EM15: Interview with Alison McCulloch

Tell me about your practice and how it has developed?

My practice as an artist is photography and process based. Whether it be appropriated imagery or imagery captured by myself, my practice involves exploring, through process, what happens when imagery representing time, place or person becomes mixed up and fragmented creating new realities and perhaps narratives.

My work has developed significantly whilst working as a resident at Surface Gallery over what is a relatively short and focused period of time. I have incorporated a greater range of imagery into my work, particularly that of place. The photographs that I have taken of Sneinton, whilst a resident here, has enriched the work visually and otherwise.

The experience of running a workshop related to my work and involving image, object and word has opened up other opportunities and possibilities for me to explore. The simultaneous keeping of a personal diary during the residency period, has been an important development incorporating life, work and art reflections to the  overall experience and the work too. The diary has almost become a work in itself.

You talk about your work being process based. Locations are interesting because of the changes that occur and how we experience them. The traces we can see in an environment of that change and how we react to altering landscapes. How do you think an audience can get a sense of the process that your work goes through? How can they sense the thinking and development that is as important as the ‘final’ work itself?

The audience is always an important consideration when creating my work. The artist may know what they want to say or convey but unless the viewer can engage and relate to the work then it is a pointless indulgence.

As my work is about the perception of another person with dementia, the insights that I convey into that possible experience are diverse and interesting. Dementia in society is a serious and increasingly prevalent issue that many people experience in some form in their lives. My role as an artist in this context has to be considered and sensitive.

I feel that the processes used in the creation of my images somewhat parallel cerebral processes of the decline and disintegration that can occur in reality over time. The resultant image has gone through many stages and processes in its journey to the altered pseudo-reality that is on display.

A ‘good’ image should reveal elements and clues for the viewer to sense the thinking and development that lie behind the work and the artist too. I have become part of that experience and understanding through the empathy of personal and professional involvement with dementia.

The elements within my work that I see as revealing that sense of the process are the evidence of disintegration, fragmentation and distress within the image. The layering and hybridity is of vital importance to the work with different elements of time, place or person evident but creating a new and credible pseudo-reality. The differences in clarity, focus and tonality between these elements is also a consideration as are the quality of the edges which are best as organic and fragmented. The overall form of the image itself can say subtle things too if it is, for example, cruciform. The evidence of traces or stains of process are also important to that sense for the audience.

There has to be gaps and spaces for the viewer within the work for them to bring something to it. They are detectives who can analyse and interrogate the work.

You seem to have really engaged with the local environment whilst part of the residency. Can you talk a little more about the parallels between identity in terms of a person and location? You’ve dealt with the mutability and fragility of memory and identity, but these things are enmeshed with a notion of place. Do you think ‘who we are’ is a product of ‘where we are’?

On mutability, P B. Shelley wrote that ‘we are as clouds that veil the midnight moon…’ Clouds and the moon have no actual identity and are mutable but part of every place although we do not always see them as we take them as a given. The same is true for place or location which is where we may ‘choose’ to be. Place is a context like a stage, with props to use, where we as people can act our part whether it be authentic or not.

Person and place are intertwined and define us as an entity in terms of our identity. The facets that make up our individual identity are protean and diverse but place inevitably becomes part of the equation, whether for good or bad.

The place where we chose to live, the environment, community, road, house and baggage we surround ourselves with, all define our identity.  How we relate to that setting also defines our identity as people whether we like it or not. The relating bit is key to the ‘who’ being a product of ‘where’ we are. It is through the relating to place through the roles we ‘assume’ that create this parallel between place and person.

Place is the keyhole and person is the key to unlock those opportunities that place provides. The trouble is that keyholes are different and not all keys fit. The question is, do you change the key or the keyhole if things do not fit? Similarities, differences, stereotypes and prejudice come into play. Some places afford greater anonymity.

Big Brother is an interesting concept with people taken out of place and thrown together into an artificial context or setting. Their identity changes and we see them differently. How people behave and interact in this artificial construct is interesting and who is the real person anyway?

Gypsies have an identity in terms of person as a group but not of place and furthermore we see that person as a stereotypical construct relative to the societal norms such that they lose their actual identity of person.

The refugee crisis is a point in case of this person and place relationship. David Cameron referred to ‘these people’ as ‘swarms’ inferring that having been displaced, their identity as a person had gone. As John Bradford stated, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ is as relevant today as it was in the mid-sixteenth century.

Finally there is the problem that both person and place are mutable so the situation is very fluid and drowning is always possible.