ON PLASMA VISTA WITH SARAH COCKINGS & HARRIET FLEURIOT.

Megan Preston Elliott, May 2018

Plasma Vista is a film created by artists Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot. Selected to tour with Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2017, the film investigates ideas surrounding utility, economics, production, creativity and aesthetics. It was at the opening of the exhibition in January at Block 336 in London that I met Sarah and Harriet and saw the film. Seduced by its commercial aesthetic and bodily visuals, I was eager to find out more about the project, particularly because it arose in the most unusual way, through a business proposal to sell furniture.

Megan Elliott: Could you tell me a bit about your backgrounds?

 

Sarah Cockings: I studied for an MA in Communication, Art and Design at the Royal College of Art and before that I studied Visual Communication in Brighton. Although I was always on illustration courses, I did absolutely no illustration whatsoever! I mainly worked in sculpture, installation and performance. I would document work in film too but this is the first time I've made a film of this calibre, shot in a studio and produced to a high level. I have built large sculptures for festivals, staged public performances and am very interested the line between art and comedy.

 

Harriet Fleuriot: I was at the Royal College of Art doing an MA in Fine Art Performance whilst we were making Plasma Vista. However, before that, my background was in film. I completed a BA (Hons) Film Production degree in Bournemouth and specialised in production design. I have always been interested in film and from a young age wanted to direct films. When I was 14, I made my first film that got broadcast on the local TV station. There was a big gap between my two degrees. During this time, I worked at film festivals and in marketing. I then got into production and was working with artists to help them produce films. 

Plasma Vista, 2016. (Still) HD video, 7 mins 31 secs.

© Images Courtesy of Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot

ME: Is that how you ended up working together? How did you meet?

 

HF: Yeah, a mutual friend of ours introduced us. Sarah wanted to make a film for her business.

 

SC: At the time, I was buying and selling furniture with my ex-boyfriend. We were creating theatrical thematic scenes where everything on the set was for sale. For example, you could click on the model's hair and find out where she got it done, or you could click on an ornament on a table or a piece of furniture and buy it. I had the two white cabinets that feature in the first scene of Plasma Vista and I wanted to fill them with hand picked vessels. I went to Harriet with these two cabinets and explained that I wanted to build a set with them and make a short 30 second film to bring the scene alive and animate the products.

That was the beginning of the end... we then went on some kind of heroes journey, individually and together. My father passed away, myself and my partner separated and I moved to Berlin, and Harriet started a masters degree. There was no timeframe for the film so we just chipped away at it for about 18 months through these personal and artistic changes. It took a while to complete it but this allowed for it to develop in quite a natural way. 

 

ME: How did you fund the project?

 

SC: I got a little bit of inheritance money from my dad’s second hand car sales business, as my dad passed away about 6 months into the project. I don't know how I originally thought I was going to fund it to be honest.

 

HF: Originally, Sarah was going to fund it as a business investment, but once that went out the window it changed. The ambition of the project wasn't as grand at the beginning. It was initially going to be about a day’s shoot with a bit of furniture and a few performers. We were talking as if it would be done in two months.

 

SC: Yeah, it was going to be very action based. There was no narrative in mind and we hadn't discussed a real concept, it was very much about the aesthetic and about it being a reworked sales pitch. Then I did inherit a bit of money. We never actually set a budget - we didn't decide what it would cost, we just kind of cruised through, meandering and navigating every twist and turn. Somehow, the film got made. In hindsight, we are both really happy with it but it was a slow and opportunistic process.

Plasma Vista, 2016. (Still) HD video, 7 mins 31 secs.

© Images Courtesy of Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot

HF: I spent a long time whilst we were developing it feeling quite anxious that I couldn't commit that much time to it because I was doing my masters. Sarah was incredibly patient throughout the whole process. At the time, it felt separate to what I was doing at college and was like an extra-curricular activity. It was almost opposite to what I was doing on the course. My MA was in live performance and I was working on projects with a very quick turnaround. It was such a different way of working. Both of us were going through big transitions in terms of our identities as artists at the time and we were using the project to help negotiate that. A lot of the early conversations we had were very much about how we would work together and how we feel about the world - we were getting to know each other as well as we had never met before.

