Our first Disconcert interview is with Rosanne Robertson, Manchester artist and co-founder of The Penthouse HQ, a challenging artist residency and performance space. Rosanne Speaks to Kelly Jones
Music/performance/sound art… what do you identify with?
I identify with expression via whatever format or output - I don’t get too precious about categorising what I do. I have always found myself between many things and I like it better here- I have more freedom. Saying that I suppose I have described myself most as a live artist but then half of my practice is also about something static. Also I am pretty in love with sound at the minute and am falling deeper. The word artist usually cuts it enough for me apart from when it doesn’t and then I don’t really identify with anything.
To name a few people, films, music, performances you identify with….
I identify with or rather strive towards being as obsessed in my work and as honest as Louise Bourgeois was with her practice. I identify with women and those who have fought hard to find their voice and have it heard despite the oppressive white male dominated culture they find themselves working in. A performance which really got me geared up to push myself more with my sound work and performance was Verity Susman at Islington Mill at the end of 2012. I find the solo work that Verity Susman has been doing very empowering, inspiring and exciting. I love how she approaches gender with her work and how she uses her physical presence as part of her live work. I identify with artists who work across artforms and platforms- who can create anywhere and can push at capabilities and take risks such as Manchester’s Michael Anthony Barnes-Wynters’s aka Doodlebug with his collaborative project Dutty Lingo. I identify with people who don’t shy away from the political and social in their work and who put heart into what they do and share.
How did you first become interested in sound? What inspired you to make your own sound works?
It was a group of new friends via the brilliant Jennifer McDonald and Louise Woodcock who got me into sound and a new form of expression from the end of 2010 onwards. I met Jennifer McDonald at Islington Mill and conspired to carry out The Manchester Artists’ Bonfire with her but she was going off to India on a residency and passed me over to Louise Woodcock who she knew would be interested. Around this time Lou invited me to a jam with a new all female collective WOMB. I didn’t think it was my place- I didn’t know how to make a noise- I didn’t know how to loosen up enough to express in this way. The first few times I went to a WOMB jam I sat in the background and did things like logo and website design. Then one time I was sat watching and not taking part and I thought fuck it- I need to be in it too. And I have been getting into it thicker and thicker from that point onwards. I started by banging a metal jug on the floor for about 3 hours in one of the early trance state basement jams at Fiona Ledgard’s house- that basic action heavy noise making is still very much present in my sound work. Because the collective was sometimes 15 members strong some of my percussion and experiments with noise were getting lost so I would practice with more intricate sounds by myself which I suppose was the start of my sound practice. Then when the collective sort of split after a year I was hooked- so just carried on with sound experiments in my studio.
Tell me about The Penthouse
The Penthouse is my art studio. It is my permanent base with my wife- artist Debbie Sharp. I can’t take the credit for finding the space- Debbie is the space scourer but we have shared a vision for the place. The aim is and always has been for it to be a place where artists can get their hands dirty, take risks and make new work. We wanted to keep it simple- to not get too convoluted- to just be a place to make things/do things and share them. As our studio we have our own rooms but another 2 studios and a project space we open up to other people. We run a residency and we openly accept ideas and proposals from other artists. Things that usually happen at The Penthouse are close to our interests and so tend to be centred on sound, live art and installation. We hold a DIY attitude to getting stuff done and welcome the experimental as it is what excites us. Debbie Sharp has brought her inclusive, open and honest approach to The Penthouse which she brings to everything she does.
We have many plans- find us at www.thepenthousenq.com
We have a sound art night called NOISE ABOVE NOISE http://thepenthousenq.com/post/59866254179/noise-above-noise-an-evening-of-experimental
Have there been any turning points in your practice over the years?
(experiences, influences, acquaintances)
A big turning point was the previously mentioned joining of WOMB collective. Another turning point was previous to this when I entered work into first Queer Show curated by Debbie Sharp which was then housed at Kraak Gallery under Debbie’s directorship. The Queer Show allowed me to go back to the personal in my work. Art School and the art world I have found my self in following art school was quite straight laced. Debbie Sharp at Kraak Gallery and others who were around at this time introduced me to something more grass roots with more heart and a bit more rough- and this is a space/an alternative I have found very productive for me.
How did the Chinese Arts Centre residency happen? What did you do in this project?
I have been going to The Chinese Arts Centre for a while and have been very inspired by their program. I found their approach refreshing, uncomplicated, informative and it introduced me to artists I had never heard of. I was particularly inspired by the show at the end of 2012 by Yan Xing and proposed a project responding to it. We met, talked it over and they programmed it in as part of The Whisper Residency program.
My project was to take Yan Xing’s work, particularly his ‘Daddy Project’, as a starting point to explore risk and gender. There is an article by Lauren Velvick for Corridor 8 about my residency here which gives some insight into it http://www.corridor8.co.uk/online/review-rosanne-robertson-whisper-residency-chinese-arts-centre-manchester/ .
During the residency period I experimented and built up layers of recorded and live action and sound making. Some elements from the residency period remained, some were removed. Some moments remained private, some became public. I interpreted singing in Yan Xing’s work to hold a certain vulnerability related to sharing the personal. I decided to include vocals in my work which was something I had not done before. The final output was a live work during an open studio.This resulted in varying layers and levels of rehearsal, structure and improvisation playing with the space for spontaneity.
I recently saw you perform at Penthouse HQ. I found it both challenging in a positive way and disconcerting. Can you describe your approach in a live context? what are you sharing or communicating with the audience? Does this differ from group performances and recorded material?
With my live work I aim to share something real for me which is from my heart. I have to be prepared to let go of control and not just stick to what I know. I don’t aim to entertain or please- I am glad that this came across as challenging in a positive way to you- as I suppose it could be in danger of being seen as self absorbed also! I like agitation, I don’t see the point of work which doesn’t agitate in some way. I am extremely uncomfortable with the comfortable. I like to address this in my work by mixing sounds which could be considered pleasing with those that could be considered less so. For example a gentle sing song humming with the scratching of a nail on sheet metal. The sound of chimes and a cheerful childlike bontempi with a brutally vibrating 70’s handheld massager on an amplified cymbal. I have no interest in arriving at a predetermined place with all of the answers. This can be unsettling for myself and the audience- but I believe it to be more productive.
This does differ slightly from my approach in group performance such as with my band ILL- as I stick to more structure and we have songs. But I just I love the immediacy of a gig with ILL- our music isn’t necessarily pleasing - it is often fraught, often angry, often confrontational.
I don’t really know why my livework can be disconcerting- it might have something to do with the excruciating injustice of the patriarchal capitalist society which silently rails against my every free thought, action and sound.
Recorded material has been a very different process and involved a different sort of energy. I like editing found sounds and recorded sounds into more complicated and layered compositions and getting lost in the process for hours- this is obviously less immediate.
I am interested in recording and putting out some recordings of live work soon- as I want to see what the sounds are like without the physical presence of sound making and action, information will be posted via my website www.rosannerobertson.com and my blog www.rosannerobertson.tumblr.com
Equality Everywhere- Islington Mill, James Street, Salford. M3 5HW. http://www.islingtonmill.com/events.php
12 Sept 6pm- 2am Donations welcomed
NOISE ABOVE NOISE- The Penthouse, 26-28 Hilton Street, Manchester. M1 2EH. http://thepenthousenq.com/events
19 Sept 8-11pm Suggested Donation £2
Sluice Art Fair- 47/49 Tanner Street, London. SE1 3PL
19-20 Oct 12-9pm Free