Audiovisual Cultures episode 40 – Sally Madge automated transcript

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hello I’m Paula Blair and this is audio-visual cultures the podcast that looks at aspects of and dishes around modes of signs an image based cultural production huge thanks to our patreon members and to everyone who’s been listening and engaging on social media at the end of the episode I’ll give details on how you can support the podcast and be part of the conversation I’m thrilled to present in this edition artist Sally Madge who not only kindly took the time to chat to me about her work but also wrote a vivid and informative reflective essay on her practice and life as a practitioner we begin my Sally’s reading I hope you enjoy this as much as I did well thanks for asking me to talk about my practice I’ve decided to write about my work rather than talk freely as I tend to stray off the point to easily text I’ve come up with is still a bit of a meander through the history of my practice but I hope it gives a picture of what I do where it comes from and where it might be going there’s always a difficulty of talking without visual backup so I hope I don’t go on too long I thought I’d start with a text I wrote about making collage which seems an apt description or even a metaphor for my general working process chance encounters as I work in my studio things get cleared aside dropped piled up lost and forgotten sometimes later to be rediscovered and reused spillages stains accidents occur byproducts of purposeful action the meths left during the process of creating something of greater significance there are however definite possibilities inherent in these abject remains out of the corner of my eye I notice an interesting juxtaposition of lines stained and torn apart image and once these are conjoined there’s a suggestion of something other something more edges become points of departure the place where action happens boundaries of blurred and borders crossed it’s the point where I have to distill refine and formalize all this wonderful potent chaos which is challenging in a conversation with the artists collages John Stehr Sokka the writer and curator David Lillington states that collage is a realm of play a retreat to the maternal gaze and protected reverie and working within the limits of already available components can be related to the childlike and the collage ists attachment to lost innocence this resonates for me with regard to my own practice my constant quest is to find the key which turns that playfulness in something more formulated whilst retaining the freedom and open-endedness of the process itself in 2010 I made work in an artist friends small domestic gallery it was called making a mess and clearing up over seven hours I drew blindfolded on the pristine white walls feeling my way around the room and mapping my journey through the space making marks with crumbling charcoal following the drawing process I removed the blindfold washed down the walls swept the floor and repainted the space throughout the performance viewers watched through the windows or entered the space by the end of the day no apparent trace of my presence was left the space restored to its original state with all the stages of mark makings sealed into the fabric of the building and preserved behind the screen of white I’d like to think the minimal outcome privileged my expressive process by refusing the final fetishized art object if I think what drives my practice and where my ideas come from partly I think of a rather solitary childhood where my parents were largely absent and the age gap between me and my siblings was big enough for me often to feel like an only child we moved a lot so it was hard to put down roots or make lasting friendships but throughout my childhood we always lived in the country and often near the sea so I roamed freely in the wide open spaces and developed an intimate and enduring relationship with the surrounding landscape building dens weaving fantasies climbing trees wandering the shoreline collecting and hoarding I think the decos of this rich childhood experience along with the loss and the longing to recapture it reverberate throughout my practice I suppose most artists go back to their childhood as a source for their work I enjoyed and was told I was good at art at school so on leaving I followed a conventional art training which prompted my first encounters with city environments an art foundation course in Oxford a diploma in ceramics in London then a BA and MA in fine art here in Newcastle having cut my urban teeth on Oxford with many adventures and mishaps I moved on to London and it was the swinging sixties and a mind-blowing culture shock for a country girl this is an excerpt from a text I wrote for an artist friend’s book hits September 1966 shepherd’s bush London a fine day I leave the flat in Sinclair Road feeling good in my new anello and daveed black Spanish shoes and Mary Quant miniskirt bread I spent half this terms grant on them so extra shifts at the Italian restaurant who needed to fill the financial void black and red and I feel good I’m on my way to pick up Sebastian and Georgia the artist Mark Boyle and Joan Hills kids Boyle family famous for their earth studies and liquid light shows I look after the kids on a regular basis it’s either Davis who introduced me a friend