THE WOMEN MAKING VIDEO ART UNDER LOCKDOWN
The intimate films of these artists, based in Lagos, New York and London, document the strange, liminal experience of life under lockdown.
Immediately to the left of my desk is a window. When I’m bored or tired or feeling nosy, I look out of this window. I’ve learned a lot about my neighbours this way and imagined much about their lives since March last year. There is the woman who argues with someone on the phone at the same time every day, walking below my line of sight with her voice raised; and there is the little girl who scoots happily along with her mum but dawdles and complains when with dad. I recognise the vans of the delivery drivers who service my area, ferrying yet another parcel to people with the privilege to stay inside.
If I’m not looking out of the window, I’m on my phone. My concentration is so completely shot that any work I manage is done in a fugue state between long and intense bouts of procrastination. Through my phone I look at other people at home doing things that mostly aren’t work either. Sometimes my phone shows me memories that are now surreal: ‘1 Year Ago Today’ I was in a pub, or at a party, or with my family. They are a window to the past and a faraway future. Soon these archived digital memories will show me pictures from the first UK Lockdown.
In cinema the ‘space-off’ is the area outside the visible frame of the shot, inferred from what the frame does make visible. Despite what the filmmaker chooses to show us we can choose to think about the room, the building, the landscape and the world beyond. As the anniversary of that first lockdown approaches, I have reflected on the work of four artists and their use of video to document the early peak of the pandemic. They let our new reality live in and outside of the frame.
From March to July 2020, director Orian Barki and artist Meriem Bennani made a series of eight films from in and around their New York apartment, while director Stroma Cairns was stuck inside a London flat with her mum and siblings for the first time in years, documenting their bouncing off the walls in her Quarantine series. In Lagos, filmmaker Munachiso Nzeribe was compelled to film out of her taxi window as lockdown began in March, gathering footage that she would work into a film three months later. The resulting works don’t attempt to make sense of the pandemic. Instead, they document an immediate experience of it in ways which feel just as strange and liminal as those portals to the past on my phone.
Barki and Bennani’s Two Lizards series uses 3D animation over background footage filmed in and around their apartment. The films slowly widen in scope to take in not just their rooftop but the city, the country, the world. “That was our natural process of experiencing the new reality of the pandemic”, says Barki, “first examining our own personal state and then looking at the state outside of our immediate perimeter.” The resulting cast of characters are warm and relatable, voiced in a highly naturalistic, half-improvised style—presented as animal avatars that successfully convey the full breadth of human emotion.
They talk and live in a way that is comforting in its familiarity. In one episode the lizards wander around an empty Times Square looking for somewhere to pee (“They really need to turn these billboards off,” they muse. “I know. They would never!”); while in another, a feline nurse recounts how people avoid her on the Subway for wearing scrubs, laughing at the irony as the 7pm clap for essential workers begins. Perhaps what makes these films feel so pure is that they were “created in real time”, rather than with any kind of hindsight. As Barki points out: “most of it was a natural reaction to reality.”
Nzeribe was likewise drawn to her subject without the strictures of a plan: “All the footage wasn’t necessarily intentional,” she says of making her film Onyemaechi (Who Knows Tomorrow?). “I just went with the flow of how I was feeling at that moment and created.” Onyemaechi was mostly shot through windows, often on the move, taking in the happenings not just of Nzeribe’s neighbours but life in other parts of Lagos too. Its focus is more explicitly political, pairing a voiceover of Nzeribe’s own thoughts with words from Nigerian activist and lawyer Dele Farotimi. “When are we going to eat the rich?” muses a title card.
From inside closed spaces like a taxi or her bedroom, Nzeribe’s film reflects on the sheltered privilege she enjoys as a middle-class citizen: “The window to me as an artist represents stepping out of your reality into other peoples lived experiences…In observing my surrounding there’s a clear dichotomy between the rich and the poor. Living in Lagos for me is definitely a very frustrating experience.” Nzeribe’s roving lens conveys that feeling of frustration at watching an inept government leave its people behind, the lens pausing to focus on a face as the taxi slows before being forced to zoom away. “I’ve always been a keen observer,” she says, “but I definitely feel like isolation made me a more intentional observer.”
