This week artist Catherine Bertola discusses her current exhibition 'Below The Salt' at Temple Newsam, Leeds and her wider practice with Marie Anne McQuay, Head of Programme at Bluecoat, Liverpool
Join us for an informal and informative event.
Miles Thurlow Good evening, everyone. Apologies for our slight technical hitchs there. That was my fault. Welcome. Welcome again to our In Conversation event this this week with Catherine Bertola and Marie-Anne McQuay. My name is Miles Thurlow and I'm the co-founder of Workplace Foundation. We support emerging and represented artists based in the north of England.
Miles Thurlow This evening we'll be hosting the second in a series of In conversations which we will be hosting every Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.. And I'd like to thank all of you who registered for last week's postponed event for your patience and understanding. We felt that it was really important for us to pause our programme in solidarity with Blackout Tuesday. We hope that you will join us next week for the rescheduled conversation with Magnus Quaife and Andy Hunt. This week, artist Catherine Bertola will be In Conversation with Marie-Anne McQuay. Catherine Bertola is a visual artist whose practise encompasses installation, drawing, photographic and film works that respond to specific sites, collections and historic contexts. Her work explores the way the passing of time becomes inscribed in materialised in the things around us, as well as issues around authenticity in relation to contemporary perceptions and consumption of history, often focussing on the historic role of women in society. The home craft production and labour, past works have involved producing commissioned works for institutions such as M.A.D New York, V&A London, Bronte Parsonage and Museum, Howarth Crafts Council, government art collection and several National Trust properties across the UK. Marie-Anne McQuay, guest international curator for Wales in Venice, 2019 with artist Sean Edwards, has been head of programme at Bluecoats Liverpool since November 2014. She's currently on furlough, I should say. Recent solo exhibitions and projects at Bluecoats include commissioning new works by Larissa Sansour Adhem Faramawy, Elain Mitchener, Jade Montserrat, Jonathan Baldock, Francis Disley and Grace Ndiritu.
Miles Thurlow Excuse my pronunciation there. Previously, she was curator at Spike Island, Bristol 2007 2013, working with artists including Elizabeth Price. Laure Prouvost, Can Altay. Sonia Boyce. Melissa Gordon. Shaun Edwards. Uriel Orlow, Amanda Beech. James Richardson. Jesse Jones. And as with the last time, we'll have time at the end for questions.
Miles Thurlow If you could use your chat function to send them through, read them at end. Without further ado wellcome Catherine Bertola she should appear magically, hopefully. And welcome. Oh, here we go. There's Katherine. Hi, Katherine.
Catherine Bertola Hi.
Miles Thurlow and I'm just trying to un-mute and starts, OK. Marie-Anne should appear as well.
Miles Thurlow Marie-anne, you have to unmute.
Marie-Anne McQuay Done it.
Miles Thurlow There we go, there we go. OK. Thank you very much. I will disappear. Thank God. And hand it over to you.
Catherine Bertola Thank you.
Marie-Anne McQuay Thank you very much. And hi, Catherine, how are you today?
Catherine Bertola I'm fine, Thank you. Yes, it's quite strange knowing that there's loads of people watching. But i can only see you.
Marie-Anne McQuay We're gonna just pretend it's a chat amongst ourselves so it will be fine. And I'm really pleased to do this. And this could have been happening in Leeds or where a project is, we're gonna talk about it. Yes, I'm in Liverpool and you are in...
Catherine Bertola Blayton, which is south of the river tyne.
Marie-Anne McQuay And at any point, our children may run in or we get a face time call from the in laws or anything. So we're primed for this to go on. And I'm really, really delighted. I've followed you work actually for about 20 years because you and I have been artists and curators for about the same kind of period. So it's really a great privilege to be able to have a conversation with you. We decided to start with between us a new project of yours could 'below the salts', which like so many projects that we're launching in spring have paused and at the point it would have launched, so many projects, didn't launch many launch for a few days. Some have been completely cancelled. We thought 'Below the Salt' was a way into your work because it has some of the ways that you work historically and then a very new piece. I was wondering, as we play some images and a film that's very key, if you would just mind introducing very briefly what we're looking at, where it's set.
Catherine Bertola Okay, so. 'Below the Salt" is is was is an exhibition that was made for Temple Newsham House, which is just on the outskirts of Leeds. It's run by Leeds museums. It's a Tudor Jacobean mansion which celebrated its 500 year anniversary this year. And that was one of the sort of starting points for developing the work. It isn't like a, I do a lot. I've done a lot of work in the past in a lots of National Trust Properties where you get a really... You really like walking through someone's kind of family home. You're very much aware of the family history and Temple Newsham was sold to Leeds City Council in 1920 and stripped out of all its kind of the objects that were the furniture and the objects and subsequently was used by Leeds City Council as a contemporary art gallery. It was a hospital during the Second World War. And its recent kind of function is, is the house. It Houses the city's decorative arts collection, which is a really expensive decorative arts collection. So it's kind of quite a hybrid place. And that is kind of a historic building. And it houses lots of historic objects. But the narratives of those two things aren't sort of necessarily tied together. So what you don't get is this kind of story of how people lived there. It's there a little bit, but a lot of it's really more about the kind of objects that within the property. So. So, yeah. So I was invited to make some work that kind of, looked at the history of of the building. Alongside, you know, because it was this kind of 500 year, quite significant anniversary of the building. And the starting point for the project was really an inventory. There was an inventry made in the year that the house was built, in 1520, that's housed in the National Archives and someone's worked for the last 10 years. A curator, Adam White has worked on translating that inventory. And it was kind of a quite an interesting document is a very sort of humble, modest document. But it's just quite interesting in that it just it just kind of lists all the objects that were in the house at that, in that in that very sort of first year of its kind of existence. And so for me, that was kind of the starting point for thinking about. Well, who else is lived in this property and how is this property being occupied over the course of its kind of history? And that was that was kind of where the project began.
