Audiovisual Cultures episode 99 – Pathways to Creativity with Daniel Hess automated transcript

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this is audiovisual cultures the podcast that explores different areas of the arts and media join me your host paula blair and the researchers practitioners and enthusiasts i meet along the way see our website at and other links in the show notes for more information for now enjoy the show

hello and welcome to audiovisual cultures the podcast that explores different areas of creative practice and cultural phenomena i’m paula blair and i’m really delighted to be joined this time by daniel hess daniel has had a really interesting life and career as a wedding videographer and is now exploring more creative outlets in poetry and fiction filmmaking daniel you’re so welcome and it’s really lovely to meet you how are you doing today well thank you for having me and i’m doing quite well over here today great and here is at baltimore is that right yep in baltimore maryland over in the states lovely i’ve had a really interesting day i’ve had a very international day because this morning i was speaking to someone in taiwan and now i’m speaking to you wow that yeah that’s quite the job yeah kovid has strangely made us all very international these days the zoom has has made the world smaller in a way daniel you’ve had quite a range of life and work experiences would you be happy to talk us through some of that give us your overview what do you think we need to know yeah i mean so taking him all the way back to before i was even in college i was originally going to do pharmacology and right at the last minute a friend of mine was actually getting into film but he had kind of been lifelong in the film and the summer before i started college it was interesting because i was doing a lot more writing really exploring my kind of creativity again after not doing it for a little while from when i was younger even younger and he was like you know why don’t you think about doing film you know you can tell stories you can write stuff and you can also have it kind of come to life so i made the last minute decision to switch everything over to film ended up going to film school came out had a few short films was getting a little bit of traction and kind of the creative spaces but after moving out from my parents house money sort of became the driving factor for life as it tends to be sometimes and i kind of fell into wedding videography really by chance a gentleman actually replied to an ad i had way back when on craigslist of all places and was like hey i need a wedding videographer to kind of help out with everything would you want to do it he had a good price so i was like sure and next thing i knew you know i was working a lot with him then i started branching out on my own and then i built up a business through you know my own production company and within a few years you know i was making a net about like close to 100 grand a year just in wedding videos and that was good for a little bit but that sort of work becomes very tedious very fast and i actually had a kind of a wake-up call moment and about two ways the first of which was someone who helped with one of my senior thesis film projects was checking in like hey you know what you’ve been up to these last few years and i explained about the wedding stuff and they sort of had this reaction of wow that’s a shame because you kind of had a lot of talent and i feel like you’re wasting it by doing these weddings and it was one of those like through the heart moments i was like that stings but i think i needed to hear it and then my next wake-up call was around 2017 i had my annual echocardiogram which i usually get every year for my heart condition that i’ve had since i was born and they kind of came back to me and said look you’re gonna have to probably get surgery in a couple years it’s looking you know kind of worse than it ever has before and so that was my second sort of thought of like whoa you know at some point i’m gonna have to get heart surgery don’t know how that is gonna go even though it’s not the most crazy kind of operation i’m gonna need to get and so kind of all these things started coming up and i just realized that like i had to stop you know wasting time and really get back into trying to be creative again so in 2018 i got back on the wagon with everything and made my first short film in like six years and then started writing and everything again and started collecting all the poetry that i was writing up until that point and you know it’s finally just started turning this corner in the last couple years now yeah you’ve had quite a lot going on there i imagine that was quite a formative experience all of those years doing the wedding videos it’s interesting how we think of certain things that people think that your talents are wasted and maybe you can’t be as creative as you would feel an urge to be doing them it’s not something i ever imagined i i’d ever be interested in my life so i don’t really know what clients really want out of them but i imagine you have to do what you’re told and try and achieve what they want so if you’re interested we don’t need to dwell on that but it’s just i just don’t really know anybody who’s worked in that kind of area before so it’s and i think it’s maybe an understudied area of culture because it is something that’s really quite common isn’t it probably all over the world so how was that as your main employment because it sounds like you were popular you were making money you had enough to live a good life you know but it seems like you weren’t fully happy or getting fulfilled by doing that work yeah i mean it’s i i give it credit for that that it really did get me in a really good spot as far as being able to buy my my house that i’m in now and everything like that i mean you can certainly be creative with weddings i mean i know plenty of people who do really amazing wedding videos and really put a lot into it but it takes so much to really get to that level and it’s just one of those days where any kind of wants or needs that you have are completely like out the window you’re really at the mercy of the way in which the couple or the coordinator is really laid out the day for better and for worse there’d be days where you know even trying to take a bathroom break was a big to do and that sort of stuff is taxing i don’t think it’s really taxing on everyone but at least for me personally it just makes you feel a little bit like background noise and it makes you kind of feel a little like undervalued in a sense and that sort of stuff like really after a while kind of started weighing pretty heavy on me and when you’re in in the same place where everyone else is really just having a nice fun day and everything and you’re kind of trapped in that world for 8 10 sometimes even 12 hours it’s just a strange feeling at least for me i can’t really speak for everyone who does it because i do know a lot of people that really do enjoy it just for me just that amount of time just being in a space where you’re usually by yourself and you’re not really you’re interacting with people but you’re not really interacting with people you know it just would cause a lot of strange feelings inside of me and then a lot of anxiety would come out especially leading up to the day because for a long time i used you know i used to have the biggest fear of just missing a moment of the day and so i can remember at like my peak of just paranoia with it i mean i would have five sometimes six cameras all set up throughout like a ceremony space just to make sure i wasn’t going to miss anything and so that was what a lot of it was it was just the build-up to it was pretty intense anxiety-wise and then the day of it was just all this pent-up kind of energy that was sort of coming out but not really coming out in a healthy sort of positive way and so yeah just became draining and then the monotony of it once you’ve seen one wedding you’ve kind of seen them all in a sense there’s little bits of variation here and there but you know you’re pretty much going to have your getting ready stuff your first look if they have one you know the main ceremony reception parent dances toast all that stuff you know it’s just like rinse and repeat after a while too that’s interesting to hear yes i imagine that you must be this spectral presence you’re there but you’re not there and you’re just this observer so yeah quite an odd thing really yeah interesting really really interesting i’ve never really spoken to somebody’s experience i know i have friends who have done it but they’ve done it for a friend you know and they’ve photographed a friend’s wedding and it’s been a one-off commission sort of thing but yeah it’s really interesting to hear that as a job you know as your bread and butter yeah and that’s not really even getting into like the chaos of the days that can come up you know when if you have like a photographer who might not be gelling really well with you or even just sometimes getting food at the end of the day can be a bear so just all those things are just like the little road bumps that could come up throughout the event and would you be in charge of the edit as well yeah so that would be the back end of it so i said photography and videographies have a flip-flop job when it comes to weddings like the day of we’re kind of in the background and they’re leading the charge but then when it comes to editing stuff most photographers it’s like they just put on music and it’s really laid back but when you’re trying to edit a wedding video i mean that’s like you’re talking hours upon hours of footage that needs to get condensed into a story and for what i was offering a lot of it was you do the the highlight reels which are usually about like five to ten minutes but then there’d also be like the hour-long video of just the entire day laid out and i quickly learned that i was not going to be tackling that and luckily i had a really good person who reached out to me that was actually overseas and they ended up doing most of that wedding video editing for me which i was fortunate enough to do because yeah there’s no way i was going to be filming it and then bringing it all together and making into something cohesive because it was just way way way too much that would be an editing suite it seems that there would be a very specific audience as well because realistically who’s going to see it it’s going to be the family of the people getting married and that’s probably it yeah it would be that and i mean occasionally you know they take the video and put it on facebook and i mean you’d be surprised that like the amount of people that that watch that stuff i think mainly just because facebook loves it when people post about weddings so when they would it’d be like blasted all over their their news feed and stuff so you know you would get like that sort of feedback which was always nice when you’d see like friends and stuff saying like this is so great this looks really good but it was to me like a short short answer to like a problem that was just too pervasive to have like a really good outcome in my mind at least so i suppose then when when you can go back to doing your own self-led projects you can have more creative license and how you show things you know and i imagine you’d have to do fairly conventional straightforward camera setups and things you framings and that sort of thing and you have no crazy crash sims or anything like that yeah i mean you know when when you’re doing it on your own it’s a completely different process and you kind of know going in like this is what elements i have and what