Interview with Nina Pope by Elizabeth Hobbs
Newport on Tay, 23rd of January 1999.


Nina: I'm with my flat mate Lizzie Hobbs, and we're walking up the hill behind our house and she's gong to ask me my Ulay questions, because I've interviewed everyone else and then realized someone should interview me ...

Lizzie: Nina, can you talk to me a bit about your proposal and what you're going to be making for the Ulay award.

Nina: Yes, my piece for the Ulay award ... I almost know this off by heart ... is to 'encourage' an 'audience' or the 'audience', who ever they are, to participate in gambling on who the winner of the competition is going to be - in a nutshell. In order to do this I'm going to make a piece which looks a bit like a betting shop in the gallery, but I'm also going to try and spread the work further afield by doing things like printing betting slips and distributing them through the PR for the show, and into bookies themselves. A lot of the piece is about the collaboration between me, Ladbrokes, Ulay and the other artists.

Lizzie: Right, so why did you choose Ladbrokes?

Nina: Throwing in other questions! I chose Ladbrokes because I think their name is, to most people, synonymous with betting and for practical reasons - the two bookies nearest to LEA gallery are Ladbrokes ... and partly because it was a challenge - because normally you would think of placing a 'novelty' bet with someone like William Hill and so I went to Ladbrokes first. I met the man who runs their PR and I liked him a lot and so I decided to go with them.

Lizzie: Can you tell me how this relates to your existing practice and how the idea for the work evolved?

Nina: I guess, well, to me it relates more strongly to my existing practice than it might seem on the surface perhaps! I work in collaboration with Karen J Guthrie quite often and our projects over the last few years have been mainly on the web, and through working on the web we've kind of ... almost come full circle in the way we view our audience. So, when we first started working on the web we were quite excited about having a 'global' audience, whatever that is, and our work being 'broadcast' to people everywhere and slowly we came to realize that the interesting thing for us about using the web was how intensely personal a space it can be - because people access it in their home and in private and we became interested in one to one collaborations with very specific individuals.
So, I like these kind of projects which look at broadcast media in a 'broad' way - a wide audience consuming the work on one level but also then focusing in on collaborating very intensely with individuals. This project offers a good opportunity to do that, I'll be collaborating with the other artists, obviously quite intensely, and with Ladbrokes and MAKE and LEA and all the people involved with the show, but then I'm hoping that ... I'm hoping that it's going to work across a lot of levels - so that even if you hear that one of the artists has initiated the betting, that, in a way, is enough for me for some members of the 'audience', but I want others to be involved in the many different levels that I think it can operate on.
The last solo piece that I made was on a Ministry of Defense housing estate in Helensburgh where I overhauled a garden there and made a gardening 'programme' about the experience and I guess this piece ties to that, in that it was very much a process of almost drawing with video - I watched, very closely, television programmes which were like that and looked to 'mimic' them in the way that you would if you were drawing something, and so I'm quite interested in using those copying techniques but with other media. So, in this instance I'll be spending, well I have been spending, quite a lot of time in the bookies watching the way their footage comes in, and thinking about what that means, then thinking about translating that into a video piece ... does that make sense?

Lizzie: It does, that makes sense ... from your project in Helensburgh, some aspects of that were surprisingly successful weren't they? Reaching out to an audience which you hadn't quite expected - would you like to talk about that?

Nina: What kind of audience do you mean! (laughing) The people on the estate?

Lizzie: Yes.

Nina: Right, that was more to do with realizing how much graft you have to put into building up a relationship with people, you can't just walk onto an estate like that drop something into it and expect people to be interested in it ...

Lizzie: That experience is quite valuable for this piece as well.

Nina: Yes, initially we thought everyone on the estate would to the exhibition just out of curiosity, but actually people have got much to much going on in their lives to be curious about what other people are doing ... and it was only because I built up a relationship with the immediate neighbors that a lot of them came to the exhibition and got quite a lot out of it.

Lizzie: Would you consider yourself as an artist working primarily with technology?

Nina: Yes, I guess I would ..., I forgot this one was coming! (both laugh)

Lizzie: You should know this by now!

Nina: Yes, I guess other people would definitely class me as an artist working with new technology, that's the area where we have become best known - it depends what you class as new technology. I used to work much more directly with computers - 3D modeling and on the web and stuff and actually I've started doing that less now and using more video and I guess you'd call it performance or live art practice mixed together, but it's still really classed as new technology I think. I guess what I am interested in is looking in quite a broad way at the impact of small changes in technology on what you might call broadcasting - obviously I've been caught up with the Internet and that developing ... and now, for example with Ladbrokes, I'm really interested in the ins and outs of how they receive information into the bookies and who that's broadcast by ... all those sort of things. With the advent of gambling on-line, that has quite a lot of implications because it's happening, by no means coincidentally, at the same time as you are going to be able to receive the web at home on your television ...

