Artist Interview: Charlotte Prodger
Wysing Arts Centre Residency Programme 2013: Convention T
Interview by Beth Bramich
Over the last five years Wysing Arts Centre has experimented with different programmatic structures in order to support artists to make new work. During 2013 they will be further exploring how structures, some visible and others implied, might be used to uncover meaning, narrative, paradox or indeed certainty through their prestigious residency programme. This year there will be two sets of residents, the first group is made up of Anna Barham, David Osbaldeston, Charlotte Prodger and Florian Roithmayr. The programme title, ‘Convention T’, refers to logician, mathematician and philosopher Alfred Tarski (1901-1983) who applied logic to sentence structure in order to make the truth visible through language. Tarski created a structure, a meta-language, that could be applied to real, everyday, language in order to generate true statements, known as T sentences - ‘A and B’ is true if and only if A is true and B is true translates as Snow is white if and only if snow is white.
The second of two interviews with this year’s artists-in-residence is with Charlotte Prodger, an artist based in Glasgow who works with 16mm film, video, writing and performance. She uses the meeting of language and technology to generate cross-associations and slippages, inviting new routes of interpretation. Source material includes YouTube videos, personal anecdotes and the legacy of structural film and queer subjectivity, which she uses to explore contradictions that arise between form and content.
BB: The reputation of Wysing’s residency programme has grown considerably over the past few years, to the point where it is now extremely prestigious to be selected as both the numbers and standard of applications is very high. Why did you apply and what did you hope to gain’
CP: I applied because I was at a point where I felt the need for a period of discourse with other artists around a specific contextual theme. I also wanted a pause from doing shows to focus on research outside of my routine environment, without the pressure of an imminent ‘outcome’. That freedom was really crucial for me, as it is to many artists. It’s something that I think Wysing work hard to protect.
What did you initially propose to develop through your residency’ Did you put forward a particular project with a goal or a more open investigation’
I put forward a more open investigation, of research, writing, talking. I suggested that in February (when we all have our show there) my contribution could take the form of a performative event. By February it may take a different form.
What does ‘Convention T’ and its connection to the logician, mathematician and philosopher Alfred Tarski mean to you’
For me, the idea of Convention T has resonated more socially than structurally.There was a book at Wysing about Tarski’s life - a biography written by one of his students. None of the four of us had heard of Tarski before this residency, and we all felt that we wanted to learn more about Convention T. So we read the book together, taking turns to read aloud from it. This happened over the course of a few weeks. Anna was away for some of that time, so she would join us via Skype. The way the book was structured was that each chapter was about a different chronological period of his life. So those bits were easy to digest and, at times, rather juicy. And then in-between each chapter was an ‘interlude’ that outlined his mathematical theories. These sections were pretty dense. Anna had studied maths at Cambridge before becoming at artist, so she would explain to us very patiently and eloquently these interludes, while we all craned over the laptop concentrating on her disembodied voice.
The residency allows you to work closely alongside three other artists during an intensive period. Is there a particular example of an anecdote or a fact that you have picked up from another artist that has been useful to your current thinking’
No burning anecdotes that I can think of, but in the evenings for fun we often played the board game Balderdash, a version of Call My Bluff in which you have to make up definitions of obscure (sometimes non-existent) words. We evolved at Balderdash throughout the residency - getting better at double-bluffing and recognising each other’s writing. We laughed a lot; some of those words and definitions stayed with us throughout the residency and kept resurfacing between us as they were so absurd.
Has this residency given you the opportunity to pursue anything - a new method or form of research - that you would not normally have been able to’
Yes the environment there stimulated areas of research that are ongoing for me.
‘Convention T’, as an overarching theme, seems to relate to your interest in slippages and cross-associations, in that it relates to and questions the structures of language. Do you feel that discussing these structures, both visible and invisible, has informed your writing and the work you are currently developing’
I had a bit of an altercation with an Ebay seller following a synthesizer purchase during the residency. So I was thinking about the mess of interaction; entanglements of communication that are held in tension with the sequencing of language and technology. The anonymity of online messaging can facilitate emotional content that might otherwise be more mediated.
The day of talks, screenings and performances that accompanied Wysing’s recent exhibition Relatively Absolute was a cross over point between the ‘Convention T’ residencies and the previous year. Did you contribute to the event’ Or were you able to attend and did you find anything particularly useful or relevant’
All the Convention T residency artists contributed at that event, so we were getting to know each other’s approaches to what we were starting out on. We each presented things (some YouTube clips, some artists’ videos) looking in some way at language systems, notation, speech generating devices and the tension between ‘private’ modes of communication and public presentation. It was right at the start so we got to meet some of the previous residency artists, and some of the next group. We’re planning to have a reunion day which will hopefully coincide with the next group of residents. We might all be going to visit the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, followed of course by a pub lunch.
What is it like being based in this rural context compared to Glasgow where you live and work’
More complex than I had imagined. In Glasgow I go walking regularly in the countryside. But it’s a much ‘wilder’ experience of ruralness there, partly because in Scotland we have Right To Roam which means you can pretty much walk anywhere, whereas the area around Wysing is very arable, compartmentalised by landowners - delineated by colour-coded arrow signs. This gridding was something I was thinking about a lot while I was there.
How would you compare your time at Wysing with your experience of other residencies’
This was the first residency I’ve been on that’s thematic. Also it was the first one I’ve been on where there were a fixed group of people for the duration. It was very social. We cooked together and hung out a lot, we got on very well indeed.
There is a public programme of events that take place during the residencies with the opportunity to talk to local experts and specialists. Have you taken part in one of these events and who did you speak with’
We all went to most of the public events and met various local musicians, academics from Cambridge, and artists from the villages nearby. Florian and I took part in the improv session led by Marshall Allen of Sun Ra Arkestra. It was a smashing jam, he really held it. Some people came from London but a lot of the people participating were local musicians.
To finish off your residency you will be taking part in an alternative round-table discussion on 5th May. What will you be talking about at that event and how exactly will it be ‘alternative’ to a conventional round-table’
We wanted to present our research simultaneously with each other in a contingent way. We used simple chance procedures to generate cross-associations between fragments of individual research and works in progress. So we each read out elements of our research in an order that was determined by the order in which visitors arrived at Wysing for the discussion.