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Green Light in the City

George Harris Interview

5 December 05 words: Jennie Syson
"You see marks and clues. You see alternative uses of space that people won't normally admit to... It's almost like a secret life of a space."

George Harris has recently been commissioned along with Candice Moule by Bathysphere to make a film to be screened in the Nanoplex, the region’s first mobile new media centre hidden inside a family caravan. The Nanoplex is a Three Cities Create and Connect project featured as part of the Radiator festival in Nottingham and as part of Trigger at Q Arts in Derby.

Had you worked collaboratively like this before?
Yeah, I was involved in a project called Groundswell where nine of us made work that related to the inner ring road in Derby.

Tell us about your work in that.
I had finished a piece of work about traffic islands for my degree show at Derby and I was thinking about roads. I was fascinated with a one-mile stretch in Derby. There were car parks, waste grounds and housing, stuff like that. A changing landscape. I went out at night taking pictures, looking at areas where junctions and cul-de-sacs were formed. I also did two video works; one in the day, one at night, that took the form of a mysterious walk, but there was no direct evidence for this – just elements of the walk and changing images. Objective views. Hearing the traffic, but not seeing it. I started that work and then gradually other people became interested in helping me create this biographical landscape. It was quite a natural process.

You have taken pictures of indoor space too. The idea of an empty stage is something that crops up a lot, and this is very reminiscent of other contemporary photographers. Can you tell us about your Exeunt Dramatis Personae series?

Yeah, it’s Latin for ‘the actors have left the stage.’

Emptiness is quite significant then?
The empty space is almost, without being too pretentious – like a psychological state. The stage thing, subliminally, comes from the fact that I used to be in a band. The stage is a frightening space. I was thinking about the outdoor work as perhaps being outside of some sort of frame. So then I went on to do this literally with a stage.

Why don’t you have people in your photographs?
Well actually, before I went to university I did take pictures of people. A lot of street photography. For some reason I became more fascinated in the space. How you can project a human perspective without actually having a human in the frame.

So is it about imagining how that space is used?
It’s how a banal space like a car park for example is used. You don’t see it in use; you just see remnants of that. You see marks and clues. You see alternative uses of space that people won’t normally admit to…It’s almost like a secret life of a space.

Why Derby George? Why are you here?
Interesting point…err…I lived in London for four or five years when my band split up. That was my experience of a big city. Through various causes I got fed up. I got ripped off. I decided I needed to re-educate myself. I felt easily swayed.

Were you involved in the music scene at this point?
Yeah I was. I didn’t really get involved with art there. Occasionally took photographs, did some graphic stuff, but basically I was drifting. I hadn’t quite figured myself out. In the end I moved back to Cornwall, where I am from, and after a year I found this multimedia course down there with a photography module. I became inspired and it really boosted my confidence. This was around 1996-7 and I went on to do a foundation and flicking through the UCAS book Derby struck me because there was a photo of the railway station with a bolt of lightening so I applied and I haven’t looked back really. I got offered a place at the Uni on the same day as my interview.

In previous conversations we have always talked more about writers and filmmakers rather than art and artists. Is there any one key influence you can pin point?
At university we got shown some amazing films, for example ‘Fear Eats the Soul’ directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder– an old lady marries this Moroccan guy a lot younger than her in late1960s Germany. And also ‘The Red Dessert’ directed by Michelangelo Antonioni had a big impact – it’s set at the end of the 21st century in a bleak landscape. Somehow those things have sunk into me.

Is your work in any way autobiographical?
Slightly. Personal things do sometimes come through in the work. In 2004, I got broken into. I had been out with some friends to have a bit of dinner, and walked back into the house and felt this presence. Not sure what it was, I couldn’t see anything. I went into the middle room and saw a piece of plastic on the floor. I thought – ‘Hang on. That shouldn’t be there…’ went through the house and saw the back window flayed open. Started panicking. Rushed upstairs and suddenly calculated that my cameras were gone. Immediately rang the police, then some friends. I was actually in tears. I was left with this sense of emptiness because someone had intruded into the house. The house had turned into a non-space. The Islands series had been a homely thing. I then needed to document something that was no longer a living space.

Back to this idea of emptiness –the pictures of squats you took obviously have that about them.
But the funny thing is I squatted in London. In a tower block, actually one of those tower blocks ended up being Rachel Whiteread’s ‘House’. (I obviously didn’t realise this at the time.) At the time we made it into a home. There were things there that had meaning. A telephone for example – people don’t think of squats having telephones. A lot of people used to squat. Probably still do. A squat is not necessarily a dirty place, or a place you get drug addicts.

What are you up to at the moment?
Photographs of an office space, empty offices. But I am thinking of venturing out of this whole emptiness thing! More moving image perhaps. The whole thing with the Confluence film has been great. I suppose I could say I’m doing some research.
Confluence is the commission made with Bathysphere. Sean Clark from Cuttlefish made a film with my photographs and Candice Moule’s photographs (another Derby based photographer). There is no particular narrative even though it has a really cinematic feel. There is a transition between the photographs that Candice took of the people of Derby and my own empty spaces.

You can catch George and Candice’s film in the Nanoplex from Midday until 7pm on Saturday 3rd and from about 6.30pm at Q Arts in Derby on Monday 5th.

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