I met up with the lovely ladies Charlotte and Jeanine – the artists behind Cullinan Richards – to have a chat about their work. I had met them once before in a studio visit with my contemporary art history class. Their studio is located at Vyner Street in East London – a street packed with contemporary art galleries.
Where did you meet each other? I think we talked about it last time, but just to hear it again.
Charlotte: What did we say the last time, ’cause we always lie?
Jeanine: Hmm, I think we were studying together.
Charlotte: Yes we went to an art school together and it was quite a hideous place outside a big city, so we felt a little bit remote, and we didn’t really like what we were being taught at the time, so we started doing other things, which sort of annoyed the tutors, but somehow it made us feel better. But it felt a little bit like being underground or kind of going underground against the current situation we found our self in.
So it wasn’t in London?
Charlotte: No no, it was kind of like a remote suburb.
And how long is this ago, how long have you been working together?
Charlotte: Since we were at college really.
What is the best time of day for you?
Charlotte: Uuuh I think for me — both of us perhaps — lunchtime (laughter)
Jeanine: Yeah, I was just going to say just before lunch when you know you are just about to eat something.
What is art to you?
Charlotte: I think it’s sort of everything. It has become everything really. It becomes part of the way you think all the time, I guess.
Have you always wanted to be artists?
Jeanine: Uhmm yeah.
Charlotte: Yeah I think we have.
You didn’t have any doubts at any time?
Charlotte: Well I think being an artist is much more about a frame of mind, it’s like about a being, it’s away from anything that’s kind of institutional or prescribed and it’s about a freedom of life. I think people who are artists, when they are at school already from an early age, they are different, they are sort of different types of people really. They are usually not very good at maths. (laughter) Not saying that there aren’t other kinds of types of course, because you get somebody and he may become a scientist, and then he would be that type, you know. Probably from a young age you can tell a little baby scientist… So it’s not extraordinary, it’s just one of those things.
Well I think being an artist is much more about a frame of mind, it’s like about a being, it’s away from anything that’s kind of institutional or prescribed and it’s about a freedom of life.
Would you be able to tell a little baby artist then?
Charlotte: Well I think even the way children behave, who become artists and maybe perhaps children of artists they perhaps have something that’s different from say children of scientists or children that are going to become scientists or doctors, you know. Every person has a different type of thing about them, and I think it’s the same for artists from a young age.
The way we are being taught in schools is often focused on math skills, so often the most creative people are the ones that are not really good in school. What do you think about this?
Jeanine: It’s true that it isn’t really a subject that, it doesn’t necessary have a very defined set of skills, it’s a way of approaching things or a way of thinking about things, but maybe you are amazing at drawing, but maybe you are not..
Charlotte: Maybe you can be amazing at drawings and actually not be an artist.
Jeanine: Exactly, so it’s more like an approach to thinking about things, that actually how some people choose to engage with everything is slightly different, and that kind of makes them into, you know, they are more likely to want to be something like an artist because it’s really taking things not necessarily in the way that most people do. But that’s not to say that I think it’s a bit uninteresting also to sort of be very romantic about it, because artists are on the whole, just ordinary people. It’s just as Charlotte was saying that all the choices that people make, you know all the things that they like to do it’s just a kind of way of thinking or approach that sort of makes it likely, but then also being an artist in the sort of vocational sense that other jobs are it’s actually much more un-graspable how to operate as an artist because it’s really how do you want to operate? How do you want to negotiate this thing called being an artist? Because you can do it anyway.
Charlotte: it‘s about being self-employed as well and that has got its problems, if you don’t get out of bed in the morning… (Charlotte whispers: “you are fucked”…)
Artists are on the whole, just ordinary people
What is the most important job that your work shall fulfill?