i’m trying to do with and i mean you know you do have things that come up throughout like a shoot day or whatever but to me it’s that’s the even more interesting stuff because it like keeps your mind going and it really is keeping you on your toes and to me like more of a fun way than like let’s say when you’re trying to do a wedding and you’re basically just trying to make sure you don’t miss anything would you or someone you know make a great guest on audiovisual cultures then email audiovisualcultures to have a conversation when it comes down to your own work so you’ve mentioned your poetry and the short films that you’ve worked on and you’ve been working on screenwriting what are your interests what are the things that you’re saying you know what are you talking about what are you thinking about when you make those more creative projects you know i’d say with the first few projects that i’ve been doing since i’ve transitioned from everything again it’s really just been a lot of processing the things that i’ve been through in my life so i’d like to think of the poetry book and the screenplay i wrote last year as more of the catharsis to sort of analyze everything that i’ve been through especially with previous relationships and stuff because those have been just these big moments that were really tumultuous and really i kind of went through a lot with each of my long-term relationships that i’ve been with up until this point so the poetry is a lot of processing through that it’s a lot of processing through the feelings with the weddings that i’ve been doing and then just dealing with a little bit of grief and stuff over the years so that’s really where the inspiration for all of that has come from and i feel like that was a really good stepping stone for me because you know now i’m starting to think of stories that are really outside of that like the next screenplay i want to work on is something that takes place during like world war one and it’s just nothing that i’ve experienced in my own life so i feel like that was the starting point was really just pulling in everything i’d been through up until now and sort of using that as a jumping off point for trying to tell some stories i mean with your poetry you published that just this year is that right yeah i published it back in january of this year what kind of poetry do you think you write i mean do you do something structured do you do free verse do you have any particular styles or anything like that you know or is it these are the things that have tumbled out of my head for a few years you know what what kind of approach do you take when you’re writing poetry you know i’d say it’s not really super structured i say a lot of it is kind of free verse because usually my process is really just you know i’ll be doing something or maybe just walking or reading and i’ll just kind of have a flash moment and that’s when i’ll grab my phone and you know i have like a little notepad app and i’ll just quickly start with a few lines and then i’ll just keep it growing from there and i try to just find like a natural kind of conclusion for the piece and then just sort of write it all out that’s usually for me like a five to ten minute process when it all kind of just happens with this book that i published it’s really just super free verse there’s really nothing that’s like structured or anything but again like as i’m sort of moving forward with things you know with stuff that i’m writing now i’m trying to have a little bit more structure or at least have an ongoing theme for things a little bit better because i feel like with this first one it’s just been a lot of just brain dumping onto the page and there are common themes that like i structure the book through but i feel like now that i’m thinking about it a little bit more and have had time to digest what i’ve written before has helped me to move forward and start experimenting with different ways of writing and different ways of expressing you know what i’m going through and i’m also just kind of trying to create stuff that’s a little more fantastical i guess is the word not so much just based on my own experiences but just trying to think of different viewpoints on things and then having poems that are focused around that yeah interesting and is it purely on paper or do you ever read them do you ever perform them or anything like that is it a very sort of private thing that you’ve then put out in just print form or how does it work for you yeah i mean pretty much everything was just written down i didn’t really do much performing with any of them but i have done a few like book readings virtually and stuff and it’s been interesting because you know when i’m reading them out loud it takes on a new not version of it but it just sounds different than the way it sounds in my head so it sort of taught me to actually do that more with what i’m writing now is sort of like sound it out better because you know i’ll notice sometimes when i’m reading certain poems it’s like this sounds really good on paper but now that i’m reading it it doesn’t flow very well or there’s certain parts that if i would have maybe changed out a word or two could have just worked a little better so it’s an interesting thing that from the start i’ve known that that’s kind of always what you should do but i’m so notoriously bad for not doing that for myself maybe it’s because i’m just nervous that i’ll read it out loud and be like ah this sucks and i won’t want to do anything with it so maybe it’s my own like mental hurdle protection yeah i do understand i think it’s good practice for any kind of writing is to read it out read it out loud yeah because i i mean even with some of the more analytical work that i do and you writing research papers and things i always read the my lines just to make sure okay that sentence actually is a sentence and it says something you know or if it starts to trip you up you know okay i need to simplify how that’s said that’s too messy you know so yeah it’s a nice idea just i ask because a lot of the poets i know when i’m based in the northeast of england and there’s quite a nice community of spoken word people doing poetry slams and things like that so i think it’s been a way for me to find my way back to poetry because i used to write a lot as a teenager and then i just got fed up with putch i did an english literature degree and then got fed up with reading i could see that but actually seeing people perform it i think is a really special thing yeah even if it is just for yourself or it’s as you say it readings where you’re promoting your book you know it’s a really nice thing to do because it’s your voice they’re your thoughts so you’re feeling so it your voice being attached to it is really nice i think there’s a pretty good scene here in baltimore with that too it’s just one of those things where uh it’s really up to me to put myself out there and actually go to these things more but i’m pretty bad with that as well i think as much as i can peruse online and make connections that way i feel like i need to get a little bit better with the real world thing which i mean last year was a pretty much a wash for everyone but i think now that things are finally starting to get back to normal a little bit i think moving forward i definitely need to start getting out to more of those things and connecting with people in the in the live sense yeah it’s one of those i think you just have to rip the plaster off you know you just have to stop thinking about it so worrying about it i know it’s easier said than done i struggle with anxiety as well and you just have to trick yourself almost into just doing it and not thinking about it oh just send that email and just think about it because i think once you’ve done it once should be easier exactly i mean that’s you know just like anything i mean i remember personally like uh when i first started doing video production work a lot of it was in the city here and i used to have such bad anxiety with driving in cities and now it’s like old hat i mean i can do it all day and it doesn’t bother me even a slightest bit but that’s what it was it was literally just rinse and repeat and you just sort of get over that hump after a little while so i’m totally there with you on that point a massive thank you to our lovely members at forward slash av cultures your continued support is helping me make improvements to the show all the time so would you tell us a bit then about your film work so you said you’ve worked on shorts before oh what could you tell us about those and are they available to say yeah so pretty much everything i’ve done in the creative senses on the website for me or on like the vimeo page it’s been an interesting sort of journey for me in the film space because like i said it was really my my good friend who is a lot more in depth with film i’d always grown up watching films and really enjoying cinema but for me it was wasn’t something i really thought about getting into what was interesting was i feel like what i’ve sort of looked back and found with everything is that for me personally i think that the storytelling aspect is really where i feel like i’ve always had the most depth and success with but i’ve always kind of struggled with the transition from page to screen as far as like visualizing what angles to use and constraining myself to like okay if i put the tripod here with this sort of lens like this is the result i’m going to get i can’t do it in my head so you know for a long time i i really was telling myself okay you know i really want to do writing and directing and i can take on both but with the project that i did in 2018 i really found that you know while i can do it and i can make it happen i feel like it’s better for me to have the right people by my side that can actually translate what i’m writing better than even i feel like i can and again maybe that’s some kind of like weird mental hurdle which in 10 years i’ll figure out that like it was just me sort of protecting myself from actually making the films as a director myself but at least at this stage in my life i’m sort of feeling like where i need to go with things is finding really good directors who can translate the writing in the way in which i can write the writing if that makes sense it’s one of those things where as i’m writing something i almost see it as kind of a stage play whereas like everything’s just kind of a flat canvas and it’s all sort of coming to life around me but i’m not seeing like you know okay when this person is talking like this if if i have this sort of camera movement or something like that none of that enters into my mind even the least bit i think with you know as times going on i’ve just sort of made that mental jump so it’s been nice because as i look back on everything a lot of the films that i’ve made or worked on you know i was either more as like a co-director or somebody that was there just one set helping things go smoothly you know maybe more as a producer or something like that and those have always been in my mind the best films that i’ve made with a good team and not one of those things where you know when i’ve tried to make them i feel like they work and i feel like they have a good message to them but as far as how everything comes out on the screen there’s just not a lot of refinement you know i feel like i’m more of this let’s just have a camera free-flowing and stuff like that and that always just doesn’t work as best as it could for something that’s just more visualized by someone who can make that transition more than i can that’s really perceptive i think it takes a lot of self-awareness to really think that stuff through