Cally Trench & Philip Lee
with Jo Thomas, Katy Beinart and Jack Brown
Caravan, In Dialogue, Primary, Nottingham
JT: First of all could you say a little about your combined practice.
CT: Well we have separate practices and we have a combined one. Do you want to say something about your practice?
PL: I call myself a performance artist but I produce work in different media, books, photographs, films. Primarily I work with clay on my naked body. The naked clay man.
JT: Is that in public places? How do you see that as relating to public?
PL: Generally in galleries, I think of myself as a visual artist working in spaces that are gallery like even if they are not actually commercial galleries.
JT: And then that contrasts with the more public work in more public areas which is more collabo-rative. Is that right?
CT: Probably the most public work we do is something in collaboration with Ann Rapstoff which is the Zebra Crossings projects. Which started when we all three of us did a project in a huge round-about in Beaconsfield where we painted Philip to look like a Belisha Beacon in black and white stripes
PL: Black pants I wasn’t naked.
CT: Yes, we incorporated the white waistband into the white stripe. We took him out and he walked him around this roundabout that had about 4 zebra crossings around it so he just merged
PL: There were three actually.
CT: Oh okay, three, so he stopped the traffic and waved at the traffic and the drivers went oaoaoao and we just went round. This was very much a celebration of zebra crossings because I really like the way that zebra crossings require human interaction. If you have a pelican crossing the driver has to stop, the pedestrians don't acknowledge in any sense the fact the driver stops be-cause they are required to stop it is not a matter or politeness. Zebra crossings you have to acknowledge that the driver is human and you sort of wave at them and say thank you, give them a little nod or something and walk past. It is a human interaction. So this is why I like Zebra Cross-ings.
So we are celebrating Zebra Crossings. We did another one where we converted a Pelican Cross-ing into a Zebra Crossing We actually laid it out and changed it for that moment...
You saw the Tiger Crossing we had made...
PL: For the purposes of the recording this is a canvas sheet, big canvas sheet
CT: Painted in black and white stripes And we laid it out on the pelican crossing so it became a zebra crossing and took people across the road and back again.
And most recently we decided the needed to introduce a warm glow into Zebra Crossing by recon-figuring them as Tiger Crossings which is what I think you saw in Reading
PL: Just outside Brock Barracks
CT: That is probably I think for both of us the most public intervention we engage in.
PL: I think of gallery work as public as well. If it is open to the public then it’s public. I know there is a select audience but it is still potentially anybody can go.
JT: Is it making the invitation more explicit?
PL: Well it is reaching people depends on how well advertised it is. Recently we have collaborated on clay performances at most recently Oriel Davis which is a sort of people’s gallery of mid wales.
CT: It depends what you mean by public really I have this feeling that when people say public they mean outside the gallery, outside a gallery context
PL: But I call that a street intervention though but anyway.
JT: But I think that’s really interesting because things aren’t in public place what is understood as public - If artists aren’t understanding galleries as public places, then a more general public can be forgiven for not feeling as welcome as they might otherwise.
PL: I think of a website as a public space and treat it as if I am exhibiting to the world and all the anxieties that come with it.
CT: I think there is the element of surprise; because of the Board Games I am doing here today. I have also had people playing them in hospital and also in a pub and also in a live music venue. They weren’t gallery spaces.
The people who were coming to these events or to the hospital weren’t anticipating playing board games so you kind of capture people unaware and it does feel different. It is not that I feel that gallery spaces are necessarily off-putting although I think that lots of people are put off gallery spaces they think it is not for them anymore than say they think a classical music venue is for them or something of that kind. It’s more that you, with things like the zebra crossing or board games in a pub you get the surprise element, the oh looks like fun. So people don't have to go through the shall I shan't I do it, can I be bothered to go out? That sort of thing. They come across it and it is there Ok there is a big chance you might miss it because you weren’t there it is the way that peo-ple don’t have to plan it they come across it. You catch them and they spontaneously say yes I’ll do that.