The pandemic has made keen observers of us all, encouraging us to monitor our fellow citizens and ourselves more closely than ever. Time has also taken on a new strangeness, void of the usual markers and events that help give it shape. Lockdown kept London-based Cairns in one place, and suddenly all she could watch was her own family: “I kept trying to start new projects but was getting distracted by how chaotic it was living back at my mum’s.” Eventually she gave in to the chaos and chose to focus all that energy into making something: “my subjects were constantly around…to be honest it was the most freeing creative process.”
Cairns’ films capture the very specific feelings that erupt when you’re stuck with the people you love; they feel more like emotional snapshots than documents of any event or happening in particular. Cairns keeps a tight lens on her family, zooming in on their tears, screams or laughter with a focus that feels not invasive, but intimate. “People I didn’t know would DM me saying it really made their day,” says Cairns. Her films do foster a real sense of connection. You squeeze onto her family’s tiny balcony to sunbathe, or huddle round their kitchen table as they argue, feeling more like part of the furniture than an outside observer.
Each of these artists have made work in the midst of a crisis as a way to find a foothold in it. Barki reflects that the films “helped to pass the time, process reality, feel connected, have a sense of control over what was happening.” Looking back, though, she also sees a naivety there, which is perhaps what makes watching the films now so tender: “the first wave was more saturated, everything was new: the lizards are definitely a representation of that feeling, they are romantic and youthful in their fascination.”
In contrast, Nzeribe’s film is a study in frustrated time: a “manifestation of the phrase who knows tomorrow?” She gave the film a deliberately dated feel to visually represent that sense of time gone stagnant: “I wanted to reflect how Lagos hasn’t really changed structurally or systematically over the years.” Looking back on her own work has a temporal strangeness for Cairns. “It literally feels like yesterday, and makes you feel like time hasn’t moved at all.”
The space-off of a social media post is often much harder to piece together than in a film; our feeds wilfully obscure so much of reality. All of these films were posted through Instagram first (although Nzeribe’s lives on YouTube). Barki and Bennani explain that they deliberately chose to give their films an accessible home: “We made them as an independent project and weren’t interested in trying to find a platform that would want to feature them.” Likewise, Cairns sought to undermine the usual artifice associated with the platform: “Instagram can be a depressing, weird space sometimes, so I thought it would be nice to just put something out that was more honest.”
To bump up against these films amidst a bout of doomscrolling is a welcome intervention. They felt at home on my phone while simultaneously helping me to peer into something beyond it. Months later they still retain that intimacy and immediacy, like an open window just beside you.
RACHEL MACLEAN: FEED ME
FILM AND VIDEO UMBRELLA
Writer Jo Thompson explores Rachel Maclean's Feed Me within the context of surveillance capitalism, highlighting traces of the fairytale narrative in our online behaviours.
How do i no ur not false?
I’m increasingly convinced that my phone is listening to me. I say that not as a sort of gimmicky intro, but as a sincere reaction to the number of occasions in which it feeds me adverts for things I just said aloud. Most people probably feel the same way; the more dependent we become on tech the more paranoid we’re all becoming about it. How many of us are sitting at this very moment with tape over our webcams? Most of us have spent more time aware of being watched than normal since the pandemic began, sitting for hours a day on video calls where peers and managers can see not just our faces but a sliver of the realities of our home lives too. Some companies have even mandated that their employees spend all day on camera, literally surveilling them to ensure they are deskside for all of their working hours. For those of us who live in cities though, this sense of a change is mostly false – the UK has more CCTV cameras per person than any other European country. In pre-Covid times, Londoners were captured by an average of 300 cameras a day. So, it feels perfectly natural that so many scenes in Rachel Maclean’s Feed Me are filtered through the grainy lens of a watchful CCTV camera. There is nowhere safe from prying eyes, home or away.