and go do you know what this is where my interests and talents are lying at the moment and then to be open to learning from other people and really truly collaborating that sounds great daniel yeah i think it was it’s a it’s a little bit of that and i mean it was i think it was honestly just kind of that youthful like stubbornness and pride for a long time uh i think because i’m kind of the first like artist type in my family that’s really gone into an artist’s field full time and i feel like for a long time it was i just had to keep trying to do that because i just didn’t want people to be like well you know he did it and he kind of failed and now he’s doing something else so i would say a little bit was that you know that i didn’t want to let it go because i didn’t want to tell people like look you know i did it it didn’t really work out as well or something like that that was that too i have to be uh fully transparent with that one as well no again really interesting and yeah it’s fascinating how we change as we move through our lives and the things that happen to us and you go do you know what actually i might have really wanted that to be my past but i don’t think that’s who i am so i’m gonna develop this bit of what i do for a bit i think it does take self-awareness to go oh okay look that’s just not quite working so you know let’s just hands up and admit that and develop this thing that is working a bit better you know i think that’s good because there are a lot of people who would just ploy ahead yeah yeah definitely i’ve seen that and it’s just you know it’s one of those things where you try to like steer some people when you see that in a direction and either realize it or they don’t and when it doesn’t happen it can always be a little frustrating because you’re kind of watching the same things happening over and over again with that person but yeah i mean it was it was that and i i’d like to say like for as crazy as last year was with everything that went on with covid i mean for me personally it was a nice refresh and a nice way for me to sit down with the writing and have the time to do that and really realize that like hey i think there might be something that’s here that’s sort of developing because i feel like i just kind of buried it for a long time with the film stuff and distracting myself in a sense with thinking that like this was the answer when really the writing was what was there from the beginning again as i kind of look back i see that a lot more clearly than i ever have and it could well be that the writing is what’s right for you at the moment and maybe that ability to visualize it in a cinematic way it may well come to you it may never but to really develop what you’re doing now and to work hard on that and to really acknowledge and recognize that film is a collaboration it is a team effort and if you can’t see something that’s fine because somebody else will and they know what to do that’s the beauty of such a collaborative medium i mean if you wanted to talk about it a bit more i mean are you working on a screenplay at the minute what sort of things in terms of storytelling are you working through now that you’re you’re more decided that yes i’m allowing myself to concentrate on the storytelling aspect of it yeah it’s a feature film screenplay that i started work on last summer and just this last couple weeks i finally got sort of the definitive version of it finished so it took about like a year process to really go through all the motions with it um but it’s basically you know one of those serious sort of drama film that’s set in like the early 90s and it follows the final day of this relationship of a tumultuous relationship of a young couple so it really started as a piece for me to finally kind of bury the hatchet in my own mind with my first sort of long-term relationship which was about six or seven years long just a lot of craziness went on with that whole experience and you know i kind of just really even at the start of last year kind of just wasn’t over it to be honest so as i started writing the script that was sort of the way for me to finally analyze everything i’d been through and i found that like each version of the script that i was writing and formulating were these different modes of getting over it so like one version you know sort of had an ending that was them having this moment of forgiving each other and so like that was sort of my first step so it was like very interesting for me because i was seeing like a therapist at the same time and you know as we would chat about it i’m like this is so weird that it’s just like each time i’m writing this it’s like i’m getting a different ending but they’re all different versions of things that i kind of needed to hear or go through myself so it was really really informative to sort of get me through all of that and now that i’m done you know i have this story that i’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from it’s it’s been in a couple like screenwriting festival type things where it’s gotten accepted to so you know now i’m in the process of just trying to get it into some sort of production i’ve met with a few like producers that are based in like new york and la i haven’t gotten any green lights yet but i have gotten a lot of really good feedback and you know now i’m really lining everything up talking with a few really good directors who has like work that i really admire so just making the process of trying to get it into some sort of live-action form but again that would be just me doing the writing and then possibly some like producing work to sort of make it happen it’s been a big process and it’s still kind of only at the beginning right now but it’s been a lot of fun and it’s really helped me to really understand the more business side of the industry and how to get things started and how to make things come to life so i’m hoping it by the end of this year all the ducks can maybe be in a row and maybe it’ll get into production sometime in 2022 or maybe even 2023 who knows but it’s been cool so i’m really happy that i have this now and we’re able to use it as a piece to move forward in my life but also have something that is representative of where i’m trying to go in life as well that’s great that’s a really lovely way of putting that as well you mentioned as well that you were visualizing it when you’re writing more like a stage play and is that something you consider as well is writing for theater yeah i mean you know because i was really sort of introduced in theater in my high school years and i always found it pretty cool you know i i thought it was just you’re doing this performance it’s live when there are things that go wrong you sort of just live with it and keep the show going and everything but i find it cool because you’re usually telling things that are a little more grounded you’re telling more smaller scale although you know i have seen plenty of plays where it gets pretty grandiose which is pretty cool so it’s definitely something that i’ve thought about writing for because i think it would be interesting to try to take a medium like film that i’ve been so like entrenched with and seeing something that’s similar but not quite 100 there and sort of having that come to life so it’s something that i definitely have been thinking a little bit about i don’t really have anything specifically that i’m thinking of writing for like the stage but it would be a nice next step for me to jail into that a little bit do you find that the main centers of filmmaking they’re still la new york is there really much scope for you in terms of nd production i mean i learned so little about how it all works in the states beyond those main centers of it yeah so i was just curious if there’s avenues there for independent filmmakers are there any state funds that you can access to maybe do an independent production that sort of stuff yeah i mean those are kind of still the main centers and more recently like atlanta is another city that’s really come up as a hub for film stuff but you know especially after last year i feel like it doesn’t really matter as much anymore i will say like you know if you’re just trying to get into an area that all they’re doing is productions and everything sure those cities are like really great if you’re just trying to work in the industry and maybe try to like work your way up through the ranks but i think as far as just trying to get a production made yeah i mean i think you can really kind of do it anywhere and different states do have different you know local state funding or arts funding but through my own experiences with it and chatting with a few people that are really kind of more vetted in the industry that i am i hate to just say it’s like a fruitless endeavor but it kind of is because unless you really know somebody that’s connected with the board of trustees or things like that you’re usually not going to get accepted to like different arts fundings for these different groups and like i said that was my perception of it and then i had the opportunity to chat with somebody who actually won an oscar for best short film a couple years ago and that was his same exact perception and i was like well you know this is a guy who’s won an oscar coming at me with this sort of knowledge that i feel like there’s some credence to that so the grant funding is there but it’s just it’s a really big wall to climb so the thought is to you know either take more of a crowdfunding approach to things if you’re trying to get financing or just hitting the pavement and sort of finding those investors that are looking to just put some money into a production and sort of chatting with those people because at least from the research that i’ve been doing the last few years on it all that seems to be still the best method is just connecting with a lot of people networking and finding the people who are financing and wanting those like unique indie productions and everything like that so if that person’s out there listening today then uh just send me your email and i’ll send you over my script yeah the hustle of it all you just have to keep putting yourself out there at any opportunity there’s no hustle too small i think in this industry yeah i mean that’s really what it comes down to is like i always say that for film especially you know the the fun part is when you’re writing you know the tough part is the next step which is just trying to find people who are willing to contribute to the project or really out networking yourself with everyone to run like a successful crowdfunding campaign which is just in today’s world especially so so hard to do because that’s the route that i’d say 80 percent of the people in the indie world are still trying to take so there’s a lot of noise with with everybody trying to get money but you seem to have your head screwed on at least and as you say you’ve been doing loads of research you’re not just expecting hey fund me i’m a genius you know yeah i mean i at one point you know i i used to think that it was like okay i’ll make i’ll make art and like somebody will come and it’s just you learn quickly or at least you hope to learn quickly that that’s really not the case the marketing and the networking of it all are just insanely vital because again it’s just there’s a lot of people trying to do the same thing and you’re just trying to kind of stand out from a crowd so really that’s what it is and just you know getting to know as many people have a friend who’s like he’s a published author and he’s gave me the advice of just trying not to say no to anything you know even if it’s something that feels like less than what you’re