Photo credit: Mark Keleher
Published: 01 July 2015
Lesley Guy: Describe your work. Is there a particular piece you’ve made that represents a turning point in your practice?
Anna Keleher: My work is an adventure, very open and complex and multi- layered. My work invites play and altered perspectives. I do radio, drawing, live pieces, blogs and I write. On a project like 'DREAMING PLACE', I inhabit a kind of story world of myth and magic, with “actors” and things. It’s a place to learn.
'The Exchange: Dartmoor' with Claire Coté was a pivotal piece for me. It showed me the way. Trying to retrieve the past at an archaeological settlement using visualisation, we peered behind our eyelids to see the imagined layout of the dwelling.
In a flash of inspiration I realised our approach was flawed. Rather than invasive, one-sided extraction we might have an Exchange! So we invited small groups of Japanese, Saudi, Italian and Korean students to select an object or idea from their lives and cultures to share with the original inhabitants of the settlement. Listening to participants speak directly to the bronze age people in the presence of that wild landscape was really powerful. I want to make pieces that touch people emotionally and change them for ever.
LG: What is your background. How did you get to this point in your career?
AK: I studied Fine Art painting at Brighton University, then I went off to live in Spain. Immigration makes you tough, resilient, driven and ambitious.
Back home in England I made montages, stop-motion animations , dioramas and wrap around exhibits for audiences to inhabit and re-arrange. After winning Exeter Contemporary Open 07 I went to Dartington to do MA Arts and Ecology. It was intense, very tough but it gave my work psychological depth and though I’m not an eco-warrior, I do my little bit to change the world!
I have had two Arts Council Grants for research projects and my collaborative practice with Claire Coté has taken me to new realms. Based on an ancient Celtic tradition that the land remembers everything, 'DREAMING PLACE' was a 40 day/40 night field trip in the Irish borderlands in search of local myths, food and traditions.
The 'Radio dreaming' broadcasts examine the relationship between people, culture, animals, plants and heritage and how these elements influence one another. Kickstarter worked for our 'Radio Dreaming Pod Tour' but it's a big ask.
LG: Say something about the way you use different technologies.
AK: I use technologies for production, dissemination and collaboration. Whether I am drawing, making string or collapsing time and distance with automatic writing, my work is shaped by past, present and future technologies.
Wherever there is something needing to be done, there is a technology to solve it. My knife drawings for example, help me discover the allure, power and origins of the blade. Drawing teaches me about culture, creativity and collaboration.
My transatlantic collaboration with Claire Coté relies on digital communication as we fileshare, listen, write and chat together on Skype or Google docs. Radio is a favourite technology, it's the ultimate distribution network able to reach people wherever they may be, in their homes or workplaces. It shares our work with a global online audience.
LG: You often work in a collaborative or participatory way. How important is it to work with other people?
AK: I started as a studio artist but I wouldn’t like to be the artist in the garret again. Working with others is important. It’s rewarding and interesting and rich. I work with people at different scales in my practice, from the chance encounter to invited participants, to collaboration. The interaction is vital.
Participatory practice for me is like a love-bomb. It’s a gift. It mends all that is broken in me and the world. It builds new hope, love and community. It teaches me and nourishes me and I want to share that.
A collaboration is more serious, I feel really lucky to have found Claire Coté each of us flourishes in the partnership, together we are more robust. I wouldn´t want to collaborate with just anyone!
LG: What are you currently working on?
AK: I’m writing a book about my DREAMING PLACE adventures with Claire in the Irish borderlands. It’s a kind of pilgrimage to the people, places, creatures and things we met along the way. I’m also hoping it will bring in some hard cash!
I’ve also got a project starting here in Devon to do with empathy and communication. It’s called 'Wild Radio Project'. It’s inspired by former Devon Wildlife Warden, Nigel Smallbones and I’m meeting him in his natural habitat at Berry Head National Nature Reserve and on the wildlife boat tours he leads.
From now through July and August I will listen to, record and hopefully capture the magic of the man. Nigel is a natural storyteller with an awesome knowledge of seabirds, cetaceans, insects, plants and creatures. I’ve worked with him a tiny bit before. He’s a National Treasure.
Radio will be central for dissemination of this project for its capacity to transport listeners to other realms, it suits our purpose.
To coincide with this interview Sound Art Radio will play Radio Dreaming off-grid part 2 on Tuesday 7th July at 6pm. To listen to soundart live radio shows go to >
Interview by Lesley Guy
Published July 2015