and key player in the destruction in art symposium Dyess Gustav Mexico’s Assembly of international artists and activists using destruction in rather than of art as a strategy to critique conventional aesthetic forms and to promote direct engagement in culture as a political force for change I’d met either earlier in the year when I assisted with one of the auto destructive events he staged in Edinburgh as part of Dyess now as I look back the only memory I have of this is a faded newspaper article and photograph were along with a friend I assist over with his protective headgear an old fire guard in preparation for is detonations it’s following this that he comes to stay in my flat in Shepherds Bush and sets to work on developing a destructible pyro phonic organ for his next event I’m not really aware of the nature of his research and the materials he’s using but one afternoon on returning from a visit to a friend I find several fire engines outside the flat on entering I’m confronted by a damp and charred bedroom and several police who are in the process of confiscating Ivor’s chemicals some of which have unexpectedly ignited and caused the fire when things have calmed down and I’ve had a chance to take stock of the extent of the damage I discover on checking my wardrobe that a neat round hole has been blown through the toe of one of my precious anello and daveed shoes no one can quite work out how it happened such a precise puncture so strategically placed a conundrum which has over the years been a subject of much conjecture on my part at some level this shoe in the process whereby has reached its altered state stand as a metaphor and signifier of my lowly status as a foot soldier in the battle against the established order here’s a war wound and a battle skull and there were many more during my life as an art student in London however all this has added grist to the mill of my later practice if there is rhyme or reason to the art I produce it might be located within the ordinary unregarded stuff of everyday life and the extraordinary possibilities which lie within and beyond its boundaries things I make often go out on particular personal memory encounter place or event from which I make connections with broader social and political issues and try to create visual narratives which explore the deeper and more complex aspects of everyday experience there are many factors guiding my methods and output sometimes I use performance as a means to an art end other times installations services the idea of film photographs text a collection of objects or a combination of all these a sort of expanded collage if you like where scraps on the tabletop and the floor develop into an environmental bricolage it often depends on the context and specificities of the site whether it’s a gallery open landscape a library or an empty office block also it makes a difference to the work as to whether I’ve been commissioned or if I’m just putting it out there in the main I think it’s fairly safe to say my formal and aesthetic concerns are broadly rooted in a consideration of place in a time when I look back there are certain themes which run through and connect different projects drawing on a rich tradition of feminist practice I often use domesticity as my modus operandi in 2009 I was commissioned to make an interactive work for the dream of Fluxus an exhibition of Fluxus items from an extensive private collection shown at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle I chose to do a performance which I called avant-garde spelt GU AR D walking back to my exalted London connections and my subordinate role amongst the art cognoscenti I borrowed a cleanness trolley and worked my way around the gallery dusting and sweeping and cleaning showcases arranging dusters and cleaning materials carefully around the space and generally keeping an eye on the exhibits as well as inviting visitors to join me in my endeavours my aim was to draw attention to some of the ironies thrown up by the official art world’s recognition of fluxes its original manifestos aimed for a living art an aunty art valuing the creativity of ordinary everyday activities rather than unique artifacts made by special individuals but here these revolutionary efforts were fossilized in museums showcases so I turned the gallery into a sort of theater where I wove in various themes my actions as a flux worker the role of women the institutional appropriation of countercultural artistic endeavors and the codes and conventions which dictate gallery behavior continuing with the performative