doing right now if you can make it work then try to say yes to it because you never know what that person will end up becoming or doing that can turn around in maybe a year so say hey well this this popped up and i thought of you and then there’s a connection that gets made and next thing you know it’s like a huge opportunity so that’s the approach that i try to take as much as possible because it’s true i mean you just never know what’s going to pop up from just having a conversation with somebody true and it can take you in so many different directions and directions you never imagined you’d go in but actually it could work out really well for you so it’s great to be open to that and as you say to put yourself out there and to network and to make friends and it’s networking in not a cynical way but in a i genuinely want to get to know these people because someday they might go oh there was that guy daniel he was really nice and he was interested in this stuff and yeah we should have a chat with him about this you know and that kind of thing is it can just open doors for you exactly and i i try to like stay connected as much as possible like right now i do a lot of film like short film reviews and stuff for people and you know i genuinely try to follow them online and really interact with them even outside of just doing the review um because i think it’s i like that you know i just like getting to know a lot of different people and being able to just have conversations with with them because you know i don’t know about everybody but like i find that a lot of times i’m sort of like you know maybe one day i’m feeling like listening this certain type of music and sort of in this kind of mood and i know that this person is like that’s what he’s into or she’s into and i’m like hey you know i was like listen to the song today and i i remember you like this and then you know have a little chat for a little bit but it’s just those sort of things that i just genuinely like really like to do and i just find the more people you know the more kind of cool interesting conversations that you can express to them but then they can share with you with just different stories that maybe they’ve been through in their life because i always find that cool like what you know even where you’re at you know it’s just like it’s all cool stuff to me i try to look at life almost with like a child like sense of like wonderment with things where i’m just like even the most mundane stuff like i could literally have a conversation with somebody who’s just you know maybe he’s just a day-to-day janitor or something like that but i find that cool i’m like what do you do like i know you you’re supposed to do this but like what really is going on and i love to hear those stories from people because i think it’s all just pretty fascinating yeah it’s great to encounter a different person and have the attitude of oh this is a potential new friend that’s so exciting and just be open to those experiences as you say and this has come up on the podcast a fair bit in the past few months actually is that idea of thinking as your contemporaries you know people you’re working around you your peers and everything thinking of them more as potential collaborators rather than competitors again with film again it is a collaborative medium but people are pitted against each other and so many of the creative industries people are competing for the jobs they’re competing for the contracts they’re competing to get their thing made and really we should be trying to break that system and be introducing a new one that goes nowhere all potential collaborators were supporting each other you know if i can’t do this saying that person can you know and we can do it together rather than being fragmented or just that competitive thing you know i think again yeah it’s just been coming up a lot and i think that just from everything from the past year humanity needs to work together a bit better and a bit more oh yeah yeah it’s i mean it’s crazy because you know especially in in film it’s just like nothing really to me shows when somebody’s sort of inexperienced with everything more than when they’re very like touchy-feely about sharing anything that they’re doing i’m like a complete open book you know and that was one of the best things that i was told when i was in my undergraduate in college which is like if you have a script or whatever like share it you know send it out send it to people that you know you know of course like there’s the writer’s guild and copyright to take to protect yourself but once you have that sort of protection like send the thing out you know and share it with anybody who’s willing to read it or wants to read it because it’s one of those things where like even if someone is let’s say like trying to steal something inevitably their version of it in your version of it are going to be two totally different things and what ends up coming out 99.9 percent of the time is not going to be as good as what you’re going to be able to do with your story in your head so i i’ve always had the mentality of just trying to to share and i offer it all time you know again with the the film reviews that i do now one of the things i always tell people when i send them a review of the film is like hey if you’re working on a story or if you’re tr having some ideas and you just want to like chat about it like i’m down like just let me know and i’ll tell you like and i hate it but it’s very rare that people actually take me off on that and i find it a little sad because i’m like that stuff excites me like if somebody’s trying to come up with this story like i love just chatting about that maybe giving them some ideas that they can utilize or something like that but yeah a lot of people just don’t do it because i think on one hand maybe it’s this fear of somebody critiquing what they’re doing and on another hand maybe they’re afraid that like if somebody gives them an idea and it’s not completely theirs 110 percent then it’s of lesser because it’s not who they are a hundred percent or i’m just like you know that’s just not the way it goes you know especially like if you’re working on bigger budget stuff you know network shows and things like that those are all a huge collaboration of people who all share different things that they’re good at and bring it all together and so that’s always what i try to say is like look you know maybe i can bring just one little element to the story that you’re just not seeing because sometimes it is easy to overlook stuff like that when you’re in your own head and that’s the difference between something that’s good and something that’s great so you just never know unless you have those conversations with people but yeah it is way too much of people i think being afraid of collaboration because everybody just wants to do it themselves a lot of times and while that’s great and while great things can come of that i think the majority of the time better things come of just having conversations and collaborating with others absolutely yes because it’s still their idea you’ve just nudged them a bit so that they can refine it that’s really what’s going on so some really great words of wisdom there daniel some sometimes i have them we’d love you to be part of the conversation with av cultures pod on instagram facebook and twitter and we also have discord is there anything we haven’t touched on that you’re really keen to talk about today not really anything as i’ve moved forward with everything with the book it’s been quite an interesting journey because i randomly just decided to self-publish it and had no marketing sense or anything like that so it’s been a lot of learning with that which has been great and i’m excited to you know have a follow-up come out and you know i’m sitting down to my first actual like novel right now too so that’s been a really cool journey so yes there’s just a lot of things coming up on the horizon that it feels like everything that i’ve been messing with and experimenting with creatively is sort of coalescing at this point in my life which has just been a lot of fun great it’s great that’s it’s really lovely to hear that you know and it’s great to hear that somebody’s had that opportunity to really just take stock you’ve worked so hard for so many years you’ve really earned this opportunity as well but to just have that space and time to get all of that out of you you know and then to see what you can make of it you know because you’ve got that raw clay and now you’re trying all these different ways of sculpting it exactly and i always feel like a little bit jealous because uh you know some people it’s just that’s so easy for them at such a young younger age and i feel like it’s just taking me like 10 years of refinement really going through highs and lows and all that stuff to get to this point so i feel like i’m a little bit of a late bloomer but i’m trying to make up for lost time well that’s interesting as well because i think i’m probably a bit older than you and a bit and i feel a bit like that too because i think you know in a way we’re pressured into you need to know exactly who you are at 16 or you’re worthless you know and there’s too much pressure on people to do that and i think we’re in a constant state of self-discovery we’re constantly learning who am i and who what are what am i doing in the world and all of this and some people don’t have the luxury of just knowing who they are and some people know exactly who they are and they’re not allowed to be that person and they have to overcome that you know and there’s all there’s so many ranges of experiences out there and you know even if somebody a bit younger you know it’s come easy to them what you’re saying well maybe they don’t have the life experience that you have you know so everything i think balances out and every experience is important and none of us are behind you know and i think it comes to you when you’re ready for it and hopefully when the time is right and i’m hoping that’s what’s happened with you and it sounds like you this is the time of your life that you were ready for all of this and that’s great well yeah i think that’s a really profound way to put it and uh hearing that through it’s like i agree i think yeah you’re kind of hitting it right on the head with that but i appreciate that hopefully hopefully that’s the case hopefully all the things are the dominoes are in a row now for me so just keep moving forward right yeah it’s never too late people are never too old i’m a real advocate for that we’re in a constant state of becoming i think and we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to do with our age because you can’t control the factors of your life it’s very true you just do what you can and you enjoy it if you can exactly so daniel you you mentioned that we can access pretty much all of your work from your website so where do we find your website yeah so the website is uh and that’s t-o-t-o-n-y productions with that’s the name of my production company and so yeah that has all the videos that i’ve done in the past and then all of my writing work and then the blog where you know i do the film reviews and film write-ups and things like that yep that’s kind of the one-stop shop for everything that’s great i will have that in the show notes everybody if you’re listening if you’re watching get down there and hit that link and check out daniel’s brilliant work daniel hess thank you so very much for your time today it’s been an absolute pleasure and a delight speaking with you i’ve really really enjoyed it yeah thank you so much for having me it’s it’s been a pleasure here as well thank you