Marie-Anne McQuay And I think what we're watching at the moment, because the project has different manifestations, there is a floor piece, a partly complete sculpture. But we're watching a film piece that's about six minutes. And,.
Catherine Bertola Yeah,.
Marie-Anne McQuay It's shot in there kind of lower areas, of the building.
Catherine Bertola Yeah. So there's a there's a tunnel that connects two wings to the property, the North and South Wing. And it was it was it wasn't an original. It was built in sort of 19th century. And it was really built to kind of I suppose, like most kind of Victorian kind of adaption's would kind of really about efficiency. It was. But kind of like about making transporting kind of coal and water and linen and food and et cetera, around the building sort of quickly and efficiently. And there's all sorts of these kind of hidden passageways in the building. And I was kind of really interested in and using them in some way. I was kind of I suppose I was what I was. So quite a lot and really fascinating idea that there is another way round the building. That your kind of presented with this one kind of way of walking through and round a space that's very polished and finished. And yet often in between the walls and there is these kind of passageways where. Servants, people that worked there, they would have kind of would have kind of traveled and would have kind of operated sort of kind of discreetly and quickly. And really that that's the kind of they kind of like the artery's of these buildings. Part of my research was looking at. I went to the West Yorkshire archives and became really fascinated in the quantities of coal that were ordered for the building. And just thinking like, how on earth did they carry these kind of tons of coal around, you know, to all the different rooms in the house. And, you know, this sort of. It was through these kind of hidden passageways, you know, there's a kind of machinery there that kind of keeps these buildings functioning and I guess I was kind of interested in exploring that machinery. That is really the invisible kind of machinery of the of the of the building.
Marie-Anne McQuay And did it come to you? Very early on in your research. That this would be a filmed performance, which is it's a film a film thats six minutes that you you watch so that the performance is filmed specifically for camera. But and that's a kind of new way of working for you. Did that come to you quite early on or was it kind of treading the building? You thoughts about that kind of navigation?
Catherine Bertola I think for me, there was something about the experience I had when I was walking around those spaces. I think that was maybe interested in revealing and. And the sort of sense of the... I was quite interested in the kind of sense of repetition and that sort of endlessness, and I've done a lot of work in the past where I've looked at. Done a lot od research into sort of cookbooks and domestic manuals in a particular produced a lot in the Victorian period that sort of describe the kind of like routines and daily rituals that. Servants should undertake and there's a sense of this sort of endless drudgery and work and labour that's just kind of endless and i suppose a kind of sometimes feel a little bit like that myself. Even now, with this kind of likes of endless kind of endless laundry and just cleaning and tidying up, it kind of goes within with it with a house that people live in. So I think and I think my work, I've always sort of thought my work is a little bit performative. It's not. It's not I don't never describe it as performance, but I think for me, it when I'm making the work, I feel that this very much a kind of relationship between what I'm doing physically within a space. And I i've always seen this as being quite performative in a way. And so I suppose it didn't feel like a massive leap to kind of. Bring in other people to kind of almost as a sort of proxy for me in some way. Sort of explore the space in a physical way.
Marie-Anne McQuay And we were talking about how as the piece it's available to watch online, isn't it?
Catherine Bertola Yeah.
Marie-Anne McQuay You could see it on the site that you were not aiming for historical kind of re-enactment that you chose. Dance artists who might be using gesture and pacing to kind of mark how time and bodies just it's a moment when lots of dance artists are crossing over to galleries again and then the other way with visual artists working with dance artist. So I just was really interested in who you bought on board to do that and how you how you came to that process.
Catherine Bertola So I worked. So I worked with a choreographer called Jerry Turvy and she she's based in Leeds. And she she sort of sourced the dancers. So it's really i supose. And then and she so she's she was kind of. I suppose, my my relationship was primarily with Jerry, I guess, and it was kind of about how I talked to her, about what I was. I was kind of trying to do. And the reason I worked with Jerry is because she'd done quite a lot of work in those, There was a piece, particularly that I remember. I saw of her's that I just just immediate thought. Yeah. You know what? You're going to know what you know what you're going to know what I'm kind of doing, I'm interested in. While she was working in the library, Leeds and just exploring it as a space. And I think there was kind of So two things that I was kind of interested with the film, one, it was this it was kind of interesting in the space almost. It was almost about the space and the physical. Sort of a lot of my works deals with the surface of space and is about. And I suppose so surprised I was kind of interested in that, in the relationship between the dancer's and the space and how they would work with the space. But I was also interested in being quite pedestrian. So I didn't want it to be. I didn't want it to be. We need it to be about walking and repeating and passing. And I was kind of thinking about like jobs that I've had, you know, where you're kind of when you work and you just kind of you know, you kind of learn sort of movements that you just do intuitively and instinctively in space because you've done so many times. And I suppose I was thinking about those kind of the way where your body kind of moves around other people in certain environments and so, so that's the kind of things I was kind of thinking about. And I guess it was kind of, in a way, a bit of an abstract conversation with a choreographer. But I suppose it was a kind of feeling and a sense of a kind of you know, it was kind of a suppose language that we came up with to talk about that space and what I was trying to achieve within it i suppose.
