Red and Raw
TSKC's Bethan Screen interviews Welsh artist Kate Radford!
At TSKC we are always interested in how artists describe themselves and what they do. Often we have so many different creative ‘hats’, practices, responsibilities and identities. How do you describe yourself and what you do?
I'm a polymath. A habitual juggler, enjoyer of multiple activities and variation. I would describe myself as someone that was not attracted to the structure of a culture I was guided towards. I turned my life into a bit of a campaign to try and work with new ways of living. I think as a woman, the life that is presented to you is too black and white to relate to our experience or that’s how it was for me. I think being an artist is part of a solution, to say actually it isn't just about my 'art' or my 'work' for me actually it isn't only work, it’s a testament to transactional exchanges, financial and otherwise that don't fit into the traditional modes of work.
I don't like to see my art or my life as transactional in this way. I don't accept money for things I don't believe in, I like to know where it comes from and who it is i'm working for. I have worked for free and will continue to do so, if it is for causes and operations that function in other ways that promote a fairer society. Our western society is inherently white colonialist, and capitalist I think we are all at odds with this a lot, part of my work is not only being creative but navigating my way through this. I chose to respond to this in this way, because I think this probably gives you a better understanding about me than to say 'I'm a writer, or I'm an artist' I do this these as a product of believing that there must be ways of living that value the human experience and are not just checks and balances of our existence.
I describe myself as a white, Welsh, Jewish, northern woman whose work is based on a need to dream the world better than it is sometimes. I do this with whatever materials I can get my hands on, which is often my brain and a pen and paper, my body, and the outside world. This was probably a much longer answer than we all thought it would be.
The theme for this issue is ‘Red’ what does this colour mean to you?
Red reminds me of my childhood, because people would always say 'you really suit red' which made me not want to wear it even though I liked it just because I hated being told what to do. It reminds me of socialism, and the labour party even though I've often thought the Labour party's colour should be different somehow, it reminds me of femininity, boldness and femininity are some of the keys to unlocking life as women, this is our currency against patriarchy. It reminds me of weddings, red and gold with flowers, a wedding I'd be far more inclined to have—I would hate to wear white. It has depth, it is rich, it is velvet, and medieval England, it is multi-tonal, burgundy is different to pillarbox. It reminds me of lipstick and seduction and the insides of my body. We see it everyday, and it is still surprising.
Different cultures think about colours in different ways. How do you think British people respond to red?
I think 'British' is pretty big, speaking from my own flavour of British, it is the Welsh dragon with Celtic roots and fire and folk legend. It is local meat from a northern butchers. It really does remind of medieval England for some reason, it is the colour of monarchy and London, the Royal Mail, phone boxes, London buses. I don't know how a British person would respond to red, whether they would find it any different. I don't necessarily feel like the best British person, so don't know how qualified I am to answer that. I think it’s a Spanish colour. It reminds me of Spain more than England. So maybe it will remind British people of all those Spanish coasts we've moved in to.
Your commitment to activism and social justice is integral to your work as an artist and much of your long form and article based writing is a dreaming up of potential futures. Do you feel hope or dread towards real and imagined futures?
I feel hope and dread equal amounts on a daily daily basis. In my early twenties it was mostly dread. Most of the time. But now it is both. Life is full of it, it is joy and sorrow, we swing across the pendulums. We cannot solve dread without hope, and hope in its essence comes from dread, from a want to change things for the better. We as a species roll in and out of these extremities. People in power do not understand themselves, their responsibility, or mostly the ground they walk on. Most problems arise from ego and consumerism. Wars are waged over wealth, not health. But that again is the patriarchy, and obsession to complete, to rise to the end of something and overcome it. But we do not overcome society, we must live within it. It is a shame that the people in power of most cultures have geared it so they have formed new societies, and govern ours from above.
There is always hope, there is incredible profound people and experiences that are constant if you can block out some of the noise. Culture has been made like a drug, like an arcade game. Get the job, to get the money, to get the house, to get the wife, to get the children, to get the happiness, to get retirement level (sixty-five), rest for a bit, then die. These levels are created by people that want to sell you things, dread comes from not knowing your power to get them anyway. Hope comes from seeing life beyond your own, and knowing that this is just one tiny version of someone’s idea of what you should be. Not the vast country that you are.
You’re developing your solo show ‘Drought’ at the moment, how is it going? What inspired you to create the show?