this is a cozy people production with me paula blair the music is common ground by airton used under a 3.0 non-commercial creative commons license and is available at if you’ve enjoyed this episode please give us a good reading subscribe and recommend audio visual cultures to your friend all of our contact details socials information ways to listen and our mailing list sign up can be found on our website linked in the show notes thank you so much for listening and supporting take care and i’ll catch you next time



Audiovisual Cultures episode 73 – Arts Collaboration with Dawn Woolley and Zara Worth automated transcript

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welcome to audiovisual cultures with me paula blair in this episode i have a great conversation with artists sarah wirth and don willey who are collaborating on work that engages with systems of belief in contemporary culture and this is a topic which takes us through a really wide range of areas in modern life it’s really super fascinating huge thanks to our members on forward slash av cultures for all your support as many of you may know it has been a summer of managing a lot of tactical hiccups to put it lightly and um getting by with very small struggling machine so to help the recovery fund if you’re able to you can slip me a fiver at buy me a forward slash p e a blair or you can listen to the end and i’ll give you a few other options if you can help out even if you can just share the podcast and spread it around that in itself is a really huge help

so for now i really hope you get as much out of this chat as i did um zara and donner working on some really fascinating stuff and have been for quite a while so i really hope you enjoy this hey don and zara good morning good morning hi i’m doing well um thank you so much for joining me for this so we’re gonna talk about work that you’re both collaborating on and um but first i think it’d be nice to establish a bit about your individual practices and um we also have a really nice connection through all working with yorkshire sculpture international 2019 um and i had the chance to spend a day with sarah during that but i never got to meet you don and it’s really lovely to connect now and um so if it’s okay i’ll start by asking each of you to maybe take us through a little bit about what you did as engagement artists for that and then we’ll we’ll edge into your what you’re working on now and we’ll see what comes up so if it’s okay don could i ask you to go first because i don’t really know what you did last year yes absolutely um i was working with the yorkshire sculpture park and a group of women or actually two groups of women who were doing um english as a second language courses in wakefield and so they were from uh various different places particularly in um sort of indian continent and africa and i was kind of taking them around the sculpture park introducing them to the different amazing things that are out there and also to the hepworth we looked at some of the kind of key sculptural techniques within some of the work that we saw um and then just made things basically so sometimes it was sewing sometimes it was building it was kind of really quite varied we just sort of went through different things and in the end i photographed a lot of the sculptures and objects that they made and then made some banners uh like pop-up banners that were displayed at the sculpture park and i think they are with um wakefield council’s education department now so hopefully they’re on display in the library or something like that fantastic that’s great and zarya you were based in leeds weren’t you yeah i was um working with the henry moore institute and um abby grange school so a group of year nines were the group that i was working with the majority of the time on the day that i met you we were also doing lots of different um workshops as part of the sculpture and school day so i was working with all ages on that particular day but the majority of my time was spent working with a group of year nines and we spent most of our time in the classroom um in the art classroom so i did a i devised a project to create a piece of work working with them and which was called prayer hands ipad poses because i was really struck by the fact that one of the sort of selling points that the school traded on was the fact that they got um or they gave ipads to all of their students and the ipads were really embedded in their learning and obviously this is so different to some school experience that i had i was really fascinated by this um especially since because i suppose there’s so much about like kids spending too much time on their ipads on their iphones then they’re giving them at school and told to do everything on them um and i was interested in trying to make a piece of work that was you know relevant obviously to my practice and my own interest in social media and handheld technology but also to devise a piece of work that facilitated the kids to get into a headspace where they could start recognizing their day-to-day lived experience is valid reference points for making art from and so you know the fact that they use ipads every day in their day-to-day life at school that that is a valid subject to make art about so we um did we made casts of their hands in poses um and gestures that they used whilst holding and operating their ipads and then painted them golden and put them together so it was kind of you know looking at the ways that we use our bodies in relation to technology but also creating an absence of that technology which in in so doing was also kind of drawing attention to the fact of its constant presence in our lives and hopefully they you know got out of it i think i think they um yeah i think they enjoyed it yes that’s great and so how was it then was it through doing ysi that both of you find out about each other then yeah yeah yeah um we actually met on the group interview day for the engagement artist and we happened to be sat at the same table and i guess in that we were kind of giving brief overviews of some of our interests and i think um zara had mentioned that she was interested in like use of technology and social media and things and i was like oh well actually that’s what my research is about as well so we just kind of kept the conversation going from there really yeah and i think i’d i can’t remember it would have been probably about a year after i’d finished making a piece of work called a drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery which was obviously really tied into like diet culture and particularly on social media in particular on instagram and wellness culture and i’d also just made a piece of work titled wellness and which really really tied in with all the things that dawn was saying and i was listening to john speaking yeah yeah

yeah yeah and i think is it because both of you have done in very different ways work that’s somehow to do with some kind of religious iconography isn’t that right yeah yeah and i think zara’s is probably a bit more overt than mine and but i’m interested in consumer culture quite broadly um and how objects are sold to us with these kind of using pseudo-religious techniques and languages um so i’d done a piece of work called wishbook which was an instagram based project about kind of unpacking some of the the kind of mystical uh language of commodities um uh yeah and i kind of also make um strange objects that you can maybe see behind me that are kind of related to anthropology and objects of worship from different cultures but made out of packaging material so kind of contemporizing these ideas of fetishism and commodity worship

and then the language as well as kind of a yeah interesting the language is kind of a shared theme because they’ve also we’ve both looked at hashtags as well and i’d made a piece of work um in 2018 called chorus and where i’d looked at how about this absolutely i’ve made i’ve rewritten the choral version of the lord’s prayer using hashtags from wellness posts on instagram and and they were really but they’re really interesting as humorous as it is and i presented it as both sheet music and as a sing-along karaoke um but what was interesting is that there’s the kind of obvious ones that you’d expect with like you know food blogger but then some of them are very quasi-religious in the promises that they’re making you know things like healing foods and and things like that and and i’d come across um a few social media instagram wellness influences that are really problematic in particular and that that became kind of a starting point for the work that we did together looking at sort of these celebrity influences and the promises that they make with these different ways of eating and living and of course social media is so strange really when it comes to food because you know there’s a it’s actually so removed from gestation and actually from not gestation just to do purposes no one that is removed from gestation but it’s not removed from gusted free purposes and it’s so removed from digestion was what i was looking for um and yeah it so i think it kind of lays bare the hidden kind of mythologies and signs laden latent in the images that um are shared of food yeah and they’re quite polarizing so or polarized um like communities but also in the language so we particularly looked at the clean eating phenomena which is very wrapped up in these kind of religious ideas of cleanliness purification um sin free eating um and then the the kind of opposite of there’s there’s kind of an eat dirty trend which is kind of it which is the polar opposite of clean eating it’s it’s very masculine for a start where most of the clean eating people are women of a particular type um and yeah it’s just like all of the codes and the permissions that are wrapped up in all of that that kind of language and the images that are attached to them are really fascinating so so we started by kind of comparing those kind of posts really um and we made a a visual essay by um screen grabbing images relating to sort of predetermined hashtags to do with clean or dirty eating and just made it into a kind of slideshow to show those to to show the comparison quite clearly and then again and that then became we did we put together some well we wrote some papers together following the publication of that piece um that really i suppose unpacked it in a bit more detail i looked particularly at the people behind that you know these um the influences because these very much like religion um these trends as it were kind of gravitate around or towards um yes celebrity-like people and it’s fascinating as well because if you’re not in that you probably would never come across that but then you find these people that have millions of followers um yeah that take you know their guidance as like a dictator um that is being espoused with absolutely no actual scientific underpinning about certainly with the clean eating trend is probably worse for this where um i’m thinking in particular of this guy called uh he’s he uses the ha the um account name medical medium he’s called anthony williams and he um has so like thousands and thousands of followers and he claims to receive his knowledge about um food from a high-level spirit who tells them things that are like beyond like science and he and it sounds crazy and kind of laughable and on one hand it is but on the other hand he’s literally also telling people to come off chemotherapy and start um following a diet of celery juicing so as much as it sounds you know humorous actually there’s very very tangible and you know life-threatening consequences of people taking what he’s saying seriously um and he clearly does wield a lot of influence and a lot of power in people’s lives and which is sad yeah and well even less extreme cases you know that are not being um spoken to by high-level spirits um they still appear to have uh not like knowledge and experience as nutritionists or dietitians and things but they don’t so so there’s i think there’s a danger throughout it not not just at the whole level kind of big influences that i think we talk about a lot and we kind of want to draw attention to um in the work that we do and it all links back to kind of the post-truths as well and making it kind of wider which is something that in certainly a wellness that i kind of emphasize because the so in wellness it’s basically a kind of digital collage combining appropriated images of wells and then the accompanying hashtags go kind of down the rabbit hole as it were going through other hashtags to find other hashtags and it takes you from wellness and through a kind of you know progression into total nonsense but it ends in it actually ends in trump and i genuinely did follow the um hashtags as i’ve made that work yeah it seems that there’s um there must be a real relationship then between that kind of activity and evangelism it sounds like yeah

