Kate Radford is a multidisciplinary artist working primarily in Hebden Bridge whose work focuses on exploring women’s voices through performance. She performed her mythological, sonic, solo piece, Drought, at Vault Festival 2019. Ciaran Hammond speaks to her.
When and where would you say you first started working as an artist?
Well I was first published when I was thirteen, and that was a poem that I submitted on the internet, and I’ve steadily written since then. Obviously, the types of art that I’ve done and the way I’ve been employed as an artist has changed, but with a steady practice. I was writing every day when I was a teenager, and I still pretty much write every day.
Any main collaborators?
Yes, I have, but [Drought] isn’t as clear when it comes to collaborators, people have moved in and out of this project. The geography of where I work makes it a little bit more challenging to connect with people and to have the same people. The structure that I work with is very different from what happens here [in London], where everyone is in the same space and you can do things a lot faster.
One of the main collaborators I’ve had is Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax, who’ve offered me space to work. I was able to preview the show, get some feedback, and get some responses from the team there, then take those notes on to rewrite and work on it.
An artist that worked with me a lot was Laurence Alliston-Greiner; we met through Rose Bruford when we were both there. We worked on a scratch with the material we were using. Then we did a week working together, and then I took it into a draft and I’ve been working on it since then.
Also, I always ask anybody that sees the show or anybody that relates to it in some way to offer feedback, so I take that as collaboration in every sense. I do take all of that on board and it has shaped [the piece]. And in other projects I work collaboratively with other organisations and artists.
What would you say the most formative experience has been for you as an artist?
Wow there’s too many to count! I suppose the moment when I decided I wasn’t an actor, that was formative. I suppose my language moved away from identifying as [working] only in theatre, my work has moved a lot and quite rapidly since I accepted that dimension of my practice. But I trained in that way as well so there’s a funny kind of paradox that kind of exists within that. So that was probably quite a formative moment, I can’t really give you a day or a time, but coming to that realisation that I didn’t necessarily fit within a theatrical context, and what that meant. For a long time, I was feeling frustrated by that because I was chasing things that I felt I didn’t belong to, whereas now I get to shape things that I feel that I do belong to. And it’s harder and it’s messier and it’s really confusing. But it feels very radical in a sense, or new, to feel a little bit out of the framework or the context where you know something is going to work. When you create work out of that context you have no idea what’s going to turn out, and that has a huge benefit, as the surprise element is wonderful and amazing, but obviously the risk that comes with that is also very real. So that felt quite formative.
What else… I think moving outside London – that was actually a very big step. [It’s] part of that whole transition of coming from a rural area: none of my family is in art or has any kind of strong connection to it. So making the decision that I was going to pursue that, and then feeling like I had to be in London to do something – that feeling has come back a little bit actually, since I’ve been here [for Vault Festival] funnily enough – but moving away and spending a lot of time outside in nature, and having a very different quality of life, has shaped my work, and realising that geography has a huge part in the voice that you create. We’re constantly in touch with our psychology and our landscape is a really big part of that, so I think that has been a very formative element as well.
What would you say the biggest change has been in your artistic practice? I know it spans a large amount of time.
Hmm. I’m trying to think of something to compare it to in a way. I think the first shows that I started to make felt very cabaret or funny, and I think that’s because that’s part of my personality, I am quite funny, and I’m not ashamed to admit that, haha! When I spend time with people that know me a little bit better, there’s an element of fun and playfulness that’s very present. But I don’t strongly identify my personality with my work – not that they should always be separate. I’ve kind of moved away from what people saw me as – “Oh you’re funny, so you should make funny work” – because that’s not really what I want to say, I’ve been moving more into a message that felt closer to my true voice. That felt quite important, because how people perceive you will constantly change, and I don’t think you can build a body of work around how people see you, it has to be the value you put in yourself. As a woman that’s hard work sometimes, because we’re very conditioned to believe other people’s opinions more greatly than our own. So shedding that, or trying to, has been very interesting.
That’s interesting that as a solo artist you have that distance between your work and your personality.
I don’t think the work can always live in your personality. We’re all trying to put something out into the world that then people can identify us with, but actually if you don’t only identify with your work, then people are a bit confused by you. I don’t walk around like the serious, feminist artist that doesn’t talk to anyone. I talk to everyone, and can be really silly and goofy and odd, and it’s a bit confusing because it doesn’t necessarily fit with the aesthetic of my work. But for me that feels right because we’re not only one thing, we’re different for our family, our friends, for our work. It has to have a bit of movement otherwise we’d suffocate I think.
What artists have influenced you the most?
I’m constantly, constantly stimulated, as most creatives are, and that is a gift and a curse at the same time isn’t it? So a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. I would say practically my work that I’ve done with Bred in The Bone has been absolutely imperative to the way that I connect to music, and sound, and speaking. That’s been a huge inspiration, in terms of a practice.
