Earlier on this summer I sat down to interview London artists Rachel Cattle and Steve Richards in their Hackney studio. I was curious about their work and specifically the process of their collaboration. Framing this interview was ‘Project’, a group exhibition they had recently been involved in at Maureen Paley in nearby Bethnal Green. In the exhibition the duo exhibited works which brought together the disciplines of drawing, soundtrack, print, video and sculpture.
Other exhibitions the duo has participated in include; Videotheque, Talbot Rice Gallery, (Edinburgh); Groove Script, X Marks The Bökship, (London); (Im)Possible School Book: As Found, Five Years, Tate Tanks, Tate Modern, (London); Poster Project, Clockwork, (Berlin) and Black Hole Hums B-Flat, a performance as part of the public programme for Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta- Clark, Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s, Barbican Art Gallery, (London); Station to Station, Gaming Gaming, New Shelter Plan (Copenhagen); and a recent commission by the curator Mat Jenner to contribute a record to Ffooaamm, a touring show of artist records.
Much of Rachel and Steveʼs work references movies, film scores, video, pop music, and fanzines. Using low fi techniques and outmoded technologies such as analog video, drawing, and scrapbook style photo collage, the two artists create complex assemblages of still and moving images, sound and music. The result is a kind of audio visual poetry that is melancholic and spellbinding. What brings this about is a collaboration based in a myriad of activities from personal interests, riffing on popular culture, fringe societies, and conceptual ideas about process, authorship, picture making and music.
Interview by Konstatinos Mavromichalis
Images courtesy of Rachel Cattle and Steve Richards
Copy Editor Jessica Iverson
Konstantinos Mavromichalis: When did the collaboration start?
Rachel Cattle: We’ve known each other for years and knew each other way before starting to collaborate. I think it was definitely not a conscious decision…that is, to become a collaboration at any point.
Steve Richards: We had a lot of mutual interests and things we could make stories or a narrative out of.
RC: We were both interested in film, music and subcultural or fringe movements like punk and non mainstream ideas etc. All I can remember is that one of us borrowed a camera from the art school we were teaching at and we began making the first film which was the ʻcardboardʼ film, where we constructed a maquette and began to film it.
SR: Early on there was also the intent to keep the work enjoyable and experimental.
What was the ʻinciting incidentʼ that started your collaboration? Was it a conscious decision to begin collaborating or was it more of a coincidence?
SR: It was not a specific project but one of the ones we worked on that really started the collaboration was this ʻcardboardʼ film, it was very much influenced by the music and feel of films like Badlands and American Werewolf in London…we liked the music and sound in these films.
RC: We really loved Badlands, the music in it by Carl Orff, where there is this xylophone going on. Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland also was an influence.
SR: The films were mostly about alienation and people on the fringes. We were both interested in forms of non mainstream and subcultures .
RC: It was really like: lets try it and see what happens. We tried making sounds, re editing sounds. I had been drawing previously and Steve had been writing. It wasn’t a conscious decision.
SR: We really liked the process of the assembly, and the work took on a life of its own. Because it’s a collaboration there is not so much ownership over the idea, and the issue of authorship is not so dominant.
What perpetuates the collaboration?
RC: Definitely the process, and that it’s fun.
SR: We have a shared background, shared reference points culturally and musically.
RC: We have a lot of things in common but differences that play just as much of a role.
You have a very low fi approach to your work, where does that come from and how relevant is it to your work?
RC: Steve mentioned the band Marine Girls, who I also knew of. They made music that was on the verge of being home made music, stripped back, charming, and direct and I really like that, that feel and way of working was what we wanted to carry over onto the films.
SR: There is the deliberate effort not to overproduce, and a resistance to making the work commercial or commercially viable. Almost an antagonism to that, a purposeful resistance.
For a while now there is this idea in contemporary art that conceptual art is more about ideas, and not so much about expression, where do you think your work sits in relation to this? Is it more about expression or more about ideas?
SR: To some degree both, what interests me is the peripheral stuff, countercultural stuff, and basic ways. The idea of breaking away from the mainstream if you like, tied to Alain Badiouʼs event idea, breaking away from the existing symbolic order. I was very interested in countercultural groups and esoteric schools. More in the sense of the output in terms of written material and alternative narratives.
RC: I would say definitely both, I would almost say the idea of it is the process. There are ideas behind it, but part of the idea is just sitting down and doing it and to be creative in the doing of the work. So the act of ʻdoingʼ is the idea.
SR: It is expressing and then seeing what it connects to conceptually, and finding a language, or seeing if one emerges.
How do you see yourself represented: as artists, musicians, filmmakers?
RC: We would align ourselves just as much with musicians as artists.
Steve Richards and Rachel Cattle are about to embark on a new film entitled ‘Sing a Crooked Tune’. They are both working on publications and vinyl records.