Holly Antrum and Rose O’Gallivan, on To the microphone, please (with Mrs Soprano) Interview by Regina Barunke, Director, Temporary Gallery.
To the microphone, please (with Mrs Soprano), 8.10 minutes, 16mm on HD, 2013 exhibited ‘In the House of Mr and Mrs X’, Temporary Gallery, Cologne, 18 May – 4th August 2013
RB: Was Mrs Soprano a real or fictive person?
HA: ‘Mrs Soprano’ is the title of Rose’s show in Rome in 2012 and is also the title of the artwork she presented: a silk sheet cut to the size of the gallery floor. Likewise in the film, ‘Mrs Soprano’ is not a person, but the artwork that appears in the film, incorporated into the making process of another artwork. Therein lies the conversation of how this work took shape.
By using a name onto a thing, we could say it puts a personality or more so, a supposed character upon a material whilst the artist, or person we see in the film, who we might think it directly means – is actually pushing away from disclosing much information about themselves, e.g. lines like “I don’t feel that comfortable” and telling the interviewer simply ‘No’ – when they push a thought about the practice too far in the wrong direction (in connection to a shot in the film which might underline that interpretation).
Meanwhile the silk, having a name linked with the voice, supercedes the voice of the artist which is edited away. It is knowingly a sumptuous material (as film stock is too), it is left raw and not made into a ‘thing’, is not used to construct but to behave in a space as it has a reactive, tactile quality in response to the activity that goes on top of it: The interviewer asks the interviewee to speak whilst the material’s shape changes/is changed from being scrunched together in a bag – to flat and smoothed – to crumpled up by the actions that happened on top. These things are shown. They are barely events but as three stages are the narrative of the film I suppose, maybe leading the viewer into thinking there is something to come, but the stage has already been taken. They are the steps that were absorbed into Rose’s show Mrs Soprano, and were important to her as the artist – but were not appreciable necessarily to the viewer. Presentation and preparation themselves are a kind of drama that goes ‘before’ and we got to explore that question between our two practices and materials here.
It also has nothing to do the with television series ‘The Sopranos’. [laughter]…
RB: How did you decide a title as “instruction”, which directly seems to allude to a stage situation (where sound is dominant over image)? On the other hand, the visuals play a much more important and seductive role in the work than the sound being reduced to off-recordings and silent subtitles.
RG: The title Mrs Soprano, like the reference to the microphone evokes themes of presentation, performance, and specifically in the title Mrs Soprano refers to the common assumption of the presence of a voice within artworks. The artist is expected to have this ‘voice’ which is often audible in a certain pitch. The pitch becomes the tone or texture of the artwork whether light, earnest, dry, shrill, sombre. The high range of the soprano is sometimes arresting/uncomfortable, and (I like to imagine) occasionally inaudible. Much like the title of the title: ‘Mrs’, ‘Soprano’ is also a completely gendered category. So the characterisation in the title served the purpose of referring to these interests or thoughts.
HA: The title, like you say was something that I chose to break the beginning of the film seamlessly into the activity of the film, it’s both title and part of it. However, with speech I have cut away all the articulated words and kept the noise and scuffles in-between – that is what I mean by ‘impoverished’ sound – meaningless ‘doing’ noises deriving from our filming, the scuffles around an exchange of words. So everything is kept ‘low’, whilst the text on the screen can then fall into focus without other words in the air and further protagonism, but for audible tones of presence and going along with something
RB: The title itself is an intriguing beginning that leads the camera (meandering, almost touching the silky surface) to the microphone. But arriving at the microphone it has no use or function, more a sign or character – or at least it implicates that something might follow.
HA: I like the ambiguity you can see in it. We considered that most of the activity stays close to the floor, the microphone had been used all along, and it is the accidental room and material and movement sounds of what we see that are brought out. Rose and I wanted to ‘up’ the idea of the activity involved in making an artwork rather than the final finished thing, all that leads to that point. A lot of work which looks performative, especially sculpture, allude to this when the viewer approaches them in the gallery, but here we are away from the gallery, and can question that ‘before’ and ‘after’ of an intervention or act.
RB: This is something I like a lot on your work: I have the feeling that the whole efforts you are showing in stretching the silk is leading to something that we don’t see but expect.
And again, linguistically you are working in the title with brackets, a subtitle that indicates another layer of meaning – or time.
Where did you film this time?
HA: It’s a house in London – I had actually recently moved in and feeling unsettled, felt like I wanted to do a project there to address the space, which was not my own. (You see, it was the first time I had lived in a proper house for a long time and I was very aware of the architecture and the kind of domesticity such space a space suggests, it’s proportions, and also it’s reminiscence to house I lived in as a child although here things felt ‘set’ prior). We make connections with places by doing things there: by carrying out things in a space you address and interact with what you’d otherwise just look at. I actually made some new curtains for the film, and we moved all the other furniture out to get back to the shell of the room). I knew I could use this stage-like feel, with the window at the back, and originally thought about other things being placed on the floor, but the idea then came to ask Rose about Mrs Soprano. It was very exciting to bring the artwork to the space – I had never seen it in Rome, but remembered the distinctive press release by Rose (which forms the subtitles of the film). Somehow it was like having a special guest, this material to work with for a day.