Feed Me is a twisted sort of tale that is as grotesque and morbid as the best fairytales always were. So many of our old folk stories culminate in children taking their revenge on predatory grownups - see Hansel and Gretel incinerating that wicked old witch without hesitation - that it’s surprising we let children read them at all. Fairytales, like horror, deal with our anxieties over boundaries and control: the city and the wilderness, the innocent and the evil, the child and the man. We’re told that the villain of Little Red Riding Hood is the wolf, but its biggest fears are about children leaving the realm of the home, and women venturing beyond the boundaries (and watchful eyes) of society. Barbara Creed’s theory of the Monstrous Feminine  points to culture’s recurring desire to narrativise women as victims in horror films, and fairy tales often do just the same.
When we read or hear fairytales, more often than not we inhabit the leering perspective of the villain: we stalk Little Red Riding Hood as she traipses through the woods just as the Big Bad Wolf would. Feed Me thinks a lot about watching and being watched, and, in an age of surveillance capitalism , makes explicit our fears about technology and the multiplying ways we are monitored. We look expectantly over the shoulder of a young Lolita as she hides from Granny to chat with an anonymous stranger on a ‘dangerous websIt’, making naive plans to meet up even though they seem ‘2 Good 2 be true!’ The Beast character manipulates the incomprehensible text-speak of the young girl’s peers to entice her into trusting him, dropping ambiguous breadcrumbs that encourage her to sneak out of Granny’s flat.
A lot of fears around what children and teens get up to online really come from a place of frustration – young people inhabit idiomatic worlds so completely outside of most adults’ frames of reference that they start to look like darkened, dangerous woods. Maclean has spoken of a fascination with a ‘childhood of the mind’ as represented in the carefully manicured bounds of utopic children’s programmes, which she inverts in a film that depicts an almost barren urban wilderness; a visual mirror to the Badlands of an internet that is always expanding and often toxic. The chatroom scene plays out under the cutesy eyes of an emoji-like free gift the Little Girl has brought over: it is awake and watching, sending a livestream to its rapacious creators at Smile Inc.
In Tiqquin’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl,  the Young-Girl is the logical conclusion of capitalism’s valorisation of youth and femininity to the point of ideological imperialism. The Young-Girl’s twin pursuits of happiness and beauty as outlined by Tiqquin are foundational to the world of Feed Me, where eternal youth is valued above all else, and constant professions of being ‘too happy’ ring out. Tiqquin’s Young-Girl is emptily ecstatic, just like Maclean’s characters, but threatening too – ‘TOO CUTE’ while at the same time ‘a beast’. The film is a deliberately tricky (and sticky) piece of commentary though, pushing against neatly defined conclusions like these. Feed Me is a distorted mirror, with plotting that twists and refracts itself, leaving the viewer confused about what was real or imagined, what happened when.
After being tricked into the Beast’s bed Maclean’s Little Girl is whimpering and upset at the betrayal… and then suddenly monstrous. Bearing spiky fangs as hideous as his, snarling mad, she holds the beast at (finger) gun-point and chastises him for his transgressions: ‘admit it, you’re TOO happy!’ In a world where everyone is striving for 110% but never given the means to reach it, the Beast’s delirium at successfully ensnaring the child is an injury greater than the kidnapping itself. Maclean dials the tension up and down as the scene progresses: a squawking toy startles the Little Girl back into a playful mood, but in the next moment she’s stony-faced, and her play-gun works. This is in some ways the fairytale ending we expect – Little Red Riding Hood realising that’s not grandma in her bed and enacting a bloody revenge. Except Maclean pulls a troubling bait and switch, and instead of the beast lying dead we see poor Granny in her bedsit, brains splattered against the wall.
When it comes to truth, we tend to see video as one of the more irrefutable mediums – we watch a clip on the news and take it at face value that it happened. Except, truth is much stickier than that. Truth, more often than not, is socially determined. Stickiness feels like the right kind of word for Rachel Maclean’s work too; it’s sweet and sickly and hard to get away from, clinging to you after you watch it and clinging to all the other things flying around in your head. Feed Me is set in a world controlled by a company that manufactures sweetness so cloying it makes your teeth ache, sugar-coating everything they do to obscure the truth. It’s a gingerbread world built to hide a bubbling, voracious cauldron. Scenes like the shooting leave us bewildered, unsure whether to trust what we saw actually happened, reeling from perspective to perspective.
