with Jo Thomas, Katy Beinart, Frank Cartledge and Jack Brown.
Caravan, In Dialogue, Primary Studios, Nottingham
JT: What are you doing at the moment?
PM: In about the last four or five years, what I do or want I’ve been doing in artmaking has really shifted. So, the work I was making before was very interactive, using bespoke props, objects, sets, working with journeys, promenades, one to ones and cultivating experiences and engaging – making exchanges with people, on very intimate levels but also on very dynamic levels.
In contrast, the work that I’m making now is much more centred around the body, there are a lot of chorographic concerns with what I do, a few of the things that I’ve been working with are extensions of the body. So spending two weeks working in a studio residency, just me a sewing machine and the studio. Then just shoving all sorts of things underneath the sewing machine and seeing if I could transform it and then attach it to myself. The objects could be Jiffy envelopes, they could be very small pieces of jigsaw that are all stitched together, it could be tights, inflatable gym equipment that I found at the flea market. I kind of push it under the machine and was exploring this connection initially between the drawing impulse between the brain and the hand, but using the sewing machine instead, and then somehow attaching it to me, and then basically flinging myself around the studio and seeing what happens.
So it moved from a practice where I had ideas and palettes and themes and ways in which I really wanted to communicate and connect very directly with audiences to going to the studio and not really knowing what was going to happen. It's quite a shift, its moved into other places, like exploring all the possibilities between my body and objects. So initially using them very conventionally – say like a bellowed pump for a yoga ball or something and initially you would just put it under your foot… then moving it to here, then putting it in the gap here, and seeing if I could activate it, it’s when you get to the end of the session in the studio the interesting things start to happen.
The objects then got whittled down to ones that made quirky sounds, so I had things like dog toys that I would attach to the different joints and different places and work with them…
When it’s just you in the studio... I found a lot of things really funny, but I felt like that was a joke between me and myself! So I brought some kindly friends in, they were working in the prop department of a nearby theatre… and they found it funny and the dog found it stimulating!
Then I actually showed some of the work… Michael from Hatch had asked ‘can you do something?’ and Michael knows me for that other (earlier) work… but he was really like ‘you can do what you like.’ So I had three performers come in, so that’s also new for me, where I took myself out of the work, then they came in and they played with all the objects. I was investigating their bodies and what the capacity of their bodies are. There was all sorts of things to do with throwing yourself at walls with inflatable objects and like, really pushing some limits physically.
Most recently I’ve been working with scores. But coming at it from text, I don’t have a musical background, but its inspired by a composer called John White, who was working with text. What he would do is attribute certain directions to how you read it based on the grammar or the structure of that text. Then people would read it in groups which would create a chorus of sound – which would be different every time, different depending on how those people interpreted it. You don’t need to be a performer in order to read, you just read.
So I was taking that notion and doing that with movement, and bringing in objects and working with the space in that way. So you take the text and let’s say every time there is a full stop you bounce a ball. Or every time the word the comes up – you could ask them to sing it, and then it depends how directive you can be… they might go ‘ttttthhhheeeee’ they might go ‘the’ they might go ‘THE’ (Priya sings or says the in a number of different ways) so it depends on different interpretations.
There is something about the very first time someone attempts something – I was very inspired by Fluxus and Happenings, it depends on how directive you become about something you work with.
I worked with De Montford University, with some of their students to do some research based workshops and then a performance – assembling some of the bits they had come up with. It wasn’t about the final performance, I was more interested, within that project, in the process. So it’s about all the things that are coming about, in all the first attempts. White would have used something like an eight paragraph newspaper article, quite dense. So I started to use Google directions, you know – from here to here, or recipes or manuals and I got students to bring things in as well.
JB: Did it ever turn into a rehearsal for the final piece or was it always just a workshop?
PM: So this was the tenuous thing, these were the questions that started to be thrown up, and questions about whose ideas were to be used were in there as well. I have to admit there ended up being a bit of rehearsal, then there was ‘shouldn’t we not rehearse it now?’ because its getting rehearsed too much. The students were asking me on the first day ‘what are we going to perform?’ and I said ‘I don’t know, I really don’t know, we might just do this – we might just rock up on the day and I give all of you a score and you’ve just got to perform it or I might ask you to perform a score you have performed before.
