Scout Niblett

An interview I did with Emma from Scout Niblett for Dazed Digital has just gone up. Here it is:

Emma Louise Niblett, who goes by the stage name Scout Niblett, is gentle and fierce, and as beautiful as Paris, Texas. With her first two albums, Sweet Heart Fever and I Am released on Secretly Canadian, Niblett demonstrated a resolute bent towards pared-down, raw sound – her clear, strident voice weaving between bare-boned solo drumming, searing electric guitar and silence. After a further two albums on Too Pure, which saw her pair up with Will Oldham and experiment with a wider range of instrumentation, The Calcination of… was released on Drag City in January 2010 – a masterful album of restraint and ire, which confirmed her as an artist undiluted and undeterred.

You’re in the middle of your fourth tour this year; how do you feel about 'The Calcination of …' now?I don’t really know – we’ve never actually played the whole album live. On every album there are songs that will never make it to a set list but when recording I never know which songs these are going to be. A set list is determined by which songs feel good together and what kind of momentum we want to go with. The people I play on tour with bring out different elements of my personality.
Can you talk about your song-writing process?
It is very solitary. I can’t really write unless I feel like no-one can hear me. It’s generally about telling a story, either inspired by real life or indirectly by astrological events taking place. Once the songs are done I take them to a drummer so they can work with them. 
People often talk about your work in terms of minimalism but, in art at least, minimalism is cold and distant whereas your work is much closer, much more visceral. Where does your imagery come from?

The astrology that I do is full of stories and archetypal figures. Pluto and Saturn are the most important figures for me – my sun sits right next to Pluto and it’s squaring Saturn so my whole identity is tied up with those two planets. They’re definitely living things – I see them as parts of myself.
The last time I saw you was on the Hi, How Are You? tour with Daniel Johnston in 2008. Has Daniel been influential in your work?
Lyrically and melody-wise, he’s been one of the most important figures for me. Being on that tour felt like the peak of my musical career. It’s the simplicity of his music … Other people would never think to say the things he does – there’s something so honest and immediate about his songs. Most song-writers think about how to get some emotion across instead of just emoting it the way he does. I kind of put him on a pedestal. I’m sure I over-think things and I know I don’t have the capacity to be that immediate in my own head but it’s definitely something I aspire to.
With your background in art, are there figures outside of the music world who have been similarly important?
My tutor at college Shelley Sacks, who now lectures at Oxford Brookes, was hugely important. She worked with Joseph Beuys for a long time so she had a unique attitude towards art – anything you did was art. And that gave me a lot of confidence about what I was doing from a really early age.
It’s interesting to think about your work in terms of Beuys – the rawness and heaviness of his materials …
Yeah, the fat! And the felt ... 
Scout Niblett is playing at Cafe Oto, London tonight, before performing at ATP (Nightmare Before Christmas) on December 4th.


Paper trail #2

Le Consortium in Dijon is one of the most arresting contemporary art centres in France. With a small but imposing curatorial team, comprising Franck Gautherot, Xavier Douroux and Eric Troncy along with impressive external associate curators such as Seungduk Kim and Anne Pontégnie, it is a burning core of artistic and intellectual investigation. Each show challenges and foresees – the list of international artists who had their first French exhibitions there is testament to the strength of the curators' vision and commitment. Their interests range broadly from architecture to typography, art to ceramics, music to performance – they work with the best and the boldest.
I am always excited to receive their printed invitations in the post. If I'm not mistaken, these are produced in collaboration with Paris-based design agency M/M, and they are beautiful. I have been collecting them since 2008, and wish I could get my hands on earlier send-outs... They are usually 209mm x 448mm, made of 160-200g off-white paper, folded twice and printed on both sides. One side features a quote, printed each time in a different and elaborate typeface, with varnish-coated black ink. The source of the quote is always different, and the reasons behind the choice remain hidden. These texts differ in every way from the now ubiquitous quotes with which writers now preface their novels/essays/dissertations/articles – they are presented not as contextual mulch anchoring down some other thought, but as one thing, handpicked, to be considered here and now, no matter how obscure or opaque. They therefore open things up, like gigantic decorative punctuation marks falling from an otherwise empty sky. The other side features information on the new exhibition, the title of which is also printed in a new typeface in matt black ink. They are so much more than just a record of each show. The identities of the artists' work are not the driving force behind the invitation design.  More than one show will often be present on the information side of the sheet – the visual identity therefore is that of a moment in time, one particular stretch of shows, without that identity forcing any kind of thematic grouping. There is no didactic explanation offered, no artificial hegemony, no coercive meaning. All of this serves only to make you wonder, question, think – and look. You go to a show at Le Consortium to look at art.
Here are some examples (click to enlarge).


Goings On #2

*Francesca Woodman, Victoria Miro, London, November 17 - January 22

*CAVE + LA SERA + RUNNERS + HUSH ARBORS, The Nest, London, November 22, 8pm

Aram Bartholl

Dead Drop, Aram Bartholl, 2010

This is an interview I did with German media artist Aram Bartholl for Dazed Digital.