Lizzie: That will draw a lot more women in, won't it?

Nina: Mm, that's what people like Ladbrokes are hoping and that's why they are putting money into sponsoring experiments into 2 way TV - all of which I dimly knew about but I've been looking into much more for this piece.

Lizzie: How do you feel about being nominated for the Ulay award, and more generally the concept of an arts prize?

Nina: I think I find it problematic, I mean obviously I was very pleased and I was really pleased to be short listed into the last five. Coincidentally I had two weeks where I was working almost in isolation when I was working on the proposal, which is quite unusual to have that much time on something like that - and so I put a lot of work into the proposal and I was pleased with the idea, and very pleased that they took that up, because I felt that was about the piece as much as anything else. Then since the initial elation it's been down hill really! (laughing) As the list of worries sweeps over me ... (We've actually gone the wrong way Lizzie! We want to go back that way to walk round in a loop - or we could walk further if you want?)

Lizzie: (It might rain look at the sky ...)

Nina: (OK - walk back) So, yes ... the Turner Prize was on just after we'd been nominated, and watching that was pretty nauseating on many levels! I think it's a horrible thing to have to be in, to be judged next to other people who are your piers and who ... you know a lot of them you know personally or you like their work ...

Lizzie: Yes, but it's also an opportunity to collaborate with them which is interesting ...

Nina: Yes, and what I'm trying to do ...

Lizzie: Yes, turn it around to your own needs.

Nina: Yes, and obviously the piece is supposed to speak about the kind of problems associated with being in this kind of prize.

Lizzie: Do you think it'll be well publicized nearer the time?

Nina: I hope so! (both laugh) Obviously Ulay have put this much money in they are obviously going to do a big push ... and I think MAKE as well see it as a chance to make a splash, and LEA equally, all of those organisations have an interest in it being well promoted.

Lizzie: What do you think about the notion of a women only prize, do you see the fact that you are a woman as significant to your practice?

Nina: I've answered this with everyone else and I still don't have a very good answer to it! (laughs) I have no problem with it being a women only prize, in fact I'm very glad to be in something that's women only. I actively enjoy collaborating with other women - I normally work with Karen or other people. I'm generally, not more interested in other women's practice, but I feel perhaps a more direct link to it - quite often I can sort of imagine wanting to make their work, whereas with a lot of men's pieces I can admire them, or see their worth, but generally I don't feel that's the kind of practice I want to emulate myself.
Yes, to the piece as well it seems quite important that we are all women - obviously the idea of gambling brings up connotations of the beauty show and all those kind of things ...

Lizzie: Yes, it could go on and on the different types of piece you could make with this ...

Nina: Yes, but it is a really difficult question ... I mean I think it is important to my work that I'm a woman, but maybe it's too hard to describe the reasons for yourself.

Lizzie: Do you think if somebody saw your piece when it's finished they could tell that it's made by a woman ... apart from by the fact it a women's prize!

Nina: Well it's probably the least 'feminised' piece I've made ... I don't know, the aesthetic in the gallery is going to be quite neutral in a way, whereas my work before, well Karen and I's work is sometimes quite theatrical, quite 'beautiful', or has been in the past - not that that is something only done by women. I don't know it's difficult to tell.

Lizzie: I find it now more difficult to tell the gender of somebody's work and I like that.

Nina: I thought Yinka Shonibare was a woman for years! Until I met him ... Anna thought, that I thought he was a woman after I met him! (both laugh)

Lizzie: Have you finished talking about that?

Nina: Do you think you can tell my work is by a woman?

Lizzie: I can tell it's by YOU, I think ...

Nina: Mm, that's the problem ...

Lizzie: It's definitely made by someone very sociable and interested in the dynamic between people and you know whether that is a more feminine quality, I don't know if that's something I'd like to ...

Nina: I don't even know if I agree with the sort of speculation about the web being suited to women because they like networking and they like chatting ...

Lizzie: Sadie Plant's ideas?

Nina: Not even that, I don't go along with that ... well I maybe think we do use it in different ways, most of the people I know who're really addicted to email are women ... anyway ....

Lizzie: Yes to get back on track ... this is a difficult one, perhaps we should rephrase it - did the other artists have reservations about you working with them like this?

