Interview with Louise K Wilson
Camberwell, 9th of January 1999.


Nina:I'm with Louise K Wilson and we are finally going to do our interview! (laughs) So, bearing in mind this is coming after a long afternoon of similar questions (the interview followed the make round table discussion) if you can bear it, can you again tell me a bit about your proposal and what you're going to be making?

Louise: It's a piece which comes out of a number of previous pieces which have been prompted by an investigation into the study of human physiology, human psychology, and I'm interested in how technology is used to monitor, record, document those studies, the sense of creating a sort of 'data body', a separate body from the physical body, which is a body of information that can be used in whatever context.

Nina: ... could you describe the physical thing that will be in the gallery?

Louise: It's going to be, as it stands at the moment, a corridor piece which the viewer will enter, obviously more than one at a time, but in order to access the video footage they will have to stand on a platform - a sort of motion platform, which will sway, it's called a floating platform and is based on one used at the Human Movement and Balance Unit, and it's for studying angular motion. So, the idea is that the viewer will have to become very aware of their sense of balance and standing on this platform in order to activate the footage. It may change, but that's how it stands at the moment. I'm quite interested of this awareness of your own sense in space in order to activate something that you perceive purely visually. There will also be some other sound information which will hopefully take the work off into a different spin, which will be about how the work ... questions which the work will ask about, for example, a desire to escape gravity, a lot of hopefully ironic references to the notion of post-human sex and sex in space. I'm fascinated by science fiction's references to that for example and NASA studies which are hard to come by because it's something that they don't necessarily talk about readily!

Nina: (laughs)

Louise: So, people like the association of autonomous astronauts who've offered millions of pounds prize money for evidence of people trying out sex in space. So, it's hopefully going to nudge on those other areas. Hopefully quite an ironic, humorous piece, although it will reference studies which are actually quite serious.

Nina: So, talk a bit about the video they actually trigger off in effect - this kind of er ...

Louise: Yeess ... I'm working with a technician, an amateur rocketeer and we are hopefully going to be launching some small rockets off Dartmoor, which will be using wireless video cameras with a transmitter which will then hopefully send images with footage of the ground seen as the rocket launches, as well as the sky as the rocket takes off. We haven't actually tried it yet, and HE hasn't actually tried it yet so it's going to be a very big experiment how it actually works.

Nina: Was it those cameras you were researching today?

Louise: Yes it was. (laughing)

Nina: Now, I didn't pick up on this earlier BUT did you go to that shop that's near Hyde Park, amongst all the big hotels?

Louise: There's a cluster of them and I went to one actually, on a back street, South Audley Street, and the guy said 'We've been here for twenty years, we were here before all the others' ... I think there's 'Spycatch' and 'Spymaster' ...

Nina: Mm, I've been dying to go in one of those - they look fantastic!

Louise: This was great, I had a look around the little back room, a whole kind of array of pens and suitcases and teddy bears with cameras installed in them! A whole range of stuff ...

Nina: ... fantastic!

Louise: I mean it's all ... it's hardly covert stuff I found out about them on the Internet ...

Nina: ... it's just the fact you can go to a shop for it that's so fantastic!

Louise: Well, luckily I'd been primed as to what they cost and he said 2,800 luckily I'd been to a shop, this is irrelevant but ... on Tottenham Court Road where they can sell me the whole kit minus a discount for 700.00. So the 2,800.00 non-blink situation I won't actually be following up, but it was nice to get the guided tour.

Nina: Yes definitely.

Louise: Also lie detector kits, stress analysis voice kits so you can detect if someone's lying ... all this sort of thing.

Nina: I was really interested, because we talked briefly before, afterwards I was thinking a lot about the fact you actually become involved in these experiments ... so you take part in them ...

Louise: Yes, yes.

Nina: So I was thinking about this in relation to working with corporations or the process of 'collaborating' with people, so maybe you could talk a bit about how this piece has developed out of your other practice, and maybe elements of your 'actual' practice ... so how you'll go about making things in this piece that might be similar to things you've done before ...

Louise: Right ..

Nina: Process I mean there, sorry, rather than practice.

