The project is described as ’Challenging a simplistic view of the broad period known as the ‘Dark Ages’, [Medieval helpdesk] considers how the medieval functions as a rich storehouse of ideas, aesthetic forms and processes that continue to inform the production of art and its terms of engagement. Highlighting the reuse and appropriation of elements from the past, Medieval helpdesk explores the currency of the medieval to the wider cultural imaginary. It takes its name from a sketch in the Norwegian comedy programme Øystein og meg (1997 - 2001) in which the relativity of knowledge and ‘newness’ is sent up.’
The first public manifestation of the project took the form of a one-day exhibition in a gazebo, as part of Leeds International Medieval Congress 2015. The following conversation looks at how the exhibition was constructed around the ideas of the medieval, between Lara, David, and one of the exhibiting artists - Kitty Clark
Lara Eggleton: In your piece, Drag Me to Hell, Bring Me to Life, which you made for our co-curated exhibition Medieval helpdesk, you touch on some sensitive historical themes, particularly the imprisonment and torture of witches. Can you tell us a bit more about how the work functions, and your ideas behind it?
Kitty Clark: Much of my work leading up to this piece has been driven by a fascination with representations of (and perhaps attempts to deal with) matters of death and spirituality, particularly where they occur in mainstream / popular culture – e.g. haunted house attractions at theme parks, horror movies, the Halloween section in pound shops, etc. Previous works use devices picked up from these sources, utilising scents and animatronics in works that often take the form of tombstone-like sculptures. In this context, I saw witches as simply one of many cartoon Halloween archetypes, yet over time I have found myself coming back to the witch character on a more personal level.
The title of the work comprises two antithetical sentiments (taken respectively from a 2009 US horror film and a popular song by Evanescence) that have become a mantra or coping mechanism for desperation. I wanted to look at the self-identified contemporary young witch, to understand her desire to reclaim and re-imagine this historically maligned identity as a means of self-empowerment (see, for example, this article that describes ‘How to Embrace Your Inner Witch’).
David Steans: One aspect of the piece that I found interesting was the fact of its supposed length. Or rather, your presentation of that fact. Who wants to listen to ten hours of simulated witch torture?
KC: Yes, the duration of the work is important. I made the short loop of sound for the piece by layering many multiple tracks of synthetic church organ, sped it up until it was anxiously disordered, layered it again with a crackling fire sound effect and then made a playlist where I copied it over and over again until it reached 10 hours. At the time I was watching a lot of YouTube videos that are 10 hour long loops of small moments in songs or movies (e.g. Blink 182 - I Miss You [Tom’s Verse 10 Hour Loop]), sometimes massively slowed down or sped up. There is something about the belligerence of making or uploading such a video that is obviously never going to be consumed at that length, or if it was it would itself be a form of torture.
LE: Drag Me to Hell, Bring Me to Life is unsettling in its disembodied fleshiness and jaunty quiff (reminiscent of dolls or androids), and intimately interactive (iPod earphones dangling). It requires a physical encounter, an insertion, that plugs the viewer into a deeper sound experience, which itself presented layers of ambiguity. Rattling chains, church organs, crackling fire… distorted, digitally rendered… both real and self-consciously fabricated.