both alien and humiliating.  I have had this long term plan to make an expanded documentary about the peculiar situation of the big old beast that is the NHS taking on the American secular Buddhist practice of mindfulness – socialized medicine using this individualized meditative practice because medical trials proved it financially viable. It’s such a curious case study of how the state deals with the bodies of its citizens. Particularly when looking at the interpretations of mindfulness that stress acceptance and place the power/burden of health back onto the consciousness of the individual.

It is hard to imagine that there will be less touch in the future (there will always be children and their grabby hands) also since I’ve been thinking a lot about how touch and minor speech are often interchangeable, I think that the desire for touch expressed on the internet doesn’t necessarily describe an alienated population but just how strongly people’s desire for it is.

The video is called ‘The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips’. I’d been saving Her until after the work was finished, and now it is finished so I’m going to go on Sunday night.  What do you think of the actual work now you’ve seen it? Does it resemble what you thought it would be in these conversations?

Bonne voyage

X x x


Hello from sunny Vancouver!

I think you’re right to point out that these online alternatives to the physical encounter aren’t necessarily a lesser experience. Lest we forget that the porn industry has driven the rise of the internet and most popular screen media. Indeed, online therapy could be a viable option for the NHS – a cheaper way of offering longer term therapy? But no doubt demand is higher than ever and they’re too far down the line with that stopgap style ‘mindfulness’ therapy train to change course now.

And of course filmmaking is this very proxy we’ve been circling around. Seeing the new video, ‘The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips’, I realize it wasn’t important to have seen, or to remember the details of this never-ending soap. The lack of continuity you mention and the dependable regularity of its scheduling was the sense of it I remembered most (perhaps too even those extras who didn’t quite blend in as expected). Not to say I wasn’t aware of watching it in a room with lots of people my age and collectively remembering this easily forgotten part of (lots of) our lives, just more self conscious of it! It was a strange pleasure to see Marilyn again!

I liked how you had to work out the connection between all the elements of the work as if you were a forensic detective, but without needing to make a judgment about what it might all meant – similarly to how the female lip-reader explains her role in the investigation process. I imagine this must have been your experience in the production phase too – working without a script and responding to the different directions the people in the video, and the practicalities of filming sent you in.

Thinking about the other way we use words – as throw-away sounds like ‘yeah’ and ‘um’ – you realize their function is gestural, almost like ‘pre-speech’, rather than trying to persuade or reproduce desire. In your film I felt aware of this even when something was being explained – the way the lip-reader repeated the phrase ‘dead-end-road’ resounded with me quite musically for example. As algorithmic language increasingly tries to pre-empt our desires it seems necessary (to me at least) to be able to distinguish between the two. The way you bring memory into the equation seems quite un-computer-like in this sense – when forgetfulness is one way of dealing with the mass of information we’re so close to all the time.

Not sure if you want to say anything else? If not, congrats and good luck for the opening in Glasgow next month x

‘What Will They See of Me?’ exhibition open!

12 Mar

An exhibition of the four films commissioned for the first stage of the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me? opens to the public today. Over the course of the past six months artists Lucy Clout, Kate Cooper, Anne Haaning and Marianna Simnett have produced the following films from which two artists will then be selected to develop their ideas further as part of the second stage of this annual award.

Each of the artists have approached the theme with remarkably distinct approaches pertaining to their ongoing practice interests. Over the next few weeks I will be speaking to the artists and writing about their works here on the blog, please stay tuned for updates.

Lucy Clout

The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips 

7 minutes, 40 seconds Digital Video
Represented by Limoncello, London

Kate Cooper

Unknown Species in Full Resolution 

3 minutes, 48 seconds Video

Anne Haaning

KhoiSan Medicine 

12 minutes, 19 seconds HD video

Marianna Simnett

The Udder 

15 minutes, 30 seconds HD video


All films commissioned for the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’. A collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella, in association with CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow and University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries. Film and Video Umbrella is supported by Arts Council England.

“The real protagonist is the udder…”: Interview with Marianna Simnett

2 Mar

Production shot, Marianna Simnett, 'The Udder', 2014

I met up Marianna Simnett in the week before filming began on The Udder – her new work for the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’ (WWTSM?) exhibition, the first stage of a major awards-giving process for moving-image artists in the first five years of their practice, a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella.

Shama Khanna: How are you feeling about the shoot?

Marianna Simnett: So much is reliant on these four days to go well, I’m finding the weight of it quite odd – as in heaviness, not the waiting! I’m very excited. There are a lot of unknowns – there are animals and children involved, there’s an element of chaos I’ve chosen. There’s something unpredictable about it, it’s going to be … hopefully good!