Louise: This piece happened by chance, as often happens I read a piece in a magazine or a journal or whatever, and I read a piece in the Newspaper a couple of years ago about an experiment in terms of time perception. All the kind of phenomena to do with the fact that if you're ringing somebody up and it's ringing and they don't answer the phone ... you're about to put it down and then you think that it stops ... when you just listen for one final ring, and there was a study looking into that. I'm quite intrigued often into the banality of a lot of studies. This lead me onto interviewing one researcher, which led me onto this other guy who was doing motion sickness.
In a way it's taken me back to territory I was covering about three years ago, but I think it's actually quite different - I'm hoping to broaden out the references so it doesn't become a piece about medical research. Hopefully it will be much more metaphorical, and not as closed or reductive in that way ... that hopefully it's actually open to more meanings and interpretations than perhaps it was previously when it was more concerned with the political aspects of experimentation with animal versus human ... and the ethical considerations of those involved in that research - I mean that's fine but it's hopefully moved on from that.

Nina: I've been asking the others - quite a simple yes or no - whether you would count yourself as an artist who works primarily with technology, and what that definition perhaps means to you?

Louise: Yes, I think I work with technology, I don't think I'm a technological artist, or digital artist certainly by any stretch, because, I don't have a very hands on approach to it, apart from basic editing or whatever, it's gone beyond that, and I'm in awe of people who do that. It's a kind of difficult position, because on the one hand I think yes in order to really explore the medium, media, you obviously need to know what you're doing, but my position is quite different to that. I'm interested in working with companies or institutions or researchers who use technology and it's much more of a social arrangement to co-opt those individuals into facilitating myself making a piece of work ...

Nina: Your ends (both laugh).

Louise: Exactly, but it's very much about that dialogue or those arrangements. So, I don't think it would be the same if I fabricated something that looked like something else, it's important ... I mean it may not turn out that the final piece I'm planning for Lux, for example, has any resemblance to the fact that yesterday I took part in a 'freakish' experiment at the lab. it may not actually come out ... but I think the actual fact I've been through those processes is important to the research for the work.

Nina: The fact that you use footage that's not shot by you, but is perhaps shot by the institutions, I found very interesting as well. In relation to my piece, it made me think well maybe I should let Ladbrokes edit the footage - maybe that would be the most authentic replication of something that's from a bookies - if I shot footage of us all, making stuff with no sound on it, let them edit it and put a commentary on - That's not what I am going to do! ... but it made me think about where you place yourself in the actual filming of things ...

Louise: That's something quite different though, isn't it? Because you could obviously replicate or mimic that style of editing, it's different from getting information which is generated for a particular reason ... sorry I've forgotten the original question?

Nina: Sorry, it was more of a ramble than a question!

Louise: ... Oh, about generating the information ... I mean no I don't, I mean yesterday for example, quite by chance ... I was going into to do one particular experiment which I couldn't do, so at the last minute was asked to do another one ... and the head of the lab., who I've kind of got to know now, he asked if he could document me taking part in this experiment ... if he could use the slides in various presentations, because otherwise ...

Nina: Double documentation!

Louise: Yes, because otherwise the people taking part are usually patients and there are all sorts of protocols for permission etc.. So, that was quite interesting because I hadn't actually ... well it was annoying because I didn't actually have any video cameras or anything with me, I couldn't document the experiment, which was quite an extraordinary thing to be part of ...

Nina: ... because you didn't know that you were going to do it that day?

Louise: No, I was going to be doing something else, which I shall be doing on an on going basis so I know that I can go back and document it. That was quite ironic and I quite enjoy situations previously where ... for example I made a piece of work in collaboration, not in collaboration but using a company, and they then documented it in their press releases and in house magazine, and I found that ironic - even if they misrepresented it totally, it's great!

Nina: It made me think as well that we should talk about how I'm going to film you making your piece, if at all, that maybe you might choose to give me some footage, which either you've shot or is shot by them ... or maybe I come when you're doing one of the experiments and film you with them ... so it's going even further ... so that's something we maybe could talk about more in terms of the piece ...

Louise: Sure, yes.

Nina: One of the questions relates to how you feel about being nominated for a women only prize and whether you see the fact that you're a woman as significant to your practice? This is difficult because we've been talking about this all afternoon, but ...

Louise: Um ...

Nina: The two of us opted out of that part of the conversation!

Louise: Yes, we did ... (both laugh). Yes, it obviously is significant but it's not something I have a great problem with. I find it more ironic that I've been short listed for a prize which is about digital technology, as I don't see myself as part of that grouping or clique, not clique, but you know what I mean.

Nina: Yes, I'm quite glad it's a women's art prize just because I'm more interested in talking to other women artists, I don't now why, well I find it easier I suppose, or I have more interest in what they are doing really.

Louise: I was living in Canada for quite a while where it's quite common place to have women only galleries ....

Nina: That's interesting.

Louise: You would go there expecting to see as much, if not more interesting work, than in any other gallery, it wouldn't be that the work shown was only dealing with 'women's issues' ...