 

SC: Yeah, we weren't friends when we started the film. It went from being a somewhat commercial exercise to a creative, artistic, narrative driven project (albeit it still contains that retail element). When you work with somebody quite intimately you want to know that your morals and creative motivations align etc.

 

ME: How did you go about getting other people on board to help make the film?

 

SC: We had lots of different ideas in mind for the protagonist, or the lead, of the film. We auditioned a lot of actors before deciding. In terms of the crew, there were people that we knew and had worked with before and then a lot of friends of friends. The whole thing was a very ergonomic experience and we basically just felt our way through it. I think that might be why the finished product has the texture that it does, because even the casting and finding of the crew was a very feeling driven process. There was no brief.

 

HF: I could see that Sarah was actively involved in the ideas from the beginning - when I first went to the meeting I thought that I'd be going to meet a couple of people who had a furniture business and that they would just hand the film over to me. It wasn't like that at all, it was much more of a creative collaboration even at that point.

ME: It's interesting that it developed out of a business idea because, as you mentioned Sarah, it does retain a commercial aesthetic reminiscent of advertising and that world. In contrast with that though, there were elements on the screen that were incredibly sculptural, physical and bodily.

 

SC: I think it often feels like you have to go in two very extreme directions to make money through art. I don’t mean big money, I'm talking about earning a living. Having an art practice and making rent can be two quite polar experiences. So, I think that creating this platform for selling art, fashion, furniture and design pieces, and blurring the boundaries between experimental film that has feeling and content and a glossy advertorial was certainly the initial motivation. Since that is how it started, I think that's why it still has that hybrid effect. Harriet had a whole different take on it and different ideas as to what she wanted to achieve from it. I think this meeting of motivations gave it the strength and content that it has.

Plasma Vista, 2016. (Still) HD video, 7 mins 31 secs.

© Images Courtesy of Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot

HF: We did gather a lot of images together when we were trying to work out what we wanted the aesthetic of the film to be. A lot of these were very glossy, well-photographed images that came from a variety of sources. Most of them were photographs by artists that were quite dreamy and slick that borrowed that commercial aesthetic. We didn't look at many commercials but we did look at fashion films and music videos. I've always felt that music videos are very seductive and that they're a weird mixture of commercials, art and music. It's a confusing genre and has historically been experimental territory. I am interested in the imagined space, a space where you can dream of alternative possibilities or imagine things differently. Advertising seems to have claimed that space and really capitalises on that desire to imagine one’s self and the world, but I like the idea of reclaiming it. 

 

SC: In relation to this imagined space, we also sort of doubled that by becoming completely obsessed with illusion and magic tricks. We even visited The Magic Circle, where old magicians did ropey tricks with red roses. There are essentially four acts in the film and they're all tricks or somehow deceptive or illusionary. Maybe we were both up for escaping into another universe!

 

HF: Also, the idea of being deceptive or tricking someone is perhaps more about revealing something. There is a disorientation that allows for something else to emerge somehow. We were trying to get close to the idea of the unknown or uncertainty.

 

SC: It felt like when we were working together a third person or entity arose. The amalgamation of the two of us was is a thing itself. We present another force at play throughout the film, a force that tussles with the protagonist or magician and tries to disrupt the tricks. You are required to relinquish some control when you work with someone else. Both of us had quite strong ideas about what we wanted and fortunately they quite often aligned or one person could persuade the other that their idea was worthwhile. It was quite a harmonious dynamic overall and we were both motivated to create this third thing, whatever or whoever that thing is.

ME: The film is quite surreal and has a darkness to it. When we met in January at Block 336, we spoke briefly about how you might like to install the film to enhance these aspects of it. Could you talk more about this - if you could put the film in whatever setting you wanted, how would you choose to display it?

 

SC: Maybe at the end of a big, black wormhole in outer space.

 

HF: It would be interesting to show the film at the end of a long dark spiral corridor that you had to walk down to get to it. Or at the end of one of our shiny insulation tubes.

 

ME: If it were at the end of a tube, it might feel as though you were being physically sucked in to the screen.

 

HF: Yes, I think the whole physicality of the film and the bodily stuff in it is important. I'm interested in the idea of cinema being a space where you lose all sense of yourself in some respects - the whole room is designed for you not to be able to be aware of yourself so much; it's dark and muffled, you’re sunken into a soft chair. Everyone is looking in the same direction. You get sucked into that mirror I suppose.

