(Winter Piece by Tim Etchells, photography by Jamie Woodley)
Tim Etchells is a writer, performance maker and an artist. Since over 30 years he has been the artistic director of UK based theatre company – Forced Entertainment. Tim’s portfolio concludes of numerous publications, books, visual art exhibitions, installations and performances. The Notebook, to which his works often refer to, is artist’s collection of language and contains fragments of texts taken from all that is around but also language originated by Etchells himself.
Kinga Jaczewska: What was your very first work that showed to public? In which form was it?
Tim Etchells: It’s hard to say.. A simple answer would be to start with Forced Entertainment’s first performance, in 1984, ‘Jessica in the Room of Lights’.
K.J.: In your artistic practice you shift between various forms and medium. I wonder if that first form you worked with, theatre performance, stayed as exclusive for quite a while or was it from early on that you began using different forms?
T.E.: At the beginning it was mostly theatre and performances but I was also already writing fiction alongside that. No matter what form I work in, I’m very often dealing with text so that feels like the real root to my practice. My notebook and with it the task of collecting fragments of language and using them in various ways - that comes from before Forced Entertainment was established. After a while, with the company, we made videos and installations alongside the performances - I guess, one way or another that led me to more solo visual art projects.
K.J.: Gathered language, overheard conversations or movie dialogs are a big part of your notebook but also in ‘A Broadcast/Looping pieces’ performance which you performed at DeSingel. Seeing the piece it made me wonder if your work with text is based on its phonic qualities and intriguing constellations of words and meanings or do you also use it as a way to frame and shape ideas?
T.E.: It’s all of those things I guess. My work with text is surely both, an act of collecting and an act of originating language in different ways. I gather text materials from many places – from dialogues, pieces of novels, theoretical texts, and graffiti phrases - but alongside that, I keep on inventing text and writing fragments of my own. Everything finds its way into the notebook as well as into performative projects like ‘Broadcast’.
K.J: After years of gathering written material, what triggered you to transform and to use parts of it in a solo performance? Was it some kind of need of recycling or sharing that originated ‘A Broadcast/Looping pieces’?
T.E.: One of the reasons was that the recent work I’ve done with Forced Entertainment has used a very steady, straightforward, semantic approach to language. It’s often about a very simple kind of presence, about direct contact with the audience and about some kind of manipulation in the sense of what is happening in the room; bending the text around, using direct address. I like this approach a lot – but it leaves something missing.
Noticing this development, I was left with some quite different instincts in terms of language – instincts that are more poetic, more fragmented and a bit stranger. I didn’t know what to do with those ideas and I, since we were busy with other questions, I somehow couldn’t find a way to explore them in the work with Forced Entertainment. Since a long time I’ve been gathering a lot of quite fragmented diverse language material - I tended to use it in writing or text projects in art but in terms of performance, it’s had no space for articulation. Making ‘A Broadcast/Lopping Pieces’ felt as if, after so many years of not really knowing what to do with that stuff, I found a way in which I could start to work with it and explore. It felt like a form in which I could work with repetition and fragmentation but also open up to a more poetical and musical relation to language that interested me. I was hungry to do something that would treat text and the architecture of a performance in a different way. Rather than following Forced Entertainment’s journey of trying to make a direct relation with the audience, this piece wanted to make something more ambiguous.
K.J.: Is it the very first time that you approached this poeticism in a solo performance?
T.E.: I have done things on my own that relate to it and there also are earlier Forced Entertainment projects where I am exploring a more poetic use of language, but ‘A Broadcast/Looping pieces’ did feel like a big step. It partly came out of the project I did in Brussels with Boris Charmatz in which a group of other artists also took part in. It ended in a two day long improvisation where public could come in and go out. During these two days I was constantly improvising using texts taken from various videos being shown in the gallery at that moment. I was talking all the time, skipping through parts of these ‘found’ texts and I felt I could continue for hours! I guess after that experience I thought I might have found a form in which I could approach my own notebook materials.
K.J.: ‘A Broadcast/Looping pieces’ was created in 2014. I wonder if it is the same set of notes that you use since the very premiere or do they change, get added, erased?
T.E.: Sometimes things are added but in essence I have decided that this particular set of cards is what the piece is. Fundamentally, I feel that the content is now set where at the beginning it was more of anything and everything structure.
K.J.: Are you strictly following the cards or, according to the energy of each performance, you sometimes add a word or two from yourself?
T.E.: Occasionally I say a line I remember from a card that isn’t in front of me but mainly I go with what I read. I’m working very fast. The fact that things are written in front of me takes off a certain kind of pressure.
K.J.: At this moment Tim Etchells is a writer, performer, photographer, playwright, theatre director, visual artist, choreographer and lecturer. That is quite of a few labels. Do you work with these consciously while making works? Do these definitions affect you or your work in any way?
K.J.: When you move from performance project to let’s say a visual exhibition, is there some conscious shift that you have to make for yourself or is it more ideas for which you find most suitable media?
K.J.:But there must have been a reason why you started to consider the shift from a theatre..
K.J.: Your works, from all the different forms, have a common sense of being somehow given to an audience. You have already mentioned your relationship to the audience but I am curious if this desire to create an event for a spectator is the reason why you do works you do or is it a channel through which you transmit your ideas?
K.J.: One of the things that Forced Entertainment uses is a duration - long performances that last many hours, and from which people can come in and go out..
K.J.: Do you treat your solo work separate from the work you do with Forced Entertainment or is one more of a continuation of the other?
K.J.: When talking about the creation process with the company you say that you enter a room not knowing what happens but through a discussion and negotiation things emerge. What about working alone?
K.J.: Do you try to work with every single idea that comes to you or is it only a selection of them that you decide to invest to?
K.J.: What triggers and inspires you?
K.J.: Do you ever think of solving those problems?
K.J.: Together with Forced Entertainment you will soon premiere a theatre piece, ‘Real Magic’. How is that coming along?