Nina: OK, well ... yes, some of them did and it was quite understandable, what we've agreed is that anyone can pull out at any time - it's never too late! Well to the point at which ... it would be very difficult to edit someone out of the piece once it's been put together but I imagine they will all have seen it quite a lot before that happens. Obviously I'm entering into a close process of consultation with them as to what it's going to be appropriate to film them doing. So, for example with Rachel it's probably not appropriate to film how she originally generates her footage because it's quite important that that's not known.
Then, of course there's the question of how I represent myself - which of course the others don't have to worry about! Well in a way they do, because if I choose to represent myself in a way that's very different to them that could be problematic. I need to think very carefully about that - normally I've used my presence in the work to sort of ... not undermine it, but to subtly make a mockery of certain things ... including myself. So, with the gardening programme the fact that I was presenting it and doing the digging and everything else made it very obvious that it was done by a lone enthusiast/ obsessive! In this instance that's not the aim of the piece, you know to make something that looks very obviously amateurish, it is to make something that looks like it's mimicking something else but not unprofessionally.
So, I don't think it's appropriate, for example, for me to do the voice over of the commentary in this instance even though I've written it ... I don't know because then it comes to issues of how these prizes are judged, is it purely on a set of criteria, is it on people's own personal opinions who happen to be on the judging panel, is it valid for me to put my gloss over the pieces ... you know. I have even considered perhaps asking an 'arts critic' to put the commentary on - in the way that a sports commentator would normally be employed to put that kind of gloss over the images. So, yes it raises all kinds of issues for me how I'm going to represent myself in the work.

Lizzie: I wondered if you had any experience of betting previous to this?

Nina: No, not previous to this - in fact I've been remarkably untouched by it I think.

Lizzie: Not even the Grand National or the lottery?

Nina: No - not even the Grand National.

Lizzie: All the other artists have betted on the lottery at least once ...

Nina: Some yes, but I've never bought a lottery ticket, very deliberately.

Lizzie: I wondered if you've thought forward to what the outcome of making your piece might be, in relation to the competition but also to yourself and your practice?

Nina: Well ... when I wrote this question it was meant to be asking people what they would do if they won ... in a way, but also now ... everyone shys away from even thinking about that, no one wants to consider what would happen if they won, and a lot of people have said it would be preferable maybe not to win. It's difficult, you think that you don't think about winning, but maybe you would only enter into such a crazy thing if you did think you may win on some level, there are all kinds of problems with it but I think you just don't think about it and you make the piece.
Having said that it would be naive to pretend that you aren't aware that you are in a competition - you're very much aware that you're in a competition, you're very much aware of how other people are perceived even in the way that their work is documented and, you know, it's a horrible process.
In terms of what it will mean for my practice ... if it comes off it will be a good piece I think, and I think the relationship I'm trying to establish with Ladbrokes is very interesting for me in terms of how you collaborate with a big company like that and how you state your ground and be very specific about what you want out of it and don't swither for the ease of making things happen. There are all kinds of issues for me to consider from whether to employ a writer on the press releases with you, right up to whether you use a commentator etc., all these are interesting dilemmas for me. I think the thing that's missing for me at the moment is the actual making. I'm looking forward to the point where I can actually video people and get on with that.
In terms of my practice, ironically what I hope is it will move me out of being regarded as a digital artist - being in a digital arts prize! It'll be covered in more mainstream media, and normally I'm only covered in the new technology press. I'm also hoping that because this is something I want to continue to do for a while - working in public situations or using a situation as site - that it will legitimize it enough for people who are commissioning that kind of work (I think normally they are very nervous of not having an object at the end) that's what I'm hoping really.

Lizzie: Will it exist in any form after the competition?

Nina: Well, there will be sort of memorabilia - the betting slips and stuff, and obviously there'll be a web site and that will remain on line for a while, and I'll change it.

Lizzie: Will that be on your domain?

Nina: No, I think I'll probably register a domain name - the piece is called Safe Bet and I think I'll register that domain name. The other current dilemma is that once the winner is announced, the relevance of the odds changing etc. is over and there's a question as to whether ... well in an ideal world I think I would remake the piece at that point and show something else in the gallery at that point ...

Lizzie: Would you prepare that before hand then?

Nina: No, for practical reasons I don't think it'll be really feasible because it's quite expensive to make the work anyway and to remake it at that stage ... but also if I did do it I would literally perhaps show found footage or footage taken by the television crew (if there is one there) at the award ceremony - I might just show that on a repeat loop. Then also I've been considering that it might seem then even stranger watching the run up and seeing the odds and stuff once the prize has been announced and the tension has been taken away. Like the way that they replay sporting events endlessly once it's all over - you know who the winner is ... it has a different kind of tension. That's something that will maybe come out in the way that I put the video together.

Lizzie: You could have that message, "shut your eyes we are going to reveal the winner now" come up at the beginning! Now that you've interviewed everyone are there any questions you would have liked to have asked the other artists that you've missed off ?

Nina: It's weird actually, I wrote those questions very quickly as a first pass and actually they've been OK - I've just stuck with them really and I've just asked other things as they've come up. I think the problem is now I'm having to ask more questions about how they are actually going to make the work - because that's what I'm going to film, their process rather than them and their 'personality'. So I am having to do a second pass but then that's not something I necessarily want to reveal other than in the video, so that's probably OK. Is there any other questions you would have asked? (laughs)

Lizzie: No, I think people have talked very coherently about their practice, I think they are used to it, you know ...

Nina: Thanks Lizzie, I think we'll stop as the rain is sweeping in over Dundee ...