Charlotte: We tend to think that art is for arts sake, actually. We are very interested in the idea of the exhibition, and what an exhibition can do and how work can operate within the exhibition context, which means you are regarding everything like the walls, the ceiling, the floor and the space in general where the art sits at that point, and it’s also the context of the exhibition, the press release, the title…
Jeanine: We try not to have an opinion of sort of what the work, I mean, we know why we are making the work, and what we want to see, it’s usually to satisfy something that we want to see or see what happens when we do this and beyond that I think, you know, I wouldn’t like to say anything about other peoples reactions or other peoples experiences really, cause everybody bring something themselves to the exhibition. And I get very cross when I read press releases or pieces of writing that sort of tell you what your experience is because everyone can have a different experience, and it’s not to say that the work isn’t discussable, but it’s that I think through the assumption of a certain experience I think that’s a bit boring. So we really do try to not to generalise…
Charlotte: We don’t think about the audience in any sort of way
Jeanine: We try not to generalise because we are as much a part of the kind of, you know, we are not apart from people who would view work it is not as if there is a whole group that produces and there is a whole group of consumers.
Charlotte: It’s a very specialised audience that we normally engage with, we don’t normally do public art pieces that are outside that kind of arena, so in a way we are dealing with a specific audience. With the work, It’s not about educational, it’s not about educating a non-specified audience, it’s not about reacting to a commission that has to bring in members of the general public in some way.
Jeanine: ..and having said that, a specified audience isn’t necessarily exclusive of members of the general public, that’s what we are trying to say is that it’s not got a kind of conscious direction or a particular audience in mind, but having said that, like Charlotte said we are working with, we are aware of the fact that we are working in a very sort of…
Charlotte: tight scenario really…
Jeanine: a specified area, that isn’t, it’s not surprising that it’s not necessarily for everybody, and it’s not meant to be.
Do you feel British or more global?
Charlotte: Well we feel “London”, and I think London is probably pretty global really (laughter)
Where do you find your inspiration?
Charlotte: I think it’s the sort of stuff of history. It’s kind of the stuff we see, the kind of scope perhaps of the history of art, it can be an arbitrary, it can be almost anything, it is sort of everything.
Do you have a favorite film?
Charlotte: Historically we have a favorite film that we’ve worked with a lot yeah, and its called “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill” by Russ Meyer. It’s never really far from our minds, it’s not like we watch it all the time, ‘cause we never really watch it, it’s just the kind of idea behind it, and the first two minutes of it which has been an inspiration for many shows actually.
A clip from “Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill”:
What kind of music do you listen to?
Charlotte: I like really, sort of really electric guitar stuff, but probably Jeanine has a different answer.
Jeanine: I’m very passive, I don’t like a lot of music, but I like what I like, which is a bit pathetic, I’m not really a particularly music person, I just listen to what other people have, and some of it I like and some of it I hate. (laughter)
Charlotte: Actually, I think we can answer the question a little bit better, because that was getting a little bit too like, you know, personal and kind of weird, and we want to talk through our work. And we can talk about
The Black Lights show in Bologna couldn’t we?
Jeanine: Oh yeah, there were particular soundtracks that we have taken in the past that have been very important to us, so we made a film a long time ago that used a track, what was it?
Charlotte: Oh yes it was by Wyclef Jean and it was a remake – because one of the reasons we really like Wyclef Jean is because he takes others songs and he kind of appropriates them and then he mixes them all up, and we are very interested in that idea when it translates into writing for example, this kind of appropriation, so he appropriated…was it a Bob Marley song or something? No no it was Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, and for example that’s why we like Wyclef Jean. And then we also used, for the kind of starting point of the title of the show in Bologna last summer, a Screaming Jay Hawkins song, because we like the history behind that song and how it became this kind of very raw blues song art some people brought chicken and wine to the studio and it kind of flipped the song.
Jeanine: It was recorded in a completely different way.
Charlotte: It was written as a love song
Jeanine: It’s a story of something that triggered a completely different kind of response which was this sort of “late night chicken and wine”, things getting out of control a bit and sort of not quite expected and that came out and then he became….that was really his trademark after that.
Charlotte: It’s a nice association because really the show is not about Screaming Jay Hawkins, it’s not really about that song, but there were kind of elements of that song and Screaming Jay Hawkins had triggered the show, and triggered the pre-title of the show…
Charlotte: ..and then the thing about the Screaming Jay Hawkins thing is kind of really…was spurred on by what happened in the studio and that’s sort of really a kin to how myself and Jeanine work. What happens in the studio? Stuff that comes out that we didn’t know was going to come out in the first place.