Marie-Anne McQuay No, definitely, and I think you get that sense of bodies passing each other and motion circulating in time kind of circulating with bodies, so no it's a really, really beautifuk piece of work. It must have been quite difficult to shoot. Just thinking about the pragmatics of being in a confined space. Actually, you get that sense very well. I just was interested what it was like because artists, film shoots are never like, you know, like, it's a very in out kind of situation where you have to get what you need. I just wondered how it was like shooting down in that kind of tiny kind of corridor.
Catherine Bertola It was it was quite difficult. So I worked with Northern Film School. I sort of again. It was kind of doing the Leverhulme Trust residency that i did it because Northern Film School is part of Leeds Beckett University. So I and I knew that they had they worked in independent projects. So I contacted them and they came on board, which was like really brilliant because it meant that I could do so much more with my budget than I probably could have done it wise, because they have access to lots of kit, and they I worked with members of the staff sort took lead and direction and post-production as well. But they used their students to kind of take this film and work on set. So it was kind of I managed to make like I wouldn't have been able to if I'd have had to go and kind of find those kind of. That sort of crew and on my own, I would have I wouldn't be up to do it basically, since it was a really good way of kind of making up the money. I had kind of go further and and in a way. I mean, I've never I've never really worked on a film before. Well, so, yeah, I've never produced a film in this way before. So I have produced film works that may be made very differently. But I suppose I have worked on film sets before my partner makes films. So I've kind of got a lot of experience of being on set. So I sort of had an understanding of how. The mechanics of film production work, and I mean, it was very tricky, but I think because what I was after was quite in a way quite. I didn't want anything too complicated. I wanted it to be quite straightforward. It was about the bodies in the space. And so so there was so it didn't need to kind of have lots of fancy lighting. It just needed to be quiet. Direct, but it was it was quite a condensed process. So the choreographer and Dancers only worked together for like a couple of days to devise the sequences and then we shot it in about a day and a half.
Catherine Bertola And yeah, we just did work very quickly. And I was just very lucky that I had quite a good team of people working with me, to be honest as well.
Marie-Anne McQuay And I was just because it's this this very strange time when I can watch the film, but it has never been installed back on site because everything stopped just before the project being realised this other works within this this 'Below the Salt' series. And some might be most familiar to kind of people who have followed your work, where you have, worked either with the kind of detritus of the space or the materials implied within a space. I wasn't sure maybe sure if Miles might run some images if that might be possible. Where you describe some of the other pieces. And also there is one piece that is incomplete because it needs to be made on site. So you might talk about how strange it is to be in this kind of partly realised moment. But I just was really interested in the the floor piece, which I think would be quite familiar mode for a lot of people. Very, very beautiful floor piece.
Catherine Bertola Yes, so. This this this is the sort of the the title of this work is 'Below the Salt', and that is that became the title of the exhibition. And 'Below the Salt' is was a phrase was... Originated from dining and so in when this house is first built, 500 years ago This is the great hall in the Great Hall was essentially a dining room. And there would have been a top table at the back of the room that you see here, and then tables would have run run along from that. And in that period of time, salt was a really valuable, expensive commodity. And only certain people were allowed to access and have salt on their food. And so it became a delineation of hierarchy. And I suppose a lot of the work I was making for the exhibition was interesting in this sense of hierarchy and how hierarchies expressed in Temple Newsham through the use of materials and and through the architecture as well. So I suppose the film is looking at the kind of way hierarchies expressed in the architectural spaces of the building. So I was kind of. So I was kind of fascinated by this idea of salt, which is such a kind of. Commonplace material, really cheap. Now to have was this kind of really material of value. And so I wanted to make something with salt. And I am because part of my research, I spent quite a long time just looking at the collections that are housed in at Temple Newsham, and they have quite an extensive textile collection. And and I just spent a long time looking through. Textiles. They have this really quite interesting collection of very early table linen. And so the pattern that you see is this. And it is taken from them. It's this of the warping design of a very early table cloth. And so it is almost like a straightforward kind oh I want. Oh. I'm going to make this tablecloth on the floor using salt. And so that's essentially. What you're looking at now is this is kind of this kind of pattern of this.
Marie-Anne McQuay Is that they're now onsite?
Catherine Bertola No, no. It was made in January. So I made over there. And then it was swept away.
Marie-Anne McQuay Yep.
Catherine Bertola But I took photographs of the installation. And what I was quite interested in this. With this project was, I mean, I make a lot of site specific installations like this and. I kind of really enjoy the fact that they do disappear, that they kind of come and go and and that's kind of part of them. But also, I'm very aware as an artist that that doesn't leave me with with much stuff. So I was kind of wanting to find think of how I could make work that sort of resonates in a site. And it's it it's part of the site, but that can maybe have a kind of life beyond that as well. So I was quite interested in the idea of creating a kind of artefacts i suppose or something that would last which would exist independently and beyond the space. And in all my previous installations, photographs have always been. Documentary, They have always just been documenting the work. And I've always been very clear about that. But what I found, I was sort of thinking about how can I?
