Remote studio dates is a series of conversations with artists, curators and researchers to document and explore coping mechanisms for isolation in the current health crisis. Each date focuses on one work, project, concept or dream, with digressions and slippages, without the need of ending somewhere but with the desire of opening something up.
Zach and I met in 2014 when we worked on a performance project together called DONTDRINKTHEMILK. Since then, Zach has created an edition for the Royal Academy of Arts, relocated with his family to Glasgow and worked on countless projects. We caught up in the middle of lockdown to discuss his experience of the past few months and what he saw coming next.
A. What has life on lockdown meant for you?
Z. Lockdown has meant having my young children in the house 24/7 which means home schooling and keeping them entertained. My wife, who is a jewellery designer, and I have divided the week in half so we both get two and a half days each to lock ourselves in the back room and try and get some work done. Between home schooling and trying to get some work done is excess snacking and drinking too much. We have a garden so for the most part, with the nice weather it has been enjoyable… before the thoughts of existential crisis creep back into your head that is…
A. Before lockdown, can you describe what an average day in the studio might have looked like?
Z. Ohh, I don’t think there is an average day. That’s one of the bonuses of being an artist. I split my time between my studio in Glasgow and working at home. For the last few years I have been working very digitally and I have not been physically making much myself so for the most part it has been me sat at a computer preparing sculptures, drawings or videos as well as all the admin and emailing that needs to be done to keep ones career flowing.
When I was the Artist in Residence with the Scottish Ballet, their rehearsal space in Glasgow was my studio, that was great. I wish I was there now!
A. How has your studio practice changed?
Z. I had a couple of small shows coming up later in the year and I was preparing for those before the lockdown. For one of those I was about to start a new body of ceramic sculptures, my first handmade work in two years, I think. I am assuming that show is paused for now. I go through phases where I need to get my hands dirty and stages where I just work on the computer. There is a circadian flow to it, and I am entering a thinking through making phase.
As a result of this, I am turning my garage, which is currently full of household stuff (bikes, lawnmower etc.) into a ceramic workshop. This was always my long-term plan since we moved in last year, but lockdown has brought it forward a bit.
As for what I am actually doing, my wife and I share a studio, and a couple of days before lockdown we had the foresight to get everything we might need for an extended lockdown. I grabbed my vinyl cutter, which I have modified so it can hold a pen and draw digital drawings. So that’s what I have been doing mostly; digital drawings.
I am currently weighing up whether I want to post pictures of work that I want to make in the next couple of years, work that might take a lot longer to realise now. I had been collaborating with a computer programmer on an Artificial Intelligence sculpture project and there is a chance it could sit in my hard drive now for a while, which I don’t really want it to do.
Oh, and I am also trying to get funding to do more work with the Scottish Ballet!
A. You mentioned that earlier, can you go into a bit of detail of what your experience was there? What did you take with you from the residency and why are you so keen to go back?
Z. For about a year from middle 2018 to 2019 I was the artist in residence at Scottish Ballet. They are a very forward-looking company in a business that tends to trade on tradition. Every two years they have a Digital Season where they experiment with different ways of experiencing ballet, such as making films for smart phones and live streaming. I was their first contemporary artist in residence, and I was commissioned to make some work for their next Digital Season. When I began, I didn’t know what I was going to do so I spent some months watching classes and rehearsals and researching. I ended up throwing myself into this new territory, and then learning a load more new stuff on top of that like motion capture, motion graphics, green screen filming and actually making films. I collaborated with three different choreographers to make three digitally augmented films called Technology//Mythology//Allegory which were about characters from Greek mythology whose stories I think relate to modern digital society.
Even though I spent a lot of time watching these amazingly talented dancers rehearse most days, which is no hardship, I set myself a big task which was pretty stressful. However, I loved the collaborative nature of it all. I am fascinated in the different modes we all think in. As a sculptor, I know I think through shape, form and the object. Dancers and choreographers think through music, rhythm and the body and the musicians I worked with think through rhythm, sound and tone. We were all thinking about a shared idea through our own modes of thought, and there was something exciting and special about that. It’s a notion that I began exploring in the DONTDRINKTHEMILK show in 2014 and the collaboration with the REC Choir.
I’m trying to get funding to do more work with the Scottish Ballet and build on our first project. I want to go back because I feel like I only just began my journey there, plus I loved the collaborating with them, the dancers and choreographers as well as the behind the scenes staff. It was exciting being part of a team which is different to the way I usually work. The ballet’s work will be impacted significantly by Covid as I don’t think theatres will be opening for quite some time. I am proposing a digital motion capture project with them so I am hoping we can still create together and share the work on screen rather than live performance.
A. Can you see a lasting impact of the past few months on your work and others?
Z. For my work broadly, I don’t know. The artworld survives on sales and commissions etc. and art fairs look less likely and private views would have to be socially distanced in the future. Unless there is significant investment in the arts from the government, I suspect money will flow a lot more slowly. There undoubtedly will be an impact, but artists have to make art regardless, that is innate within us.
A. You’ve been very active with the Artist Support Pledge, how did you discover it and why do you think it is important?
Z. At the best of times artist’s income can fluctuate hugely and lockdown is going to cause a lot of problems for people. I am lucky, I am just finishing a large sculpture commission which means at present I am ok. I thought I could use my time to try and help others, so I have done a series of new drawings for the artist support pledge where when you hit a £1000 sales you buy another artist work for £200, which I have done and donated a further 20% to my local food bank. I am going to keep going with further sets of drawings for the Support Pledge. It’s highly selfish though, I want to buy other artists work! I’ve got my eye and a few pieces I want to get.
In the next few days I will be releasing an editioned drawing, sales of which will go to a Black Lives Matter charity.
A. What’s next?
Z. Garage ceramics, digital dance and AI
Visit Zach’s website to find out more about his past and ongoing projects: