Alumni in Profile: Frances Scott, Artist
Frances Scott (BA 2003) in conversation with Max Porter (BA 2003, MA 2005).
Frances is an artist working across a range of media (film, installation, photography). Her first solo exhibition opens at Focal Point Gallery in July 2016. You can learn more about her work here or her collaborations here. Max Porter is a Writer and Senior Editor at Granta Books. His first novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, was recently published by Faber & Faber (2015).
When we were doing our BA together at The Courtauld, you were always making work. You then went on to postgraduate studies in Fine Art. Can you explain a bit about your original decision to study History of Art at The Courtauld?
I have always wanted to make art… or be a Forensic Pathologist! At 18, I wasn’t sure how the former might happen, whether it was something you arrived at by going down the Fine Art route at college, or if it could take place through some kind of writing and research practice, and evolve in other ways. At that time, History of Art seemed to be the subject that would allow my various interests to coalesce. Although I now know this is what artists do anyway! That’s not to say that my decision to study History of Art at The Courtauld was accidental, but rather came out of a number of desires. The conversations, contexts, critical thinking and thinkers we were exposed to on the BA ultimately fed into understanding my own practice; and eventually, how that is located within a vast and complex landscape of other artists’ work. I graduated in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2009 I went on to study on the MA Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Art. It’s fair to say things began in a more intense way with my work then, although I always thought of The Courtauld library, particularly the slide library, operating as a kind of studio.
You strike me as a very art historical artist, if that isn’t ridiculous. Theory, architecture, social documentary, drawing, conceptual art and film all collapse generatively into each other in your work. Can you root this in your time at The Courtauld?
That’s a compliment, Max… I am definitely interested in what emerges when you magnetise materials from various disciplines, from other sites of practice and knowledge production. I usually look first to books, an on-going source; fiction, poetry, history, theory, magic-trick manuals, screenplays for films. Being surrounded by books at The Courtauld was – and is still – a dream scenario. Digging into matter, or making some kind of alternative sense of things – whether this happens in the archive or through a certain set of circumstances or social relations – was happening during my studies. So yes, these tendencies are rooted in my experience at The Courtauld. There were other formative things, like going on a second year BA field trip sometime around 2001, looking at Gothic cathedrals in Northern France; a group of us were in a bar in the shadow of Chartres, watching the more dedicated PhD students deep in discussion, shining their torches over the gargoyles late at night. It was a beautiful, flickering performance. All I could think about was how good those illuminated objects would look on film! I should probably revisit that…
You have a preoccupation with the voice. With transcripts, interviews and dialogue, with the tools and aesthetics of communication. Can you speak a bit about the work you and others have done that has been formative in this regard? Was it a progression from more traditional media?
My research around the use of pre-emptive or prophetic language, the script as a kind of forecasting tool, came into play during the MA and developed from there. In 2010, I worked for a year with a hypnotherapist to record a series of my ‘hypnosis’ sessions. These were transcribed from audio files to become the basis of a number of works, including a short film, The Black Friar (2013). It considered the relationship between different modes of language, the hypnosis script and speculative rhetoric employed by developers in the Blackfriars district, London, their proposed insight into the future, as well as back to some notional archaeological past: “20:20 vision”. As well as being motivated by current socio-political contexts, I watch a lot of film, and constantly revisit Alain Robbe-Grillet’s collaboration with Alain Resnais, Last Year at Marienbad (1961), outed as ‘postmodern science-fiction’. Its conflation of time and space is brilliant, and the movement it exacts between these zones within the script. I think Chris Marker is also formative here, whose work sits somewhere between documentary and fiction, where narrative voiceovers both drive and follow the image; and Robert Smithson’s Monuments of Passaic (1967) brilliantly brings word and image together. His writing, archaeology and art making are all part of the same undertaking. I’m not sure if that answers the question about progression in media, but I guess it’s connected.
You are working with film, audio and installation, but always with a research-based continuum. Could you describe your working practice? Do the physical projects grow out of an intellectual core that is always evolving? Or do you work to brief and commissions and go where the project takes you?
I think the work and its methods fall somewhere between the two posts. When responding to a commission, I’ll often find that I’m actually developing something that has been dormant for a while. Or, it was manifest in some other disguise and has come back to haunt me! I’m also quite slow so I’ll let things sit around for a while. I ignore things for a bit. Ideas do definitely carry through projects though. I’m currently making a new 16mm film for a solo exhibition at Focal Point Gallery this July. It develops from a residency at Swiss Cottage Library in 2014, around a Derek Jarman drawing that I proposed might be part of his set-design on Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971). The research around this narrative was resolved into a work titled Inside the book, an ever-changing spectacle unfolds (2015), a scrolling script viewed on the glass ‘page’ of an autocue, typically used for political speeches and live presentations. It was shown at the Whitechapel Gallery during ‘The London Open 2015’, and more recently in relation to the original Jarman drawing in the Swiss Cottage Library gallery. It continues as sort of invisible score, or ghost, to the 16mm film showing in Southend this summer.
You are a very collaborative practitioner. I especially love your CATALOG monthly image broadcasts. Can you explain that project and why it has taken the form it takes? Where might it end up?
Yes, whilst I also often work alone, collaborating with other artists or practitioners is very important to me. This approach is well rehearsed within certain modes of moving image production, where many skills come together to make and distribute film. The notion of invitation or ‘relay’, the exchange of material with others, is a rationale for CATALOG, a project with Joyce Cronin. The piece you mentioned, We interrupt this transmission (2012 to date), is a monthly online image-broadcast which can be accessed via email subscription or a twitter feed. The images are sent between us – I’m channel 1! – as a call and echo. It’s a visual conversation. The first contribution initiates a response, but we don’t reveal our source to the other until the reply comes in. Sometimes the relationship is more oblique than in other pairings, but there’s always something connecting them. They are often playful. So, it might be a meeting between Mary Magdalene, detail of an altarpiece by Jan Polack (c. 1500), with a film still of a catwalk scene from William Klein’s Who Are You, Polly Magoo? (1966). We will be working with the Slade School of Fine Art on an element of it later this month. Eventually we’d like to introduce some third angle, which might be written or performed by another party, so it becomes a kind of stereoscope (left and right-eye views of the same scene to produce a single three-dimensional image). Maybe we can unfold this in your direction… it’s good to bring in other voices.