The moment that stuck to me most after watching Feed Me comes towards the end, when the Little Girl and Old Man from Smile Inc meet for a sort of showdown in the street. In a twist that would feel magical in another setting, they begin to speak in one another’s voice. It’s impossible to tell whose dialogue is whose, each one spouting lines the other could easily have spoken, and the scene is wholly disorienting. Maclean is playing both characters, but their voices are dubbed over by actors, the film shot on green-screen, with the backgrounds artificially filled out later. Watching the scene play out in its cascades of artifice and performance, I kept thinking about deepfakes. The idea that our eyes can’t trust what they see anymore is a deeply poisonous one, that will further erode our ability to come to a consensus on literally anything. The scene has echoes of Gillian Wearing’s 10-16 , digging into what feels like the supreme wrongness of adults inhabiting children’s minds and vice versa. Wearing has already begun to play with deepfakes in her work, and it’s easy to imagine that Maclean might soon react to them in her own practice – they are a cynical form of digital puppeteering that seem primed for the worlds Maclean builds.
Feed Me ends in a flurry of violence – one Little Girl shoots a patronising talent show judge live on air, and an army of hooded ‘thugs’ break into Smile Inc’s headquarters led by another Little Girl to, apparently, eat the Old Man CEO. What a thrill! the revolution is here! If you won’t feed them they’ll feed on you! Underestimate the Young-Girl at your peril! Except, it’s all watched over by the eyes of the Beast, hiding in an air vent, biding his time.
1. Barbara Creed, The Monstrous Feminine, Routledge (1993)
2. Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Profile Books (2019)
3. Tiqquin, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, Semiotext(e) (2012)
4. Gillian Wearing, 10-16 (1997)
REPORT: TRUTH DECAY
*This data-driven report sits behind a paywall. It looks in-depth at fake news, deepfakes and ‘cheap fakes’. It explores why and how misinformation spreads, and what rapidly developing tech means for both its proliferation and the fight against it. As well as gathering recent data I interviewed experts Gordon Covitz and Daniel Effron.
REVIEW: BARBICAN MASCULINITIES
From Catherine Opie to Collier Schorr, Laurie Anderson, and many more, we survey the photographers featured in the new exhibition and their infinite depictions of masculinity
The Barbican’s new photography show celebrates unfixed ideas of masculinity
The Barbican’s new photography show celebrates unfixed ideas of masculinity
According to Susan Sontag – a voice on contemporary photography so often seen as its oracle – “Men, unlike women, are not a work in progress”. In an introduction to a book of photographs of women by Annie Leibovitz, Sontag laments the fact that women are always viewed as an instance of women, and never all people, or even just, themselves: “any large-scale picturing of women belongs to the ongoing story of how women are presented, and how they are invited to think of themselves.” According to Sontag, sometimes a man is just a man, but a woman is always a representative. Except, it’s not quite as simple as that.
When we look at a man, what do we see? What is a man anyway? And how does he exist today? A new exhibition at the Barbican invites us to think about these questions, and then sets the business of answering them aside. Opening today, Masculinities: Liberation through Photography takes a journey through 300 works by over 50 artists to survey what happens when we try to capture something of ‘masculinity’. Featuring photography and film from the 1960s to the present day, the exhibition is a contemporary examination of the slipperiness of gendered representation; instead of answering our questions about masculinity, it invites us to ask even more. All of which makes very apparent that men are, in fact, a work in progress. And so it follows that they always have been.
Across six sections, the broad expanse of work on show speaks to the “unfixed” nature of masculinity that exhibition text reflects on. This rejection of fixity begins with a series of images that focus in some way on the body. Sontag sees the male body as “an expression of power, an instrument of dominance”, but for many of the male subjects, it is in the very focus on their appearance that their dominance seems to quiver. In being looked at they are so often left so exposed.
Here we find the lens of Adi Nes resting on the sleeping faces of some Israeli soldiers, and also Catherine Opie’s portrait series of serious-looking American high school footballers – whose tough posture is undermined in each case by a hesitant crossing of the arms that betrays their age. Collier Schorr, Isaac Julien, and Sam Contis all chip away at the archetype of the cowboy by showing the reality of actually being one. Elsewhere, well-oiled bodybuilders and wrinkly old men are in exchange with ecstatic Liverpool fans and bloodied, baby-faced matadors. This first series of images all speak to ideas of strength and action – the ways the male body can function as both the site and the weapon of patriarchal violence.