With a background in architecture and an avid interest in street art, web development and DIY culture, Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl explores the relationship between the online and offline worlds, continually questioning the impact on our lives of the digital age. Since 1995, Bartholl has exhibited extensively in festivals and exhibitions worldwide, including Space Invaders at FACT Liverpool (2009/10), Transmediale (2007, 2008 and 2010) and Ars Electronica (2006, 2007 and 2010). Currently in residence at New York’s Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, his most recent excursion into public space is the Dead Drop project, a set of USB drives cemented into the physical fabric of the city.
So your residency started in September. What have you been working on?

Aram Bartholl: My ongoing Speed Show series, and the Dead Drops. For a Speed Show, I organise a one-night group show in an internet cafe, showing web art on all the posts. Both projects transpose the idea of digital connectivity into a reduced, analogue space. The Dead Drops make the audience physically connect to the city – I like this image of data literally being inserted into walls, and of people bending over to connect their 3,000 € laptop to the curb to maybe find some files. It inverts the idea of the portable memory stick. The city itself becomes an immobile USB drive that you have to go to it to plug in.
What has been interesting about people’s response to the project for you?
In the US there is this culture of seeing sexual undertones in all kinds of things, and people have been quick to point them out here too. There are viruses out there, on the web, that attack all kinds of machines. We know this, but we feel safe sitting at home with our computers and warm mugs of coffee. Moving this activity to the street makes the danger more obvious. If you want to plug into one of the Dead Drops, you need to protect your machine.

How did you choose locations for the first Drops?
 It was a mixture of places which were important to me and landmarks: the New Museum and Eyebeam, both in art areas of the city; Makerbot Industries in Brooklyn – a prominent New York hacker spot; Union Square subway station for sheer volume of traffic and convenience; and the Manhattan bridge because I wanted to connect these tiny data spots to the iconic skyline.

Those locations allow you to connect to or highlight other layers of networks in the city.
 Yeah, the art network, the hacker network, the urban transport network. This has also tapped into the basic underlying fear in the US, which 9/11 only served to heighten, that something could happen – some people react instantly saying, “This is so dangerous”…
I thought that was kind of an odd fear to have in this context because these are dead ends, so much less efficient and more limited a network than the internet is.

AB: That idea is present in the title – a dead drop is the classic term for spots used by spies in spy movies. It is true that the cloud and new data centres will take more and more control of what we have on our hard drives. iPads don’t have USB connections anymore, and we are increasingly going in this direction.
How do you see the project evolving?
 I want to build a platform for people to take part. I get a lot of emails from people who want to put out their own Dead Drops in the world, and that’s exactly the idea. That kind of crowd-sourcing extension is part of my work. 

For more information on the Dead Drops project, go to deaddrops.com. Check eyebeam.org or Bartholl’s website, 
datenform.de, for upcoming events and projects.


It's Oh So Quiet

This is excellent. If We Don't, Remember Me is a tumblr of the most subtle gif animations. With lines like Margot Tennenbaum's "I think we're just gonna have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that, Ritchie" and gestures like Eli Cash's wildcat hand raised to Margot at her first floor window and the sky above their heads, these anonymous fragments perfectly capture what makes certain filmic moments embed themselves in your mind for ever.

“You mean more to me than any scientific truth.”
Solyaris (1972)
If We Don't, Remember Me


Goings On #1

*Sam Griffin, Corvée, Gallery Vela, London, November 25 - January 1

*Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion, The Barbican, London, October 15 - February 6

*Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M in residence at Cafe Oto, London, December 6-8

Paper trail

Exhibtion poster folded in transparent envelope, front and back, Otomo Yoshihide, Ensembles 2010, Art Tower Mito, November 30-January 16

Art Paper Invitations is a blog by Osvaldo Sanviti, documenting invitation cards from leading galleries around the world. This is a good idea, and I'm surprised that Sanviti says, in this interview in AnOther magazine, that only a few galleries make paper invitations anymore. I'm not sure how this happened but we seem to receive a invitation every other day in the post and this overabundance can make me less inclined to really pay attention. But invitations are such a big part of preparing a show – so much work goes into the poster and the card and the title. And they are, as Sanviti says, often little pieces of art.
This week we got posters for Otomo Yoshihide's Ensembles 2010 exhibition at Art Tower Mito – beautiful, elaborate and densely detailed.

Below: poster front and back – click to zoom in on details, there are comic strips, sound instructions and doodles in there...


World of echo

Francesca Woodman, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976

This is good news – more previously unheard Arthur Russell tunes to be released soon. His sound is one of the most haunting, the most distressingly, achingly beautiful. Like Sokourov's Hidden Pages, like Francesca Woodman, like WS Merwin (Your absence has gone through me / Like thread through a needle / Everything I do is stitched with its color Separation, 1963 ). Listen…


Here in the valley

I started out my day with Diane Birch's wurlitzer sounds and Tavi looking like a neko-bus made of scooby-doo wire, candy floss and straw, and carried on along oblique lines, with Aram Bartholl's NYC-USB project, Willow Smith on Ellen and now David Hidalgo and Latin Playboys. Oh how I love his voice.