Talk me through who’s on the production team – the crew and the cast.

There’s me and the production manager, then a cameraman, a sound person, a lighting person, about five assistants and a friend also joining to keep me in check. There are five cast members – all people who relate to udders… OK, so I’ll talk you through those, there’s the farm manager of a farm in West Sussex where they have implemented robots instead of traditional herding methods. She is the mother and her real nine-year old daughter is the protagonist, although the real protagonist is the udder, which she is the substitute for. There are two brothers who are her siblings, who all met up for the first time yesterday. And there’s the herdsman, who is deaf, who hasn’t met anyone, and again, I don’t know what’s going to happen!

I can talk you through what it’s all about… The film is essentially about the threat of mastitis, an inflammatory disease of the mammary gland. All farms try to stave it off because it can effect milk production. Women get it as well when they breast feed, [the syptoms] can get very severe. It’s a big evil. There are lots of measures in place to stop it from happening as, you know, it’s insidious like any disease: you can be hosting it without showing any of the symptoms.

[The film] is partly about a pursuit into the anatomy of the udder down to a molecular level, at the same time it’s also about chastity (MS laughs) – this is where the young girl comes in. She plays a girl who doubles up as the udder. Her nose, which she tries to see the end of, by crossing her eyes repeatedly (MS demonstrates), like that, also doubles up as the end of the teat. [I was imagining] Something about horizontality, but also looking down. The udder has this gravitational pull, it is so forced to be pointing down towards the mud, like an index finger pointing down, that’s why I like it as an object, reminding us about the ground.

Production shot, Marianna Simnett, 'The Udder', 2014

Before I tell you about the narrative let me describe the two locations: There’s the documentary style filming which takes place on the robotic farm and then there’s the studio which is the interior of an udder which will be constructed out of theatrical skrim – a material which has hundreds of tiny holes in it so you can back and front light it. It has this membranous quality – it can be seen through or opaque depending on how you light it. Which for me is a nice minimalist gesture towards a construction which also relates to this skin, or surface. So the room is divided into quarters, like an udder which has four quarters and is hermetic – if one of them becomes diseased the other three remain perfectly fine. It has this beautiful organisation within it …

So an udder has four teats, and they each have their separate section, or…

Chamber, internally they’ve got their own chamber – some things can pass through the walls and some things can’t. It’s more complicated than that, I’ve cut one open myself and it’s not as clean… but that’s pretty much that’s what happens inside. So, the story is that the young girl gets chased out of the interior of the udder by her two brothers who plot against her, and she ends up on the outside of the farm, lost, a bit like ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Meanwhile the mum is on the inside as well, her character is a prudish Victorian [figure], and is always shown behind glass – she’s repressed basically, she can’t get out! Whereas the young girl can get out and wants to and the mum tries to hold her back, and stop her from going outside, because she could be susceptible to disease, because she is the udder and if it’s outside mud can stick to it which contains bacteria which can develop into mastitis… But in terms of the girl it’s more about sex and chastity, and less about disease.

Then the herdsman character, he’s deaf, he is a 24 hour herdsman in real life. He oversees things. He needs to live very near the farm in case one of the robots goes wrong and he has to go and fix it. So his job is labour, well, lack of labour but he needs to be present all the time. This is what’s happening with the change in agriculture – humans don’t need to work as hard as before but they need to be there. He’s this all-seeing omnipotent guy, and he recognises that something’s going to happen to the girl. He’s the only one who can go outside He’s got a spiritual presence – he can see more, but hear less. The end of the story is that she cuts off her nose.

[Sharp intake of breath!]

She finds a blade in the mud which is the same blade that will be used for a post-mortem on an udder – I’ve got the blade on me, I can show you! So cutting off her nose is a reference to the nun, St Æbbe who cut off her nose to spite her face because the Danes were invading and she didn’t want to lose her virtue.

Is that where that phrase comes from?

Yes, I think so. So Simon, the herdsman, has an alarm that goes off, but because he’s deaf he can’t hear it, so sometimes his wife has to elbow him! In the film he does miss the scene of her cutting off her nose, and returns to the udder to tell the two boys who then discuss what will happen to her. The older one thinks she will be fine because she has inherent chastity and the power to stave off danger of the worst kind, and the younger brother, who’s more practical thinks because she’s really pretty people will flirt with her.

