Making People Up
Interview with Sarah Tripp about her AMIF 2016 programme, 'Making People Up', taking place on 5 November 2016 at Tramway 1, Glasgow.
MAP guest editors Suzanne van der Lingen and Claire Walsh asked Sarah Tripp a few questions ahead of her AMIF 2016 programme, 'Making People Up', taking place on 5 November 2016 at Tramway 1, Glasgow. Tripp invited programme artist Sarah Forrest to answer question three as Forrest selected the article it refers to.
1. Can you talk a little about your choice of artists and participants for Making People Up?
Jérôme Bel’s film ‘The Last Performance’ (1998) was the first piece I chose. This film is thematically central to the programme because Bel explores character through the narrative arts of theatre and screen in one moving image work. ‘The Last Performance’ was the foundation on which the rest of the programme was built.
I had worked with Katrina Palmer and Sarah Forrest previously: both make characters using words which are then developed into multiple forms including film, video, printed matter, sound pieces and sculpture. I was introduced to Boudry & Lorenz by Isla Leaver Yap and their practice struck me as having overlaps with Bel’s concerns with theatre and moving image culture.
Curator Peter Amoore introduced me to Holly Antrum’s film ‘Catalogue’ which was screened at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop as part of his curatorial project, On an otherwise ordinary evening (2016), and I thought that the piece was a moving double portrait, almost an attempt at mutual witnessing. At another event, also held at the Sculpture Workshop as part of the same programme, I heard Siân Robinson Davies read some of her short prose pieces which were smart and irreverent. As I researched her work more I realised that her live works were very invested in intersubjectivity and a sort of revealing of how we make each other up in social space.
I had seen a number of moving image works by Aniara Omann when I worked with her on the MFA programme at The Glasgow School of Art a number of years ago. Since then Aniara had been making masks and prosthetics for performers to wear while reading her scripts. Again, I found overlaps between films by Boundry & Lorenz and Aniara’s use of masks.
I had worked with the writer and translator Kate Briggs previously and wanted to present her unique literary approach to character. I had seen Kate deliver a great introduction to a series of live performances at the Piet Zwart in Rotterdam and I found the velocity and density of her introduction really inspiring. Finally, I have been a fan of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s moving image works for many years and I thought his recent work ‘Vapour’ (2015) would complement a lot of the complex works we will see during the programme.
2. A question posed by your programme is, 'if we are inventing and reinventing each other’s character in our daily encounters, what is distinctive and politically significant about the inventions we call ‘fictional characters’? Do you feel you have found some resolution to this question through the curation of Making People Up, and did you find focusing on artist moving image constructive?
I would really like the audience for Making People Up to both enjoy making characters up in their imaginations as the programme unfolds before them and to perhaps reflect on what the making up process itself has to do with self becoming (if anything?).
The narrative arts all have character in common and I would include the psychotherapies in the category of narrative art (and here I am paraphrasing Adam Phillips, a writer I often refer to). We have fictional characters on the stage, page and screen and we have fictional characters in everyday life: by this I mean the characters we invent based on our experiences of each other (Christopher Bollas has written a great book on this subject called Being a Character).
The risks of making up characters on the stage, page and screen are obviously less than the risks of making people up in our everyday lives. The consequences of making people up in our everyday lives are significant and lasting. There is perhaps a criticality or reflexivity which is possible in relation to a fictional character in a moving image or performance work because the stakes are actually lower.
What is so constructive about thinking through these questions of character using artists moving image practice is the interdisciplinary aspect. Artists moving image culture and practice has been fusing the narrative arts for many years but it feels like the subject of character has been sometimes overlooked or called something different. So there has been a lot of discourse about narrative but perhaps less talk of character.
I have not found any resolution to this question through curating Making People Up but perhaps I will when I watch the programme as part of an audience on Saturday.
3. Reading an extract from David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion on the #AMIF2016 blog, we learn that his protagonist feels a ‘fraud’ because ‘all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people.’ While the title of your programme suggests a playful kind of dishonesty, Wallace’s text is full of anxiety and regret. In terms of Making People Up specifically and artists working with fiction and moving image more broadly, do you think the position of the fraud is a significant one?
Sarah Forrest: David Foster Wallace’s protagonist tells us from the start that he is a fraud, or at least feels like one. He candidly recounts his fraudulent behaviour, he appears to be honestly telling us that he’s a liar. He also tells us that he’s dead, a line that is just thrown into the story destabilising the narrative completely. What I love about this short story is that Wallace gives us a character who demonstrates the personal contradictions, complexities and misalignments between an external and internal self and at the same time considers the unsuitability of narrative, or words, to present any sort of reliable or truthful representation of experience. Whether or not the position of fraud is significant to Making People Up or, in more general terms, to artist’s working with fiction and moving image, I couldn’t really say, but when considered as a position in relation to ideas of character, I think it’s an interesting one to play with.
4. We were struck by a line from the Claire Bishop text you have shared on the blog where she mentions ‘the slippage between idea and bodily execution’ as well as a description about your work as evoking ‘the desire for—and escape from—consistent character”. Supposing you agree with the description, what do you think the potentials of such ‘inconsistencies’ of character are for your practice?
This is a difficult question. I would start by saying that Christopher Bollas has a concept of character which is relational. By this I think he means that we have a very limited idea of our own characters, that what we know tends to be reflected back to us through other people. What we do grasp of our characters is mainly delayed or deferred. Also, he suggests that what is between us is largely an illusion of understanding: if this illusion of affinity is maintained we are free to keep making each other up, but once this illusion starts to break down we tend to accuse each other of ‘acting out of character’. What Bollas is excited by is the expression of our idiom (which might be thought of as similar to the concept of ‘self’). These expressions are sometimes bodily or sometimes object related, for example, our choice of personal effects. But all of these gestures are expressions which tend to be consolidated by others into what we might call character.
We all know what it feels like to be misinterpreted, to be stereotyped or labelled or misrepresented: it feels pretty bad and sometimes worse. It is generally hard labour to not introject these misrepresentations (to take them as ourselves). A desire for—and escape from—consistent character is my way of expressing the hope that we might not need the ballast of a consistent character in our social lives, that we might not introject these ‘other’ characters at all, that we could be more multiple, more splintered and more willing to be plural and treat each other as such.
5. How have your considerations of the particular social setting of the film festival shaped the programme?
Tramway 1 is an ideal setting for Making People Up because of this emphasis on the portability of character across the narrative arts. The exposed theatrical machinery of the space allows us to support the interdisciplinary nature of artists’ moving image practice. Practically this means we can present works which move from screen to performance and evoke the literary and the theatrical. I think this hybridity is very natural to the artist moving image practice or to the kind of moving image practice I am familiar with. Tramway 1 provides the artists and writers presenting, with a space that evokes cinema, theatre and performance.
Sarah Tripp is an artist and lecturer based in Glasgow.
Artist Moving Image Festival 2016 is organised by Tramway and LUX Scotland, and will take place 5-6 November at Tramway, Glasgow. This year’s programme seeks to test the conventions of cinematic space through strategies of disruption, subversion and intervention. The festival will play with notions of presentation and projection, drawn from the history of cinema through to contemporary forms of artists’ moving image. AMIF 2016 represents a point of culmination in the PhD research of Ed Webb-Ingall and Sarah Tripp, who were invited to translate their on-going critical enquiry into a ‘live’ event. Tickets available here.