PL: It’s a different public I think
in so far as those that go the gallery have selected and chosen to go at that particular time and they can be more demanding because they can go right I have come to see art, show me art whereas people in the street or in other venues when they are surprised as Cally suggests have a different reaction more interesting, less guarded
CT: I think sometimes you get with your performances in particular; you have said I think you said; I may be misquoting you. Sometimes people who know a lot about performance art because they have studied it for example academically or something they have an automatic filter by which they almost won’t allow themselves to become emotionally engaged. They go straight into the in-tellectual kind of analytical mode and they won’t allow themselves to feel the emotions. Which is then a great shame because the emotions are largely with those performances what we want what you want what I want as well. People to feel. If he’s all covered in clay and shivering and I’m in an evening dress which I have just ruined by putting clay on it. I want people to feel that and not to go: how does that relate to performance art of the 1970s or something, I want an emotional reaction.
JT: Do you think that is something that takes you out into places where you were saying an audi-ence can be more surprised.
PL: There is a spontaneity, inhibition is interesting I think
CT: The zebra crossing has to be there. It is the nature of the work. I would like the clay perfor-mances to go out more into the open air and into actual world and you have done that.
Because you did one on a river bank before you met me or lake or something.
Didn’t you cover yourself in river mud on one occasion?
PL: But that was at a gallery sort of setting because it was an art event. Everything so far in clay...because the nudity, nudity I think it is not reasonable for people to come across it.
CT: Even in galleries it can be a problem
PL: Part of the responsibility of being an artist is to think about your audience and as it were do what is reasonable. Initially one could do things when one is starting out and shock and get into trouble.
JT: I think it depends on your motivations what drives you to make work. If it is about shock but if it is not.
CT: It is not.
PL: I want people to think about their body. My experience of shocking people is that they just don’t think; they run off. In fact ran away saying, and it was not sort of live nudity, but all photo-graphic and she ran off saying it was all pornographic which was a lesson for me. I went to chase after her but someone held me back fortunately and reasonableness was not something I could reach.
It did make me think that in order to reach people and to get people to think about other than the fact that I have my genitals showing; to get people over that sort of difficulty which people do find difficult one has to enable them to make a decision not to come I suppose.
JT: Can I take us in a slightly different direction, because one of the questions how your work actu-ally emerges. You said: you dressed up a pelican crossing and out you went. And whether you re-spond to commissions, whether you have an idea and it develops. Could you talk about your pro-cess of idea development?
CT: On the zebra crossings one in particular perhaps as that is the most public. It’s a 3 way collab-oration isn't it. The zebra crossing thing has run and run. In the sense we started this one interven-tion.
PL: It was your idea and you are particularly interested in zebra crossing and the particular
response of people as they cross as they do more.
CT: It is the acknowledging of a complete stranger,
PL: It is dialogue
CT: but with a complete stranger and it is so polite. Very few people don’t do that In fact if you are in a car and you are stopped at a zebra crossing and someone walks past without acknowledging you feel a bit affronted.
PL: Well some people do, we do, we are looking for it.
CT: I think the zebra crossing thing partly came about because The first time I ever went outside Europe in my early 20s I went to Indonesia and I started crossing a zebra crossing only to be hauled back by the people I was with. The cars don’t stop. The cars don’t stop at zebra crossings in Indonesia and it never occurred to me they wouldn’t. I was just hauled back. I don’t know what the purpose is of crossings in Indonesia but it certainly isn’t the way they work in Britain. They are cer-tainly designated crossing places but I don’t know how you get the traffic to stop.
PL: It is peculiarly British
CT: Well I don’t want to sound nationalistic about this.
PL: Why not
JT: But maybe it is culturally specific.
To acknowledge it is fine.
JT: SO in terms of idea development. I am getting the idea that something happens and it scratch-es on your imagination and it doesn’t stop scratching.
Using that project as an example how did that evolve from gosh that’s strange to taking it further.
CT: Well Philip is always game for taking his clothes off so we knew that we could paint him
PL: It is producing an event that attracts attention and makes something. Getting people to think differently about what they are doing today. This particular roundabout we started off on is part of an old part of Beaconsfield where people are milling round because there are shops and pubs and markets all the time. Ann wanted to record, to photograph people’s responses. I was interested in the response to a live Belisha Beacon walking round looking somewhat pantomime and somewhat carnivalesque
And you were interested in
the time lapse film (to Cally)
PL: So we all had an agenda. It’s hard to speak for Ann because obviously she is not here but I like a lot of her performances where she kind of goes into almost like an office for something there was the one where she celebrates things.