It’s true that normative ideas about outward masculine appearance have been some of the sharpest tools of male oppression, and these ideas have always needed an Other to define themselves against. What so many of the artists in this show do so well is reframe the relationship between the other and the paradigm, especially by undermining the western hegemony that has painted masculinity as heteronormative and white. Thomas Dworzak’s reclaimed photobooth portraits of Afghan fighters, heavily made-up, and clutching both loaded guns and each other’s hands, are found to have a kinship with Andy Warhol’s video of Male Models talking about what it means to work and live as an ideal of the western male. Rotimi Fani Kayode revels in the poetic and physical beauty of the black male body as sexual object and agent, while Sunil Gupta imparts a feeling of both tenderness and brutality as he frames his shots of Exiles in Delhi to crop certain faces out.
In the works that focus on “Queering Masculinity”, we find subjects who use (sometimes literal) masks, costumes, play, and performance to deconstruct what we also project onto the objectified masculine ideal. David Wojnarowicz traverses New York in a mask of Arthur Rimbaud, while Catherine Opie and her lesbian friends dress up in a camp-ish male drag. Images from Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics break down the way that men in the 70s were appropriating the performance of archetypes, while other photographers consider gay men as everything that those types omit.
Beyond the physical reality of these subjects as they enact or reject different modes of masculinity are the physical spaces in which masculinity is codified. Karen Knorr’s images of gentlemen’s clubs are carefully cropped to uniform square tiles, paired with overhead snatches of conversation that read like a script, tightly framing power and performance as a kind of prison. Alongside these manicured spaces Mikhael Subotzky’s pictures of South Africa’s maximum-security prisons feel incredibly raw and alive, while Richard Mosse’s video work finds fraternity brothers engaging in a screaming match, eyes corpulent, blood vessels in their face as swollen as their necks. Ideas of space and place are explored too, in examinations of family, fathers and brotherhood. Kalen Na'il Roach exercises the power of the historian with his beautiful series “My Dad Without Everybody Else”, a collection of photos of an absent father vandalised with a potent mixture of emotions.
The final section of the Barbican’s show considers what happens when the male gaze is reversed, and women are doing the looking. Laurie Anderson’s “Fully Automated Nikon” series sees her wield her camera like a weapon, firing back at the men who catcall her in the street. What she discovers is that once they get over the discomfort of being called out, they are in fact quite pleased to be noticed: “By the time I started to shoot, they were posing. They seemed flattered, like taking their pictures was the least I could do.” For Sontag “the way that women and men really look (or allow themselves to appear) is not identical with how it is thought appropriate to appear to the camera”, and comparing Anderson’s series to the work of Marriane Wex showcases this quite remarkably. Let’s Take Back Our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures is a work of gendered ‘kinesics’ that pairs street photography with imagery from adverts, newspapers, magazines, and historic works of art, breaking down gendered poses and behaviours. Set after set of neatly crossed legs make way for rows of wide-spread knees, male politicians cross their arms in power poses while women drape their wrists daintily over their skirts, girls gaze adoringly up at the partners who tower over them. You could read a lot of anger into the works of this final section, but there is value too in rejecting the idea that rage is inherently masculine.
Masculinity is slippery and multifaceted, and it can also be, in many iterations, incredibly dangerous. But it’s worth considering what is to be made of a term that takes us from work like Akram Zaatari’s lovingly restored negatives of Lebanese bodybuilders to Richard Billingham’s intimate portraits of his alcoholic father. Each of the sections of this show takes such a wide view that what ultimately emerges is the sense of an unmooring. Rather than attempting to coalesce a consensus on what masculinity means to us today, bringing these photographers together seem to be telling us how dangerous a consensus is. Sontag is right, in a sense, to be angry about the false promise of representation, and she is right too, to think about what the alternative might be: “Just as photography has done so much to confirm these stereotypes, it can engage in complicating and undermining them.”
