Clare Whistler

Clare Whistler
with Jo Thomas, Katy Beinart, Laura Krikke and Frank Cartledge.
Caravan, St Leonards on Sea.

CW: I live …near Battle, in the middle of nowhere, it’s a lodge on an old estate where there are seven lodges. So it’s a bit of a haven.

I think the best word to describe my practice is diverse. I might say bio- diversity. I spent the first part of my life as a dancer and choreographer. The next part in opera and opera directing, and I did lots of community/education work alongside. I was mostly in the States for my dance career. But always alongside everything I just like making pieces I just wanted to make. I ended up not working with other dancers but working with whichever artists were around whilst my children were growing up.

I have been a director a long time so I have a diversity of methods and I am completely fine to ask other people if they are the skilled people to do something in a project. I always collaborate, pretty much, yes. I could call myself a collaborative, site specific artist.

JT: Could you describe a piece of work that you have done recently.

CW: A big project for about 10 years called The Gifts. I started doing that when I was doing masses of international opera. I wanted to do something that was just what I wanted to make without any outcomes. I didn’t want to apply for funding. It was about gift economy way before people were talking about gift economy. I’ve just done the most recent one.

Gifts is based on 8 things that are given to children when they are born. I am on the last one now. I did it with land artist Chris Drury and an artist I met Christine Kettenah from Lebanon at Art Language Location. I loved what she had done so I just asked her. A coin for wealth. So it was about money.

I suppose what I do end up with is a lot of books. A lot of books

So for a coin for wealth. I was planning to do it in Pevensey but everything kept going wrong so it became a piece about failure. And also because it is a piece about money it’s a hard project for most people.

I like to site them. I almost did it in the Bank of England. They actually nearly gave me permission. The events are private for an invited audience of around 25 people. So it started grand, I was doing it in the B of E in their beautiful garden. I was getting quite excited though I was completely bewildered that they would let anybody in with the security and then they came back to me and said it was not possible... So I said I am so surprised, but it’s a great part of the story. The history of a pieces can be as good as the piece. Then I spent a year in this village, Pevensey.

FC: Is that the one with the castle?

CW: Yes, Pevensey Castle, it had this old mint house from 1100. And I thought ahh that can go with my coins. I spent a long time talking to everybody there. Working with a wonderful old man, a historian in the mint house museum and in the fields. I kind of worked out a whole walk. My events often involve a walk.
And then suddenly all permissions fell apart.
It was quite a long walk which is a bit taxing on the people you are bringing.
I did feel the whole thing was falling part. So I thought okay, I’ll just find the most beautiful place in the world for them to come to and have wealth be beauty.

Do you know Hope Gap?

There is one beautiful house next to the derelict one, there is no power.

Coming down from the Seaford Head side. The one that is falling off the end, it is the one next to it.

You are in the most beautiful place in the world The waves come over it now in the winter.

It was just connections and I said, could I do this? And they were quite wary of me doing this.

They had only had a creative writing and a watercolour class.

JT: Who is the they?

CW: It is the two people who were living in the house. I had met them
Any site work is a lot of talking to the people who are around.
It is not going to harm them and may actually be of interest to them.

There are 3 books that came out of it.

There is the story which is the 2 years of me making the project.

A coin diary of poems.

And Wealth Interviews. I interviewed 9 people with the question ‘What does wealth mean to you’: a teacher at a progressive school in Seattle, the only environmental director of a bank, a multi billionaire hedge fund director, James Marriott from Platform, Bill Drummond, a woman I call a traveler, someone who lives on gift economy and has done for 3 years and how it is to do that, Arthur Brown yes Arthur Brown and the crazy world fire, yes, the Lebanese artist who had been an economist before becoming an artist, Paradise who is a rapper who runs a charity in Stockwell for Black Youth. He’s community worker of the year in Stockwell and I directed him in an opera in Glyndebourne.
How on earth did you get all these people?
I just asked… with some connection

I finish the 8th one next year and then decide what I will do with 13/14 years of work.

