DEVELOPING THE ARTIST INTERVIEW TOOL
During our placements, we were able to gain some experience in interviewing artists - creating questionnaires to be sent by email and taking part in face-to-face interviews. We also used this method of research more widely, getting in touch with fabricators to understand artworks. One such instance was aiding preparation for the display of ‘Asleep in the Deep’ by Anna Lena Vaney.
This artwork consists of a number of audio pieces stored on forty vinyl records and mini-discs. The work was inspired by a manga character named ‘Ann Lee’ whom artists Pierre Huyghe and Phillippe Parreno bought the copyright for and commissioned others to make work around. Other works created as part of this process completed the display in which ‘Asleep in the Deep’ was to be shown.
The Time-Based Media department at Tate has transferred the audio to a digital format which is used for display, and the Sculpture and Installations department care for the physical records. When the records were unpacked for condition-checking, we found that the poly vinyl chloride (PVC) outer sleeves were becoming slightly sticky and distorted. This was partly due to migration of the plasticiser, which is causing the stickiness and reduced flexibility of the material, and exacerbated by poor packaging which was putting stress on the corner of the sleeves. We were worried that the degradation of the PVC would only continue, causing further deformation and stickiness. In the future this could begin to disrupt the printed design, and cause problems with handling and access.
This initial assessment bought up a number of issues, among some already existing queries. We were unsure how this work should be displayed, and it was unclear how important it is for the records and mini-discs to be playable in the future. Additionally, there was a worry that separating the parts could cause issues with re-uniting them in the future.
Luckily, the artist was available to speak with us during installation and we were able to discuss how the piece was made, the concepts around the work, and how it should be displayed. Vaney made it clear that she liked the tactility of the vinyl records, and the idea of visitors handling them whilst listening to the audio. She wasn’t so keen on them being displayed in a vitrine, but also assigned the final decision to the curator. In the end, the artist bought her own copies of the records, which were tethered to a table for display.
We were also able to discuss the degradation of the work, and the possibility of creating replicas came up: The artist was happy for us to get in touch with further questions around storage and replication. Unfortunately, a subsequent email including a questionnaire has gone unanswered, showing that face-to-face discussions can be much more engaging then email exchanges.
Interviewing artists as a conservation tool was something we both had little experience in, and it was great to learn from conservators with such knowledge around using this tool. We were first encouraged to work with questionnaires, enabling us to draw together our ideas into open questions that were written in an accessible way. This then readied us for meeting artists face-to-face, where it is important not to ask leading questions, and to give room for the artist to think and talk through their ideas.