But because we had quite a tight slot of time, I took things that they did and I organised them… and that’s interesting, it’s quite an impulsive thing to do when you're from a theatre and dance background.
JT: Is there a degree of letting go of control that happening in your practice?
PM: Yeah, I’m a complete control freak, absolutely, and I realise that, and really question my ability to collaborate with somebody… genuinely.
I do have a technical (dance) background but I’m not a technical dancer. So I do have technique but I’m not all bendy and stretchy and perfect and timely. So I work with some discipline and then I’m also very intuitive about what I do as well. One of the things that is really important to me, when I work with performers is to find, you know, what it is that they have – what that thing is…
So there is one girl, she actually spends a lot of the performance inside a box, falling down. You don’t even see her face. And her one task for a part of it was to be in the box and fall down in as many ways as possible. And what’s really funny is that afterwards, the number of people that commented about the girl in the box, in terms of what was going on in the performance, outweighed anything anybody else came and spoke to me about.
My parents came to the performance - they've hardly seen any of my work. There was a Q and A and my dad asked a question. In a way, he asked what the point was - how this could be used vocationally. My dad knows me better than that.
KB: That must be challenging in your practice?
PM: Yeah a lot of other parents in English/Asian background stopped their kids from doing things but my parents didn't really stop me... they had tried out different kinds of parenting, and none of us have done the traditional thing, got married had children, no doctors in the family.
[Talks about family]
There's an undercurrent of being a black sheep. And initially my work was autobiographical but I moved away from it. I also had this thing of just wanting to make work and not having to speak about cultural issues all the while.
Coming back to my work in general, whether it’s this vast amount of work I made before or whether it’s what I’ve been doing in my current practice, one thing that seems to come about is this element of play.
The autobiographical is also quite conversational.
With my family, in the end it stopped being me asking and became me telling. That generation were coming over to Britain and were quite insular. They wanted to retain the tradition, the ethic what they had while being IN Britain. This is the conflict. I was in a white tribe, I went to white schools, in a white area.
[Discussion on multiculturalism and race]
My mum and dad have said to me, 'you're Indian', but now they've given up and gone, 'you're white.' This is how long it's taken.
So now you know my whole life story!
KB: What are the difficulties or problems in carrying on doing this kind of work?
PM: There’s been peaks and troughs in life and that says more about my capacity to make work.
In one way, establishing yourself and people knowing you or seeing you or seeing your work helps. I think the funding system is changing, as is value of space or even being able to access space. At one time it might have been financially difficult because of a lack of funding, but maybe artists could get their hands on abandoned space. That is becoming more and more difficult to do now. I'm based in Leicester but I do stuff wherever. Sometimes I've worked in studios with visual artists but you need a room with some heating if you're performing so requirements are different.
There's that, there's your mental health, there's the thing you might want to afford, and to do like to travel. Living a life, not living an art. Some things will roll and there can be difficulties.
I think it’s about making choices and one of things I’ve tried to do over time is keep asking myself those question ‘do you want to be an artist?’ ‘do you want to make work?’ ‘is there anything else you want to do?’
I find it really interesting that someone in there is training to be a psychotherapist, and no one is turning round to her and saying, so you don't want to be an artist anymore? I know someone who works in a bank and makes comedy, and he's married, and she does other stuff. You start looking at people lives as life choices. I'd like to live in another country for a bit.
FC: Yeah historically there’s this thing that artists sacrifice themselves for their art. It’s seen now by critics and historians as romanticism, separating yourself off and struggling, genius and struggle. Now its opting for a life that isn't romantic, glamorous, isn't a struggle that's appreciated.
PM: whenever I see artists that have babies or kids I'm like where are you going to find the time to have that, how are you going to afford that, that's going to cost a lot! How often do you see that?
How DO you do that? I'm intrigued. In Norway I've got loads of friends who have kids but the system is different. Maybe I should move to Norway.
As you get older it's about what you want - do we all want to be John Newling, I suppose we do.
I was intrigued by this needing to be needed. As a retired person, he's an artist so he's needed, he can continue to work.
When are you an artist? What quantifies it?