Masculinities: Liberation through Photography runs at London’s Barbican from 20 February – 17 May 2020. The exhibition also has a schedule of programming around it, which includes talks and screenings
INTERVIEW: BAT FOR LASHES
THE INGENUE MAGAZINE
People move to Los Angeles all the time in pursuit of a sense of self or of place that they might never find. The City of Angels is so full of fancy it’s easy to paste whatever dream you have over its hazy skyline and tell yourself what you hold in your mind is really found there. But, as with any metropolis, in the end LA cares only about itself, and not at all about any human desires or needs. And yet people are succeeding all the time in Hollywood, moving West like new-age pioneers and finding exactly as much there as they can will into being.
Interview With the Vampire
After ten years and four albums under a major label, British-born Natasha Khan, AKA Bat For Lashes, has struck out on her own and made her fifth under the California sun. Steeped in nostalgia for her childhood cinematic loves (The Goonies, ET, The Lost Boys) and rich with the language of cinema, Lost Girls is a woozy, synth filled journey through Natasha Khan’s technicolour mind.
The album follows Nikki – the ‘mischievous younger sister’ to her previous album’s The Bride – and is a dark tale of female bikers, Hollywood vampires, and young love in all its horror and splendour.
The striking landscape of the city and its surrounding desert wind through Khan’s lyrics, imbuing them with an atmospheric sense of place. On the opener Kids in the Dark, Khan sets the scene with breathy adoration and a nod to the album’s fantastical leanings. ‘Lying next to you,’ she muses, ‘we could be on the moon.’ Ten tracks later, all littered with longing, body bags, hauntings and chase scenes, the album’s final lines embrace a circular longing for the magic and mystery of a new love: ‘Like it was at the start / Sing to me in the dark’.
All of which speaks to the album’s title, and all the rich symbolism therein: a loss of innocence, a longing for eternal youth, the potency of female energy, and at the same time the knowledge you can never turn back the clocks.
Fittingly, Lost Girls feels like a panoramic expansion of the feelings captured so well in one of her best-known early singles, Daniel. There she translated the childhood longing for a movie-screen crush into the same cinematic language, where ‘under wild blue skies, Marble movie skies, I found home in your eyes’. With Lost Girls Khan has somehow made an album in an entirely new city that still feels like a homecoming.
I phoned Natasha the day the album launched for a conversation about its inspirations and outcomes. Speaking to her I got sense that her remarkably undimmed passion and wonder made her conquest of LA inevitable.
Congratulations on the album launch! How does it feel finally having it out in the world?
It’s good it feels really nice, I’ve had lots of messages from friends and family. It’s really exciting and sweet.
You’re back in LA now, how long have you been living there?
I’ve been here for three and half years now.
I feel like the cliché is that people go to Hollywood maybe searching for something, or a part of themselves. I don’t know if you can relate to that?
I think, when I moved, I had just finished a ten–year album contract with a mainstream label and I had just finished The Bride, which is a very deep, sort of dark record. And I think it wasn’t so much to find myself, but I just wanted a clean break and to connect with some of my creative community, and fellow artists andmusicians that I knew were living here. So, I guess I was trying to find a part of myself that was the writer–director, a sort of more film–based aspect of me. When I first got here, I went to the desert and I did a lot of painting and photography, and just travelling around all the landscapes. And I do, between each album I will go somewhere and kind of fill up the creative well a bit. But I think I did sort of make a decision just to move here because I knew that there was a bit of a scene happening here with music and film and dance, and things seemed to be bubbling up in LA, and it seemed a good place to be.
Do you find that the film community is very different to the music world?
Yeah the film community here is hard in a way because of all of the agents and the companies that affect it. Like you have to get permits to shoot everywhere, it’s such a movie–making town thateverything that you do officially really goes through a rigorous process. But on the flipside of that there’s a lot of opportunity for guerrilla–style indie filmmaking, and so many collaborators and cinematographers, actors, actresses, you know, people that just want to help and be involved. So it’s been really nice because there’s just a lot of positivity around getting together and just making stuff for the fun of it, or trying things out.
I think in England, like when I was doing my short film, that went through quite a rigorous process. It took a long time to make it and a long time to prepare it, and then we had two, three days to shoot everything for the fifteen minute short I made, and suddenly everything’s over really fast.