They are always happening when I am doing other work. So you try to earn money -

I am hopeless at forms.

I don’t like taking public money. Usually when I go for public money it is usually socially attached. It’s a very odd. I mean I think it is from having the first part of my career as a dancer/ choreographer in North America.
I have always done my own work alongside other work.
It is choreography in the widest sense.

In this context what I do is endless.

What does collaboration give you that a single artist vision doesn’t?
More ideas are generated in collaboration. I’m more interested in the thing that is made than my myself.

I make books for a lot of pieces. Audience- I’m still of that opinion if you have a theatre full of people if one person is touched that is more than enough for me. It could be anyone.

I am driven to make and especially with other people. I am making it for the elements, that’s a slight of key one, and I’m making it to have the possibilities for some people to have that moment of presence and transcendence.

It’s about transformation.

I am part of a dance collective, Dancers In Landscape. We meet every 6 weeks. Are we going to do this for an audience?
It’s a very interesting all are dancers from completely different sorts of movement work. This is a place we can re-source. I am also Artist in Resident at Bunces Barn where the meetings are held.

Both my children have left home. I like being in the middle of nowhere.
They have grown up in the woods with the stream and later turned to computer woods!

I feel like I am waffling.
How do you tell people about your work? If it’s an opera I don’t.
I met the guy who worked on the wild flowers. It wasn’t a set up one. Luckily now I’ve done a lot of the set up one. I’ve just done the Leverhulme residency which requires outreach.

FG: IT sounds like things happen from project to project?

CW: It’s almost outside the art world. I was in the history department.
The professor I was working with was a historian of emotions.
That was really fun.

FG: Do you have a graphic designer who works with you.

CW: Yes my partner is one.

FG: Do you engage much with other art that is going on?

CW: I haven’t been to see much dance for years. I probably go to much more visual art than anything else. Some theatre. I go in and out. I go in and out. I think that nobody can know what is going on because there is so much. I don’t look very far ahead. I haven’t got around to what I am going to do after January. This autumn is incredibly busy.

The residency I have got at the moment In Herstmonceux Castle is in a turret.
With artist Charlotte Still, we make Water projects.

It is a very interesting change from a shop front to the turret. I would be happy to get back into academia in some way.

I have an Iceland obsession like many artists and go to the Library of Water.

Am I right that although stuff happens by talking. It’s all about connections through time. No the stuff at Queen Mary has been through Glyndebourne. I worked there for 15 years. Being open to any connection.
Quite liking going between these very professional worlds.

Artists who are beekeepers

We came up with the structure on a walk.
We’ve just been on the marshes with the archaeologists.

KB: How do you value people’s contributions?

CW: There is normally something they can go away with, a gift.

With the academics - I can be their impact.
In general I do gift with a book or an object. Last week I made a little poem with wire that they could take away.

F: You seem to be giving I’m wondering if you are giving freely.

CW: I think it’s really interesting. Am I giving you the chance to refuse? Am I putting you in a difficult position?
Having been there is a reciprocation, an option. Some of these people are used to me. I’m a lucky person why shouldn’t I.

In the way that you talk about your practice there is a giving.
The money and gifting, your practice -I know you didn’t want to use that word is going everywhere (like water) - I think that’s age a bit too.

In a gesture my career went like that and then that. (Do two gestures)

Some artists consolidate their practice with age and go the other way. And become singular producers of a particular thing.

I have gone so far from dance. There is that part of me and it’s gone… I wanted to make objects then I thought, poor artists, what do they do with all this stuff. … There is something about this mass of these things that people produce. It did make me think I haven’t worked it out yet. I can have a few little books but I’m not going to leave a mark. I am happy to be ‘under the radar’ as long as I can still make stuff.

I have so many wonderful things I want to do, does it really matter?


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Place Specific