Catherine Bertola What can I? How could I make this work? Kind of have a longer sort of lasting presence in the world. And then I read I was reading about very early photographic processes. And there is the salt and silver technique where you make prints using paper soaked in salt. This then coating it in silver nitrate. And that's how you create a kind of photographic image. And it just seemed to make sense that, oh, I can make photographs of this installation using the salt that it's made from. And that's that's the work that then is shown in the exhibition. It's a series of images of the work that are made using the kind of salt that was made the installation that they're documenting. So there's a kind of sort of material kind of integrity to the. To the work and the connexion with the original piece. So so this is one of the salt prints you're seeing.
Marie-Anne McQuay And I just was thinking about your use of materials, because this you're saying you've worked in this like historic sites that have a very particular resonance, but you've also worked in a Tower Block, you've worked from sort of everyday abandoned wallpaper. You've used kind of lacy tights, I think If im right?. Or...
Catherine Bertola Yeah. more my drawings than sight specific works.
Marie-Anne McQuay So. Yeah. Yeah. I was interested in that kind of use I've seen in your work of dust. And there is this very beautiful quote, you sent me from from an academic Is it Caroline Steadman?
Catherine Bertola Yeah Caroline Steadman yeah.
Marie-Anne McQuay Yeah. Around that we think of dust as being kind of the leftover. But actually it's it's effectively all around us. It's the stuff of matter. I just would be interested if you talk about some of those other materials you've worked with and there sort of quieter, social, domestic kind of resonance i quess.
Catherine Bertola Yes, it was dust i mean, it's material I've kind of I've always used really, I, I use it as a student. And it's one of those materials that I kind of I go back to. And I think when I started using dust, I was really interested in it as a forensic material. I was interested in it because it gathered in places and it was very specific to places. And on a microscopic level, you could probably work out who'd been in that space. And that was my that was my interest in that material, I guess, over a time, my interest is become more you know, it's got dust has an associations with time. Sense of time, passing gathers on surfaces. It's got lots of connotations around the home and domestic labour and particular female labour. So I guess over time, my my relationship with it as material has became more. And as become more perhaps, more political and a bit more and certainly a bit a bit more. Well just just enriched, really, I suppose the more I kind of used it in the different context, I've used it. And I think I think very early on, I was I was always a little bit. What's the word kind of quite sort of nervous about making workthat was kind of a bit feminist or a bit. You know, see it, but it got to a point right where I suppose I was an artist. And I was making just decorative domestic patterns and using dust. It's like come on you have to talk about the feminist aspects of this. There is a feminist aspect here. You have to just grow with it. And I guess I guess that's something that I suppose as I got older, I started to kind of explore more. And I guess my works become. More about dealing with sort of feminism and not just necessarily feminism, but I think a lot of the work I do in in spaces that I work in is about the sort of hidden. It's about the hidden voices in those spaces and hidden stories and histories of those spaces in it, and a kind of frustration in how you you only really get told often one particular narrative. And I guess what I'm interested in doing is like looking at the what's beneath that and what the other perspectives in those spaces is.
Marie-Anne McQuay And a work. I asked if we could bring up. It's a very early work, like talking about something from 2002. But it was when I first, like we were similar, age. So it's when i first came across your work, was in a tower block in a project called 'up in the air'. And I just raised it, because im in Liverpool and I remember from a certain time, which Leo Fitzmauorice and Neville Gabie had access to a tower block and a a project with residents. And it was a particular time in Liverpool where theTower blocks had replaced Terrace Streets in the sixties. And by the 90s they were they were quite run down, but had very coherent communities and communities that had been together 30 years. But the Tower blocks were changing and there were there were a lot of projects happening at the time, including one called tenants... which were with the residents, how how to kind of replace they were going to go into low rise, which wasn't always the thing that they wanted to do. And as individual they had lived long and rich and varied lives. So they were part of this project. I wonder if you might talk a little bit about that as a really early project going in basically not long after graduation to go into such a kind of loaded project, I guess, to be interesting.
Catherine Bertola Yes, so. I think it's so. I mean, it's nearly 20 years ago, it was 2002. So I was three years out of university, three years out of graduating. And so, I mean, the project, it was quite I mean, it was quite an amazing project. I don't think I have been involved in a project like it since it was particularly. It seemed to kind of be like a kind of really. I don't know whether it was just just the kind of context and the timing in that particular environment that just created this kind of really interesting moment. So there was a three tower blocks. And I think when I moved in, there was only two left and they were all being demolished in these low rise houses built. And the tower block that I was working was called Linosa close. I think I remember that.
Catherine Bertola And there was. Basically, I there was myself and about eight other artists and we spent a month. And we were given a flat to live in and a flat to work in. And so I essentially spent a month. In a tower block in Liverpool.