do you want to say about it yeah um i because i do look at um diet cultures in my own research and i’ve particularly been looking at um the rhetorics around the obesity crisis and a kind of the treatment of fat in our cultures and there is um quite strangely but also quite logically there is quite a a kind of evangelizing about the body so you know like that idea the body is a temple it’s gift you’re supposed to look after it if you’re not there and that kind of underpins anything to do with the body as not as imperfect is also immoral so and you come across that a lot and it uh and i think that’s also tied into some of those um languages about um you know personal responsibility that’s also very sort of neoliberal um view of health uh so so yeah and then you get kind of advert rhetoric like your only limit is you uh which is a kind of nike slogan and pretty much any night slogan you pick will will underpin the idea of personal responsibility and expectation of driving to achieve good health um that really undercuts uh the very real um social economic disparities that stop people from achieving health and also it’s very ableist point of view um yeah so there’s all of these things going on and they’re deeply moralizing kind of arguments i was thinking about this this morning actually because i was watching i’ve seen um judith butler’s shared uh possibly shared a video of jews but they’re talking about um the pandemic and about um health but also about the fact that you know people talk about this idea that we’re going to have create this new world but actually you know you’re it’s also revealing how embedded social racial economic inequalities are just so embedded in our kind of capitalist system but i was thinking about the fact that um we often talk about like life choices so i you know wherever i live um there’s a like a really big problem with obesity but it’s also a very you know not a well-off area at all and so talking about life choices implies that everybody has the same choices available to them which they just do not like and i was thinking of well i suppose i didn’t really get to a conclusion but how we need to change the word choices to a better word that reflects that not everybody has the same choices available to them when they’re making um decisions about what to buy what to eat whether to exercise etc um and social media eclipses that hugely and then makes you feel absolutely terrible for not being able to kind of self-actualize to this extent but i was also thinking that just kind of to explain maybe the way that i come into this area i’m more interested in um belief systems and meaning making um and the kind of religious side of things um so and and not always in a kind of like necessarily really critical away or or sometimes kind of so like obviously i’m very critical of like wellness cultures but actually the work they’re making at the moment and around selfies and um yes online self portraiture more generally is not actually it’s kind of maybe the opposite that you would expect you know in terms of the criticism offered or the critique offered um in i’m sort of i’m making comparisons between selfies and online self portraiture and religious icons in saying that actually you know these are valid expressions of a kind of i ideal super super ego to live up to whether that is helpful or not to the individual you know is questionable but actually you know is there not actually something about the human condition which you know where we feel obliged to find images and in case of where we’re maybe uh atheist to make our own images for us to live up to and to make our own images to aspire to whether those are positive images is another issue you know in entirety like um but yeah not just kind of total selfie bashing yeah and i can kind of um echo that sentiment my phd ended up being a lot about selfies quite unexpectedly because um i started out and ended talking about still life but somehow selfies crept in to that discussion and i’ve just finished a book that will be out next year which is about commodification and social media and how what that does to individuals bodies and actually selfies of different types are a good way to examine that to see what the trends are and although i think selfies have um well they make people visible they they kind of they’re a statement of presence which is fairly uh universally available although obviously that depends on technology internet connections and so on um but it does kind of level the playing field about who can be represented basically um but unfortunately there’s a real um trend towards very um polarized gender representations and i think actually expectations of gender performance that are becoming even more stereotypical and there is actually um evidence of um through academic studies that show gender stereotypes are more prevalent in selfies than they are in advertising for example um so the work that i’m kind of working on now and some of the projects i’m initiating are about how do you

inter intercept in that process of making gender stereotypical and i think it’s kind of to do with the reward systems online that you know if you behave in a certain way that’s expected you will get likes follows and so on and we know they have very you know pleasurable physical effects on the body so um so it’s how do you change that what’s given the reward basically and how do you open out representation to be actually democratic and welcome lots of different types of bodies different genders and so on so so yeah i’m kind of a thumbs up for selfies with a very big butt at the end

and i think as well like one of the things that i’ve always found frustrating is you know when in discussions about selfies that they quite often level around criticisms of young women representing them and often let’s be serious regurgitating really problematic um images of a kind of highly feminized you know in whatever narcissistic and yeah narcissistic way but also just like you know you’ve given you’ve told young women that your value in this world is to look a certain way to behave a certain way you know to be kind of quiet to be sexy to kind of just to to have a body that looks certain way and then when they then adhere to that you then tell them off for that and i think that it’s more important to kind of offer a critique that exposes the the kind of the mason age machination i kind of speak like how that you know how how that’s operating you know as people are using that as an image for themselves to aspire to and then also is dawn saying to think about ways that we can kind of offer alternative ways of um yeah being more inclusive and and having different types of identity kind of less and less binary representations of gender etcetera and and that you’ve made me think as well about um a really influential series of lectures that i attended when i was at goldsmiths which were um michelle for has um the age of um lectures on the age of appreciation lectures on the neoliberal condition and he talks about um appreciation economies on social media and which we you know is kind of perfectly evidenced by the fact that you know of course people want to young people want to get likes they want to get appreciation and follows um and it’s so difficult when you know people are being you know they’re getting that appreciation which is like saying yeah this is good what you’re doing is good to then be told actually you you know you’re reproducing really problematic images so how do we intercept in the system okay yeah absolutely and so is that that’s the work that you’re collaborating on now is that is working through ways of maybe trying to do that or no we’re currently well we just finished writing a book chapter for um a book on food cultures on instagram in which we talk about the um artworks that we’ve produced together and individually for instagram uh but actually that our kind of current collaboration is looking more broadly at these kind of the the kind of pseudo-religiousness of contemporary society basically um which we are we’re putting together an exhibition proposal at the moment um so we’re kind of looking around to see which other artists are are kind of kind of dealing with this subject in interesting and varied ways yeah it’s far more general i suppose in what we’re trying to you know pin down through the exhibition and obviously our personal interests and work is about kind of presentations of um culture that kind of intersects with the religious or the quasi-religious um but we’re also kind of interested in other you know artists who are working in similar areas but maybe like the religious but other um presentations of um contemporary culture so obviously like i’m quite interested in selfies and comparing them to icons but maybe we’ll find some artists that we want to work with who are interested in maybe the resurgence of interest in tarot or the resurgence of interest in astrology um and crystals and things like this and yeah yeah yeah and i mean because i’m currently working on like votive paintings in my interest and i’ve kind of done uh work around fetish objects but we’re also thinking about well and this kind of relates to zara’s um piece of work uh does turn selfies into a hymn and we’re thinking about what about spells and prayers and these more ephemeral things and how do we enact those things in contemporary culture um in ways that maybe we’re not thinking about so so yeah we don’t know exactly what we’ll find out through that but it’s quite an exciting research process

and i was just thinking about the to go back to the the book chapter worked on together i suppose and that we were really thinking more specifically about instagram as um kind of a space that could you know be a site for art but as well as a subject for art so we brought together works that specifically um actually kind of permeated that space as well as disrupted it and and then how those were strategies for kind of exposing some of those operations and that we talked about earlier

um so where is that chapter going to be available um

no um i i i assume it’ll probably be early next year okay and then it’ll come out and the book’s called you are what you post isn’t it okay is it yeah okay i think that’s i didn’t know that the final title no we probably should have checked some of these details because i don’t actually know who the publisher is either okay yeah are you looking it up sorry so our chapter is called creative consumption okay and um i think it’s going to be published with bloomsbury academic press yeah you are what you post food and instagram is the title of the book and um yeah bloom’s academic press but i’m not sure what the timeline is for how well everything’s gonna be publishing especially

yeah yeah it’s glacially slow anyway but it’ll be even

yeah yeah i think a lot of people are finishing books because they’ve got so much time at home so um so maybe there’s going to be a backlog with the publishers

