Artist of the Month
July 2017

Alex Hetherington

Our Artist of the Month for July 2017 is Alex Hetherington. We talk about bringing artists together, producing printed information and the dispersal of ideas.

Tell us a bit about your practice, how would you describe the work that you do?

I sustain a visual art practice predominately working with the moving image, performance, writing and sculpture through various positions as artist, curator, programmer, editor, publisher and writer. I often assemble works together using a title or work with a pseudonym, for example Modern Edinburgh Film School, Neon John and ‘The Men and Women are referred to in the text as’. This has been referred in the past by others as a kind of disguise, as a form of drag, a chorus or as a fictionalising surface. I think of the works as stagings. My projects often evolve over a number of years. They often simulate forms of production or studio practice where a core element like the making of film might eventually be missing or drawn around like a silhouette. I think about it as forms of substitution or delay. The materials of the work being proposals, research, a drawing in, writing, print and editions, discussions, screenings and events, that might also include readings, commissioned writing and presentations.

Collage 1

On The Mountain, Rose Street, 2017

My practice works across a spectrum, and can be very evidently curatorial, in the conventional sense, in the pursuit of a subject or range of artistic activities for example a museum exhibition, critical writing essay or gallery group show, or can inhabit a more imprecise position where a curatorial constituent emerges from studio work that could be described as a singular endeavour. These are, nevertheless, entwined. I am often trying to find ways of bringing artists together in different or shared configurations. I talk to artists a lot and I hope my work transmits and conveys the essences of these conversations or can at times transcribe and publish them verbatim. I work with and observe on the confines of visual art and academic institutions. I think my work has something to do with entwining different distinct fictional or documentary subjects, collage, a pointing to, overlaps, assemblage and dismantling, prisms, collecting, correspondences and gathering together, movement, interference, disruption, reference, porousness, contradictions, instabilities, opacities, parities, lines, scripts, narration, the materials that surround the screen, its surfaces and making film dimensional.

There is a certain intimacy or sensitivity in the distribution of ideas and material, whether that is your own work or the way in which you curate others. The work and ideas feels tactile - there to be engaged with, read, touched or conversed with – rather than just observed at a distance. Why is this important to you? How do you like to imagine people engaging with your practice?

On the sensitivities of the materials, in curating, in my work or the publishing and in my writing I think in the practice, I think there is something about ideas of empathy, trust, care, some kind of nourishing. I recently wrote an essay for the London Glasgow-based artist Rowan Markson for an event called Folly he presented at David Dale. In the essay I wrote about Pierre Huyghe’s 2012 work ‘Untilled, Liegender Frauenakt, Reclining Female Nude’. “This folly, sited, originally in a disused part of a Baroque garden park in Kassel, Germany for the quinquennial visual art exhibition Documenta 13, consists of a bee colony replacing, or engulfing, the head of a reclining (sleeping?) female figure rendered, somewhat impressionistically, in grey marble. What is represented by this colony and its bees is an ingestion and dispersal of ideas: philosophical, feminist, humanist, anomalous, experiences of the external world feeding, like pollen and honey, the imagination and vice versa. It is an expression of how things make their appearance, often arising out of other discarded cultural debris, out of the places of dreams.”


FFWD, The Hallucinating Edge, Pure Movement, 2016

I also said I responded to Huyghe’s “self-generating structures free of the artist’s desires, out of his control, in raw display.” I like the idea of generating materials that connect up with other things, they have circular movements, entwining into other things, become enmeshed into other materials, but can easily be dismantled, have a sense of incompleteness. That there is a performative nature in their tactility. And that they self-generate, make other things transpire and can be used as a method to connect different people, artists and institutions together. I hope they demonstrate my deep abhorrence of austerity and its ideology.

There is an emphasis on learning and listening across the ways you work. Tell us a bit about your processes of research, and how you begin to structure this into a programme or project.

