Interview with Rachel Lowe
Brixton, 10th of December 1998.


Nina: Can you start by telling me a little bit about your piece and what the proposal entails ... and maybe, if you've already thought of changes, or how you're going to go about making it ...

Rachel: Right, um ... basically I've proposed a piece that's going to end up as a single screen video projection, and it's quite a straight forward piece in its use of technology - it's not that complicated. I'm going to start off by using actual film, so super eight film will be the starting point - black and white super eight film. I'm going to film a woman on a staircase, I'm going to film it from above and the woman's going to be walking up and down the stairs and turning round and generally moving all the time but never actually reaching the top or the bottom of the stairs ...

Nina: Right.

Rachel: I'm going to then have the film footage transferred onto video, and then use a digital edit suite and have copies made of it, but at all sorts of different speeds from incredibly slow to incredibly fast, which I'll then re-edit together to create almost a new piece of time ... which she's involved in ... at times it might be like a strange dance or it might be hardly any movement at all - but she's always on the stairs - she's never at the bottom or at the top. The reason that I'm starting off with it on film (rather than video) and in black and white, is because I want there to be a kind of ambiguity about the status of the film, and the era ... and the reason ... the purpose why it was filmed. I'm going to film the woman as well wearing clothes that are ambiguous as to their era ...

Nina: Not leggings then!

Rachel: Not leggings, Not leggings no! (laughs) a really long kind of 70's skirt but which almost looks Victorian because I wanted it to ... I was looking at Muybridge's studies into motion ... and I just think it's rather perverse that they're always in these long skirts when they're involved in these repetitive actions.
So, I wanted it to relate back to that, also to ... well there's an obvious reference to Duchamp's nude descending a staircase, but I also wanted it to slightly look as if it could be documentary footage from an asylum, like when they made films of people having fits in the 30's. So, basically there's, yes, this ambiguity as to its status and why this film - and whether it's been manipulated or not, because I was interested in it relating to the history of photography and our understanding of technology really and how much we believe in it and don't question where it's come from ...

Nina: Have you seen that Douglas Gordon piece with the woman ...

Rachel: Getting hysterical?

Nina: Having a fit ... yes, it's kind of ... well now that you're talking about that I can't remember whether it is sped up or slowed down or whether ...

Rachel: I should really see it, I mean I would like to see it ...

Nina: I saw it a while ago - I think in Edinburgh actually...

Rachel: Right ...

Nina: ... and it's kind of ... I think it is speeded up maybe - I don't know ... but it's definitely 'dated' footage - you can tell that it's from a period.
So, can you talk a bit about how this piece relates to the rest of your practice? If it does ... which it does (laughs) ...

Rachel: Yes, well it relates very specifically to a piece called 'Untitled' which I made a couple of years ago ... where I took two seconds of footage from Hitchcock's film 'The Birds', and it's the part of the film where Tippi Hedron's in the phone box, she runs into the phone box to seek refuge, and there's one tiny shot where the camera is above her - and I took that and had it transferred, using an Avid edit suite at full speed and half speed both forwards and backwards. Then I re-edited it together using tiny fragments to create one and a half minutes of ... well almost to create a piece of new time.
So it's also related to that - it's almost like trying to ... well a perverse idea of trying to manufacture time through technology - which is obviously completely absurd, but we always believe in the time we see on screen - even you know ... it's this idea of manufacturing it and the fact that that's completely impossible.

Nina: Slowing and speeding up film is something that is perversely difficult to do in different situations isn't it? I think from the little I know of Avid it's very easy to do it on Avid whereas with other editing techniques it's very very difficult.

Rachel: Yes, it's impossible to do it on normal edit suites - you have to do it on Avid, I mean you can do it with actual film, but obviously you can't have as much control over it, you can't go to such extremes and that is what I'm interested in taking it to extremes and using it so that it completely changes and ... but, I'm also interested in it continuing to be read as real time, but as though the woman is in an altered state of consciousness rather than the edits being evident. Because that's what I did with the other piece, and I'm interested in the kind of claustrophobia it creates.