Catherine Bertola But part of the project. What was really nice about the project is it was really embedded with the community. But it wasn't. There was no it wasn't sort of i didn't have to do any workshops with the community. I just went and hung out with them in there community room. Drank cups of tea once a week and chatted and got to know them. And I think and what was really interesting was, you know, these tower blocks, they were a bit they were pretty shoddy. Because they haven't really been looked after or maintain properly. But the people who live in there who had lived there for 30 years. You know, they they were really were they really loved their houses. These were their homes. They brought their children up there. They had so many memories and they really didn't want to let that go. And I suppose the work was that I made is called 'If Walls Could Talk'. And I was really. Sort of interested in i suppose the fabric of the space and how you know, what is. You know, what is history? Well, you know, if the building goes, you still have your memories. You still have that kind of the memory, of that space. So so kind of places can live beyond there physical form, i guess is what I was kind of interested in. And how can you. And also the work was about scratching back through that these kind of the paper and the on the walls in a form of archeology, I guess. And getting back to the original surface of the wall. But kind of thinking about the kind of life lived in that space as well, I guess, and how that kind of they are still in the air is still there and present. And it feels quite strange talking about because it is such such an old work. But I guess I suppose I mean, I kind of in a way, see it. See, you know, working in that tower block in Liverpool, I was kind of working with history even then, even though its a different kind of history of Temple Newsham, which is this 500 year old Tudor, Jacobean mansion. You know, it's still a kind of history that you're kind of working with.
Marie-Anne McQuay Yeah,.
Catherine Bertola It's still telling a story about lives lived and maybe quiet voices as well.
Marie-Anne McQuay Yeah. And then only as we know from certain times, only certain things are memorialised. Only certain things are recognised. So that, that is, I think, that aspect of yours, that is the quieter and the domestic is really, really compelling. We were talking a little bit generally about how when you have children or caring responsibilities, you sort of start to shape your career in a particular way. And it goes for the you know, it goes for curators and everyone working in the Arts. But would you at this point be interested in continuing working through sites or those concerns that you've got? Might they set moral autonomisly now? Because actually we were saying pragmatically, site specific commissions are one of the ways you get to make a living and they have better fees than gallery commissions. They're often allowing a different amount of time and they're really productive. And the ones you've done look incredibly resonant to your practice. But I was wondering at this point, if you've, if you've got any time to reflect, which is unlikely in your life at this moment, if you were coming as coming back out, would you be looking for the kind of studio time or the site time at this moment?
Catherine Bertola Oh, I think so. I suppose it's always been both. I think so. So I've got two children. My eldest is eight and a half years old and I think primarily since I've had children, because I had to sort of conflate a way of making money with making work, commissions, seemed, were the way that I could do that. And that's primarily what I've kind of erm, I suppose that's how I've I've. Yes. Continue to kind of make work, and make a living. I think prior to that, I probably did. You know, I do. I did. I do. Did I feel like I did actually, I did make a lot of drawings that were very labour intensive drawings. And I think the reality is that, you know, I can't spend two weeks working 12 hour days to make a single drawing anymore. I just don't have that time. But I think what I think, I suppose to see those things is go hand in hand. I think. I think I am I suppose I am really interested in sites, but I think what's been interesting about Temple Newsham project is it wasn't a brief. I wasn't working with a brief. It was like it was it came out the conversation with a curator and I had kind of, I had free reign. And that felt really exciting and also quite rare because I think a lot of brief's tend to be quite specific. And and it's possible to work with those, and I would only work on something if I found interesting anyway. But I think, I think it's almost like I suppose it's giving me a taste of that. What did you do when you have free reign? And I guess that's what I'm... I'd quite like to kind of do more of and I suppose I see maybe the studio as possibly, you know, sort of making work, it's not really about studio even. It's more about being independent. I guess it's more about that kind of independent research, and that independent. Independent, autonomous, kind of. Going where you want to go, where where you where your ideas take you rather than having to put them in a box and sell them, pitch them to someone. And not having an idea stone, which I guess is the commissioning process, is sometimes like that. So I think I think my work is fundamentally always about responding to to history in some ways. I guess that's always gonna be there. And it kind of feels in a way, it's quite frustrating when this with the coronavirus in lockdown, because I just kind of felt quite energised by the work I'd made and that and that I did feel like the film was I was kind of doing something a little bit new for me. And then I just felt like that sort the energy, that kind of momentum is just kind of almost like suspended animation right now. While, while life is like this. So I'm hoping that once it's all gone down, I'll be able to pick that up again. But I guess, I suppose it's who knows what's going to be there to, you know, who knows what is going to be left. What's going to come out of this in terms of what the cultural sector is going to look like when this is all over?
Marie-Anne McQuay Because you're teaching remotely, aren't you as well, at the moment, which is.
Catherine Bertola Yeah. I see I teach at Newcastle University. On the final year. But, again, I don't know whether I'll get any teaching right next year because it's going to depend on student numbers and all that kind of thing. So so everything feels very, yeah. I mean, I guess the thing is, I know that I will always make work and.
Marie-Anne McQuay Yeah.