so i i’m really interested in those metaphors around consumption you know because we we consume the commodity items and that sort of thing but also you know the consumption of food and intake into the body and then that kind conflating that with the idea of consuming religion digesting religion um and then those similarities that you’re working through that you’re finding with our use of social media so what we consume but also what we put back out again on social media um so i mean i was i was thinking about um if you’d like to talk about the materiality of your work as well because you both work across lots of different media and i am done looking at your website you work a lot with actual food as well and you know sorry you have done a bit as well and um you know so are there any relationships with the actual materials that you use often if you want to have it through that definitely and i think um at the beginning of doing my phd i was using food as a sculptural material so kind of making um objects out of blemonge and cake and meat uh often rotting food things as well so um it was kind of this idea and i’m quite interested in how food is advertised so it’s and it is again this kind of binary between um the good for you food and then the naughty treat um and how um how you know it food is almost always in one of those categories so how do you play with this idea of something that’s kind of um seductive but dangerous or um kind of desirable but repulsive at the same time and so so yeah so using food to make things but kind of transforming their shape in some way to make them more more kind of problematic or challenging and also trying to relate them back to the body in some way to talk about this idea of you are what you eat basically um so yeah so sometimes it was like my bleming dentata which had white chocolate teeth uh or i’ve used things like um uh um you know like weight loss girdle things and um those types that are meant to suck your body in but filled with potatoes and things um to really play around this relationship between body and food it’s funny i was also thinking as you were speaking down about um the kind of gender divide in terms of um how legible these foods are as signs and that’s something that i found with the celery drawing that um when i’ve shown it predominantly women just get it like they can just they find it very legible as a piece of artwork because of the connotations of um celery and celery’s a funny one because it it’s like a perfect kind of example of kind of the post-truth uh situation though it’s kind of predates the post-truth in its own mythology as this minus calorie um because it yeah it has this reputation as being something that takes so much energy to digest that you actually burn calories from eating it which is not true but the the work plays off that idea but also kind of the violence of the idea that this idea that you would be purposefully eating food that will actually um like deen your issue yeah it does the opposite that food is supposed to which is yeah give you energy and pleasure and all the rest of it and plus i mean personally i absolutely hate celery so much and so i i found it quite interesting the reception of that piece that you i found you had to kind of explain it a bit more to predom predominantly to men and whereas women who are really the primary targets of diet culture and found it far more legible in terms of like my more recent work though the materials i’ve been using i have been working predominantly with um gold gold leaf and imitation gold leaf and i mean the choice to work with the imitation gold is like primarily is economic because it is so much cheaper but obviously dealing with these kind of um themes about identity and like projection of identity online and and the kind of performance of that as a kind of projection of an image um obviously really lends itself to this idea of using materials which aren’t quite what they appear and and i’ve been making kind of large paintings on um on polythene so it has this diaphanous quality as well which brings this slight kind of immateriality to it as well but but equally really lends itself back to um these different religious objects that which is where there’s a nice point of connection with dawn’s work so kind of referencing like veils and shrouds and but also being quite ghostly and speaking to this idea of like religious presence and imminence is there anything either of you are working actually i was thinking about the idea of self-care because this is quite a big buzzword now and if that’s coming up anywhere in what you’re searching through um well because the votive paintings that i’m working on at the moment and i can um if i can find one i’ll show you on so they are kind of about their self-care culture in a way but it’s also and that they’re on broken old mobile phones so it’s kind of this idea of the phone being um the site that we make you know and votives are kind of like their prayers um asks for help um biographies to do with miracles and you know so so they and i think social media is also a sight for all of these things like we kind of show off things we ask for help we confess things um you know cite our achievements and so on so it’s kind of thinking about how can i express the function of these as powerful objects in our lives um but it is also very much to do with that neo-liberal rhetoric where self-care is not just look after yourself it’s like it’s your responsibility we’re not going to help you and that’s a very commoditized language as well so it’s like self-care is making the right consumer choices basically and that expectation that everyone can make those choices um so yeah choices yeah which is no choice at all really yeah when people just don’t have you know not everybody has the same choices a set of choices available for them i i imagine like a a kind of dinner party analogy like some people have a platter and other people have like a saucer yeah well and i i’ve recently um just revised a chapter for a book on um uh well the book is their productive body so it’s kind of about the body in contemporary consumer culture but um my chapter is on the quantified self movement so i’m really interested in self tracking culture and which again it seems to be a very equal thing like you just get a phone or a wristband thing with a pedometer you can track things but um but now it’s increasingly tied up with work wellness programs as well so that it’s kind of like you’re being tracked all of the time so your free time has kind of been co-opted by work um in america it’s also really tied into um insurance like um getting money off insurance insurance policies and things so so actually your ability to provide data makes you better off than other people so there’s an inequality there already and i read an article i can’t remember the name of the the writer but they did say basically your employability will also begin to hinge on how well you can produce data because if they you know if your company want to provide you with um life insurance and health insurance they want to know that you’re not going to cost them a fortune and you prove that with your um self-tracking data so so yeah these inequalities are uh growing and and becoming really embedded throughout our lives in quite a scary way actually yeah but that was a bit of a tangent sorry that’s all yeah i was thinking earlier when i was looking through all of this about the data self and the convergence with surveillance culture that’s happening and we are self surveilling now with all of these yeah yeah there’s a great book i think well i’ve definitely read i’m pretty sure zara has read it as well um by bernard harcourt called exposing the self oh well you should but it is like this link between um the pleasures of social media and the surveillance aspect and he kind of makes the point that actually the um how uncannily the apple watch for example is like a a prison tag or a you know community a probation tag rather so so we’re kind of these um yeah punishment and surveillance techniques are really embedded within our our leisure activities and the pleasures of our life as well so um yeah it’s interesting but who knows where that’s going to end up because it took off so quickly and become so um you know fully accepted so quickly yeah the speed of it is as such a problem as well for people to kind of it’s sort of happening as pace beyond which we can be kind of reflective and also fully knowledgeable especially as it’s it’s just absorbed into kind of the like necessities for you to function in society as you were saying like about trying to access healthcare so that your kind of need to be able to access healthcare in the states for example is going to trump the front of the word the need for you to actually be really careful and think very selectively about how you’re going to manage your personal data and but actually kind of we don’t know the long-term effects of these choices that are being made for us and certainly when you’re you know without being hugely stereotypical but of an older generation where these this technology is particularly foreign to you and like i realized that my mum and her friend had never turned off the like um okay hey siri so they hadn’t realized that the phones were constantly listening to them and they were absolutely horrified but then of course why would they know that you know when it was and they just thought it was just really helpful function but they never considered the fact that it would mean that their phone would have to be constantly listening yeah absolutely um and well i think um research has shown that those inequalities you know that the age inequality is you know very evident but also things like if you live in a rural place rather than a city you’re less likely to be using these technologies um and then you know all of the the social um categories already exist so if you’re marginalized in any other way in your life you’re marginalized in this as well and and i think the speed thing that zara said also means i mean it’s a fascinating subject for research um and people are doing really amazing work on this but it is really like um as soon as you’re kind of working on something it’s already moved on quite quickly so it’s kind of um like that that kind of trying to keep up to critique all of these social phenomena as they’re happening is is very difficult um so we’ll see how that one plays out as well i think yeah that’s again it’s me kind of um really badly paraphrasing what judith butler was talking about when i was listening to her talk um and she was talking about different speeds of violences that happening against different groups and you know social inequalities is like a slow moving violence against groups in society that are marginalized that are more vulnerable and this is just one way in which um further kind of injustices are enacted upon those groups um whilst tiny groups just get richer and richer and richer

cheerful i mean there are also amazing organizations that are looking at things like data equality um and how to try and prevent some of these um you know discriminations and inequalities happening and also some amazing organizations who are trying to redistribute old technology to people to to try and level the playing field a little bit so there’s um like here in leeds there’s media north west who gather up people’s old laptops and um tablets and things like that and then redistribute them to school children who need them you know and this is kind of initiated because of the lockdown so and that kind of awareness that technology inequality is even um you know more exacerbated by by the situation that we’re in at the moment um and how can we try and even that out a little bit so um so yeah so there are there are people doing things to help which is good yeah yeah and overcoming that and built obsoletism i think in the machines because it’s that idea of choice and autonomy comes up again it’s say um well you have to get the new whatever it is you have to get the new version of the iphone and then but you have to get this special connector because it’s not compatible with these other things and you know it’s you don’t really have that many choices when and you’ve also got too much choice at the same time well that’s what literally just happened to me at the start of this i realized this laptop is a 2019 um edition a version laptop and yet my headphones for my phone which is it is a new phone which makes it sound like i buy technology all the time i eek it out to the point that it just all dies at once and i’ve been to where i have to have two different types of headphones because the connection is different