Nina: Who will you use to be on the stairs?

Rachel: I'll use a friend of mine who I know very well ...

Nina: Do you use yourself ... so for example the piece where you're writing on the window - I always assume that that is you ...

Rachel: That's me, yes , but most of the time ... well it depends, it depends on the piece really. No, this one ... when I thought of the piece I specifically thought of this person, I don;t know why really, and also the kind of clothes she wears seem to fit - I knew she had this long 70's skirt and I'd seen her in it .. it just, well I really liked it because you couldn't place it - you didn't know when it came from.
Then I was looking at Muybridge's photographs, which I really like, I'm just interested in the way that they were a scientific analysis and yet they become so much more than that ...

Nina: I think it's quite interesting in relation to new technology that .. um, you know ... his photographs came at a point in the development of new technology and now suddenly there's been a new interest in them ... in looking at them at maybe a similar point in time ...

Rachel: Yes, definitely ... and I think it's also about, I mean they obviously are like at the advent of photography and now this is the advent of digital media. As well as being an excitement there's also an unease about what this means - and I'm quite interested in that - because I think personally, well I feel quite uneasy about it, and about ...

Nina: Perhaps you could talk a bit about that - your relationship to technology!

Rachel: My relationship to technology (laughs!) ... I think unease definitely sums up my relationship to technology! I feel as though it promises a lot more than it actually delivers and that it's almost like it offers choice but it doesn't actually give you any more than you could have through so many other things, it kind of seduces people but without actually giving them anything extra - people think they are getting something extra - and a lot of the communication through technology seems a substitute for real communication and for real experience, and I'm interested in that. I suppose I am quite critical of it, although I don't think you can kind of ... I mean I don't think it's awful, but I'm very aware of the fact that it has down sides as well.

Nina: So, you wouldn't class yourself normally as an artist who works with technology?

Rachel: No, quite the reverse actually I think, I'm very interested in actual film, and I have shown pieces on actual film - obviously it's more difficult but, yes, I'm still very interested in the physicality of changing things and I think that there is a real difference to manipulating and changing things, footage or images, through a physical reality than through a computer and most of my works deals with that ...

Nina: It's quite interesting in relation to that piece you were looking at today (HOMESPUN) because I think the question of 'time' in relation to new technology is critical, so all those pieces that you saw today were filmed in real time (obviously), but we only ... because it was made as a live art piece we only had a week to make ... well originally we made a piece a day every day for a week and we only had a week in our parents homes and so we gave ourselves this very limited 'real time' slot - because of what you're talking about this promise of being able to edit and manipulate things to an infinite degree actually isn't very helpful I think - as an artist you need some kind of limitation and so we try to use filming in real time as that limitation - so you reintroduce that kind of risk/thrill or thing that's involved with making something physical ...

Rachel: yes or an actual experience ....

Nina: ... but to use time in a way to replace that physical risk maybe .. I don't know.

Rachel: yes as an element that you understand maybe ...

Nina: ...it's quite a difficult thing to define.

Rachel: What time?

Nina: Well ... because now when you see that piece it doesn't really matter that it was 'real time' although in the making of it it does REALLY matter that it was filmed in real time. Although with you it will be the opposite it'll be filmed in real time but then that ceases to be important when you're trying to manipulate it - so it's like a reverse maybe - You're taking the one thing 'real time' and trying to manipulate it to the nth degree ...

Rachel: Trying to manufacture time yes .... I mean generally my work is about the experience of time. I would say that that is the kind of thread running through most of it.

Nina: Can you just describe briefly the piece where you are drawing on the window because that's quite a nice example of that.

Rachel: Yes, well that's about ... well it's a very simple idea in that I'm trying to draw the landscape ...

Nina: Are you on a train or in a car?