and the domestic as part of a group exhibition returning to the Philosopher’s table at the Littlefield Library in New Castle in 2013 I collected a lot of dust in an excerpt from my diary I described my dust gathering experience swept gallery walkway for an hour sometimes on hands and knees but mainly squatting so as not to get splinters wore face masks apron and rubber gloves got very hot and dusty interesting to think I’ve actually ingested some of this ancient and erudite dust it’s become part of the fabric of my being if only temporarily it does have and make me feel quite sick and I can feel a headache coming on as I sweep I note the Greek mythology in the biblical sections a dustier than others as a damn stain on the floor near social sciences ethics gets a lot of Sun and the large gaps in the floorboards along the Spanish French and German literature sections I’m developing quite an affection for dust balls and also note there are some tiny books sheddings in my dustpan some dust which comes from under a loose floorboard probably dates back to the 1800s following this I produce small packages of a literary and philosophical dust as artists multiples and sell them for $1.99 a packet dust again landscapes galata international performance festival Istanbul 2008 and Lance copse 2015 Baltic 39 Newcastle I used a sticky lint clothes roller to lift the dust and debris of multiple surfaces people animals plants furniture buildings each encounter required an active engagement with the subject or object a conversation a maneuver the most daunting encounter a large feral dog sunning itself on an Istanbul Street I approached it with great caution and managed to stroke it with my lint roller without injury I displayed the peel off sheets were their intricate surface patterns as drawings landscapes and portraits I was intrigued by the way that marks emerged as traces of encounters time and place were registered when those vestiges of events were deposited on receptive surfaces where every presence in order to know itself as present for the trace of an absence which defined it shades of Freud’s mystic writing pad in a solo show customshouse gallery in South Shields in 2015 I constructed a metal dome reminiscent of the Maria Mertz igloo though in place of stone glass and neon I used linked drawings as cladding for the structure children who visited the gallery used it as a den there are other projects where identity politics have played a central role in the work notably in the performance collaborations with my late friend and artist Carole loopy Jam making using bread as a sculptural medium and tool for getting our message across and revisiting Valerie Solanas system manifesto but at this point I’d like to follow the DEM trajectory in my case makeshift shelters in 2012 as part of a group show new curators northeast organized by the london-based departure foundation I created a studio calm workspace out of found materials in a partially empty office block in an industrial park in Sunderland in one sense this was an architectural construction a temporary dwelling space with an oblique empty of his space with connotations of squatting the type of ad hoc construction and in marginal or urban spaces to accommodate the homeless and disenfranchised in another sense and installation referencing the formal elements of sculpture and on viewers and artwork and participatory installation and further a performative piece where the work started and continued with the process of selection collection placement arrangement use and dialogue an excerpt from my diary at the time as I mapped the area crews the carparks looked through skips and new counter passers-by as well as building materials I gather lots of anecdotal and photographic research it’s become a fascinating compulsion I leave home every morning and arrive as if at the office the room in which I’m building my studio structure is also filling with photographs charts maps books tea coffee mugs cattle radio tools it’s gradually turning into a temporary office cubicle a studio and a research base I hear doors banging somewhere in the building and watch from the windows people leave work it feels quite lonely I had hoped to sleep here there’s a shower downstairs but the organizers have been told they can’t allow it another temporary but enduring structure which grew from playful and informal beginnings was a small stone and driftwood shelter I built on the north shore of the island of Linda’s farm of the Northumbrian coast this anonymous construction lasted with many adventures from 2002 till 2016 when it was finally destroyed by fire during its life it played host to many individuals who discovered it whilst walking the island or through word-of-mouth and who left their mark inside it in the form of written testimonies drawings paintings objects gleaned from the beach photographs and keepsakes Birds nested in its roof and small rodents and have it’s interior ash ruinous tote amongst others after some tussles with officialdom over its illicit construction and lack of planning permission i won through and gained the approval of the powers that be to retain it as an artwork on the strength of an Arts Council grant I was able to shift it into a different gear without compromising its ad hoc autonomous ethos to that end I sought out individuals who over the years have left their contact details in the shelter amongst others a professional dry stone wall er who helped rebuild the structure to render it more secure a musician from the Scottish Borders who played his pipes for an evening gathering where Polanski’s cul de sac which in being founded on the island was screamed through contact with the local school I discovered they’d used the shelter as a stimulus for creative writing inviting children to visit a hermit who lived there one of their teachers in role artists residences were organized exhibitions mounted a sound installation installed a film made and shown a Burak Film Festival and an online museum produced too much else to mention here but a truly special collaborative project where my main role shifted from caretaker to fundraiser and project manager continuing with