Catherine Bertola You don't have to make. You know, I kind of say this to my students all the time and have been saying it to them a lot recently because obviously they all had these huge ambitious degree shows planned and suddenly they're working in their bedrooms. And so I've heard myself say to them a number of times that you don't have to make, work doesn't have to be big, to be good. You know, it's it's about it's about the content and the ideas and what you're trying to say. So I guess it's how I sometimes I think I need to listen to my own advice sometimes, you know, but I make work, I suppose, like, I don't whether Miles could show the Sad Bones pieces which they were made actually interestingly inbetween. I started making those. When I think in between having my two children, I was kind of just coming out of sort of one maternity leave about going to another, probably. But I mean, these are just pages from a book of photographs, from magazines of buildings that no longer exist. And I just set the set the fireplaces on fire. So they're sort of, I was kind of interested in the idea of making them real again, just for a moment by setting them alight. And I guess they're quite, you know, they're quite immediate works. They're quite quick works. I think, you know, there is ways to make work that sort of speaks the same. That's dealing with the same sort of approach to space or the same ideas, the same content. That's just not it doesn't have to be. You know, me spending two weeks, three weeks kneeling on the floor, making something out of salt. You know, you can make something a bit more immediate than that. Yeah. And that's still valid and valuable.
Marie-Anne McQuay We we were actually talking in a way. If you'd sent me the sight below the sultan about Temple Newsham, if I hadn't looked closely, I would if I imagined the projects happened so recently, documented said. But there is a work as yet incomplete. And we were talking about how strange it is that actually there is something in obviously in realising a work and people coming in and its reception in that moment of reflecting afterwards. Which, should that be possible? Do you think? If all other factors being possible that it is possible to go back in. Have you you got that space to kind of pick up that sculpture and think about how you how you kind of carry on that project to finish?
Catherine Bertola I mean, it does feel quite strange because it does the work. So lockdown was the twenty third of March wasn't it? Something like that. And the show was due to open on the 4th of April. So it's, so in a way, the film exists. The photographs exist, although they're still actually ath the framers. I don't know what state the build was in at the museum. You know, so it's all this, it feels like sort of unfinished business in a way. I don't. It's not. It's not. It's not. It's an exhibition. It's never sort of fully come to fruition. And it feels quite so. It feels quite abstract. I guess. And it feels like I suppose it isn't on time, isn't it? That's quite a long time, you know. We're in June now. And I just have to down tools with the sculpture because it was kind of I was making it and then the kids schools closed. And I just realised that I just couldn't I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it. There's no way I could do it. And I did bring the work home. It did sit. In the corner of the lounge, and I just I just no, I just did not have time to pick it up and start working on it. And then it was gonna start, I could see it getting damaged. So. I just kind of took it back to my studio. It just feels like a strange idea of going back to making something, I guess, because I was in that kind of process of intense process, of having been working on a project quite for quite a period, you know for about four or five months and it's quite you kind of get momentum and energy about it. And it's like, oh, so I don't know. I don't know whether I have to really I dunno not dig deep, but get my. Yeah. Think about what it is that I'm. Well I was trying to do.
Marie-Anne McQuay Or it might be different as you come back to it.
Catherine Bertola It might be different. Yeah.
Marie-Anne McQuay Miles is gonna move us on to some questions, because they've been flying in. I can see them. It's nice to hear from people watching.
Miles Thurlow We've got some really great, great questions. So and we've got 15 minutes left roughly. So I'm going to go straight into it. So this is from Rachel Rich. "Catherine, you have described the dancers in the Below the Salt film as proxies for yourself. In an earlier work you used yourself as a sort of proxy for wealthy women trapped in a beautiful domestic interior. Do you feel equally empathetic with the women upstairs and downstairs? Do you think that the ability to think of women's labour across class boundaries is important to the work you make and to your (inauible).
Catherine Bertola Oh, I missed the end of that question, Miles, so if I could see them.
Miles Thurlow So that the questions were, do you feel empathetic with the women upstairs and downstairs? And do you think that the ability to think of women's labour across class boundaries is important to the work you make into your understanding of history?
Catherine Bertola So to explain. Rachel is the historian that I went to that Leeds Beckett University and. So. Yes. Yeah, I suppose I suppose I have. So where to start, so I suppose I don't really think about. So do I think about class boundaries? I suppose there is a really obvious distinction between those kind of historic houses, between class, between working class, which is downstairs and upper class, which is upstairs. But I still think this kind of. There's still a kind of, I suppose what I'm interested in is that even even women in the upstairs, were kind of voiceless, in a way. So they might have been, had a very different life space to those below stairs. But they were still, you know, kind of quite sort of marginalised in some ways, although, quite yet, quite a different way. And I think. So I think, again, I'd say mine it's my interest in that kind of giving a voice to people that don't have a voice within those kind of environments. So whether that's, you know, the. The servant downstairs who's just completely anonymous and working all day, whether it's the kind of the woman who's completely got no control over the choices in her life because she's kind of expected to behave and be and living a certain way, I guess that's that's still sort of both trapped in a, in the same space, but in a very different way. I don't know if that makes sense.
Miles Thurlow Yes, I think it very much does. So maybe on to the next question. I mean, that the. Rachel is not able to respond very quickly to to your question to her, back to her. So I'm just gonna cut straight into another question from Daniel Goodman. "Catherine, I really enjoy how in your work I get the sense of space and buildings not as a fixed thing, but as something which changes over time, through its various uses by different people. Does the temporary nature of your work and materials you use have a connection with the idea of space as a shifting thing? Do you see your interventions in those spaces as a way of writing yourself into history?"