Rachel: I'm in the back of a car and I'm just trying to draw the landscape with a marker pen on the window as it goes past and it's about the fact that you can't ... it's about our desire to capture a moment in time and the fact that you never actually can - it's just impossible. There is this constant need or desire to do so and you kind of ... it's about a sense of loss it's a universal desire to stop time for an instant - and you can't. It's the one thing that is always constantly there moving on, and it's just about that inexorable process.

Nina: Your work always makes me think of that dilemma when you're away on holiday and you have a camera with you and you're, well as a visual person you're obsessed about documenting things ... and one time I think either my camera was broken or I'd forgotten to take it and somehow there was this sense of enormous relief that you could not worry about trying to document something you could just enjoy it for what was happening at the time.

Rachel: Yes, it's funny - obviously I have traveled quite a lot with Mike and I've found more and more that I just don't want to take photographs and I have a video camera now but I just can't bare getting it out! I mean sometimes I do, but it's sort of this real liberation of just trying to experience something at that point - rather than thinking I've got to hold onto this - and to some extent it's interesting and I'm not suggesting that you should never take photographs but I think people do get obsessed with trying to live through the documentation rather than actually experiencing something. So, I think it was also related to that desire to constantly record things and then represent them - which also relates to television and the way that television tries to represent the 'real'.

Nina: Could you describe the actual process of doing the drawings on the window as a performance or do you see that as very much separate from the film that's ultimately produced?

Rachel: Separate, I didn't really see it as a performance - basically I started off doing drawings in my studio of the view out of my window and trying to draw them on the window, as that really sort of straight forward - the first way of trying to replicate something; and it was absurd because you can't do it without closing one eye, and then as soon as you move ... and I realised that the actual process was more interesting and then I decided to actually film the process - so it always was to exist as a film, it was never a performance in itself.
I showed it initially as a super 8 film loop and the physicality of the film was really important to it ...

Nina: I was going to say, I wasn't sure at the photographers gallery but I assumed it had been re-shot onto video?

Rachel: Yes, I transferred it and I mean I did initially want to show it on 16 mm but it was just too difficult because of the nature of the gallery and I mean I was quite happy with it in the end because I felt that it ... well I actually tried to shoot it on video to see what it would be like and it was completely different and I had to go back to shooting it on film and that was really important to have it filmed and then transferred. On just a kind of formal level because of the way that video registers everything to the same detail it didn't work, where as with film it's more like how we actually see ...

Nina: Especially in that instance where something is flying by ...

Rachel: Yes, so that's why it really had to be on film. I mean when it was actually shown as a film loop the physicality of the film going round related very much to the ....

Nina: Was that at the agency the first time it had been shown? Not the Agency the um.. The Approach ...

Rachel: No, that was actually a different film at The Approach! That was 'A Rough Outline of the Plot'!

Nina: Oh yes, of course it was ... yes!

Rachel: Yes, the only time I showed 'A Letter to an Unknown Person', which was the film in 'Speed' was two years ago in the Anna Bournholt Gallery which doesn't exist anymore ...

Nina: Oh that's really interesting, because I had heard about this piece of you drawing on the window and it's quite an interesting example where the idea of it is so captivating that you almost feel as if you have seen the piece of work and then because I had seen the piece in The Approach with the film loop I'd somehow mixed them together - now you say it, it's obvious that they were two different pieces (both laugh).
But there is something about the idea of drawing on the window which is just so ... I don't know it does summarize a lot of things not only about time but about travel ...

Rachel: Yes and just the idea of ... I mean I've used the idea of tracing over things a lot and the piece in The Approach was ... again it was a drawing but this time it was drawing on the television screen, and then I re-filmed an excerpt from an existing film, but I re-filmed it from the television using super 8 which was a specific desire to almost be perverse and degrade the quality, and the ridiculousness of using actual film to film from the television, which I quite liked ...

Nina: Actually I saw that piece you showed in Deptford as well, which was again to do with drawing on the walls of the gallery ...

Rachel: Yes, the Hales Gallery.