the theme of fugitive architecture this is a good point to mention a work I’ve made a lot earlier gurbles Guide to the galaxy in 2005 at way good an artist run space in central Newcastle now sadly lost for this show I installed a live web feed of a gerbil in its cage chewing away at the pages of an old book a 1933 first edition of an illustrated reference book a compendium of carefully compiled alphabetically organized facts where to quote from the editors introduction the reader has a minor formation at his fingertips within the confines of its cage the gerbil went about the business of mining the data for its own purposes over a period of several weeks it edited the book translating the carefully constructed text into an unruly mass of dislocated fragments recycling it as material for building a wall and secure nest the fate of the book dissolved the architecture of knowledge into that of what action likewise the physical object diminished in size as its shape mutated and disintegrated the gerbil as architect worked to reconstruct its environment according to its own design references to and uses of live and preserved animals is another thread running through my work I’m a real collector and I have many stuffed animals a performance entitled bird in hand at the Freud Museum in London in 2011 previously staged as part of a fluxes event 3-star a la carte vaulting Centre for Contemporary Art in 2009 here I sat quietly in the lobby of the museum next to a table in which I placed a box containing a preserved bird and a pair of white cotton gloves with an accompanying sign requesting visitors to open the box and follow the instructions inside the box the Tex bread put on the gloves carefully lifts out the bird examine it closely consider its beauty be sad at its demise tell it a secret return it to the box take off the doves close the lid your secret is safe my aim was to engage with the context of the Freud Museum as a site of display as well as its visitors and referencing site analytical notions of free association and confidential disclosure the bird a red chunk a shoreline waiter found on the northeast coast and freeze-dried at a local museum in the exact state in which it was found was transformed in this traveling performance by the weight of its secrets while I as the attendant remained vigilant more recently as part of a group show borderlands at gallery north northumbria university I’ve made a work based on the story of a Syrian brown bear the mascot of a world war two Polish military units stationed after demobilization in 1946 in the Scottish Borders I’d visited the defunct airfield and its abandoned derelict buildings seen the marks of the bear’s claws thatched into the trunk of the tree read the book seen old filmed footage and listened to local stories I wanted to create a memorial the bear Wojtek was adopted as a cub in Persia in 1942 by the military unit which then traveled through Iraq Syria and Palestine to Egypt formally drafted with the rank of private complete with pay book and serial number serves to be allowed to ship with the soldiers to Italy Wojtek is said to have carried artillery shells during the decisive battle of Monte Cassino in 1944 before passage to the displacement camp in Scotland the installation consisted of a small screen video monitor sitting precariously on what looked like a pile of rubble or perhaps away marker care made a broken and partly dressed masonry the monitor hosted a short film of a man in a bear suit wandering around the derelict airfield carefully composed lingering shots showed the ruins and the pantomime bear peering into doorways and windows stamping on rubbish

and banging metal on wood engaged in apparently aimless rather melancholic play or perhaps some kind of hopeless quest and hinting at his story which is not quite evident other than as an uncanny juxtaposition of incongruous elements and I quote from the text accompanying the exhibition the installation presents an alternative monument or a nun monument to Wojtek the Syrian brown bear here rather than the usual heroic effigy and snapshot biography attention is drawn to the distances absurdities an inconvenient disorder of history which often involves the official or unofficial transgression of boundaries and rules the physical traces left by unruly forces persist in the form of ruins whose reality and mass detritus entropy and decay but also vitality and potential can if not fetishized aestheticized or otherwise tidied up resist simplistic understanding conventional public memorials are also problematized as they tend to freeze a range of conflicting and contradictory experience into an authoritative solid static structure reinforcing the fiction of a single shared narrative we are all expected to subscribe to an overall aim therefore is to complicate the uniformity and conformity of mediated ritualized remembrance remembrance memory time space place thinking about it I think this is possibly a self-portrait and that’s where I’m finishing although there’s lots more work to talk about do you feel that anything that you’re working on at the moment you feel that reflecting on everything from the past you feel that you’re still working on certain things absolutely yes I’m going back to my London days when I did a ceramics diploma at Central Saint Martins it was then Central School of Art and Design and I have joined an evening class because at my age I thought I’d liked you know how your your actions and your identity is sort of coded and commodified and stereotyped and as a 72 year old woman I feel like what I’m expected to do is have lots of interest