JT: The dissemination of sympathy.
CT: Yes, She poured confetti over you or sang you a song or gave you a sweet
PL: She made you feel so wonderful
CT: and it seemed to me the way she interacted with the public in this rather bureaucratic but in-credibly benevolent was a very good thing. In fact one of the things she did for the crossing was
she set up an office for zebra crossing should be and to reenact the little wave they did when they crossed them and so on.
It worked very nicely.
CT: We are planning another intervention but we haven’t quite got round to which we wear T shirts which say I love queuing ‘I Heart Queuing’ and we would join super market queues and we allow other people go ahead of us. …and join the queue again with our baskets
PL: This is speculative at the moment. Again there is this incredibly polite way people queue. You’ve only got one thing you go ahead.
PL: In terms of the process that involves there is the idea. There has got to be a first idea.
CT: What came up was ‘I heart queuing’ we haven’t quite got round to doing this one yet.
PL: But turning the black and white into black and orange for the Tiger Crossing was another idea that started it off and then how to actually do it is by negotiations and how do we actually do it
The last one we were going to do, Cally suggested us doing Conga but we thought … Ann thought that it wasn’t serious enough. It made me realise that actually yeah we must be serious but they can find it amusing
classic comedy if when the comic is deadly serious
CT: We are usually deadpan yes.
JT: I am thinking now where the work actually exists. I am imagining you are simply having the idea and doing it. Do you get involved with funding or documentation or...
CT: There is quite a lot of documentation. On my website there is an entire page on the zebra crossing project. All of them are documented
JT: What about sharing it with audiences beyond the event itself. Does it have a secondary life?
CT: Well, the time lapse is on vimeo.
PL: Not other than it is available. I mean the live moment
JT: Does it matter?
PL: Not to me the live moment and the memories of people and how does that manifest itself. We don't pursue that so there is no
CT: I kind of imagine that the people who took part in it understand what is happening, up to a point what is happening. Or they get caught up in it and feel slightly bemused... even they are at-tending an art event. Or they just think it is great fun: there were various children attending the tiger crossing event who thought this is great
But then there are people who see it because they are coming past at that moment who kind of look at . There was someone who said, was it you who mentioned it? They said ‘If you keep doing that someone will get run over’. I mean we only did it for 5 minutes. Do they think we spend our whole lives turning roads into Tiger Crossings? So you start not knowing quite what people think about it. Will they then go home and tell their friends there were these maniacs crossing
Enter Jack & Katy
JT: This is Cally and Philip They are working with Ann Rapstoff on tiger crossings as opposed to Pel-ican or any other zebra of crossings
We have been talking about process and the value of working with the people who happen to be there rather than
PL: We will take them across as a crowd.
JB: And so what constitutes a tiger crossing.
CT: It is a zebra crossing with orange and black stripes
how does traffic respond.
PL: They stop because someone looking strange tells them to.
We were wearing orange T shirts and blacks trousers to kind of match the crossing
JB: You are carrying the crossing as a large roll
PL: to gather a following.
The initial one was where we turned a
Going around as a Belisha beacon in Beaconsfield Roundabout..
PL: a lot of them here were quite a lot of ribald responses to that
CT: Quite a lot of laughter and hooting and things.
PL: I quite enjoyed that
CT: There were three of us but only Philip was conspicuous
PL: I was doing what people generally do which was waving to them which is what people general-ly do because they had stopped
CT: We were drawing attention to the way you have to have a human interaction with the car driver because a car driver chooses to stop rather than being at Pelican crossing where you are compelled to stop because it is a red light and no one acknowledges you as a driver so we were focusing on this little wave so
CT: Philip was going round and round this little roundabout, crossing and recrossing. You went four or five times I think this roundabout, 3 zebra crossings but they were each in two sections so you are crossing 6 loads of traffic
PL: lots of traffic great fun I really enjoyed
JT: In a way you can’t get a fixed audience because the audience is always moving on so even though you are repeating it people are moving on.