Nina: Right I'm referring back to my questions ...

Rachel: I think I'm losing my voice!

Nina: OK, can you talk a bit about, how you feel about being nominated for this type of award and more generally maybe a bit about the concept of an arts prize.

Rachel: I am quite happy to have been ... well I'm quite happy about it and I actually, well I was particularly pleased that it was to make a new piece of work - that we were given money to make a new piece of work ...

Nina: It's a Scottish work ethic - you'll do well in Edinburgh! It's true! I thought "Oh good you have to make a new piece of work"... (both laugh).

Rachel: Because there is some money to make the work I can actually go and use an Avid edit suite to make the piece - which normally, well talking about my unease with technology I mean some of it is to do with me but some of it is to do with the fact that I don't have very much money so I tend to use older ... you know for example Super 8 I can actually deal with myself and slides and so I don't have enough freedom or enough funds to just go and edit things all the time as well.
Yes, I got into writing the proposal and so the piece I'm going to do I really want to make. I'm slightly uneasy about the whole sort of idea of it being a competition with this big prize at the end - it sort of feels a bit unreal really because it's such an amount of money that's normally out of my grasp that ... and well you try not to think about that idea of having money like that ...

Nina: A normal life!

Rachel: Yes, a normal life if there is such a thing - the idea of actually having money ... but well I hope that the competition won't sort of dominate the whole thing - whereas I'm quite into just making the work and just enjoying that and having a good piece of work at the end. I just hope that is how it goes rather than being kind of really full on ...

Nina: What do you think about the notion of it being a women only prize? Obviously because it's Ulay it's a women only prize - but also, do you see the fact that you're a woman as significant to your practice? I think is more interesting maybe.

Rachel: Yes, I mean I do think it is significant to my practice, I mean I find it quite difficult to say how - I think that intuitively I kind of make work that maybe makes people stand back a bit - that deliberately tries to make people slow down slightly. I mean I don't know if that is a particularly female thing or not. I don't make work that is specifically about being female but obviously it can't help but have some kind of effect on the work that I make. I think it's not overtly physical in the sense of it being like big sculptural installations or objects and I think that there is a physical manipulation more to do with images than actual material.

Nina: Because I've been thinking about it quite a lot, partly because Pauline who wrote one of the essays for the book wrote a bit trying to situate Karen and I's work in relation to that ... and I was actually thinking about it in relation to seeing Mike's piece - because there's a lot of artists whose work I really like, like Mike's, but which I can never imagine making, and I don't know whether that's to do with being a woman and that not being the type of work I would make or whether that's just making an assumption about that because I know it's made by a man. Also thinking of, you know there are a lot of artists whose work I like , like Mike or Erland, and I wouldn't make that work but then there are other artists like Tacita Dean say whose work I like but I can actually see it as a something I can imagine making - and it seems to be only other women's work that I can actually imagine making myself somehow.

Rachel: Yes, I think that is quite interesting, I don't know whether, I mean I sometimes get frustrated that I don't make work that is more physical and I don't know why ... but then one reason is I physically don't have that capability which is .. well in one sense that irritates me, I could never make the work Mike makes because I couldn't even lift half the things he does - it's as simple as that. Obviously it's more complicated but ...

Nina: It's quite interesting in relation to new technology as well because there's a certain macho kind of laddyness attached to new technology in certain instances, but because it doesn't involve physical control it is something that woman are able to do ... and I have to admit to being sucked into that 'nerdy' ... 'I want to be able to make this function on every level' kind of thing ... I don't know ...

Rachel: Yes, I really find it hard to say how much being a woman affects the kind of work I make - I mean I don't consciously make work that is specifically about being a woman but I think that there is something there - I think that if you saw my work you would be able to tell - you would probably know that it was a woman that made it.
In terms of it being a women only award I don't really have a problem with that - I mean I think it's slightly dubious the connection to the cosmetics world - you know Oil of Ulay ... but no, because I don't feel that they've tried to prescribe what kind of work we make which is why I think it's OK.