Jeanine: But you set something in motion in order for this sort of thing to happen, that you are not sure what it’s going to be.
Charlotte: It’s the opportunity, basically, of the studio, that the studio is this kind of base-camp that sets up the whole series of probabilities or maybes or perhapses.
Jeanine: and the exhibition then also serves a purpose in that way too as a kind of possibility for things to happen, so that’s what is exiting for us about an exhibition because things are not necessarily pre-cooked.
So where does it end?
Jeanine: I think it never ends.
Charlotte: It never really ends because then one thing goes into another so one exhibition could lead more or less into another one, with elements of the first one you can see again remade. So it’s all about this kind of remaking I think.
Do you discuss your work with other artists?
Charlotte: Generally we find that no one really understands us actually. No, sometimes other people, other artists and other curators they have kind of very strong opinions about our work. That sometimes we think it’s completely not the same opinions that we have, and they see things that we don’t see, and that’s fine, Sometimes it’s not necessarily helpful, but, you know, it’s possible that you can have a relationship with a curator for like twenty years or so and they still don’t get it, or they have got their own version which is fair enough.
Jeanine: I think that’s actually normal isn’t it?
Charlotte: I would have thought it’s normal, but I don’t know…. I think we always resist a kind of straightforward sort of explanation of the work, because it kind of somehow may destroy that work for us.
And if it’s not about the work being in this sort of genre, but more about the approach, then it can always change. So if a curator wants to put it in a box that can be difficult?
Charlotte: Yeah or it could just be one of those things as well, you know we have worked with a curator, who wanted to remake, very particular a piece that we had made some years before and was not interested in talking about how that piece could be remade in a different way it had to become more or less being the same, and then that’s fine, you know, you just run with it. It’s not so much our preference but it’s a position that the curator had at the time, obviously they are working in this other scenario where they are trying to fit artists into a sort of theme or something. So we happily go into that position, but we prefer to do the solo thing.
Do you get inspired by other artists?
Jeanine: Oh definitely
Charlotte: Oh yeah all the time, we are hopelessly in love with artists.
Do you often go to exhibitions?
Charlotte: Yeah we try to go all across the world, to see particular peoples shows, absolutely yeah, it’s very important.
Which challenges have you met in your work?
Charlotte: I think there is this thing about the audience that can be extremely challenging, and in a way we like to, not think about the audience at all, but at the same we have done some shows recently where we like to see the audience kind of peppered amongst the work, as if they are kind of in a pornographic cinema, sort of peppered in the audience and that can make us laugh sometimes. So I think in a way we probably wouldn’t want to be there so much. The work is there and that’s the work, and then we don’t have to be in the work.
Jeanine: I think the challenge also has been to give the work its own identity and strength and to actually resist the desire to have some kind of explanation that is in either of us, which there may well be, but it’s not the explanation that we want to, or that we feel is in any way interesting or satisfying. It’s not really an explanation it might be an origin of something, but it doesn’t particularly explain or add anything. So I think one of the challenges has been to produce the work, to get the work to operate in peoples minds independently from us as personalities, which is not something that’s particularly…. you know, because in a way it resists what is maybe more usual, which is to sort of look for something in the work with the person who is making it, and perhaps the fact that we are resisting it is also because we are two. But that’s not the reason we resist, the reason is also that we want the work to, not be personal in this way that we find a bit boring, and it’s an explanation that isn’t really an explanation, you know, if an artist grew up in a particular area or place it might be a clue or it might be why they got something in their head, but it doesn’t necessarily explain why they doing their work. It’s a sort of reassurance it’s a sort of safety-net and it’s a bit, you know, a kin back to that “fall-back position” of looking at something, and you are not quite sure what you are looking at and you immediately go to the text board to find something that is going to position that object, and we do that, maybe everybody does it, I do it very much, but perhaps the clues that I’m looking for, that I want to see, are when it was made or what the title of it is, who owns it…
Charlotte: …what gallery is looking after it…
Jeanne: …and what it’s made of, but then I think, we are both very interested in the sort of fashions of what’s desired, what’s being said, what an audience needs, and maybe not is necessarily satisfying. But it’s always a bit of a challenge, it depends where you are working, it depends where the show is. And sometimes the artists is not allowed near these things, it’s not considered part of the work, but when we are able to, we often like to write all the things, all that information that surrounds the work so it becomes kind of series of doorways or series of experiences that pre-prime you to a certain, sort of, level of expectation or not. And then the reaction to the show is something, so we are very interested in that, interested in where the titles appear, what the titles are, what is said, what isn’t said, what’s in the press release, how it’s written, and whom it’s from as well. We have been working more and more with this idea of the press release as sort of the letter from the artist to whoever is coming, and it’s very much written like that, addressing whoever you are, this is something that we’d like you to read, either before, after or during seeing the work, and then it’s at the bottom from us rather than a kind of “so and so’s work, deals with blah blah blah blah blah”…
So it makes you feel closer to the artist?
