Pervaiz Khan: How did you end up working together?
Gary Stewart: I enjoy Trevor’s thirst for creative adventure and exploration. What I liked about him when I first met him was his inclination not to use any (musical) beats. It was fascinating and ethereal; a montage, a bricolage of audioscapes.I think he should embrace it even more. It was absolutely mesmerising and still is.
Trevor Mathison: I really like Gary’s way of working, he makes it easier for me to do what I like doing, we have a complimentary practice.
GS: There’s a on-going and energising critical engagement between us. Trevor does not like everything I do. But I respect him, he makes it a safe environment. So if I say “Do you want to slow that down a bit or do you want to add something in a different way” he accommodates it. There aren’t many people you can safely do that with. Ani (Dr Das, ADF – Asian Dub Foundation) is the only other person I feel can do that with.
TM: Gary introduces me to new ideas “Check this or have you heard this” opening new avenues, expanding my worldview.
GS: We’ve been working together for eleven years, but I have been a fan since Signs of Empire (1982-84 Black Audi Film Collective).
TM: We met in Birmingham 1989 and then again in Islington (North London).
GS: Oh yeh at the rave at Union Chapel (North London).
TM: And then in 1993 at ARTEC (Arts Technology Centre) in Islington. I was amazed you could make cd’s there. Mad sessions of making Cd’s, looking at waveforms and seeing how you could edit them. And getting into the computer software, it was pretty intense! The arc from tape to CD, then from memory sticks to downloads has been quite something.
PK: You have worked across Europe and the Caribbean.
GS: The work in Barbados was a key step. We worked in Barbados parliament, made a series of projections. Which revisited some of the material we created for Atlantic Worlds a project we had worked on at the Maritime Museum (London 2007) but also drew on archival photographic collections between the 1930s and the 1970s. We created a new work based on our experience of Barbados from the moment we landed to the opening of the piece. We were invited because we were of Caribbean descent and born in Britain. It brought a different perspective and sensibility to the formation of the post-colonial condition within the Caribbean. That was an early incarnation where we came up with a vehicle, a narrative of being data thieves and space travellers. It was way of articulating that we were travelling through time and collecting archive and ephemera, weaving in our response to the contemporary condition.
TM: It allowed us to engage with a wide range of material. It also gives the position of being inside and outside the world. A series of characters visiting historical events with a new eye. Reinterpreting, recategorising and reordering those events for a new audience. Time travellers stepping backwards and forwards while imagining the past, present and future. Using the materials around us to construct a visitor’s narrative. That’s what I thought was really cool. We were time travellers; going to the Caribbean we were in a different time zone. Reconstructors of past events using physical material and sonic material along with different kinds of narratives that allow the museum or gallery visitor to experience our view on a particular event.
GS: Our engagement was very distinct from other Caribbean born artists and groups. Pieces by Chris Cozier, and others, were conceptual and abstract. Our work opened up ambiguities. Something I continue to enjoy about working with Trevor is that we don’t work to one consensual point but rather create an environment where people can critically engage with material and think about loads of “what if ” scenarios. So it’s like dubbing in complexities, a way of empowering people through revealing complexities; not the didactic simplicity of how things are often presented.
TM: It’s more organic, not going for a fixed idea. But multiple ideas, readings or interpretations; there are as many opinions as there are people. We do a lot of work in museums. It seems to have influenced our way of looking at materials that belong to other people, trying to get into the minds of these people.
GS: At the present moment museums and special collections in Britain are really open to the idea of the so-called ‘dynamic archive’ where materials are given over to artists so that they can rearticulate and reconfigure them. But at the time Trevor and I were doing our earliest work that was pretty novel. Even as far back as the Maritime Museum we worked with the collection experts not just presenting the work as they had been doing but rather using it as a starting point which was sometimes gestural and emotive. Many of our projects have involved interfacing with the formal collections, archival materials, gallery sensibilities and thinking about how audiences engage with them.
TM: We have a new expanded data thief crew. We’re engaging with professionals who have specialised understanding of subjects: such as genealogists, linguists and muiscologists. From these conversations we can bounce ideas off each other and then create work that bounces off their thought.
PK: It would be interesting to hear about the elements and process involved in creating the new online piece.
GS: It might be good if Trevor spoke about the elements, a lot of the images are ones he’s taken.
TM: Travelling around Britain, and other countries, one sees monuments to individuals and past events. It’s an ongoing process of finding ways to tease out the embedded stories that are ingrained within them. Like archaeologists excavating ancient Egyptian objects and figures, gently clearing away the sand. Collected images of monuments, graffiti and textures are blended and remixed.
GS: It’s significant that the way we have constructed the piece, embodies our way of working. There is no one definite way of reading it; there are multiple perspectives and iterative variations. The movement of the cursor provides a different perspective and viewpoint. The underlying invisible grid has been designed as a quadrant that provides different levels of iterations that explore statues, architecture, faces and textures it is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired but unobtainable goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is an epistemological iteration, and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration ad infinitum. These iterative loops touch on history, concepts, approaches, politics and morality. There is no one definitive point, you can only ever be navigating through it.
Trevor Mathison is an artist, composer and sound designer who works with audio, installation and digital media. He was a member of Black Audio Film Collective, and continues to collaborate on projects with its co-founder John Akomfrah. All That is Solid Melts Into Air is a Akomfrah / Mathison piece showing at the British Art Show 8.