AMELIA CROUCH [on] YVONNE CARMICHAEL

Yvonne Carmichael and Amelia Crouch are artists who live and work in West Yorkshire, UK. They met at Yvonne’s house for a conversation over dinner and prosecco.

Amelia Crouch: I’d like to talk to you about two of your recent artworks Choreography and The Ballad of Rawson Sisters. Could we start with Choreography? Can you describe it to me?

Yvonne Carmichael: It’s a series of videos made on my i-phone that are between 10 seconds and few minutes long, of different domestic objects or chores that are more choreographed than they would normally be.

AC: They’re quite carefully framed so they are aesthetically appealing, and I found them quite funny.

YC: I tried to do one a day for 2 months, filming chores that I had to do anyway. What is exhibited is the edited down version. I tried not to overthink it and keep it spontaneous. Using a phone meant the filming was very quick. There’s not a lot of settings so there’s little technique involved other than framing the shot.

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Chore-ography (Distort) {2013} Yvonne Carmichael

AC: I like the attitude of the videos; they have a sort of tension between you seeming as if you’re enjoying yourself or are annoyed about the jobs you have to do.

YC: I think that’s exactly right. I enjoy having a tidy house and I don’t enjoy actually doing it! My favorite video is of the stairs, shake and vacuuming the stairs. I did it maybe 20 times and filmed it all different ways. I did get a bit obsessive about the stairs for maybe a month afterwards.

AC: So your initial choices were about framing. How did you make subsequent choices about which videos to keep and exhibit together?

YC: By showing them to other people. I am interested in curation and I enjoy curating exhibitions but I think it’s really hard to make decisions when it’s your own work. It was good to show them to people and see which ones they found interesting.

AC: Were you aiming for a particular feeling or meaning with the work?

YC: It’s about looking at things you do everyday in a different way and appreciating them. After I made the videos I read a lot about the wages for housework campaigns in Italy. It was interesting to read alongside the work but was not exactly what I was thinking when I was making it. There was something about female labour in the house that I thought my videos would be a soft critique of. That provided a starting point.

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Chore-ography (Rotate) {2013} Yvonne Carmichael

AC: The idea of a soft critique appeals to me. The videos are enjoyable but there is something malevolent about them, especially the bread maker. You only appear, or parts of you appear, in some of the videos and the objects seem to take on their own agency.

You probably know Martha Rosler’s video Semiotics Of The Kitchen; your work is a bit like an update of that with more electronic gadgets!

YC: I really like Martha Rosler’s work but I wasn’t trying to reference it. For me it’s not important that you know about art or other artists’ work. Watching my work shouldn’t be reliant on this.

Martha Rosler's Semiotics of the Kitchen-still

Semiotics of the Kitchen (video still) {1975} Martha Rosler

I am aware that art in domestic settings has been done to death but it was really nice to think “my house, that’s where I live, that’s where I am going to work”. I don’t have a studio and sometimes I have a paranoia that I don’t feel like a proper artist. It felt good waking up and thinking I’m going to make some art today in my house. It’s made me look at my house differently too, although it’s probably turned me into a bit more of a neat freak, which wasn’t my intention.

AC: Lets move on and talk about The Ballad of the Rawson Sisters. Here you had a different approach to finding a workspace. Can you tell me a bit about that?

YC: [It] is a short video that documents some research I did in the high street shop Primark, in Bradford city centre. I collected movements that female shoppers and shop assistants make and re-staged them across the road in an empty shop unit.

It was a sort of self-initiated residency where I had the space for a month. I like having specific parameters or an amount of time to do something and not letting projects go on for ages. With Choreography it really suited me to spend between 5 minutes and an hour every day making a piece of work and then it was done. With this project I gave myself a month. I struggled for the first 3 weeks with what I was going to do and then worked it out!

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The Ballad of the Rawson Sisters {2013} Yvonne Carmichael

AC: Where does the title of the video come from?

YC: The unit was part of the “Rawson Quarter” of Bradford; it was built 10 years ago but has not been let, mainly because the architectural specifications of the building were wrong. It’s an awkward space now because of that, and it will struggle to ever attract tenants.

AC: So you collected people’s movements while they were buying things in Primark?

YC: Yes, and the shop assistants. The rules were that they were all women interacting with products. The idea of collecting movements came from a workshop I did, led by a dancer. She talked about Japanese Buto where you take movements from the everyday but do them for long meditative periods of time. I enjoyed mimicking everyday actions and doing a sort of performance out of them. I wanted to have a go at doing that specifically in a retail setting.

