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Interview: Sorrel Muggridge

17 May 08 interview: Hugh Dichmont

"I have a sense of how long a minute is, and how long a mile is, but I don’t have any sense of what 3478 miles feels like"


Sorrel Muggridge is a Nottingham artist with a passion for wandering. For more than a year she has been collaborating with Canadian practitioner Laura Nanni, often without being in the same country at the same time. Creative exponents of Situationist philosophy, Muggridge and Nanni recently exhibited as part of Angel Row’s penultimate exhibition Shifting Ground with their off-site performance work The Climb, in which the audience were invited to join the artist in ascending stairs within Nottingham city with the aim of climbing high enough to see Canada...

You’ve just come back from Canada having visited frequent collaborator Laura Nanni. Could you tell us a bit about the work you made whilst there?
We wanted to physically construct a landscape through our actions of walking towards each other in a landscape. Our process is performative and rule bound, using the statistics from the journey to design an installation. We walked opposite ways around a looped trail and used the amount of time it took us to meet to define the height of the constructed landscape’s peak, and the number of steps that each of us took determining the width of the peaks. But if you were to walk into our installation you wouldn’t necessarily get an impression of the maths behind it; you’d get a sense of space, a sense of a journey, and enjoy it as a kind of visual pattern.

For The Climb you defied logic with the overriding premise that you were attempting to see one another, you in Nottingham, Laura in Toronto, over the horizon. Is the abandonment of preconceived notions of space something you actively pursue in your work?
It’s really important. Measurements structure the way we live. I have a sense of how long a minute is, and how long a mile is, but I don’t have any sense of what 3478 miles feels like. At no point can I physically comprehend that distance unless I experience it directly. With our separation being so massive, The Climb helped us to achieve a sense of the distance between us and our scale in the world. Though my local ‘world’ in Nottingham may be small, it is significant and is connected to Laura’s ‘world’ that is thousands and thousands of miles away.

So were you trying to reduce that space between you by doing The Climb?
I think what we were trying to do, as with much of our work together, was to create perceived space. For me and Laura, the height we would have to climb to in order to see one another, 699km, is just totally imaginary; we have no idea what it would be like to experience such an environment, but we want to feel it as a space through our walks. Whilst scientists, with the relevant expertise, have a very clear understanding of what it would be like 699km up. That air space is something they can quantify, label, measure and explain. The Climb grappled with those twos senses of truth, and the disparity between what’s real for someone and what’s real for someone else.

On your blog you list the writings of Baudelaire and Guy Debord as having had an influence on your practice. Do you consider your work to be politically motivated?
It’s motivated through my experience of living in a contemporary society and my experience of meeting and interacting with different people in that environment, so it may be political by proxy, in the sense that all those things impact on my belief system and that impacts on the work that I make, but it’s not explicitly political, no. I suppose I am trying to subvert some of the things we take for granted and I really do want to create a space where people feel they can see their environment in a new way. I don’t think I have the ego to say I’m going to change someone’s life. But what I do aim for my work to do for my audience is to articulate the value there is in wandering and being curious. If you haven’t asked any questions, then you really don’t get any choices. So I think that inviting people to reconsider their space can be kind of be quite an exciting way of reinvigorating someone’s sense of self as well as their sense of geography.

Do you feel that with mobile phones, GPS technology and the internet that it is harder for mankind to be curious and to wander? And as a consequence has some of the romance and adventure has been taking out of living?
I think that technology has had two effects. I think it expands our desire to get hold of more space, and to explore more, so in some ways it kind of opens our minds to the possibilities that there’s something else, somewhere further to go, something more to see. But in a day-to-day sense I think it’s very easy to become completely detached from where you are. Technology can become a filter or a lens, and is omnipresent to the extent that we don’t notice the separation it creates. You can easily stay in one room, on a computer all day and then walk out the door and climb on a bus or get into your car and practically not touch the ground, not feel the weather. There are lots of things that enable us to remove ourselves from where we are, and I think it’s almost completely accidental. I don’t think it’s a deliberate desire, because people are generally quite excited about understanding what’s around them and being able to explore. I think that childhood curiosity is still inside everyone.

That's quite a wistful stance to take. Would you describe your work as romantic?
I feel compelled to shy away from the word romantic because it sounds unconsidered and sloppy. I really don’t think I would associate myself or my work directly with the Romantics. I think that in a way what I want to find are nuggets of mystery and romance in really normal environments. I’m not looking to create something mythical, I’m looking for it to be real; allowing that romance to be in the ground. The idea of looking over the horizon has powered people to build massive ships and go and find the Americas; the unknown, what’s just beyond your grasp, what you just can’t get hold of, that thing that’s just missing. It’s interesting that you asked me this, and in fact I that there probably are many connections to the romantic; in my desire to reconnect with our environment, but not through the picturesque and rural but in our daily routes and every day landscapes, whatever those may be. There is perhaps a resurgence of some of the concerns of The Romantics in contemporary art practice, a reactive appeal for a physical connection to our surroundings, lived experience becoming a romantic act in our current cultural climate.

What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment we are working on the 100th part of The Climb, so we are looking at doing another event based piece. We will continue climbing until we get within a reasonable distance of 699km up, but this time really beginning to focus on the time difference, the way light travels around the world, the curve of the earth, and, and how we are put into darkness at different points. The five hour time difference has been guiding the amount of time we take walking; so each section of the performance will happen in between five hour intervals, just because it gives us another shared dimension.

What do you feel about the arrival of CCAN in Nottingham?
I think it’ll be fantastic if we get revitalised energy for contemporary art in Nottingham. There used to be a really high level of work coming to the city, particularly in forms of dance and performance and a lot of international companies that were really exciting.

Will it impact you as an artist at all?
I think it already has. Before I came back from Canada I was really worried about the fact that so many of the venues that had been significant landmarks of the art world in Nottingham had closed, in preparation for the opening of CCAN. But once I had actually got back the most exciting thing I found was the amount of artist-led initiatives that were happening, particularly the Tether Festival. I was really excited about how dynamic that seemed to be, as a very young group of artists, really grabbing the city and making it wake up, and it felt really, really exciting. I think there are a lot of artist-led initiatives that are probably going to benefit from the fact that there will be high-profile work coming to CCAN. But for me really it’s the work that all those independent groups are doing that keeps the art community alive, it’s not necessarily just the big institutions.

The Expo Festival is no longer, whilst Future Factory has disbanded. Do you feel Nottingham, once a nationally recognised centre of excellence for Live Art, is now marginalising performance-based work in the city?
Artist-led initiatives in Nottingham seem to be embracing of inter-disciplinary practice, and do include performance based stuff, time based, site specific work. I think the de-compartmentalising of practices is probably a positive thing, but it depends on how much investment is left for that kind of work, and if a gallery takes it on. We were quite lucky that Bonington and Angel Row had a history in that, and consequently I’ve been able to work in both of them. I’m sure CCAN will. I also think that the staff team at Trent at the moment in Fine Art have a really broad background, which I think is conducive to creative cross-over and really good for people studying in the city.

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