Ahead of their latest exhibition, the creative collective talk meteorites and what to expect in their series of cinematic interpretations
“We're interested in the wonder that humans feel when confronted with the universe,” reveals Ben Jeans Houghton and Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau. The duo are behind the weird and wonderful ARKA group, a fluid collective of creative collaborators fascinated with the relationship between science and philosophy – their work focusing on the cinematic experience yet creating that moment “without moving image”. Previous work, The Mud Formed A Finger, Pointed exhibited earlier this year, orchestrated a hypnotizing interaction between dancer and choreographer (Nicole Vivian Watson), a bucket and copious amounts of mud (see below). This time, they’ve turned to the study of the “edgelands” of society, or as French novelist Victor Hugo called it; “bastard countryside”.
On Between, an installation being created within the gallery space, installed and opened within seven days, has seen the duo collecting tarpaulin, hair, drinks cans, rubble and meteorites; unused and unwanted materials from desolate places around London and Newcastle. “It’s a meditation on the nature of these sites as between place and non-place,” they reveal. Although the upcoming works are being kept well under wraps, ahead of the launch, we look back on the group’s work as they speak to us about what to expect next, their fascination with meteorites and the joy of comprehending all that we simply can’t know.
You primarily work as a duo, yet often extend that to include collaborators – what’s your process of working together?
Ben Jeans Houghton and Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau: We used to have very distinct roles when we began making films and installations, and when another collaborator is brought in, then their role is normally well defined. But as we’ve worked together over the years, our roles have become less conceptually distinct (though we have our technical specialities) to the point where in this show, it would be impossible for us to say which one of us made a particular piece of work. It’s quite an intense working style, with one of us travelling to stay with the other for a focused period of making.
What was the decision to switch between moving image and more sculptural forms?
Ben Jeans Houghton and Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau: The entire ARKA project has come to revolve around notions of the cinematic, and how to possibly create some kind of cinematic experience, without moving image. Our last project, exhibited at Whitstable Biennale, was called Beginnings (2012), and consisted of a narrative sound piece that you listened to whilst wearing a hood and holding a meteorite. The story was there to hold you in the dark warmth of the hood whilst you created the images in your mind.
With On Between we are attempting to capture some of that experience of sitting in a cinema to watch a film, but this time we are dispensing with language. The visitor entering the room will be part of an affective state created by a narrative, but this narrative will be frozen in time. We’ve spoken about the objects in the room shivering, as though you’ve entered the story just as the protagonists have left, and the entire world created by the story is a VHS film on pause, jumping back and forth between two frames.
“We're interested in the wonder that humans feel when confronted with the universe, and the very special wonder that comes from comprehending all that we cannot know, including the intimate details of the history of the human species” – Ben Jeans Houghton and Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau
Is there an object you’ve collected that you’re excited to get your hands on and work with? If so, what is it?
Ben Jeans Houghton and Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau: We’ve found some books on esoteric subject matter – dreams, fate, magic – that were sitting by the side of a motorway in the rain for a long time. Their pages have stuck together and mushrooms have sprouted from the paper. They’ve become impenetrable, solid things, but they still somehow contain all the knowledge that was in the words. We’ve also been looking at putting together some computer components to take part in the exhibition, but we’re at the beginning of the making process so we don’t want to say too much about those. We do have a meteorite that we’ve ground down to a fine dust, and this will sit on some of the objects we make for the show like a blessing or offering.
Lastly, what is it that draws your attention so deeply to science and philosophy?
Ben Jeans Houghton and Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau: We often subsume some aspect of a subject into our work, inhabiting fictive positions from where we can unravel it from its edge. We're interested in the wonder that humans feel when confronted with the universe, and the very special wonder that comes from comprehending all that we cannot know, including the intimate details of the history of the human species. Working collaboratively, we hope to investigate that wonder whilst experiencing it. Collaboration is the gap between two ways of understanding the world, the necessary failure to bridge that gap through language, and the excitement at the moment when somehow, despite all this, you somehow manage to align those two understandings and communicate an idea.