October! Collective’s debut project raises questions about what home is and how we find it
Naming your collective after an event as seismic as the October 1789 Women's March on Versailles during the French Revolution, in which 7,000 working women took to the streets to protest the increasing threat of famine gripping the nation, is a war cry. And it’s exactly what Fayann Smith, Aleksandra Karpowicz, and Isabella Steinsdotter wanted when they chose the moniker October! Collective to lead their own, current day revolution. “We came together as a natural convergence because we found ourselves spontaneously working together on a lot of projects,” explains Smith, when we meet in London to discuss October! Collective’s three-screen film, Body As Home, and its subsequent launch at the Venice Biennale in the city’s brand new Giudecca Art District.
While each artist hails from different backgrounds – Smith is a multi-disciplinary artist and DJ from Leicester, Karpowicz is a visual artist from Warsaw, and Steindotter is a multi-disciplinary artist and model from Norway – their politics are shared, and the body anchors much of their work. From Karpowicz’s photography project Let’s Talk About Sex, Smith’s pioneering movements within the rave scene, and Steinsdotter’s career as a model.
For Body As Home, the trio tackles the ever-changing, unsettled definition of ‘home’, and what that means in a world which is increasingly fractured. Directed by Karpowicz, with music by Smith, and starring Steinsdotter, the film, captured across the globe in cities such as Cape Town, London, New York, and Warsaw, features the nude bodies of both locals and visitors with their voiceovers talking about what home means to them. Body As Home aims to address the relationship between human physicality, sexuality, and identity, and asks us to accept our body as home. Officially debuting in Venice on tonight, the screening will coincide with a performance by Occult Hardware, featuring Smith, Robert Burnham, Steinsdotter, Takasama Mukai, and Karpowicz. Ahead of the launch, the trio speaks about censorship, the body, and what home means to them.
I know there’s a lot of history behind the inclusion of ‘October’ in the collective’s name. Can you talk about that?
Fayann Smith: We were aware of the story of the Women's March and how it was instigated by a lone female drummer. I loved the idea of one young woman taking the drum and rousing that energy, and with this politically, we want to reflect that energy of change.
It's not a specific polemic that we find ourselves, we are instead about gathering that energy and force which you see all around – it’s the zeitgeist for the desire for a more conscious way of living and being the female instigator, banging the drum, to get people roused and focused. There are so many things happening at the moment that we as artists feel a bit lost. You know you've got so many issues around you that seem to make an impact on people’s lives, people who are a lot less fortunate than we are, so we just do what we can as artists; we try to engage with those issues; try and make thought-provoking work; and learn to form happy collectives with each other. I think you lead by example, so rather than the didactic telling off, we try to create visions of futures that we might want to live in, and I'm really excited about that.
Aleksandra Karpowicz: It’s also important for us that we don't place ourselves in the opposition of others. Like, there is an enemy and we are going to fight that person – what we want to do is just to show the problem and to show it from different angles and leave it to people for them to decide, and find their truth on how to interpret that reality.
Aleksandra, you directed this film. Can you tell me more about the reason you chose ‘home’ as its centre point?
Aleksandra Karpowicz: I had moved countries and began asking myself questions like ‘where is my home?’ So I went on this personal life journey. (For the film) I went to Cape Town, Warsaw, New York, and London. In every city, I invited two people to be part of the journey, a local person who lives there and then a traveller – Isabella was the traveller in New York. With every person, I asked them what home is to them, and as you saw in the film, everyone says something different, but we all try to find this common ground. Actually, as long as you find peace within yourself, home can be anywhere.
Isabella, you appeared in this film, what did it mean for you personally?
Isabella Steinsdotter: It’s something I wrestle with a lot because I moved out from home when I was 15 and I've lived in lots of different cities and countries. It’s a question everyone's always asking themselves subconsciously.
You appeared in the New York scenes. Tell us about filming that, and filming it nude too.
Isabella Steinsdotter: We filmed all day, from 6 am until 10 pm. I think the way it turned out is really powerful. We did have to ask to film depending on where we were because we didn't want to get arrested but we were in our own little bubble of what we were creating. It wasn't uncomfortable or anything, but it was interesting to see how people react. Because I’m also a model, I'm quite used to being naked, but other people are still quite uncomfortable with that.
I want to touch on the nudity as almost a character in itself.
Fayann Smith: I have a problem being so disassociated with my body, so looking at this movie for me made me explore this idea of finding that inner comfort and being grounded and at ease within my own skin, which again is a universal thing, isn't it? If you can't be comfortable with the external, the internal should at least be at peace – that’s what I took from this. This sense of internal chaos is something you take with you wherever you go, and look for yourself, and I've gone to these beautiful places, and if it's not there it's not there.
Would it be the same film if people had clothes on?
Aleksandra Karpowicz: A few people have said that after one minute everyone forgets that everybody is naked, because it's not vulgar, it's not graphic. I find it a huge massive social problem across the globe that people treat the human body as something negative, and even when the human body is neutrally shown it’s still bad. How can we treat the human body as something bad and shameful but when we look at the news we see dead children, that’s fine, violence is fine, death is fine, torturing animals is fine, all this imagery fine, but the naked human body is not.
There are body politics here but there also feels like issues around migration are raised too. How do these fold into the story?
Aleksandra Karpowicz: It comes down to the same question, ‘where is my home?’ Very often, home, for the vast majority of people, is treated as a geographical location. It's a building or a country or something physical. We are living in the time of the biggest migration in the history of the world. Within the body, there is also a migration process and of identity as well, because a lot of it is about identity. If you'd asked me a few years ago ‘who are you?’, I would say, ‘I'm a polish woman’. I would never say that today, not because I'm not Polish but because that doesn't really define me. That doesn't mean I can connect with Polish people any more than I can with people of other nationalities.
Fayann, you worked on the music for this film, can you explain the process of creating its soundscape?
Fayann Smith: I saw some of the clips so I got a sense of the atmosphere. I got together with my production partner, Robert Burnham, and it started to get a lot more ambitious. And then I wanted to have various instruments from around the world and an electric violin. You have peoples’ statements (being read) but there are very clear points of like, high emotion. And we wanted to compliment that and also give you a sense of place.
There is often an expectation that art should be a tool for change, do you think you as artists have a responsibility?
Fayann Smith: Oh, absolutely. I think art is purely communication and beyond that, it's up to the individual. In this time, at this moment, it doesn't feel like you'd be alive if you weren't engaging with some of the issues being raised, at our current time in history. So I think it’s unavoidable if you're awake and aware. I'm very much inspired by the internet, the environment, by communities, and a lot of the autonomous communities that form around that, Of course, that involves a lot of extreme politics, we all see that manifested before us, so if you're pulling on the threads of popular shared culture, then you'll be looking at an intensely political landscape, there's nowhere to avoid that.
Body as Home by Aleksandra Karpowicz with October! Collective will be the flagship installation of the Giudecca Art District, situated in Project Space 1. It will officially launch on Thursday 9 May 2019