Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Interview with Nicola Hafter

After looking at the Woolgathers impressive website for their art prize which opens on Friday the 6th of May, at Dyson chambers Briggate Leeds. There has been a lot of talk about Woolgathers intresting approch to the artprize, but mabey less about the artists that are exhibiting. Whist looking at the website, I found myself slightly confused by the videos that the shortlisted artists have made in response to Woolagthers question of how do they sustain their practice and a creative lifestyle. After contemplating why, I think it is becasue a few of the videos feel as if they are the artworks within themselves; if they was out of the context of the website, especially Michael Burrells video of cooking microvwave popcorn. After I decided to get in contact with shortlisted artist Nikki Hafter, about her other video art, but in the end we felt that it would be more intresting to talk about the videos made for the website and artprize and Nikkis submission to Woolgather.

Me:What I find incredibly interesting about the videos the shortlisted artists have made, are that out of the context of the website certain videos such as Michael Burrell’s could be perceived to be video art within themselves, which can make the videos confusing as a whole, and raises questions about how video is used as documentation. What are your feelings on this?

Well I know that when I received the letter from Woolgather, which asked everyone to make a video in response to specific questions, I was keen not to make something too ‘obvious’. I didn’t want to answer the questions in a straightforward way, because I saw the video as an opportunity for me to communicate something about myself as an artist to the viewing public, and so for me it was about finding a balance between answering the questions, and communicating other things as well. And I wanted to make sure that my video was engaging, not just me sitting in a chair talking about my practice… That’s not interesting for me to make so I don’t see why it would be interesting for anyone else to watch! My video is a play on that kind of ‘talking to the camera’ scenario, a kind of reinvention or a reversal of it. I was behind the camera, not in front of it, but the video still provides my answers to the questions, just using other people’s voices.

So, I would say that it’s in the videos that have attempted to give a less straightforward answer that the line starts to get blurred between an informative video and an artwork. For example, the narration of Bess Martin’s is in the form of a poem, and Joe Frost’s is a video of an actual performance with him describing his practice added as a voiceover. I think Burrell’s is interesting because it’s the furthest point on the scale, it provides absolutely no information whatsoever [apart from possibly that he might like microwave popcorn].

Me:It seems that Woolgather have asked you to use video because it is accessible to all, in terms of ‘understanding’, they have left no place for long blurbs and confusing tag lines. “Its not Avant-garde its Avant-give”.

Although by choosing a specific medium for you guys to represent yourselves do you think that it limited you response to there question? Especially to those who haven’t used film in the past. Being as the art prize is going to be judged by the public.

Woolgather definitely want to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and have said they are keen to attract the wider public rather than just the regulars on the Leeds art scene. I think the choice of video is partly to do with the reduced popularity of written text – artist manifestos seem to have gone out of fashion – and partly to do with the appeal of video as a medium that everyone encounters every day. Video also has far more association with entertainment, with pleasure, than text does, particular amongst younger audiences, so that definitely makes it more appealing.

It’s probably true that I, as an artist who often uses video, interpreted the task as one in which I could be quite playful because I knew what options were available for me to play with, and I’m quite confident about filming and editing my own material. Whereas others might have chosen to approach the question in a way that wouldn’t need editing, because they don’t know how. I recorded my footage with the intent to cut it all up anyway, so I didn’t direct what anyone would say or worry too much about how it looked, because that wasn’t the focus of the video.

Then again, being creative is often about working with the constraints of the practical skills and resources that you have access to. And I think often my best work comes from a limit which makes me reassess what I’m trying to do and why. Solving the problem of what is and isn’t possible for you to do can result in a more creative outcome that’s actually more rewarding than just carrying out an idea that’s easy with your existing skills. So I don’t think its really an excuse for make a video that isn’t engaging.

Me:You have said to me in the past that you feel your video reflects the ideas you are currently working with within your practice; would you present the film you have made as an artwork in juxtaposition to the art prize?

I don’t know if I would present it as an artwork, because it wasn’t really intended as one. Then again, I’m not comfortable with saying that the artist is in control of whether something is an artwork or not, I think how something is perceived by an audience is more important. And obviously you’ve said that Burrell’s video seems to you to resemble an artwork, even though we both made films for the same purpose and under the same instructions, so by that token all the video responses can be said to be artworks.

The work that’s shortlisted for the prize, ‘The Drawing Game’, is an interactive work that uses chance and rules to make a drawing. And for my video I did the same thing, I made a rule - that I would ask everyone the same questions - and left the rest to chance, knowing that I could edit anyone’s responses into something I agreed with. And that’s something that really interests me, seeing what chance gives you and going with it. I tried to embrace the particular words that people chose and the things they said that surprised me, the things that made me laugh. Those things definitely added to the video, and they are there to some extent in ‘The Drawing Game’ as a participatory work, the freedom for people to be themselves and play how they want to play, whether they choose to obey the rules or break them, to be serious or silly. So I would definitely say the game and the video are partner works to some degree, though I’m not sure if I would specify whether either of them is an artwork or not.