British artist, writer and filmmaker Andrew Kötting talks to HOME’s Artistic Director of Film Jason Wood about the inspirations and story behind his new work Edith Walks and future projects…
Jason Wood: Before we turn our focus to Edith Walks, can you say something about the accompanying short, Forgotten The Queen?
Andrew Kötting: Forgotten The Queen is an animated film (10 minutes and 66 seconds) that I made with my daughter Eden (co-star of Gallivant). A Hastings friend, Glenn Whiting is an animator by profession and has worked with the both of us on several films using Eden’s collages, drawings and paintings as source material.
I share a studio with Eden and whatever project I’m working on she likes to connect her work thematically. In this case Edith Swan Neck, eyes, blood and arrows became an obsession. She fills my notebooks with her images and my head with her influence. She is my life force and inspirator. Forgotten The Queen is a perfect companion piece to Edith Walks, a ‘B’ movie and a film that I am very proud of.
JW: You have been a pioneer in many ways for an experimental approach to filmmaking that in aesthetic terms incorporates different film stock and technology, archive footage and happenstance. What is it about this way of working that you find exciting and how is it suitable in terms of the work you produce?
AK: Jack-of-all-trades-and-fly-by-night. I’m very interested in the multifarious potential of bricolage within the context of moving image. I like the results of unexpected juxtapositioning. The alchemy of sound-image manipulation. Happenstance plays an important part; both in the gathering/filming of material as well as at the edit stage where I like to introduce unexpected elements, elements that evoke a sense of the ‘meta’ or the ‘other’. It might be archive or the use of inappropriate sound or as with Edith Walks a determination to stick with as much of the original iPhone footage (we shot using a ‘super 8 App’), as possible.
Furthermore collage’s parts always seem to be competing for a place in some unfinished scene, so I blunder on, ideas invariably spilling into the next project or outcome. There is also a very hands-on approach that lends itself to the notion of the ‘home-movie’ or perhaps even an ongoing report of my own life. I blame Stan Brakhage and Fanny Craddock.
JW: In By Our Selves you explored the notion of legend and fable and how these relate to a sense of place. How did Edith Swan Neck first capture your attention and how did you again seek to link the legend of Edith to an actual geography?
AK: When Iain Sinclair and myself were making Swandown he drew my attention to a strange syphilitic sculpture, which seemed to have been abandoned on a forlorn bit of grass just along the coast from us at St Leonards-on-Sea. It was of Edith Swan Neck cradling/throttling the dead/wounded body of King Harold. It had a profound effect on me and we even named the swan-shaped pedalo ‘Edith’.
Iain was very keen to return to it, so when he suggested we walk it into being by way of a journey on foot from Waltham Abbey (where some of Harold’s body parts are supposedly buried) via Battle Abbey I became very excited. The Battle of Hastings/Britain story is pregnant with so many truths, half-truths and myths that we were spoilt for choice but ultimately it is Edith Swan Neck that haunts the film, a remarkable woman that wasn’t even written into the annals of history, let alone written out of it by the men-gatekeepers/historians of such things.
JW: I wanted to ask a couple of questions in terms of your collaborators, Firstly, the band of walkers you have assembled, including Iain Sinclair. What do these people need to bring to a Kötting project? I imagine an open mind and a spirit of adventure is essential.
AK: Iain made me do it. He makes me do a lot of things. I’d rather be swimming in the sea or asleep in the forest. He’s wonderfully unstable and determined and has the most remarkable and unfathomable mind, he’s right up there with Stewart Lee, Marina Warner and Alan Moore. He also has strong legs and lovely feet. As far as the others are concerned I can’t seem to shake them off, they’re in it for the craic or the jolly, but without them I’d be lost.
Claudia Barton is the latest addition, one of the most beguiling life forces I’ve met in a long time; a performer, singer, writer and mother. She also contributes a brilliant chapter in Edith (The Chronicles) where she presented herself as both Claudia and Edith – Travelling only with men has it’s drawbacks, though they are good and brave and have also seen their fair share of blood, from the tales they have been telling me along route. After childbearing, little can shock me when it comes to blood and liquids that surge like oceans within all of us. Organs too, like freakish sea creatures splayed on the seashore, are not disturbing and I will be the first to gather them up and roast them with sage and marjoram.
JW: And then in terms of creative collaborations, you again find yourself in the company of Jem Finer, Philippe Ciompi and Anonymous Bosch. Is there a sense now that you are in a groove and so are able to approach these projects together with a clear understanding of how you want them to look and sound or is the approach more fluid and dependent on the project in hand?
AK: The approach is fluid and contingent, like a river or a pair of wet trousers. We all seem to enjoy the risk that is the thing of collaboration, and when it comes to Jem (Finer), David (Aylward), Claudia (Barton) and Iain (Sinclair) we also love performing together.
Edith was only ever meant to have been a one-off performance commissioned for The Route 1066 Contemporary Arts Festival, but ultimately it then became a bookwork, a CD, a pin-hole exhibition, an installation and now a feature film.
There is a belief and trust from all of those involved that the work might grow and become so much more than the sum of its parts. The projects are fecund and robust and provide me with a plethora of material. As an artist it seems somewhat reductive to have a film as the only outcome. Besides, I like to milk the projects for as much spunk as I can get.
JW: There is a sense with your work that there is nothing wasted. The projects fill out in a good way to encompass film, music, physical artwork and printed book material. Do you see yourself as a polymath type figure OR is it more a sense that when you are working on tight budgets and in tight time frames it is best to ensure your endeavours reach out to encompass different formats so as to extend the reach and scope of the work?
AK: Yes, waste not want not. I’m curious, I’m not making art I’m looking for it, and others are helping me. And the absence of plot or conventional structure leaves the viewer room to think about other things whilst the work is unfolding. However it is the journey that tends to hold the thing together, it started with Gallivant and continues to this day. I’m looking to use as much of the material as its potential makes possible. Or time. The budget has become irrelevant. I cut the cloth accordingly.
A misremembered quote by V.S Naipul I think: If you want to write serious books, you must be ready to break forms.
Iain does this in his writing, Jem has done it with his long player project, Brian Catling has done it with The Vorrh, Kathy Acker, Margaret Atwood, and Valerie Singleton ….
JW: This Filthy Earth and Ivul were more structured projects in terms of narrative and I understand that you are working on the concluding part of this trilogy. When can we next expect to see the fruit of this particular labour?
AK: It’s called Lek And The Dogs, inspired by Hattie Naylor’s remarkable play Ivan And The Dogs and is the final part of what I’ve called The Earth Trilogy. The first story is set on the ground, the second above the ground and now this, the final story is set under the ground.
The French actor and artist Xavier Tchili plays ‘Lek’ in all three films and as in the first two films, he speaks his own made-up language. Narrative plays a part but the film is more a collage of ideas, which includes archive and a lot of the actor’s own home-movies shot by his father when he was growing up.
Some of the film was shot in the Atacama Desert in Chile and is part Krapp’s Last Tape part Ridley Walker and as Alan Moore points out in his voice-over ‘time is a solid in which there is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.’
I’m about to mix and grade it so with luck HOME might screen it by the end of the year.
Edith Walks can be seen at HOME from Wed 21 June. Find out more and book tickets here.
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