so I went back to do a ceramics evening class which I’m really enjoying I’m enjoying the skills creating things that have a skill behind them because a lot of the work I do it’s very conceptual and what I make is ephemeral often you know it comes and goes and it’s not sustained and where I’ve talked a lot about the fetishized aestheticized art object I’m quite enjoying my pots actually I’m quite proud of them and wondering now I can put them into my practice as a fine artist because plays become a very fashionable material within the fine art community because as you probably know there’s always being this division between crafts and finally out the form of being seen as rather a subsidiary or for not having the same status I suppose that goes back to the idea that craft is a woman’s activity largely and you know women don’t fit the fine art status category that’s an old thing that it’s still there so merging art and design and craft has become quite acceptable within the area of Finance so that’s another thing I’m doing and I suppose largely I do work to Commission or when people ask me to do things I’m sort of thinking it would be great just to make things down in my studio and then try putting them out there and it’s quite scary but it’s almost like there’s a sketchbook of ideas down there and the other thing I’ve been doing is rescuing scraps of fabric from the beach you know when they get washed in by the tide and caught up in seaweed when I used to wander as a child along the shoreline collecting shells now I collect a simple rotten old stinky old fabric I think reparation is another aspect of my practice collecting old worn forgotten leftover bits and pieces and restoring them and I’ve made quite a large quilt I’ve obviously washed them and they do smell for a while but then that subsides and now I’m making part flags which aren’t quite flags but reference flags and cushions which aren’t quite cushions but reference bits of the body because some of those scraps of fabric or in debt pieces of clothing who knows where they come from they might have very mundane you know somebody’s dropped them on the beach or they might have a much more sinister and poignant provenance I’ve just been playing with this fabric and cutting it up and re sewing it and trying out different things to do with it that are about putting all the fragments together repairing reusing this is sort of lovingness about it you know trying to recreate something positive out of something destructive and there’s lots more like that but yeah those are sort of ongoing things that I’m doing and trained as an art teacher and worked in higher education training teachers in the arts so I still maintain that and I’m always fascinated by what children have to impart to me about creativity especially younger children yet being told how to make art and their amazing perceptions of life and what you do with it really I thought I’d still get asked to do projects in schools and I work with Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts with the learning team as a freelance artist and over the years I’ve worked with such a range of people it’s fascinating from kids coming in from remand home to NHS workers to the over 50s in inverted commas to little kids and of course to teach you on the MA they’re doing some schools I love that wide range of connection because it sort of keeps you on your toes a bit I’m just thinking about the idea of value because this is coming up quite a lot is what has value in terms of nipping monetary works or what has value in terms of is its legitimate inverted commas does it have worth because it’s a piece of work that could be held in high regard or how do you make those decisions who gets to choose even the idea of the ready-made fabrics you know and where they might come from these may have been valued possessions of somebody it’s not then it’s become trash you know and as you say they could come loaded with may be haunted Wes what could have happened to them in the past and the journey that they’ve been where in the world have they been where have they come from what bits of the sium garment are still out there to not think of it as litter on a beach but to reclaim it and make something new out of it it’s really fascinating but also those other ideas about what’s valued by the institutions what’s valued by academia what’s valued by other artists what’s valued in the domestic space there’s so much about invisible labor and high value that is as well because these are all things that are very important and they have to be done but they’re not valued I don’t really know where to go with that but it’s just this is coming up so much and all if you work just this one word or value and the idea of worth as well all of the different ways we can explore that just through one person’s body of work that’s really interesting and useful observation Pooler and something I shall think about in much more depth yes I mean where do I begin on that one and why do we value one thing over another as individuals and where does that come from I hope that in general the work is a critique of the system