UK music maverick Actress and visual artist William Stein have teamed up for a new audio-visual exhibition. Originally coming together to work on the polymath’s album artwork for the 2014 release of Ghettoville, the two’s creative friendship continued to flourish – which, Actress admits, only made ‘sense’ to continue with.
With differences so deep they might frighten other collaborators away – their ways of working, their crafts, their locations – these contrasts were instead embraced and celebrated. “William is a fine artist. He doesn't work with computers to create his work, and so his discipline to his art is extremely focused,” Actress explains. “Whereas I can create multiple ideas and then program a computer to generate me even more ideas and variations of those ideas. I think the two methods have coerced a liminal space for us to work from.”
Those methods saw both communicating electronically, only working face-to-face in the final stages of the project. “This form of communication, in this instance, was ideal. The freedom it allowed the work, in turn opened up massive potential and scope, which was one of the projects objectives – to produce something beyond what we may have been able to conceive with standard and expected modes of communication and discourse,” reveals Stein on the six month journey. Birthing three parts, HALF/LIVING is made up of a 21m canvas installation drawn and painted alongside twelve separate paintings by Stein, and an hour long sound piece composed by Actress – which we preview here. Below the duo talk crossing creative boundaries and celebrating differences as the show opens today at London’s Slade Research Centre.
Could you tell us a bit about the show? What can we expect?
Actress: The exhibition is an exploration into the way we work as artists in different fields and the parallels in the process of how objects, sounds, lines and waves are put together from pieces of existing work, and the genesis of how reworking the positions of things can create new sonic and visual mutuality.
What kind of process did the collaborative project take on?
Actress: I'm not really a collaborator. I tend to view and respond to things. In this instance, I visited William’s studio on two occasions to view him working and listen to what he was looking to achieve with his piece.
The first visit I just took some pictures, looked out his windows and drank coffee, the second visit I bought some CDJ’s a load of CD’s of random ideas and sequences, kind of like bringing rolls of films to a set, and played stuff whilst he worked, messing with pitch, reversing vocals, scratching. I took notes of some the stuff he responded to and built up the composition to be laid down as a soundtrack for the final piece.
William Stein: The project took structure in a very organic way. We began with a loose conversation over email and it became apparent that our respective positions and attitudes fell in line with my recent thoughts on dichotomy and opposing agencies. It started to become clear that we could become an acting dichotomy, a pairing split by our differing praxes, yet nevertheless essentially part of an original whole. And so we set about working independently with this view in mind, with the objective to bring the work together only in the last moments; and we were therefore acting as separate parts of the dichotomy right through until the rejoining.
Could you tell us about the decision to correspond electronically, as opposed to in person?
William Stein: The decision to communicate electronically (and not particularly often) was very much in line with the idea that we should maintain our independence throughout the making process. The work will not, and should not 'become' until our separate elements are finally together. We wanted the work to be running the project, not our words or ideas. It was an exercise in freeing the work from ourselves, and an attempt to form a new mode of discourse.
Do you think you've learned anything from one another in terms of your respective artistic fields?
Actress: From William, it's an even deeper emphasis on discipline and focus. Detail in the preparation, is as important as the final work.
William Stein: It is precisely what I had hoped to. That we do not need to follow the rules that have been set out before us. Within my field, the supposed fine-arts, there are innumerable unsaid and unwritten codes of conduct. This is anathema to me. This project has reminded me that there is another way, and that the other way will produce the most vital work. And after all, isn't this why we do it – for the work.
And lastly, what does the title mean? HALF/LIVING?
Actress: To me it means becoming something else.
William Stein: We wanted to move away from meaning in a literal sense, and rather we wanted to let the work evolve into a highly experiential, emotionally active entity. We wanted the work to evolve with a sense of something, rather than something defined. In our early communications the words HALF/LIVING made themselves visible, and they felt like they could carry the burden of what we were setting out to achieve. And of course, these words point us slightly towards the thoughts on dichotomy – that when a whole is split, until it is re-joined it will only be half living.
HALF/LIVING is on show at London’s Slade Research Centre today, from 10am - 5pm