Rose, I’m going to go back to what you said about the artist being put into an uncomfortable position of speaking about a work, striking a balance between saying too much and too little in order to allow the work to speak for itself (here I am undoing that). In turn, I was interested in how this text became duplicated into two languages and could be seen as two voices trying to establish something by different means, always in different positions, whether because they speak different languages or because one is a ‘maker’ or artist performing their role as an artist and one is not, but they get involved with one another (for example being asked to hold something, the other person is becoming involved in the performance too).
RB: How did Rose work with the silk fabric? Though the camera it’s hard to see the whole – which might work quite different to her installation in Rome.
RG: The show in Rome to some extent was a piece that was concerned with the conditions of ‘exhibiting’ and a response to the gallery conventions it had a preoccupation with its specific context. The silk as material was a means to an end. So it was fitting to bring this piece into Holly’s film and further question or explore themes of ‘presenting’ artworks, explaining artworks, and possibly the choking or holding back of that all important artist ‘voice’.”
The work is an appliqued silk floor covering made for the gallery to act as a decorative membrane, a work handmade with the artists ‘hand’ but instead of being elevated to the wall, it is sunk to the floor, possibly staging or recording the activity of the viewers moving in the space, left untended to change throughout the duration of the show.
HA: Absolutely, yes Rose’s piece in Rome worked very differently with the gallery to respond to, the newness of the fabric at that stage, the simultaneity of the idea and experience belonging to the installation was intact – whereas film sets it over duration, and layers our interpretations according to other criteria. Filming – as a verb is to create coverage with a camera and the material of film, to record and document something, a work inside a work. It has invited a mixture of complexities, and possibilities for narrative misinterpretation that I find interesting. The finished thing takes enjoyment from these complexities.
RB: Why did you choose working in two formats – 16mm and digital?
HA: I most always work combining the two – my practice specifically takes hold of this idea of analogue recording (another layer of performance which is revealed in the film – it is obvious, never hidden, the camera-work feels quite manual too) and its freedom away from the structural implications of 100% analogue. The medium I currently work with has been scanned. The work has stages which rely on one another, the way in which it is edited responds to the film footage, the colours and exposures included, you could say it is also a remnant of a performance. My films would not be what they are if they didn’t not also come to me as digital files from the lab – they would feel completely different as I would arrive at different ideas for how to edit them if I was analogue all the way through.
Digital creates an opportunity to step back from the earlier film medium and look at it in order to think how it gives me the opportunity to incise closer to what it is I like about film, I step away from it. This digitisation or translation of one state to another is something I hold as really important in my work since the film Asides and Time:Distance and Rappel. I include colours persistently in To the microphone… which are not present on the film – I have of course digitally graded it in telecine. And so by seeing the film in a variation of different colours, (a lot like fabric too which can be dyed), we know that things carry different associations in different tones, the film treats the subject in several colours, to explore the dressing or coating of the image in relation to language going on around it, again in two colours for the two languages, white and yellow. These emotional registers of colour and language, how we can set the two up together are very rich at all times, they are often a guiding interest in my work.
If I was in conversation with you in person today Regina rather than on email, I think I would end up saying these things too:
Rose liked the part of my film Time:Distance where you can see over the shoulder of my mother in the kitchen as we talk over doing a small gesture for me to film, which is deliberately very unclear as to what it is. Rose and I wanted to make a film that showed an activity (again somewhat unclear) as an artwork, a film could pinpoint this, the question of ‘doing’. In much contemporary practice this often brings about works which look like they belong to performance, because of impermanence, or quotation of a gesture.
The piece shifted from a conversation to a piece of work after a show invitation in response to the British 20th century figurative painter Winifred Knights and we talked about the choreography of paintings like ‘The Deluge’ – reminiscent to us of Pina Bausch in some ways. Stylisation and hands in both bodies of work by these women are very interesting. Also there was a nice relationship/coincidence of English women to Rome which is where Mrs Soprano was first shown and Knights spent her most productive years at the British School at Rome, where she is said to have taken influence from the frescoes of Piero della Francesca and her male peers there at the time. A feminist discussion circled Winifred in recent renewed attention to her work, and we could not avoid this question of staged spaces and activity as well as self-consciousness as a tone. Within this there comes a certain allure and yet difficulty with the ‘vanity of the handmade’ as well as notions of luxuriance – such as that brought about by colour and materiality – that we each negotiate with in our practices.