Catherine Bertola I think the fleeting nature of the installations always being quite important. So I think it is about that sense that the works themselves become history. So they just become moments in time. And allowing that allowing that kind of almost not holding on to that, there's no, they just become what they you know, they go and. And I think some people find that really difficult. When I whenever I do talks, I quite often, some, particularly students, get quite horrified by the idea that you just, your work would just get destroyed. I think there's something quite important about the fact that the work does. Disappear and almost become a moment in history. Is that about me putting myself into history? I don't know that it's not said about me, but maybe it's about, the kind, me sort of bringing I suppose it's me bringing in maybe other voices out of history, like re shining, shining a light on parts of history that have not been addressed or looked to all noticed or discussed. So I think maybe I do. It's not necessarily about me. It's maybe about. The people that I'm trying to kind of speak, I'm not speaking for anybody, but the people that I'm trying to, that I'm making work about I suppose.
Miles Thurlow All right, I'm just trying to find the next question. Sorry, I did a screen share there because I thought it would be quite nice to watch your film while I'm. Well, while we're asking questions, but it means I've lost my, That I've lost the questions. So I'm going to stop doing that and move straight back. Okay, here we go. This is from Bruce Haynes. "Catherine, I wonder, do you think not having to make stuff, particularly as going to market, is impossible? Online viewing rooms don't work, etc, might bring you back to the more contingent and ephemeral as a sufficient gesture. I love the short film as did my nine year old boy, by the way."
Catherine Bertola It's not having to make stuff. I don't know, I suppose I. I don't know, I don't really. I don't. I suppose I don't really think about, that's a really hard question. I think my work, I think I suppose what I try to do with the work I make is make it what it needs to be. So I don't try to think about it in a way. What, what, it could be. So maybe this question is really about when I was talking about like that being some sort of legacy. And I think the legacy is not really just it's not really about me having something to sell. It's or it's really about me, kind of in a real practical way and real pragmatic way. Like, I can't make work in this. I can't be as prolific as I was 20 years ago because I just don't have the time anymore, because I have a family, to look after. So how can I? It's about me maybe making my work more visible, giving my opportunity to opportunity to be visible. Perhaps. By making things that can maybe exist in a slightly different way than the kind of ephemeral work I've made in the past. So suppose it's me trying to think about, maybe it's about me trying to think about perhaps how what can be historicized in some way. Is about that kind of how, how can that maybe some lasting objects come out of these fleeting commissions? I dunno. I suppose it's just something I grapple with as an artist. You know, really. You know, it's trying to think about, you know, I suppose in a way what happens when I'm not here? What is that? What's left of my work. And I guess as someone who deals in history and archives and delving into that stuff all the time. It's like, what am I leaving behind? What's the trace of my presence? And maybe I'm trying to kind of maybe that's what I'm trying to explore with this sense of making works. Kind of. Exist outside of those fleeting temporary installations. That wass quite morbid, wasn't it?
Miles Thurlow Chris Currell asks, "What are you looking for when you delve into the past?"
Catherine Bertola What do I look for?
Miles Thurlow What are you looking for? ...a slightly different...
Catherine Bertola I kind of I suppose I think it's a kind of thinking about this a lot really. And it's kind of like a suppose what am I looking... Looking back at history is really important. It's like it's how you make sense of where we are today, isn't it? If you think about, I mean, so like, so many things are gonna moment, you know, to understand, you know, the current pandemic that we're in. It's like really important to look back at, you know, the Spanish Flu that happened a hundred years ago. And, you know, so like that idea of like looking back to kind of try and make sense of where you are and also to try and think about maybe where things went wrong and how, what can we do to make things better for the future? So I think when I'm looking back at the past, I suppose what I'm looking at is maybe trying to think about what, how we can make things better. Or what? What do we need to kind of look at to try and improve things for for people and I suppose, a lot of that is maybe me thinking about myself as a woman. Like what would make life better for women, but also extends beyond that as well, I guess, in some way.
Miles Thurlow So, Lisa Watts says: "just a simple question. Could you describe the texture and surface of your salt photos? As I can't quite tell from the screen. Your work is fantastic, by the way."
Catherine Bertola So I used a table salt, like just a really fine table salt. And it was made by, I put the, salt was just like coated onto the floor, so just kind of like this, just a layer of it, probably about three to five millimetres thick. And then I cut out stencils and they were sort of put on top and then it was brushed away. So the and then the stencils were carefully lifted off so that the kind of surface that the salt was slightly, because the stencils had been on top was slightly compressed. But then again, it was because the floor was very uneven. It was kind of thicker in some parts than others. So there probably are some maybe detailed photographs on the website, Miles, that you might be able to.
Miles Thurlow Yeah, which one? Sorry
Catherine Bertola I don't know whether you've got enough detailed shots, actually.
Marie-Anne McQuay But when you develop the photographs actually through the salt process, how is their surface?So. I mean, or how do you control the kind of mattle effect of that?
Catherine Bertola Well, it was. It was a really. So I I worked with I actually worked with an artist, Leah Millar, and she helped me in the darkroom. And she, I mean, we we spent probably three times longer than I planned in the darkroom because it was just a really tricky process. It's really temperamental. So, you have to use a very sort of quite heavy duty, almost like watercolour paper. And, you know, we used salt mixed with gelatine. So the gelatine slight, makes the sort of image sit on the surface a little bit more. But you do get the sort of texture of the paper coming through. I mean, it's kind of quite an amazing process because, I mean. It is almost like the image is soaked into the paper, then completely matte. The gelatine gives it a little bit of a sort of sheen, but that very sort of matte. And you do that very sort of. That's the very, what's word, like they kind of feel like they feel like an object. They feel like they're very sculptural, I think is what they are. They're kind of they're not just in an image. They become like a thing in themselves. They have their own of physicality to them. Which is what, yeah. Why, why I kind of I, yeah, I do see them as kind of like an object rather than just a kind of photographic image, because they just do have this real sort of physical presence in a way.
