Nathan Walker, in conversation with Bryony White
Photo Credit: Marco Berardi
Bryony: I am interested in how the space of duration functions within you practice: from projects spanning over four years, to 6 month digital residencies, to 6 hour performances. How does your engagement with duration function within your practice? What do you feel duration allows you to do that you might not be able to achieve in a 30 minute performance, or 5 minute action for example?
Nathan: I see myself as a performance artist, and so time is both an important and necessary material to work with. I say that mainly because, even online projects, book works, writing etc are practical outputs for me they are also determined, manipulated and explored through my work in performance. This means that duration becomes an essential material engagement and not a bi-product or given framework. My practice has taken a long time to become clear to me because I’ve been working within different media for a long time I guess it was confusing to know exactly what it was. This means that working over long periods of time has allowed a kind of parallel development of forms and an understanding that all of these things that I produce are connected – and I’m understanding that this connection is (in) the performance and all that entails.
A few years ago I was making very short actions, from 30 secs to 5 minutes and I thought these were fully realized actions but now see them more like punky sketches that enabled a more complex practice to emerge. Making much longer durational works is about allowing the actions and tasks to change, shift and permutate.
B: I like the play, placement and displacement of the familiar or found image/object in your performances; from postcards of Virginia Woolf, photographs of reindeer stuck to your forehead to a band t-shirt of The Clash strapped across your shoulders. What is the role of the popular or familiar image in your work?
N: I’m interested in found objects, which includes language and text, and the strategies of collage. I’ve been actively engaging with what I see as the methods of traditional collage as strategies that I can employ in other forms of my work. Currently that includes, but isn’t limited to, lifting, placing, covering, obscuring, revealing and cutting. These approaches provide useful ways of working with materials and this is especially true of my work with language and writing.
The objects you mention are materials that are present in my studio, leftovers from sculptural and collage work, that I am trying to use in performances as a way of putting collage into performance, to make collage(d) spaces that I can engage with, activate and also become prosthetics. I think sometimes performance art practice tends to rely on certain kinds of materials and objects, a kind of received aesthetic and in a way I’m trying to challenge that by using ‘poorer’ materials like a postcard or a t-shirt. I don’t see them necessarily as popular but more that they exist differently in the aesthetics of performance art and I find that a useful place to work in/with.
B: Looking at your website, I find the documentation of your performances and actions a generative lens through which to really access your performances. Is documentation something you think towards or have in mind when making performance?
N: A short answer to this is no, but I think its more complicated than that. Often performance documentation is given a value that is potentially dangerous, in some respects the documentation of performance art is important for many reasons, personally and historically. However, its important to note that the documentation is a completely different form of art work and for me, its often surprising to find out how or what the performance looked like afterwards. I’m grateful that I have some clear documentation (all credit to the photographers) that is useful for my own reflection, but really it becomes a kind of epigraph to my practice, it gives a sense of the aesthetics or evidence of what occurred but it doesn’t replace the experience of the work live. I often feel uncomfortable with documentation, especially on something like a website that allows a minimal and superficial engagement by the viewer. But, as you can probably tell from this response, my conflicted ideas about documentation are not yet resolved, its inadequate but important, something’s lost in translation but something translates. I also often take photographic documentation of other people’s performance work and I find this to be a really interesting practice, one that allows close-ups and framing that should allow the documentation to become another type of work for the artist.
B: There seems a persistent oscillation between the new, and that which is detritus or forgotten in your performance works. Do you feel a will to generate and create additional and different meanings or arrangements with these objects, materials and sounds?
N: I think it’s useful to use Walter Benjamin’s metaphor of always being in the same place digging, turning the soil repeatedly. I think I’m working with material, the same material, and so things resurface and things get buried and it’s different each time but with traces of the same materials, objects, sounds, words, places etc.
Another way of saying this is that I think I’m making the same work, over and over again, but it comes out differently.
B: Can you pinpoint where you interest in writing with, through and around performance arose from?
N: I’ve always been interested in language and poetry, I think that poetry and poetry readings allowed me to see the potential of words (written and spoken) and their visual and aural performance and so that’s what I have explored. More recently I’ve been exploring sound poetry and find it to be more closely related to other actions within my performances, expanding the ideas of physicality and abstraction.
B: There is often a sense in which your performances explore the poetry of objects and material, or perhaps their poetic potential. What is the potential of poetry, or the poetic in your work?
N: I’m interested in poetics and in the textual potential of my materials. I find it hard to see the differences between objects and actions and the language that surrounds them. I work simultaneously on many things at once and they converge in language, in writing with words and writing with objects, bodies, images. I think this has to do with arrangement and syntax and the meaning generated through material relationships.
B: Can you tell me more about your desire to explore the digital space within your practice and why this works as a generative space to create performance?
N: I began learning to code a few years ago and became interested in digital poetry and electronic literature. I think digital spaces offer me solutions for writing projects and I’m thinking specifically of working with chance procedures and anagrammatic and collage processes, these become exploded and excited in digital environments. But I’m still learning a lot of the ways in which I can work with text as a material through digital media, its something that I’d like to incorporate into performance, to allow generative and procedural writing programme to be present in live work.
Nathan Walker is an artist, curator and writer. His work investigates writing and speaking in/as performance. Primarily working in the fields of performance and action art, Nathan’s works explores expanded concepts of writing, including durational writing and sound poetry. His work also extends into online projects that consider the event of performance in electronic poetry. He has performed and exhibited nationally and internationally most recently presenting work at The Other Room, Manchester; E-Poetry Festival, London; Performance Space, London; & Catalyst Arts, Belfast. His work has also been presented at the National Review of Live Art (2007) & Spill Festival of Performance (2009). Alongside artist Victoria Gray he is co-director of Oui Performance an artist-led organisation dedicated to research and presentation of performance art both in the UK and internationally. Nathan is currently Senior Lecturer in Performance at York St John University.