Horace was the first person I met when I came to Venture Arts – I actually met him outside the building on the day of my interview and remember being intrigued by his interest in knowing the year I was born, but also a bit intimidated by his insistence in my name being Julie and not Juliet.
When ‘OutsiderXchangeS’ actually started, Horace, Sophie and I quickly got together thanks to our common interest in education, childhood, and ways of working which are not limited to the studio but also involve online research, discussions and trips around Manchester.
Horace has been doing his interview series on the theme of school days and we thought the Open Studios would be a great way to take this project further.
On Saturday 28th May, after Horace had been to church, we did five individual interviews in a small room next to our communal studio space where Horace first asked people questions about their childhood memories, before we asked them to build a small version of their school with wood blocks, so they could explain better how the school was structured, where their classroom was, where the head master or mistress’ office was, where they would play…
I was fascinated by how people would answer Horace’s questions in different ways: because they can be quite general (‘What were your school days?’), some people mainly spoke about the subjects they studied, some would enumerate the various schools they’d been to, one mainly talked about the games on the playground! Often the interviews are quite reflective for the people reflecting their stories, having to look back on fairly early memories and assumptions they had at the time (especially about the headmaster-mistress).
Some of the interviews were documented, but the important part of the work for us seems to be the live element, the special encounter with Horace and me in an intimate environment. Horace is being himself and speaking in the way he always speaks, I’m being myself as well… we’re not ‘performing’, but because it’s just the three of us and people have committed to the interview, I feel like this moment that we share together is slightly separate from the rest of the event and the discussions Horace can have with people the rest of the time. Where does the artwork/performance start and end? Who is performing?
Throughout the interview, Horace, like he always does, impersonates different characters: the detached interviewer, his mum (“she told the dinner ladies ‘do not give Horace no pudding'”), the teacher, the headmaster (‘Where do you think you’re going?!’)… and the person being interviewed equally has to take on different roles: the adult recalling childhood memories, the pupil getting caught trying to get out of the school and having to justify themselves…
Horace also often uses sentences as ‘nets’ to catch us in this impersonation game, by ‘tricking’ us into finishing his sentences. (“-It’s not appropriate. It’s not what? -Appropriate.”)
We’re hoping that these 15 minutes spent with us can help spark a mecanism of memories for the participants, even when they’ve gone out of the interview, and that by stimulating a conversation in a “safe” place slightly separated from the rest of what they experience during that day, they might be more open to encounters with strangers in their daily life…
Here are some extracts of some feedback we got during the day:
“It was pleasant to think back to my childhood. I was apprehensive at first but was put to ease by Horace. I was told to expect questions about my school years, but didn’t expect it to be deep and probing. I don’t think I have ever been interacted with by an art piece before.” Kamran, 28.
“It was great. It was different from the other artworks I’ve experienced before because of the interactivity, the focus on you as a participant and the ability to ask the artist questions.” Steph, 28.
We are going to develop the interview format during the future public events that will happen with Outsiderxchanges, and also devise a way for the artwork to be accessible when the interviews themselves are not possible. We’re currently working with Sophie on a video and a sound piece not being a mere documentation of the interviews, but a piece in its own right.
We’re really pleased by the enthusiasm that the participants have had so far and exited about the other works we want to develop together over the next few months!