INTERVIEW: Slow Thrills meets Kim Coleman

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Towards the end of 2011 I was invited to go and see Django Django play a gig in Hoxton. Although there was quite a buzz around them, I had only heard a couple of their singles and I wasn't sure what to expect. Needless to say I enjoyed the gig (reviewed here) but I was also impressed with the visuals which seemed an ambitious step for a band who were then still to release their debut album. Of course, the Djangoes have become a lot bigger and they have been touring for almost the entire year. I finally saw them again in Heaven last week, and was so pleased to see those visuals get another outing. A few months ago I contacted Kim Coleman, the artist responsible for the visuals and she was kind enough to answer some questions for me.

Primarily I became interested in talking to you because of your work with Django Django. How did you get involved with those guys?
We're friends. We met after art college in Edinburgh. When the band were invited to do a Blackbox session for the Roundhouse in 2010 they asked if I would like to create a set for them to play in. Since then I've done a number of projects with the band, including creating their most recent touring live show and making the video for Waveforms.

Is there any collaboration between you and them in terms of what you provide for the live show? Are they mostly your ideas or do they contribute?

Most of the ideas come from my art practice but there is collaboration too; I worked with Tommy's lettering and The Lonely Piper's acid smiley (both from the Waveforms single artwork) when creating the recent live show. Tommy also made stills from the Waveforms video into the poster to accompany the vinyl album. We collaborated on artworks and projects before the band so are used to it.

I know a lot of stage shows are incredibly complex and thought that doing something using simply executed ideas, videos and lighting would be effective. Basic lighting is used to brilliant effect in French New wave films such as Alphaville, the swinging light bulb and video for Intro / Love's Dart was inspired by a scene from that. I'm a big fan of Grace Jones' collaboration with Jean Paul Goude and know how provocative Grace Jones standing on stage holding a just a sparkler is, and it's not hard to do.

What were the logistics of working with a band like that, because I assume there wasn't a big budget for such works and the live venues are relatively small scale compared to what we often think of when we think of artists and musicians working together with arena shows and so on.

Most of the venues this stage show has been to have been quite small. The budget isn't huge but the band must have decided that the visual part of their show is worth focusing on. I agree that it's a live sensory experience with a great deal of potential. I remember reading this article a few years ago (not 1999) when I was reading up on the Boyle family and Andy Warhol, both of whom did work with live music that I really like . The author concludes that bands who capitalised on having psychadelic, immersive light shows in the mid 60s (often working with artists) dumped the shows for various reasons, including wanting to be more visible on stage. I'm not sure if this was the reasoning, but I wonder if things have gone the other way and that the live performance is something people like because it's an experience you cant get listening to an album.

It seems you have used lighting and projections a fair bit in your past works. Does this help when you are trying to work around a band?

Yes I've made lots of performances where light is a crucial element. Like artists and others now and in the past, I'm fascinated by the drama and meaning that can be created through contrasts between light and darkness. I've made performance mimicking lighting spectaculars such as a firework ('Untitled' with Susie Green) and an atomic bomb ('Demonstration' with Jenny Hogarth). Much of my work now uses projected video, I like how a projected image can be used a light source and malleable element separately from, or in conjunction with, the content of the video itself. The show for Django Django is a mixture of light, projections and sculptural elements so has a close relationship to these other experiences.

That's quite a lot of questions about Django Django. Let's talk about your work as Kim Coleman the artist. What other things have you done?
I like working in collaboration with other artists and much of my work is made with fellow artist Jenny Hogarth. My first works outside of college were made for exhibitions in my flat where my flatmates and I had an occasional gallery called Magnifitat. At college I was interested in works that were time-based physical experiences. I liked the work of American artists such as Chris Burden, Michael Asher, James Turrell and Nancy Holt and wanted to make works that were experienced in similar ways. When went back to college to study for my Masters degree I thought more about performance and started to make videos documenting real life 'performances' for example using the CCTV cameras in the college libraries and videoing people having their hair dyed. Performance is something both Jenny and I have thought about a lot when making our recent works. Over the last few years we have been thinking about performance in relation to camera technology and have made works using recorded Skype video conversations and live streamed CCTV footage as well as recorded video.

Have you worked with any other musicians in this field?
I put on a music event in London a few years ago where I did created staging designed individually for each band's performance. The performers included artist/ musician Jo Robertson and Die Die Deneuve (now partly reformed as Plug). That event got me thinking about making work in conjunction with live music. Apart from that, my twin sister Zoe runs the great The Wheel festival at Cecil Sharpe House every Hallowe'en and I design the staging for that.

Do you mostly work with Jenny Hogarth? How did you meet her? And why do you work so well together?
Jenny and I met just after we graduated (from Edinburgh College of Art) we set up and ran a gallery (The Embassy) with a few others, including Dave and Tommy from Django Django, and started making work together at the same time. We did a group show called Assembly at the Jerwood Space recently. The work for that exhibition explores our working method and aims to open it up to examination. It's an expanded presentation of our blog, a chronological compilation of short videos we have each made over the past few months. We were interested to see how posting the videos as we made them showed the direction the works took as the content influenced, and was influenced by, the other's. We would like to keep developing this work as it has the potential to be an ongoing project in a slightly different way from anything we have made before.

You were born in Northern Ireland - do you ever feel an urge to go back there and do you feel that you could work as an artist there?
Jenny and I were in the group show 'Together' at Catalyst in Belfast and I spent some time staying with a friend on Catalyst's committee so I got an insight into what it might be like living there as an artist. Some of my family are in and around Belfast so it's good to see them, and of course it would be incredibly cheap compared to living in London. But I enjoy living in London at the moment.

Kim Coleman and Jenny Hogarth's new installation
If You Can't See My Mirrors, I Can't See You
at CIRCA projects, Stephenson Works, South Street entrance, Newcastle on Tyne, NE1 3PE.
It is open between 29 November - 1 December
(Thursday 11am - 7pm and Friday & Saturday 11am - 6pm)

An online video chat generates two live portraits with changeable backdrops. It is a digital two-way mirror, a self-reflexive feedback loop wherein we witness ourselves talking back.

‘If You Can’t See My Mirrors I Can’t See You’ invites the audience to eavesdrop upon the artists’ Skype conversation. The dynamics of the dialogue are recorded and reassembled, to reveal spaces between and around objects and subjects. The computer screen operates as both a mirror and lamp, whilst acting as a frame into another world and a mimetic means of duplicating information

Coleman and Hogarth have recently shown work at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes; Jerwood Space, London and V22, London, They have recently completed the LUX Associates scheme and a fellowship at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
interview by Jonathan Greer

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