To answer this I’d like to reflect on one project that I worked on with the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) that unfolded over the course of a year, while the research and its shaping derived a series of conversations that started almost a year before. ‘The exhibition Ripples on the Pond takes as the starting point recent acquisitions from the Glasgow Women’s Library 21 Revolutions series, relating them to other works in Glasgow Museums collection and sparking questions about gender, themes and media choice in relation to women artists’ practice and visibility and is curated as a conversation between the works in the collection on paper and moving image and the invitation to Modern Edinburgh Film School and LUX Scotland to programme artists screenings within and beyond the gallery space.’ I was also commissioned by Affiliate at Glasgow University, run by the art historian and curator Tina Fiske to write an essay on the project and on my selection of film and video by 10 women moving image artists. While the essay also discussed some of the events, held off-site from GoMA at the CCA, Glasgow School of Art, The Old Hairdressers and Glasgow Sculpture Studios, that I brought together with the artists to screen and discuss their works. The moving image artists were Annabel Nicolson, Rosalind Nashashibi, Anne-Marie Copestake, Anne Colvin, Mairi Lafferty, Lauren Gault, Karen Cunningham, Allison Gibbs, Sarah Forrest, Catherine Street, while we also presented a new peformance by Ruth Barker and commissioned presentations by Dr Glyn Davis, artist Suzanne van der Lingen, poet Iain Morrison, among others. At the centre of these outcomes were a series of conversations and interviews I held with the artists the previous year that then were then edited by artist Richard Taylor and published as a series of editions appearing with the screenings and distributed from GoMA. It would return moving image works to return to works on paper, forming addendums to the main published essay, imitating the ecologies and visibilities of the women artists we were presenting in the exhibition.


MOTHS print, 2017

Printed (ephemera) is an important part of your practice, as it comes together to form quite a comprehensive archive of events and works, which can also be shared and distributed independently. What draws you to using print in this way? What does it allow you to do?

I was asked to speak at a LUX event at Collective Gallery themed Distribution as a Subversive practice and I wrote this at the time as part of my presentation: ‘Modern Edinburgh Film School screenings, events and works are often accompanied by editions – film, video and performance returned to works on paper - or are published and distributed at the moments of opening or closing of conversations with artists, having formed a ‘space’ for a work to take place, or are catalysed by or respond to external events, there is no timetable to this and happens at the confluences of different artists’ activities. In 2016 it has sought to work with a group of artists, writers and curators to ‘rerecord’ or ‘re-speak’ its archive, presenting their writing, responses and edits as a new form of rearrangement and redistribution. Distribution for the practice is low-key, discreet, slow, unstructured and incomplete.’ The editions I think form containers or vehicles that publish something that might not otherwise exist or form a substitution for something that might prove difficult to achieve, it is fairly disjointed and evidences an archive as parts missing or things omitted rather than included. I don’t have an archive, that brings to mind something held back, most of my materials, these printed papers, are given away. There is something about being very anti-austerity in these pages and sheets. The artist Richard Taylor wrote this for my attempted but failed archive project. “We agree on this: he talks much of the layering of things. Or rather he talks in layers not riddles. Some are clearly documentation of the well-practiced way in which he makes publications. These handy folded poster-like spreads, which become un-handy, like maps, when unfurled. We cannot help but pick at his thoughts behind the awkwardness inherited by the reader when they handle these publications. We think of a series of readings by the artists who contributed to what was MEFS’s first anthology, ‘Queer Information’. They recited their own texts but found this difficult because of the unfolded OS map sized paper and its justified words in small type. We think, were these publications meant as armchair ‘readers’, or as props for live performances? We think, is this all paper to hide behind?”


Untitled, Reykjavik Museum, 2016

Which artists working at the moment do you admire?