15 second film clip, Pier Pasolini, 'The Gospel According to St. Matthew', 1964 (click to watch)

She does get seduced, by herself, wearing red lipstick, but Simon heals her before she goes back into the udder. Maybe you’ve seen the miracle scene in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) by Pasolini? It’s a bit naff but basically a leper is cured by the word of God… So the herdsman heals her with his words and she returns to the udder as if nothing’s happened but her lipstick is smudged – while she seduces herself she applies and wipes off lipstick, in a Brechtian [performative] sense . By the end of the scene she’s smudged, you don’t know if she’s good or bad. And that’s it!


When you were at the proposal stage did you know about all the intricacies of the script?

Not really. I’d heard about this method called decapitation secretion, which is where a portion of cells in the udder pinches off and becomes milk – so I was interested in the brief of  ‘WWTSM? where you have to martyr a bit of yourself, in order to be yourself, in a paradoxical way. So in the cells themselves they’re ridding themselves of themselves in order to become the milk we drink. So that turned into the decapitation of the nose, and it all folded into itself quite naturally.

Do you see this as a pilot for a longer piece?

Yes, it’s a pilot – I’d like to work with the same people again. If I did get through to the second round I would make it more about mastitis having occurred rather than it being an outside threat. This film is more about cleanliness and trying to maintain order. (MS pulls out a text book and shows me pictures of some infected udders) It would be more an investigation into the actual disease itself. It is a metaphor about our relationship to technology and other things, so I’m not done with it. Here’s a really gruesome one, look…

Do you feel you need to know that level of detail about the biology of the udder?

I don’t need to no, but something happened at the end of my MA when I started looking at brains – I read a  book by Catherine Malabou about trying to become conscious of the consciousness our brains – the organ has a type of psyche. Thinking about science not being opposed to psychoanalysis – a new branch emerged called neuro-psychoanalysis which merges the two. So organs aren’t just boring things in books – they actually contain a jewel … I feel like it’s shunned because it’s boring and too stiff, I’d like to shake it up a bit – to marry it with something that’s more fictional and energised.

Have you read about Object Oriented Ontology?

Not really, I don’t really like buzz terms. It’s like when we were all talking about ‘affect’ on my MA .… it felt very institutionalised, but now I’m out of it I feel I can dip in and out of it. Why do you ask?

Well, I think of WWTSM? as a type of othering – viewing yourself from an undisclosed point. I imagine organs and animals, things which we have a conception of according to their functionality being re-read through this new type of philosophy. I’m interested in how much is [the story] your imagination, or facts, or your experience? Do you feel through your filmmaking, you’re constructing a type of consciousness?

Production shot, Marianna Simnett, 'The Udder', 2014

There are personal experiences in it. Even down to the story of not being able to play outside, that happened, and the crossing the eyes – it did used to frustrate me that that was the only part of the face that you could see – it felt wrong! There are so many brilliant things that happen when you allow a project to completely dominate you, and that’s what it’s done.

Why an udder? It’s a strange thing to isolate from a cow, but I guess it has the most relevance to us… 

I’m trying to take away the panto-quality from it. I liked it because of how heavy it was, how it looked severed from the body. Like it had almost dropped outside of the tummy, organs are meant to be inside.

Apart from one… the phallus!

OK, yes. But something’s not right about it, it’s supposed to be tucked up! Anyway, hopefully I can do something that won’t make people snigger. The udder’s weird because it also looks really phallic at times, it’s got both genders, I feel it’s like an asexual object.

Why is it a symbol of chastity?

It’s not. I made that up! Also it’s a lie I like because also the only way a cow can produce milk is to feed a calf, so it can’t be. There’s a wrongness about the facts I quite like. Have you heard of the Sworn Virgins from Albania? They are women who dress as men and swear an oath of chastity to their neighbours. It’s how fiction, drag or role-play can become actualised within a society despite everyone knowing they’re not. So in relation to your question – is an udder chaste? No, it’s definitely had to have sex, but if we say it is then maybe it can be, in a drag kind of way. Just because we say so.

So far you’ve been working on the conceptionalisation and the logistics of the project, how will the next of week of the production go?

The first day in the studio we’ll build the set with the crew, then we’ll spend the next day shooting, everyone’s coming, then there’ll be two days on the farm. The last day will be just me and a friend collecting little things – filming udders and things like that. I’ve written a song as well! It’s about mastitis and chastity, she’s going to be singing it as a solo / duet with herself in front of the robot, and the chugging of the machine will provide the beat. A little ditty…


The pictures were collected during the following week’s filming – from the shoot in the Docklands studio and on the farm in West Sussex.

The Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’, are a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella in association with CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, and supported by University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries.  Film and Video Umbrella is supported by Arts Council England.

Images: Marianna Simnett’s The Udder (2014), courtesy of Film and Video Umbrella and Jerwood Charitable Foundation.