Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Real Life in Huntly, Interview with Ross Sinclair*

Image credit: Ross Sinclair, Real Life Huntly (surveyed from the Clashmach), 2011 (courtesy of the artist and Deveron arts; photograph: Anna Vermehren)

Glasgow-based Ross Sinclair has been the Artist in Residence at Deveron Arts for the summer of 2011 researching the history of The Gordon Clan of Huntly and its relationship to present day Real Life in Huntly. From writing songs encapsulating the history of The Gordon Family to marching up and down The Clashmach carrying painted portraits of past dukes and Robert the Bruce, Sinclair has been negotiating the boundaries between being a research-driven studio artist to working in a socially engaged practice through Deveron Art’s “the town is the venue” methodology.

Canada-based Amy Fung is Deveron Art’s Visiting Arts Writer in Residence for 2011.

This is an excerpt from an interview, which took place on September 6, 2011, Huntly, Aberdeenshire.

Amy Fung: Let’s go back to the beginning: what have you been doing in the town of Huntly?

Ross Sinclair: Thinking about it now, it’s turned out like a 3 months research residency where I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the subject of the Gordons of Huntly, while at the same time constantly questioning myself, thinking about the process and context … a lot of the ideas have woven in quite well into a whole strain of my work, ideas about living in a small damp northern European nation sometimes known as Scotland that touches upon notions of identity, location, history, geography, and what we’re all made up of. Part of that is just where I am myself at the moment, as a lot of that has been a reflection of what does it mean to come to a place like Deveron Arts to be an artist in residence working in a socially engaged method with a maxim of the town is the venue. I think it’s very challenging for all concerned.

For me, to explore the situation where there’s still quite a big constituency is really interesting. We did this event down by Huntly Castle where we called up all the Gordons in the phone book and we invited them to have lunch together. I set up this carnival style tableau facade with a doorway at the bottom and we invited them to all bring mementos of their Gordon heritage. It was a really lovely day where everyone met each other as they didn’t all know another, and I did this performance of songs that charts 12,000 count ‘em - muthafuckin years of history and we did a photo of all the present day Gordon’s in Huntly with their illustrious forebears in the background and the castle as the backdrop.

It was this very simple way to present the Gordon Family here in 2011 and the castle bearing their family name and here’s me as the artist in residence bringing it all together and Deveron arts hosting; looking back it’s interesting to articulate as it was just a really human moment of a really simple exchange and sitting down across the table like this and talking. It really only lives in the memory, but it was quite a rich and dynamic moment. Though at the same time I’m thinking about a meta view of the event where I’m considering whether the Gordons are part of the work, or participants, or viewers as the piece is documented as an artwork.

AF: Do you think that’s the focus of these residencies, that if the town is the people as you say, can you imprint something on people as one could with a venue?

RS: Well this thing in the Mart last weekend where Huntly hosted its farmers’ market on Saturday and then the livestock mart on Sunday hosted all of Huntly life from the bouncy castle to the tractor show to the rare breeds, sheep shearing and rabbit skinning amongst the Guides and Brownies and people selling landscape photos and all sorts of other things, and then in the middle of the livestock mart, there’s this artist in residence too. I brought all the stuff I had been working from the “studio” into the pen, and I was sitting there in the back painting and making music with my back to the audience and for me I really did feel like I was just one of the other exotic zoo animals. But the question after all is whether this idea of culture and art is just another aspect that goes on in the town? I did a project a few years ago called “Studio Real Life” at de Appel in Amsterdam and that was riffing on similar ideas. I had set up this symbolic studio where I was there every day being an artist for 3 months in the public gaze, but as much as anything it was for me - trying to answer: What the fuck goes on in there? What’s my job? What’s my role?

For the full interview, please download the pdf here

*First published on The Huntly Review

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