that we have that places value on them artists of commodity people as commodities and the system that’s totally unfair in relation to equality of people’s experience and their lives yeah I think I’m questioning values right the way throughout and perhaps building a sense of where I place my own system of values the work I make isn’t largely saleable or collectible but then a lot of art is now collected whether it’s a performance or you know conceptual it seems to me that the system will appropriate the institution will appropriate whatever always find a way so it’s like dodging all the way you know if you are critical of all the systems that you come up against and are part of and to a large extent you are colluding in that but nevertheless asking those questions and constantly striving for some way of presenting your own perceptions to the world whoever that is for me it’s a very small corner of the world I’ve got to have confidence in how I feel about those things at the same time it’s not been quite sure of what those values are they shift they change but as you say for me value lives in the unseen I’ve noticed in a lot of my work that repetition comes you know behind the scenes in order to make something I have to use repetitive actions which is fascinating whether it’s I mean I’ve collected animal bones for years and I just trying to sort those out into vertebrae ribs and various others and I’m spending hours making piles and then trying to reorder them into a system where I quite like them aesthetically as a sculpture and then they collapse and then that’s good and then I have to reorder them all again so it’s it’s a fascinating process and it’s it’s ridiculous process and sometimes I feel quite embarrassed and hope that nobody comes in on me am i doing these things because it’s in many ways apparently a meaningless task I suppose it’s a bit like thinking back to childhood it’s like clay absolutely break it apart and it’s playful in the sense that you’re exploring ways in which to operate in the world I’m not sure how that works but it is akin to domestic labour and it is akin to stuff you do particularly as a woman well certainly within my history and that’s what a lot of the work I did with Carol was about unseen labor absolutely and the labor of workers who work on production lines who aren’t valued in terms of the money they’re paid for their neighbors or their humanity I rendered it subhuman so that for me is far more important perhaps than the difficulties that women have you know in terms of their roles domestic roles because that’s shifting a bit I have to say but I don’t think a capitalist system that exploits labour is I think it’s getting worse and I speak as a middle-class fairly privileged woman with the privileged background but I suppose in another level in another way I feel that my age is now quite an issue because I’m not quite sure they talk about emerging you know if you you have a call-out and it’s for emerging artists or young artists or mid-career artists I consider myself to be constantly in a state of emergency and emergency as an artist but I just make it it’s a compulsion and being creative but I feel it could become self-indulgent if I didn’t push it out there a bit and say hey folks hey gang would you think should we play together or let’s do something constructive and I have to say this shelter project which is where of course I make years writer has shifted my perspective on things and I I was recently approached by somebody who wants to reduce shelter which would be wonderful considering that as well hang it’s not always nice to have projects in hand even if you’re not putting anything out there I find as a grilled it takes much much longer to process things and just generally make things and I think I’ve had a period when I’ve been quite thoughtful but not reactive and that’s fine others of course yes but again not always valued very much because appearing not seem to be working yes you’re not working

huge thanks to Sally for being so generous with her time and ideas for images of her work and more information you can find her website at Sally not spelt sa l ly ma d GE and there be links to events and the artists mentioned in the extended show notes I put together for members for now you’ve been listening to audio-visual cultures with me Paula Blair and Sally Madge this episode was recorded and edited by Paula Blair and the music is common grind by air tone licensed under creative commons attribution 3.0 and downloaded from ccmixter org if you like the show please support its production with donations to paypal doc me /pe i Blair or become a member on forward slash a V cultures from as little as one dollar a month on the pay what you can’t hear members receive access to exclusive previews extended show notes and video transcripts episodes are released every other Wednesday please do read share and subscribe on your chosen platform as this helps others find the show when I on Spotify so look out first there if that’s what you use for more information and to see what any money received goes to words or how else you can be involved visit audio-visual cultures all one word lowercase follow AV cultures on Facebook and Twitter for updates and links to items relevant to the discussions thanks so much for listening catch you next time


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