Jeanine: um it’s sort of like being a piece of work in itself.
Charlotte: Seeing the idea of what is said about the show and what you are looking at, so it’s really our responsibility entirely, that’s how we like it best.
So do you write your own press releases?
Jeanine: Well we do when we can, but we also realised that there are larger institutions that can’t afford or can’t operate in that way, and group-shows as well, where the show itself is something beyond our own interest, I mean, our own kind of area, so it depends really.
Which project has given you the most satisfaction?
Charlotte: I think it’s our last work, it’s always going to be the last one that you’ve done, or the next one.
Can you describe the last one you did?
Charlotte: The real last one, or the last one that we prefer to describe?
The one you prefer to describe
Charlotte: Maybe we should describe the Go Go Poster?
Jeanine: Yeah that was very good
Charlotte: We were asked by a curator at the Hayward Gallery to make a poster with eight other international artists for a show that’s not going to ever happen, that goes outside the Hayward Gallery in a show called “Hey, We’re Closed!“.
And It was curated by Russ Meyer?
Charlotte + Jeanine: yes (laughter)
Charlotte: And as you can see all of the artists that we have chosen are female apart from one. Matias Faldbakken is a good male artist to have in there, because he is very good at writing. He can do all the writing, and then most importantly is the press release that goes with it. (see it below)
Jeanine: the next favourite project as well is “Wide Open School” at the Hayward Gallery, which Ralph Rugoff is curating.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Charlotte: That’s a really difficult one, because we don’t want to sound one way or another..
Jeanine: I think we try not to give advice really
Charlotte: Yeah, I think that’s a good answer, I mean, what we do is that we try to inspire this kind of way of thinking, way of working, whether they become artists or not, you know for the rest of their lives. Just so they can know, they can understand the kind of recent history of art, they can understand what they are looking at, they can pick up a mobile phone and they can make a film, you know, they got this kind of context to produce, and look and read and see in a certain way. Because in a way, one wouldn’t perhaps want to advice people in terms of the art thing, (laughter)
What are you afraid of regarding the future?
Charlotte: I think money is always a problem, I mean, money is always this bloody issue really, because if you want to make work in the way we make work you are not really helping yourself so much in terms of the…. This precious object that gets sold in history of art, so we don’t make it easy for ourselves, put it that way.
Charlotte: I think the fear of being institutionalised is a big problem.
Jeanine: Yeah I think, having the freedom to make the work you want to make, to have the work to operate in the way we would like it to operate, to be engaged. I think that I would say that, you know, there’s a terrible fear always that you just won’t be able to carry on making work really.
Charlotte: Well I think that’s not going to happen, because you are always going to find midways or means whether you got cash or not, but I think really the fear of being institutionalised is greater than anything.
Jeanine: Well, I mean, maybe that’s not a clear answer because the thing is that I don’t think we are about just producing work in a vacuum, and so you do – as artists – rely on making yourself engaged, on being part of a context, and we can do that, and it is a choice and you can do it to some extend on little money, but then…. but we have had in the past enormous support, to realize work and to be part of things and that’s really good, I mean, I think that it’s always a struggle actually.
Check out Cullinan Richards recent publication COLLAPSE here: www.cullinanrichardscollapse.com