CT: People were laughing
PL: They were enjoying it and the interesting thing is and you would never think about a zebra crossing in the way again
CT: Although we don’t know because we didn't ask anybody.
PL: Well we just hope they remember it? It is something people do remember isn’t it?
JB: Yes, I think it is. Often you have to evaluate projects and give these snippets and feedbacks. They will remember it anyway. They don’t need to write it down on a piece of paper to remember it. They would only say they remember it if you asked them.
CT: If you then start to cross examine people about what they've seen it then changes it...
JB: Yes that’s what I mean
CT: from this slightly odd surreal moment to something boring and bureaucratic
PL: You know it’s gone well when more people said they have seen it than possibly could have done. But that’s another matter altogether.
Then the second one was when we turned a pelican crossing into a zebra crossing in London so stopped the traffic.
PL: No the lights stopped the traffic so we were safer that time... more legal
CT: We were still crossing after the lights had changed
PL: They were very tolerant
CT: They were very tolerant Yes
JB: kind of interesting you always have your primary audience for a project and then you have a secondary audience. You’ll do something and it’ll be put on a website or shown again or it’ll be published. I’m quite interested in a secondary audience being council members or police officers and how something that, an intervention like this might make people who work with these very bog standard things... if it got back to council office and they are discussing it, it might be an in-teresting way to rethink about the road furniture they’ve planned or..
CT: Well certainly that place just outside the Keep could well do with a zebra crossing.
ALL: hello hello- (people entering caravan...)
JT: We’ve described your practice and how you came to make the work, and then your audience.
How you tell people about the work. Is there anything you want to add?
PL: We generally have a card.
CT: Yes we do. We give people a card - did you get one? - inviting people to take part in it or tell-ing them what they have taken part in.
PL: Initially it was to deal with people who needed an explanation and we didn’t necessarily have time to do it. So there was an explanation
so there was a card with websites on
it was more of an invitation
JT: So there is a thread for people beyond that moment pedestrians but not cars. Do you ever put things through car windows?
CT: No we find they don’t hang around long enough.
CT: Tiger crossing is one we give out the cards before we did the crossing anyway.
KB: Sorry I missed the beginning of the conversation. What you are looking about seems to have a clear links with certain other art practices in the past Dada or situationalists. Did you identify with other artists? Or is this just spontaneous your own ideas coming
CT: We have an interest in Dada and we made a book called ’16 Dada Heads’ in which we dressed up (I did 8 and Philip did 8) a sort of homage possibly parodies or pastiches or something of vari-ous kinds of portraits or photographs including Philip as a version of Rrose Sélavy.
KB: Oh wow I’d love to see that.
PL: Check the website.
CT: I had a very fine moustache as the Mona Lisa and so on. So there was an entire book of Dada so there is this thread of course. There is more serious I think I was saying this to Jo earlier I really like anything where strangers have to politely acknowledge each other. Whether it is in shops, public crossings or roundabouts where there are no lights because you have to make judgements and give way to people and catch people’s eye.
When people allow you onto a street but you haven’t got right of way they kindly allow you out and that sort of human interaction with total strangers is something I really like. It is kind of cele-brating that and suppose. Particular aspect of it.
JT: I think that’s rather a nice place to finish that one. Thank you very much.
CT: Thank you
JT: It was really interesting hearing you explain twice some bit because you did it rather different-ly.
PL: Yes we did a reprise. ..
.. RECORDING STOPS
Since 2014, Cally Trench has continued to invite people to play her board games; two new ones are about migration and graveyards. She has taken photographs with a vintage Brownie 127 camera, including of people saying words other than ‘cheese’, with different vowel sounds, and is currently working on drawings of people’s disembodied faces. www.callytrench.co.uk
Recently Philip has performed in London and Berlin, and made artists’ books, two of which were bought by the Tate and the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. www.philiplee.co.uk
Cally and Philip have collaborated on other performances, including ‘Peephole Hut’, where viewers could peer at them playing strip Rock Scissors Paper, and on a book and performance, ‘International Day Readings’ at the Tetley, Leeds and the Arnolfini, Bristol, which reveal the reductive effects of stereotypes, but in a comedic way.