 

SC: When the film was made and we had time to debrief, we both fantasised about installing it with the props and objects that are in it, or creating a similar dreamscape but in real space for real visitors. We hoped at some stage we could do that to emphasise that textural atmosphere that we created.

"when we were working together, a third person or entity arose. The amalgamation of the two of us was a thing itself"

Left: Plasma Vista, 2016. (Still) HD video, 7 mins 31 secs.

Right: In the making of Plasma Vista - the artists testing out the tube

© Images Courtesy of Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot

"we are going to be creating this 'therapy-centre-come-adventure-park' for objects that is somewhere between an artist's studio and a factory floor"

HF: A lot of it did stem from pure joy and a physical reaction from us when filming. We were bodily reacting to the materials that we had in the space. We spent half an hour in the metal tube to test it. We even both got into the inflated giant balloon together, to see how it felt and what it looked like inside. We physically experimented with things rather than just looking at them.

 

SC: Also, all the visual effects were done on set - there were a few tweaks in postproduction (ropes and string being taken out or the floor being cleaned up) but otherwise everything was done practically. That also adds to the crafty, textural feeling that you might get from it, because we did physically road test everything and build everything by hand.

 

ME: Will you be working together again in the future?

 

SC: We are working on something together for Art Night this year. The project is called Lendable Mendable Vendable.

 

HF: We have a very quick turnaround for Art Night in comparison to Plasma Vista, so it will be a different way of working. It will only be open for one day and we’ve been given the reception area of a block of flats in Nine Elms Point. After Plasma Vista, we were still interested in this world of interiors and objects and our relationship to them - how we interact with them, what they can signify or what they authorise within our lives.

 

SC: Art Night has a theme of Home and we were both obsessing over how you arrange your home and how this negotiates your identity and anxieties. With this, the agenda is that we are going to be creating this 'therapy-centre-comeadventure-park' for objects that is somewhere between an artist’s studio and a factory floor. We will invite people to bring objects from home that are maybe a bit defunct or tired and put them through various digital, mechanical and aural processes.

 

HF: It will be an interactive performance installation. Our ambition for the project is that it will be a bespoke, human-operated machine that puts the objects through these virtual and physical transformations. The objects will then be analysed, processed and enhanced in front of a live audience. It will be our first time working with live performance together. The plan is to stream this process online, project it in the space and then edit it into a short film. Ideally, we’d like to take this to other parts of the country afterwards.

SC: Plasma Vista was so choreographed and styled, so I think it'll be interesting for us to be in this live space together. What's so nice about collaborating is that I get bored of my own opinions - I want that feedback loop to be happening. You get this whole different energy and unexpected things arise.

 

HF: A free-fall creative process is such a luxury these days. Quite often you might have to develop an idea at the beginning to write an application for funding, but with Plasma Vista we didn't have to go through that process.

Lendable Mendable Vendable, 2018. © Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot

SC: It was the closest thing to being eleven and going to your friend’s house and just saying, 'what do you want to do today?'. You make it up as you go along and if both of you have a similar inclination then you ultimately build a good den or create a weird game. It was a really playful experience. There were obviously times when it was stressful and practical; for example, when Harriet was filling out endless risk assessments and I was repetitively sanding steps in a dusty shed…but the build up to that was a real luxury.

 

HF: We should acknowledge that we did have the privilege of having that money, even though it was extremely sad how it came into play. What Sarah and I are trying to figure out now is how to continue that sense of playfulness in our work in a sustainable way. We’re not going to have that same opportunity again, so what happens now? Is there a way of making a system or structure where you’re still creating but can get some return to help support it? It’ll be interesting to see where the aesthetics, ideas and methodologies that we built together for Plasma Vista will go now.

Plasma Vista

www.plasmavista.com

 

Sarah Cockings www.sarahcockings.com

@sarahcockings

 

Harriet Fleuriot www.harrietfleuriot.co.uk @harrietfleuriot

 

Lendable Mendable Vendable

Art Night 2018: http://2018.artnight.london/projects/harriet-fleuriot-and-sarah-cockings/

www.lendablemendablevendable.com @lendablemendablevendable

Plasma Vista, 2016. (Still) HD video, 7 mins 31 secs.

© Images Courtesy of Sarah Cockings and Harriet Fleuriot

© 2019 by Assemblage Magazine.

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