Nina: Whatever they are!

Louise: Yes. It was actually quite broad ranging. So, yes, that was a revelation to live in Canada, it's very different.

Nina: You know that my piece is about gambling and encouraging people to gamble on it ... and perhaps now that we're doing the 'proper' interview you could talk a little about the reservations you had before we spoke, and maybe any that you have remaining, or how you feel about being involved in this kind of piece ...

Louise: Yes, well I think my attitude has changed since I met you ...

Nina: Now you definitely don't want to be in it! (both laugh)

Louise: Realising that what you were doing was actually much more complex and that, you know you had thought through the obvious kind of reservations ... so it did force me to reassess. I think I was prepared to say "no I don't want to take part", but then I thought, well no, actually that would be kind of churlish, because I think what you are doing is actually interesting. I still have reservations, I think that inevitably the viewers to the work, knowing that it's an art prize will look at it differently to if they had just come in expecting to see a mixed group of work ... and if they are then encouraged to bet on it then the criteria might be different to the way that they might ordinarily view a piece of work. I think particularly for my work because it's deliberately playing on being quite awkward and quite difficult, and actually, not a particularly pleasurable experience in some ways ... and hopefully something that people will then think about and so it doesn't necessarily ... it's not about an immediate response, well it is partly about an immediate response but hopefully it's also about asking questions that work over time. So, the idea of then having to bet on it, and perhaps with the other works as well, it's demanding this very, very quick response.

Nina: Something I hadn't really thought about before with your work, but which raises an interesting question is that ... we sort of talked around last time the 'anti-one-liner' approach to work, and in a way by working with a haptic sense you are completely going against the ability for people to 'consume' your work without seeing it ... which is interesting to me ... if people don't come to LEA you can't describe really the sensation of motion sickness, possibly, without sensing it. So, people can say "Oh, you stand on this platform and you feel unbalanced", but there is a very obvious difference between feeling that and just hearing about it. Whereas increasingly with a lot of other work ... well even with the events and stuff that I've organized, you know it's impossible for many people to see it and so you do end up relying on the documentation afterwards.

Louise: Yes.

Nina: I like the sense with your work that you are forcing a pretty heavy level of engagement with the audience, for them to really get anything out of it at all, and it doesn't really work when you just describe it, because you have no idea what it's going to be like ....

Louise: Yes, I mean it also has it's own problematic, for example, the fact that it won't be wheelchair accessible, so, it's also funneling it's own sort of audience anyway who go to the gallery. Yesterday I was talking with the woman who's going to be writing the text for the make supplement and who comes from a very heavy Marxist position and her Ph.D.. and her own work at present is looking at networked pieces for the Internet, which are you know encouraging a very wide demographic, people who engage in the work and then it shifts and changes in accordance to those who log on and deal with it ... which was quite interesting, I mean something that I really had to think about, I don't feel that I could make work that does that, as much as I'm interested in work that does that, acts as a kind of virus in a way, but mine has to be very much site specific to a space. That's inevitably exclusive of audiences, and I found that discussion really interesting in terms of you and Jane having an audience which is far wider than a gallery audience ... Jane talking about 15, 000 people logging on in response to an article is absolutely fascinating.

Nina: Increasingly I find I'm much more interested in work that is exclusive to a certain extent, and that, well, as I was saying the man from Ladbrokes is my audience at the moment. In a way as an artist maybe that's the only experience you can really craft - for a very small number of people who are intimately involved with it? So, perhaps with this haptic sense, the most you can do is make sure that for someone who is standing on that platform they are experiencing exactly what you want them to feel, and once it goes beyond that and people describe it and stuff then it becomes way open to people's interpretation etc. etc. ... but that quite intimate audience starts with you, I imagine you're going to be on this platform fiddling around on it ...

Louise: Yes, I'm doing some other stuff, stuff in little miniature trains, yesterday I did a 'head drop' experiment ... but yes, I also quite like the way that the work doesn't necessarily start when it's installed in the gallery or on the web whatever, like you say as with the meeting with the Ladbrokes guy, it could start with an initial conversation and that's the audience at that point. The guy in the spy shop was really intriged and wanted me to send him an invite, and the lab ...

Nina: Yes, yes ... I love that kind of thing ...

Louise: It's great because it's a kind of different audience and they can be a much more critical audience as well, because they are not going to take any bullshit in the way you are talking about it, you have to be very aware of the language you are using ... you can't get away with clap trap, or particular vernaculars.

Nina: Do you have any particular experiences of gambling or betting, that might influence your decision as to whether or not to be involved? How do you feel about betting in general?