I have made other work about visual merchandising and am interested in the rules of how things are displayed in retail. I’ve also done work about catalogue photography, exploring how the commercial world and art world overlap. An area I hadn’t looked at before was the people in the shop and their actions, how they interact with products.

AC: In the final video the actions get recreated by a group of women who are doing the movements in sync.

YC: How I describe the work, or how I was thinking about it whilst making it was that it was a group of sisters who are in an empty shop unit who have worked in shops their whole life and then shopped as a leisure activity. They did that forever and were stuck in a loop of shopping and browsing and stacking, although this isn’t necessarily clear from the final piece.

AC: Why does the video start with one woman and then becomes a group?

YC: I was doing it as research. To start with I thought I’d just film myself working out the movements. Then I thought it would be good to have a Busby Berkeley style cabaret with lots of women performing the action all at once as a way of exaggerating them.

Footlight Parade {1933} Busby Berkeley

Footlight Parade {1933} Busby Berkeley

AC: It gives quite a nice feeling of indoctrination too, with everyone doing the actions at the same time. It reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s book the The Handmaid’s Tale where women have really proscribed roles. Also because that book is written in really short chapters and you edited the video in short sections that fade to black, so formally it reminds me of the book too.

YC: It was edited to a pop song (by Rihanna) that was playing in Primark most of the time I was in there. I wanted the film to have a rhythm or a beat, for it to be short and snappy.

AC: Well, I find it effective because you are trying to hang on to the image and then it’s gone. It’s there again, then it’s gone. It’s quite a physical experience of watching a video. It reminds me of blinking but you could also talk about it in terms of a desire for an image and not quite being able to grasp it.

YC: I was thinking about the rhythm of shopping and about it being an advert. It’s funny when you make art, you make all these decisions for a reason and then it comes out at the end and someone else thinks something totally different about it.

AC: It’s filmed in the shop window space, It’s not through the window but you can tell it’s in the window. I think that’s quite appropriate and reminded me of the earlier work you did with Bryony Pritchard where you dressed up as shop mannequins.

YC: There was no power in the space so I had to use the natural light coming in through the windows, this meant doing most of the filming very close to the edges of the space. Sometimes it’s good to have limitations.

AC: Returning perhaps to that idea of soft critique, there is an enjoyment, a sensuousness in this work but also a feeling of being sucked in by commercialism and wanting to be critical of it.

YC: That’s definitely my problem, I like shopping. When you go into a shop it does seduce you! If you find out what the mechanisms are that the retail industry uses and acknowledge them then you are less likely to get sucked into the experience and buying things.

Previously, as a curator, I ran a project Art in Unusual Spaces in empty shop units. It was about using those spaces in a way that wasn’t selling stuff and instead doing something interesting and critical and inviting shoppers to critique those spaces too. But then I spent a year and a half in Leeds Shopping Plaza and bought way more stuff than I would of done normally, because I had to walk past all the shops every day. They got me!

AC: Lastly I want to ask you about how you choose to exhibit the works. You’ve shown them in domestic settings and in more gallery type settings. What has worked best?

YC: Although I have shown them in galleries, I liked showing the Choreography videos in my house. I did this as part of the Saltaire Arts Festival. It has an audience who are mainly buying art, for their living room walls. My work was not for sale and hopefully gave them something to think about, showing them [that] there’s art you don’t buy. There were 3 screens showing videos simultaneously and I liked the rhythms they created next to each other.

The Ballad of the Rawson Sisters is usually shown on a big plasma screen because I think it looks good. They are horrible screens really, they’re quite commercial – what you have in shops or pubs but I think it suits the work. When I’ve done projects in empty shop units before, as a curator, it has tended to be facilitating artwork in response to that space which then doesn’t really work in any other space. With The Ballad of the Rawson Sisters I wanted to make something that used a shop unit but that would also be relevant in other places too, so I am not limited in where I can exhibit it.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

YVONNE CARMICHAEL is an artist and independent curator living and working in Leeds and Bradford, UK.

AMELIA CROUCH is a visual artist who lives and works in West Yorkshire, UK. She makes artwork using words, or a combination of text and image. She works in print, drawing, video, audio and installation to produce site-responsive artworks for both galleries and public spaces.

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