Miles Thurlow And I've just found a whole, whole load more questions hidden in a different part of Zoom. This is a good one. This is from Anonymous Attendee. "I have an issue with the term of 'performance' being used so liberally when what I had witnessed was a choreographed dance to camera piece located at the site. Whilst it was performative, it is too refined, to these practiced performers working the exact nature of the choreographed score, would you say that by making something so refined and graceful, it idealises the dancers more than the awkward, cumbersome space itself, that would have been occupied and passed through by bodies that were overworked, stressed and less glamorous due to the roles and positions of the workers."
Catherine Bertola Oh, I to have to read that question myself. I can't take that all in. Is it there?
Miles Thurlow I don't think. Hang on. Let me.
Catherine Bertola I mean, I think there's kind of, I suppose it's...
Miles Thurlow I think the question is about the idea of performance and choreography and whether in some way it glamorises something where where.... (inaudible) In living quite a different sort of, it would have been you would have had quite a different feel. I guess using dancers kind of shifts something away just to a different space.
Catherine Bertola Yeah, I mean, I. I think it is it is kind of like I suppose is kind of lots of maybe crossing over of disciplines, isn't there because I'm not? You know, I've not, I'm not a choreographer. I'm not a dancer. And I'm not I'm not used... But I'm sure there's a whole like an area of discourse around. Around. Yeah. That I'm maybe not that attuned to because it's not something that I'm massively experienced in or know that enough about yet. So does it glamorise them? I mean, I was trying not not to be about. I don't know. I mean, I guess I don't know, maybe maybe there is another way to do it. Maybe. Maybe it could have been shot differently. I, I don't know. I suppose what I what I was interested in about was, was the kind of is not just about them working the space. Is also it's I don't know whether people would hear that. It was just the soundtrack for the film is actually the sound of clocks recorded from the house which was made into this kind of composition. And so as much as it was about people in that space, it was also about kind of time and the passing of time. And I kind of was quite interested in the parts of the film where they start to look a bit like they're kind of like clockwork and becoming almost like kind of rhythm with this sort of almost becoming like clocks or like cogs in a clock or something. The dancers become quite mechanical.
Marie-Anne McQuay We spoke a little bit about that has a history, so you have Maya Holt's movements for factory workers, and then it kind of goes into Busby Berkeley. But that's kind of different Avant Garde kind of traditions of realism vs. like a kind of symbolical or mechanical movement. So you were talking a bit about. Yeah. The body reflecting in a more abstract way time rather than acting out time. So that was something I took from it. Definitely.
Catherine Bertola Yeah.
Miles Thurlow Just cutting in here again, there's a question from Neil Armstrong. "What do you feel about monuments? Should they always be temporary?"
Catherine Bertola But I think about monuments? Should they always be what?
Miles Thurlow "What do you feel about monuments? Should they always be temporary?" And I guess there's obviously...
Catherine Bertola Yeah. Should they always be temporary? May...Maybe they should always be temporary, but I think it's suppose it's maybe always questioning isn't, as always questioning what you receive to be. What would you receive? To be true? I suppose so, and, you know, I think if if sort of, and it was on my mind today as well about the statue in Bristol being pulled down in that sense of. You know, it is part of Liverpool, Bristol's Liverpool, Bristol's history. But is also part of lots of other people's history, and it's really important that that you don't. That history is not static. I suppose that's kind of ultimately it. History is not a static thing. And it's not it's it's something that shifts and changes depending on your perspective and depending on your position. And I guess it's important to kind of always acknowledge that everyone will have a slightly different take on history. And so maybe it's not necessarily the monument, but maybe it's the way we talk about that or the way that that's. Maybe monuments don't have to be temporary, but maybe they have to be constantly, the narratives surround them have to shift to reflect different people's kind of perceptions of that moment of time that they're representing perhaps.
Marie-Anne McQuay And also the fact that we're still, in terms of school curriculum stuck with like the Victorians own view of empire and and and all the legacies. So it's about how you, in the 21st century move those narratives on. That you're not stuck in a Positivist view of that kind of Georgian and Victorian era, which you never to serve in schools? That hasn't changed. So there's that that whole discourse that David Olusoga's kind of talking about with the statue about what needs to be known, as well as what kind of statue you stand for? So, that's quite a week. It's always a very strange re-enactment of every kind of veneration of Colston that was incredibly problematic, as well as the statue in Bristol. It's a very, very strange phenomena.
Miles Thurlow On that note, I think we should we should end. And I just want to thank you both, Catherine Bertola, Marie-Anne McQuay, for a really wonderful and enlightening talk, really fantastic and is a joy to watch and tinker around with images in the background for. Thank you very much. Thank you everybody who attended and we hope that you can join us next Tuesday, same time to be in conversation with Magnus Quaife and Andy Hunt. So thank you very much.
Miles Thurlow Thank you. We'll say goodbye to you, I think, at the end the same way. I. (inaudible) Okay. Thanks, everyone. Bye bye.