Drought is going well, I am lucky to have had incredible support from other artists and venues that have seen parts of what I do and are generous enough to entrust faith in me that I will create something that can be shared and related to. Drought started as a series of poems called 'Fractures' written at a time where I was understanding the darkness I was in, whom I had been there with and was exorcising some of this. Within these poems a theme had emerged, what happens after you are consumed by this frantic energy. For those that have been to the extremities of depression and anxiety, where you've sat on the edge of reality and said, I'm not sure where I am anymore. There is a numbness that comes.
In Drought there are these references to The Desert. The framework for the performance became the desert. In a lot of feminine writing and prose there are references to water and drowning, and I wanted to explore the space after that, the void. That was an exploration of essentially PTSD, a culmination of a number of small and larger violences that had happened to me over the years, I was hungry for context for our own experience as we often are, so I put my story in context. I was exploring Greek mythology for its poetry and landscape, and that is where I found the story of Caenis who is woven in. As I began working on the show, I realised how often it is we are seeing these female characters suffering, all the time in our stories. I am tired of this narrative. Drought is as much about pain as it is about victory.
How has the process been from having the initial idea to bringing it to life on stage with an audience?
It has changed so much throughout its development, from idea to stage is a huge huge process and with this has taken a few years. It’s not the kind of show that is just concept, there is a dark emotional landscape I also had to get myself past before I was ready to perform it. When I first was working on it, it just put me back there again and I was too emotional for it in a way. There is a freedom that comes from when you work past something, and this is the time when it is most pertinent to an audience i think. When you are deeply connected to a concept, and its context, but you are strong enough to wear it. I wasn't strong enough for a while, and it wore me. I see this with other women as well, we cannot let our wars wear us. Having an audience for me is a huge privilege, that is the privilege of performance in a way. It goes beyond a gallery, where they are free to move in and out of your experience, you tie them to you for a short time. It is a huge responsibility and a privilege all at the same time.
To what extent would you describe your work as autobiographical?
It is autobiographical, in the sense [that] I hate the idea that I'm speaking for someone else. This happens a lot, where artists take the responsibility of being a mouthpiece for entire issues, I don't accept myself as that in a way, so it does come from my experience. But always my experience of the wider world, if we close ourselves to that then our work is just about understanding our ego, if we understand who and where we are we do find ourselves connecting to more people than we realise. But, yes, I use my own narrative I guess as a way to weave other stories together, but that’s mainly just my solo works. My larger full length plays and scripts are often much more concept based and I don't write myself into them in that sense.
Pieces like ‘Dreaming’ and ‘Love Letter to the Emotionally Astute’ and ‘Drought’ touch on very intimate themes such as mental health and sexuality. Does it ever feel exposing or raw to share work like this publicly? Is this something you’ve had to get used to?
It is raw, but raw is important. Sometimes the world is a bit clean and finely packaged. I don't identify as clean or by any means finely packaged. When you share any work that is very openly personal in that way, you have to be ready for a response. I'm lucky that my responses often come from other women that say thank you, I feel that, and knowing you feel that makes me feel less alone, or crazy or wrong or misplaced. The downside is someone telling me they are perving on my naked body, or that I'm wrong, feminists are Nazis and the list goes on. Joy and sorrow again.
What (or who) inspires you most at the moment?
I went to see Alina Szapocznikow at the Hepworth not that long ago and was hugely inspired by her work. I'm hugely inspired by many artists that use multiple forms, that really resonates with me. Alina used sculpture, paint, drawings and wrote beautiful letters. I don't like to feel confined to one art form, so I love artists that also just explode with whatever tools they have at their disposal. Tracy Emin for that reason, as well. I'm inspired by a lot of things though; I think it’s incredibly important to see other peoples work, but I think often I'm inspired by people's energy and vibrancy and that inspires me to keep going. I saw 'Hot Brown Honey' when that came to Manchester and that was a huge inspiration to me in terms of explosive unapologetic female ferocity. I'm inspired a lot by the women in my everyday life who through their wars have raised children, forged careers, and are just these absolutely incredible and capable mountains of life and I'm fortunate enough to know them! I still listen to my mum's Kate Bush records on vinyl, I usually walk in the woods everyday. Ideas are everywhere, my main worry is that I will die before I have time for all of them.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Drought is going into previews at the end of April and then I'm trying to make arrangements to tour it later in the year, or early 19. You can see it in Paris, or excerpt from it at an event i'm organising for Hebden Bridge Arts Festival 'GIRLCOTT'. All of my information is updated on my website. You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter. Collaborations, queries, comments are always welcome.