Louise: It's not something I really think about. I suppose obviously it's changed since the lottery came into being, although I was out of the country, so I kind of missed all the hype when that first started, and I've probably only betted on it once ... and maybe the Grand National occasionally. I've been into betting shops, but not for a long time.

Nina: It's not something I had really considered at all before, I mean the lottery made me think about a great deal, but, it is a different thing to the activity that goes on in betting shops, but it did make me think about it more generally.

Louise: It's interesting that in Canada, for example, a lot of artist run galleries are dependent for their funding on local lotteries and bingo and so on ... so every six weeks or so the people working at the gallery will have to work at a bingo hall, they'll have to go and sell tickets, and often they find it quite repugnant ...

Nina: ... at least there's something a bit more honest about that ...

Louise: ... yes, they've got the funds from it, and they've had to engage with it, which is sort of interesting relationship to the lottery.

Nina: The last question has two parts - have you thought forward to what the implications of what being in the award may be? So, that could be in terms of publicity of your work or in terms of ... well for example with Rachel it's enabling her to use technology she's doesn't normally use. Then on the most basic level if you won the 20,000 what would you do with it? Now we know you've got to make another piece of work with it!?

Louise: (both laugh) ...

Rachel Lowe comes in to say good-bye at the end of the make roundtable discussion.

Nina: ... Just to recap we're on the implications ...

Louise: Oh God, what have other people said?

Nina: Well it's been quite a hard one to answer ... I mean no one has really ... well, Rachel and I talked about how inconceivable it was to win that much money, and we sort of said you can't really think about it or you'd become so tense about making the work. For me, what it will probably mean is that I'll get publicity out with the digital media world, ironically as it's a digital arts prize, which is something that I've wanted to happen for a while ... and I hope it might mean that I'll be invited to do other more 'public' projects, because they're quite hard to initiate. I don't really make work speculatively, I like to be given a situation to work with, and so it's sometimes quite hard to convince people with public arts projects that they want somebody who's going to go in and do this kind of project! (laughs) So, I'm hoping that the combination of this and the garden piece might give me a basis from which to approach people ... I'd like to work in a zoo for example ...

Louise: Did you apply for the Edinburgh Zoo thing?

Nina: Yes, they didn't give me an interview!

Louise: Oh no, I guess they wanted a painter then!

Nina: Yes, and so I'm hoping it will give me a way to get round that situation where people say, "well is this art?", because it will have been legitimized by being in a big competition. So, I think that's the sort of thing I hope will come from it ... and obviously I may develop a long lasting interest in Horse Racing! (laughs)

Nicky Coutts comes in

Louise: I guess no I haven't really ... well of course I have thought about it! But, I suppose I can't imagine winning, at all, so it' s not really ...

Nina: I think you can't imagine winning or you couldn't really go through with it ... I mean people were being very coy about the idea of being involved in a competition but I think it's really very, very nerve wracking.

Louise: I mean I think it's a shame, years ago I worked for Helen Chadwick ...

Nina: ... Oh, Really?

Louise: For a time as her assistant, it was a kind of Arts Council thing ... and she was talking about being short listed for the Turner Prize, and she was good friends with Marina Warner, who was nominated for the Booker Prize ... and they would often compare notes and they both found it extremely stressful and unpleasant.
I mean this is different because at least there is an exhibition which is the kind of main thing of it, so, it's not just about waiting for this announcement, it's about making new work. So, there's energy going into that, which takes the pressure off.

Nina: I wanted to know if there's anything you want to ask me ... either generally or specifically about the piece, or anything you feel specifically uneasy about.

Louise: No, I think I asked you those questions previously. So, will you split it five ways if you win?!(both laugh)

Nina: No, I do think it would be more genuinely disruptive to do that at this stage, as they said it's inappropriate once someone has won to do that ... but I do think if you did that now it would make a difference to what people made and would totally disengage the competitive situation ... I mean, it would totally screw my piece as well! There would be no point in betting on it if there was no winner!

Louise: Yes, but if that wasn't publicized beforehand ...

Nina: Yes ... It's a pretty weird concept really, and I mean 20,000 is such a lot of money that, yes, I genuinely wouldn't know what to do with it if I had to make a piece of work with that much money. Obviously if I could just live off it for a year or two that would be fine, but if I had to think, which of my ideas is worth spending 20,000 on it would be pretty nerve wracking.

Louise: I think it's worse because it's a women's art prize - it's a prize - if it was mixed I think there wouldn't be that difficulty if you did win, but yes, I think it would be preferable not to win! Not to be put in that position.