I thought the best way to answer that was to put together a series of works, exhibitions and films by a group of artists that might present a kind of shape. That has something to do with how artists approach and describe a subject, about authenticity, contradiction, ambiguity, porousness; artists’ and their sources, an entwining of materials, complexity, movement, voice, performance, position, camera and writing that interests me. A selection of works and kinds of works or artists that have made a lasting impression on me and my practice; and to say, those are at times, different things: Catherine Sullivan’s Triangle of Need (2007) and The Chittendens (2005). Trisha Donnelly’s exhibitions at Modern Art, Oxford (2007) and ICA, Philadelphia (2008). Rosalind Nashashibi’s films Jack Straw’s Castle (2009) and Eyeballing (2005). Carol Bove’s installation The Foamy Saliva of a Horse at The Common Guild in 2013. Katrina Palmer’s The Dark Object (2010) and The Great Idea of The Higher Horsemanship (2016). Artist and curator Marie de Brugerolle’s survey of the works of French LA-based artist Guy de Cointet published in 2011. The films Uncle Boonmee (2010), Cemetery of Splendour (2015) and Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Disappearance at Sea (1996) by Tacita Dean but also her writing on film and film production. The 16mm films of Daria Martin. The installation Before Le Cerveau Affamé (2013) by Georgina Starr at Cooper Gallery, Dundee. The exhibition and publication Garlands (2003) of 16mm films by TJ Wilcox. Morning: Chapter 30 (2016) on the paintings of RH Quaytman. The 16mm films of Ursula Mayer. Brace Up! (1990), House/Lights (1999) and LSD… Just the High Points (1984) by The Wooster Group. Harlequin Is As Harlequin Does (2012) by Lucy Skaer. The video essays of Moyra Davey. Of artists I have worked closely with: Sarah Forrest, Lauren Gault, Lauren Printy Currie, Lyndsay Mann, Helen McCrorie, Anne Colvin, Karen Cunningham, Elin Jakobsdottir, Richard Taylor and Anna Lucas. I have been impressed by curator Grace Johnston especially her recent exhibition Ours at Collective, Edinburgh.

What projects have you got coming up?

In December 2016 I was working in China on the screening project >>FFWD, selections of recent moving image works in Scotland at Shanghai Mingsheng Museum working alongside Sophia Hao and Cicely Farrer at Cooper Gallery in Dundee and had developed from that list of 24 artists two adjunct screenings The Hallucinating Edge and Pure Movement that we presented, alongside the artist Sarah Forrest, at talks and screenings events in Wuhan and Beijing. I have used this platform to undertake some research, writing and publishing which I am now beginning to present. Part of this included critical writing on the Shanghai Biennale and its theme of ‘Why Not Ask Again?’ curated by Mumbai-based artists group RAQS Media Collective. Some of this writing has appeared at the journal This is Tomorrow. Travel to China was funded by an Open Project Award from Creative Scotland which has set aside some time for me to reimagine the different parts of my visual arts and curatorial practice and how they operate together and apart. So future projects and works will be shaped by this process, including a 16mm film documenting the production of a performance by the Edinburgh-based artist Andrew Gannon, looking at the material aspects and traces of a nearly invisible performance, a sense of an away-ness, or distance from the performance and something about the differences in looking and seeing, kinds of perceiving or register, when reception to a work changes; the presentation in some form of experimental writing, a short 16mm film that takes as its starting point the gold leaf scene in Wim Wenders’ film The American Friend (1977) a episode in the film that pushes the narrative out of focus. And evolving over 2017 and into 2018 an experimental curatorial work called No.35 that takes place in the rooms of my new flat. This will be appear as a series of short presentations with different artists and arise from close conversations and responses to the spaces by artists including Helen McCrorie, Jonathan Owen, Andrew Gannon, Richard Taylor, Catherine Street and others. I am working again with Cooper Gallery with curator Sophia Hao programming a new performance and film-based event on gender and the spaces of appearance.


Enthusiasm, Andrew Gannon, 2017

Published 01 July 2017

See more of Alex's work here>