Whereas here I’ve just been doing loads of stuff on my phone, and doing all the Instagram rollout videos, and like building this narrative just by myself with my friends and collaborators.And the light is always beautiful here, so everything looks better (laughs)! Sunsets look great! So, it’s just a lot more, you can really do stuff off your own back here and just really create what you want.
I know you’ve put out two videos and also some teasers on Instagram as you mentioned – are you planning to make a lot more videos? Is that going to be a continuing process?
I would love to do that, but at the moment we don’t have a huge budget. I mean music’s sort of different than it used to be when I first started and so, we got to make two sort of proper videos with production companies and all that stuff, but now that’s kind of used up. I would love to carry on making more videos if I could, but I think at the moment, I have to… you know I can still make them off my own back like the Instagram–style that we’ve been doing, but I need to focus on the tour, and pulling that together.
Do you know your plans for touring the album yet?
Well we’ve released information about a tour in England in November, so I’ll be doing major cities in England at the end of November.
With each album obviously being such a different world, do you feel like you recalibrate how you perform your live show?
I think it’s different, the last album we did just in churches, with no mobile phones, and like I came down the aisle singing the first song and stuff. So it was very theatrical and based a lot around that bride concept. And then obviously when you do big festivals and stuff I have a big band and we have a big sound. For this tour I’m going to strip it right back and just do voice and synths, so it’s still lush and epic but very minimal, just two of us on stage. It’s nice to switch it up as well, after doing it for so long, to put yourself out of your comfort zone and be doing something different.
I can imagine! And you’ve spoken about how this album is inspired by films you watched growing up, I wondered, did you go back and re–watch those films, or was it drawn more from memories?
I mean I never really stopped watching those films I have revisited all sorts of films over and over again since my childhood, I think. I watched ET just recently, they were projecting it at the Hollywood Forever cemetery with fireworks, and everyone went down and we re-watched ET. And I watched The Lost Boys on the beach, and whenever I see showings of any of my classic films that I love I will always make an effort to see them. So they’ve always sort of remained in my consciousness, and obviously there’s a whole bunch of new films too that have been very inspiring. But I do think cinema and films are some of my greatest inspiration for music.
You can definitely see that. And I think you’ve also spoken a bit about horror and I wondered if that’s a genre that you’re drawn to in particular? I feel like there’s a new appreciation that we’re seeing for horror now.
Definitely, that makes a lot of sense, the types of horror films I’ve always liked are sort of psychological horror, and things that kind of delve into our shadow. You know, like The Shining is a meditation on an alcoholic man going cold turkey and going mad in his isolation. I love reading beneath the gore and the scary symbolism and the archetypes and the metaphors that I think horror uses similarly to fairy tales, or old myths and stories. I kind of love, I’ve always loved that, sort of using quite shocking, intense, almost Greek mythological tales, you know in the way that they explore the darker aspects of our psyche.Like Hereditary I really liked recently, and then there’s that film The Babadook which came out a few years ago, an Australian indie film, and very much about mental health and grief.
I think there’s so much anxiety and mental health issues in our society that get overlooked, and I think sophisticated horror is a really interesting way of creating catharsis for those darker aspects of our society, without being too preachy or blatant. And I love genre films too, so I love the idea of vampires and zombies, and you know extra terrestrials and all those things But again, I like the idea of using them in a way that brings our human struggles to the surface.
Yeah I think the way people treat something that’s Other is always very revealing, and so things like zombies or vampires are great tools for that kind of insight. Thinking along a similar line about the title of Lost Girls, which is a play on lot of things – the film The Lost Boys, Peter Pan – it speaks to that idea of an eternal youth, but also all of those texts reference a loss of innocence, and I don’t know if that’s a duality that interests you?
I think there’s definitely that aspect of childhood nostalgia, or innocence, and the first time you fall in love or the first time there’s romance, and you know, like a lot of those heady, intoxicating feelings. But I think Lost Girls is also a nod to the lost aspects of Nikki the protagonist, I guess me or the main girl in there, the Lost Girls are haunting, well she hunts them but in the end they start hunting her. And it’s about integration for me of like, she’s trying to love someone, she’s trying to live in the world, but the Lost Girls come to hunt her because they’re lost aspects of herpsyche. And each of them has their own wound to work through, or beauty to them, or whatever sort of dark, beautiful magic they hold as a group. I think once she integrates with them and lets them in, she becomes a more complete person, and is more able to love. And I think that we all, you know if I was a boy I might have called it Lost Boys if the film didn’t exist already!