yeah well and like i spend a lot of time thinking about what what products am i using that are single use and how can i change them so they’re not single use anymore um and i do think you know that whole idea where and apple are terrible for it every time you get a new computer um you have to have a new cable uh you know you can’t connect to a projector in academia like hdmi cable or so it’s like you have to keep buying these things that are well they’re going to go into landfill sites anyway um unless you recycle them which you actually can do um but the the energy and the pollution causing processes to um extract the metals and the minerals and things that are needed to make them and then to actually make them and to ship them out you know it’s like i don’t know how as a society that is allowed because we know we’re in a terrible state you know there is a climate crisis and so i think those kind of practices should be um legislated against yeah basically and especially when you look at these the specific minerals as well and where they come from a they’re not limitless resources that can just be mined indefinitely but b the conditions of and the locations of which you find such resources and minerals are predominantly in the developing world and the conditions in which they’re being mined are hugely dangerous and you know taking um lives of people that are being forced to mind them because they have no other choices available choices yeah well i was about to say we we we can choose to be ethical consumers but actually to a point we can but then it’s like okay which computer do you buy then that doesn’t you know do all of these things that isn’t going to need to be replaced in three years because you can no longer update the software for example you know it’s like i think we’d struggle to find a really clean um technology company to to change too so and i think that these companies as well by building in the obsolescence have have shot themselves in the foot in some way because like i say these resources are not infinite so then now there’s now seems to be more schemes about recycling and and to get back the minerals and the different compounds and reuse them but it and it only seems to be very recent that they’ve clocked onto this yeah and that they’re still saying that we need to keep producing these things where actually they should be saying we need to extend the shelf life of these things because extraction reproduction of whatever it is you know that again there’s still pollution causing processes that use energy as well that then have to that has to be produced so um so yeah i i do think it’s good the more recycling we can do but it’s not the answer we need to be consuming less and that’s that’s the deeply unpopular uh take for consumer culture because obviously we are in economies that demand growth and expansion so so the idea that consuming less is the way forwards really doesn’t fit in with that that kind of dominant economic idea

yeah and i think just to tie it in a little bit with that idea of self-care there’s that expectation of us taking care of ourselves and yet so you know how many of us know how to fix a basic thing on a computer that goes wrong how do we how do we know how to care for our technologies and that sort of thing we’re actually kept out of those systems you know where and they’re made so complex that we can’t possibly do we have to go to a specialist and spend money so even prolonging their life is a form of consumerism as well also thinking about like self-care is like yeah we’re kind of looking after ourselves but we’ve also we’ve also already had our industrial revolution so who are we to say you know we’ve had the luxury kind of you know comparable affluence and the benefits that that’s brought to us other countries they haven’t had the the industry revolution yet um and they look at us and we’re saying okay we need to stop we need to stop producing stuff you need to stop producing stuff for us and and there’s saying well why should we you know it’s all very well in that yeah and and i think that whole self-care um the idea i mean you there’s a kind of idea the feminist ethics of care which is something completely different which is um i think more communal and about community rather than the self-care that’s kind of consumer culture self-care is you look after yourself and everybody else should be lacking looking after themselves so you know it’s saying act in your own self-interest which is not acting in the interest of the environment and it’s amazing how many more single-use things there are now um into in kind of relation to self-care and i’ve got some of those you know like face mask sheets um that became a really big thing and it’s like i don’t it’s one another one of those products where i’m like why are we allowed to make this because it’s a a kind of fibrous um fabric basically that you kind of use for 10 minutes and then throw in the bin it’s like and then it’s packaged as well so it’s kind of creating all of this waste and for what like what it’s more convenient basically i guess that’s a selling point um but but i do think that’s the kind of selfishness of the idea of self-care that we have um in our society now well it just makes i’m reading and part of a research group that i’m involved with we’re kind of slowly reading through um haraway’s tentacular thinking which just feels really relevant here in terms of the she’s calling for she’s calling for thinking thinking she keeps on insisting think we must think we must but also thinking you know outside of ourselves like thinking in a web and of all the different like you know every ecology not just about the beyond the individual beyond the human um and and people as you know sadly the culture certainly is you know capitalist culture is thoughtless and it it um encourages thoughtlessness and in that it self-care encourages you to not think beyond yourself but it’s kind of core it’s just like put this plastic sheet on your face and don’t think about where that’s come from what’s been required to make that what that what’s going to happen when you put that in the bin where that goes you know what implications that has yeah and well to kind of go back maybe to where we began um these are also very gendered products that we’re talking about and um it’s not just that we are selfish consumers we are also absolutely disciplined to perform these kind of rituals of self-care and kind of commodified beautification basically i think as women particularly we are chastised for this kind of so mindless consumption but also absolutely expected to do it so um so i think there is a kind of gender equal inequality at the heart of this kind of really problematic idea of self-care as well because that’s not equally expected or distributed sure absolutely i had a scary thought there about the idea of relics because of uh what you’ve really both been working on before and just the idea of all of these laptop cases and stuff being found by archaeologists in the future it’s gonna be a layer of um disposable face masks along with them yeah and plastic gloves yes the the kind of idea for my relics series did sort of come out of that not in terms of technology but but this idea that the packaging which is not the thing that we buy and it’s kind of that it protects but then it’s immediately wasted and discarded uh but also a lot of time and money goes into the design and development of the packaging and the kind of finessing the rhetoric of what these things say um so yes i kind of came to the conclusion that as a society we wouldn’t be uh remembered for these fascinating uh religious objects that will be kind of unearthed um in a thousand years time it will be plastic pollution um so i kind of i was trying to reimagine this plastic waste as these sort of pseudo-religious uh relics

it’s something i’ve been aware of with the materials that i’m using and i haven’t really dug into sorry very deeply but you know i am working with polythene which is completely unenvironmentally friendly and but i suppose i’m quite interested in this idea that i’m making something that is using those materials that the materials i’m using are supposed to be once used materials and well not the gold but um the polythene sheeting is a dust sheet which is intended to be used once which i would absolutely never use for that purpose and instead i’m using it um for its material qualities the fact that it’s slightly transparent and it’s you know very lightweight and has this beautiful kind of diaphanous quality and also if you move past it it creates this sort of success sounds which i absolutely love but also the fact that i’m using material which um will be really long lasting you know which which is interesting because obviously within the art market um part of the value of an artwork is decided on what it’s made on and how durable it is which also kind of ties in with value assigned to religious objects you know the older they are greater value is assigned to them certainly in western culture and where we’re very interested in this idea of the original and and also it feels like a kind of a nice juxtapositional contrast when i’m making uh work about intransigent uh images and the online to make something tangible and manifest but which is made out of these materials which are both kind of different and lightweight but also actually very very durable could i ask you both to is there anywhere you want to point people to to find your work so your websites your social media and is there anywhere where we can maybe see your joint work as well oh that’s a good question the well my website is and i do put some work on instagram as well which is dawn seawoolie in terms of our joint work the the slideshow that we mentioned at the beginning is called immoral foods and um that is on what is that on in media rise in media red it’s a media commons um online journal basically so that that should be quite easy to search um but i don’t think there is any well yeah we haven’t really published anything else yet have we no they’ll be the book obviously the um book chapter that should be forthcoming and and we do have plans to make our first well maybe not first because i would count this slideshow as a kind of artwork but a new um physical collaborative artwork which maybe we’ll show in this in this show or another show depending on when we make it yeah yeah but that could also be an instagram thing as well like yeah i think it will be it might be published as we go along um but we haven’t worked out the details of that yet sure no um and my work you can my website’s and i actually have two inspired loads of instagram

and then i have my personal account which i do share bits of artwork on but then you know just personal stuff as well which is just zara worth and then i do have um an instagram account which i consider a kind of an artwork and a space specifically for for work um which is zara underscore worth this has been audiovisual cultures with me paula blair and my very special guests don willie and sarah wirth the music is common ground by airton licensed under creative commons 3.0 non-commercial license and is downloadable from to support my work in making this podcast as well as patreon membership you can give a donation of any amount with paypal dot me forward slash pei blair or you can give a regular payment with a wide range of currencies via forward slash pei blair be part of the conversation with av cultures on facebook and twitter and av cultures pod on instagram uh thank you so much to don and zara for all your time uh it’s been really brilliant to hear from you and thanks everybody out there for joining us take great care be accent to each other and catch you next