Nina: Now we get to the nitty gritty, as you know my piece involves encouraging people to gamble on who the winner is going to be and I wanted to ask people at this stage if there was anything that they thought might be problematic about that or about involving the other artists in that piece. I mean I should say that we've talked about it prior to the interview may be but...

Rachel: No, I mean ....

Nina: You can be completely honest!

Rachel: No, I mean I think it's an interesting idea and I don't see that there is any problem - I suppose the only thing is that it's difficult to be completely honest when you know that it's going to be put up as part of another piece of work I mean I couldn't completely slag it off .. well maybe I could er ...

Nina: But does the idea per se of people gambling on the winner horrify you?

Rachel: Er no, no it doesn't.

Nina: ... and is that because, like me, you think people are going to do that regardless of whether there's a piece of work about it?

Rachel: Yes, I mean I think it's because people will gamble on anything, I don't think it's really got anything to do with the work that's made, it's just a human activity that people enjoy and it kind of ... I mean I don't really see any problem in gambling. Obviously I think there are problems associated with people gambling on an artist rather than a horse but that's kind of how ... but I think people will do it anyway whether you make the piece of work or not and therefore that's probably quite interesting because at least it acknowledges that fact and then maybe makes people conscious of the fact that they are doing this ...

Nina: Do you have any direct experience of betting (laughs)

Rachel: No I don't have any direct experience of betting! I've never placed a bet or gambled in my life - I mean personally I'm not interested ... I bought a lottery ticket for the first time last week and it sort of ... well Mike was given a birthday present of bath salts that you put on the bath and they kind of fizz and you get a piece of paper with your lottery numbers on it, and I'd had this piece of paper hanging about for about three months and was bored and I thought right I'm going to go and buy a lottery ticket just for the hell of it with these numbers and I didn't get a single number right - so! That's my one and only ever attempt. I suppose because, well I don't really like the idea of the lottery at all - this idea of giving people hope and it somehow placates people to their lot in life by their kind of occasional fling on the lottery which is like a million to one chance of them winning ...

Nina: It's interesting that you make the connection to the lottery, because it is something that I hope people will make through the piece but which I don't want to be very explicit about. I mean the idea of the lottery disgusts me ...

Rachel: Yes I find it horrible it's just peddling false dream to people.

Nina: And yet now it's impossible as an artist to make a project in a way without being touched by the lottery. So, you're in a situation where no matter how critical you are of it it's very very difficult to avoid it.

Rachel: A lot of people say well it generates all this money for the arts and so you shouldn't be so you know critical of it ... but still I do feel it's horrible ...

Nina: At least this work isn't funded by the lottery!

Rachel: That's true (both laugh)

Nina: ... and the last question, have you kind of thought forward to what the outcome of making this work might be? So, that could be either in relation to the competition in that obviously there's going to be a winner or more generally in how it's going to relate to your on-going practice. I mean in a way you talked about it in relation to using Avid - which is not something normally you would use - maybe there's no going back after that Rachel! Once you touch Avid the super 8 camera is in the cupboard (laughing)

Rachel: Oh no! I mean I think - all I've really thought is that I'm quite excited that it enables me to make a new piece of work, and there is a relatively decent budget for it so I can push an idea and maybe try to use Avid again. I think I'll still carry on using more immediate media or using actual film as a starting point ... and I just try not to think about the idea of winning because I can't conceive of winning! I think it's better just not to think about that.

Nina: I can see though that as the thing progresses the idea of this kind of ceremony is going to become more and more terrifying ...

Rachel: Yes, I think the idea of a ceremony is terrifying - that's probably why I'm not thinking about it! I mean I don't really like being filmed at all or anything like that - and so I hope the whole thing isn't going to become too bound up in who we are as individuals rather than what the work is - that is one of my worries about it. I mean I think .. well as long as it does ... I think it will be OK!

Nina: OK I'll switch the tape off ... (more laughing).