I think it’s the same for everyone, that you know, especially when you really love people or you’re in a relationship, I think a lot of demons can come up, and they look like demons, or vampires, or dark things, but when you actually get to know them they just need love and integration and healing, and to be taken in. And I think that’s an interesting microcosmic story that could work on a bigger level, for everything that’s going on in the media and news and the world right now. There’s a lot of fragmentation and splitting off of factions, and right and wrong, and black and white, and finger pointing.And I just think that integrating your own whatever you’re pointing your finger at is something that you can’t accept in yourself. Or is you know a shadow side to something that’s scary. And I think that if we all spent a bit more time in our dark side, or in the shadows, healing those parts of ourselves, we’d just be more loving and accepting.
I think that’s a very powerful message. Did you feel like you were doing lots of your own introspection while making it, or was it after a period of doing that that you felt able to make it?
I think I’m always in a period of introspection at some level (laughs). Because that’s where I mine my thoughts and my creative ideas. So I go down in to that dark place a lot to mine those thoughts and feelings, and a lot of the time they’re quite difficult or scary or I don’t want to go there. But I try to transmute them, you know into stories or storytelling structures to make sense of them.And there’s a lot of songs on there that do talk about dark things or being hunted, or power dynamics, or being vulnerable and feeling joy and feeling fear, and all the spectrum of everything.
But, that is just a document of what I go through day-today over the year and a half of making a record. It’s not always one feeling or another, there’s nuances and shadowy bits that I can’t, you know, I guess if you listen to a whole album the whole album does take you between all these different spectrums.
I could also see echoes in the lyrics to some of your much earlier songs as well, and I thought that was a nice circularity in the idea of youth and maybe escaping it or gaining it. I don’t know if you ever keep your old work in mind when you’re creating new work?
I definitely wasn’t thinking about the first album or anything, I think I was… I’m sure that there’s threads back to all the albums just because they’ve all come through me and my creative brainworks a certain way and is attracted to certain chords or certain combinations of instruments and melodies, or stories that I’ve known for years or whatever. But I do very much, I’m very much in the moment with each album trying to sort of just channel what wants to come through and feels very much like a document of that time.
And when you’ve toured this album and you feel like you’ve put it to bed – maybe you never really do – do you think that you’ll go back to filmmaking? Is a full feature film something that you hope is on the table?
Yeah, that’s definitely something I’m pursuing and working on. It’s nice to have a project like that for me, because now that the album’s done I sort of panic that I’m not creating anything! I love playing live, but obviously that’s sort of communicating what you’ve already made, and it’s lovely and it’s got its ownfeeling, but I like to be studying and learning and creating stories as much as I can. So, that’s definitely, having directed the two videos and been doing so much camerawork and reading other film scripts, and you know just thinking about it and for a long time having lived here, I’d definitely like to pour some energy in to making my first feature film.
That’s an exciting prospect.
I think it will be really fun!
Would you write and direct, or is it just directing for now?
Well, I write the stories, and then I would probably find a scriptwriter that’s much better than me at scriptwriting to collaborate with, because I know that’s not one of my major skills. It’s a definite skill, but I would definitely provide the chapters of the story and the characters, and I have a very strong idea of a narrative I’d like to do.
I feel like I’ve seen comments recently from showrunners, who say that they like to think of their series as albums, in the conceptual way that an album flows and creates a whole So, I think that coming from your background you’re very well equipped to make something very contemporary and relevant. I look forward to that whenever it materialises!
Oh really, that’s funny! Thank you!
I think that’s all from me, thank you so much for your time.
Lovely to talk to you! Hopefully you’ll go to the cinema and watch a film of mine soon! You can let me know what you think!
Yes, fingers crossed! I can interview you about that when it comes out!
Lost Girls is out now via AWAL Recordings Ltd.