In what way?
The training that we had and continue to have connects to a part of performance that also connects to a way of seeing and connecting to the world, which I think for me is also how I connect to my work. It’s not the same, as in it’s the same and not the same; I’m doing a solo show. Within [Bred in the Bone] its ensemble work. So the parameters of it, I’ve moved and challenged I guess. But the way sound and body and energy and how all of those things relate has been an absolutely integral part of my learning which I think undoubtedly informs my work.
I’m very inspired by visual art, I’m very inspired by music – and lots of different kinds of music. I really like Tune-Yards, they’re an amazing, female-led band. They use loop pedals and I remember when I first saw them, it was the first time I’d seen somebody using loop pedals and I thought “Wow! That’s amazing!” And I use that quite a lot within my work now.
And Alina Szapocznikow, who’s a Polish, mixed-disciplinary sculptor, artist and survivor of the Holocaust. Anybody that transcends form I think I’m very, very interested in, and she’s somebody that does that.
Who else… So many others… I feel like I can write you a list and that might be more helpful… Pina Bausch, my work is nothing like hers, but I find her energy inspirational. You can be inspired by many different facets I think. Not even in an aesthetic way, but just how somebody approaches their work, I guess.
What artists would you say, living or dead, you see the most of in your work?
I honestly don’t. I don’t think I can answer that. I think other people could answer that more readily. As in, we’re always connected to the things that have inspired us and moved us, and I’m sure if I was more outside of it I’d see that clearer.
There are so many female artists and female solo writers and singers. I’d like to think that if Björk and Virginia Woolf had a love child that was from Yorkshire but also really loved visual art, I might sit somewhere in that spectrum. But that person almost doesn’t exist. In my mind it’s that sort of flavour. I guess would be a nice thing to taste. You’ve seen the show, what do you think?
I’d say that’s fairly accurate.
Maybe in ten years’ time I’ll sit somewhere in that spectrum, I mean now I feel quite early in my work, the resources that I’ve got, like I’m working with what I have. But those are the idols I have in a way that I work towards.
How would you say the world for performance has changed and how does your work fit in with it?
Again, I feel a bit of a straddler, so I don’t feel that I can comment on the theatre world in the same way because I do feel a bit removed from it.
But you ARE performing at Vault Festival!
I know! But that’s sort of confirmed it in a way, and not in a bad way. I’ve realised that the theatre world has a very different energy, and a way of mechanising itself as a vehicle, which is different to the way that I work now. I work a lot more with the public than I do with the industry, if that makes sense.
But it has changed a lot, technology is making a massive difference, for me that has been an asset because, weirdly, I started making solo work because I didn’t have the funding or resources to make ensemble work, it’s too expensive. So technology has allowed me to make quite a big show, frankly, by myself. The loop pedal has allowed me to make choruses in a way that I could have made with an ensemble but I’m not able to. The visual elements, I was able to learn how to make because of technology: the cinematography, the videoscape that sits within the show; the prominent part of the [light] design which is LEDs – which I use quite a lot for different things, because they can go into non-conventional spaces, and it makes it quite fluid in that sense. So technology has allowed me to work more independently, for better or for worse. And I think that’s what we, as artists, are straggling with at the moment. We’re seeing a big movement with installations, things that blur those lines which is great.
There was a quote that I heard earlier today that was like “we’re dealing with life” and it really reminded me of theatre because we have to remember that the reason why it exists is because it deals with life. It talks about it, we digest it, we transform it into something else, but actually the people who see it are part of that. So then as soon as we remove ourselves from it, what happens? And maybe the reason that I feel distant from the theatre industry, is not because my work isn’t a piece of theatre but because I’m not working with other people and I’m not working with other life in a way, I’m only sort of working with my own. And that’s not to say that other things that are coming aren’t super valid and interesting and can make such great commentary. But at the same time there’s a question mark for me of what is theatre now? Is it the same thing? Is that good? Is that bad? Is it blurred and that’s good? We’re always riding that wave I guess. And in terms of where my work sits, I think it sits for people who want to see it, and for me that makes it a piece of theatre in a very old way. As in, a person speaking on a street could be a piece of theatre, so why not have something simple that is one person, or whatever, that can still be seen as that. But at the same time there are digital elements that make it a piece of art or sort of filmic. I’m planning to record it onto vinyl or some other way that’s audible but not visual and play around with deconstructing it in a sense. Then it definitely won’t be a piece of theatre. It might be a book or a film. Its form will still continue to evolve.
I think Drought definitely is theatre, there’s a certain dynamic you have with the audience. I was surprised when you said that you might have some suspicions that it wasn’t within those traditional conventions. I can see why, but I’d describe it as a one woman-show so…
But it doesn’t really feel like a one woman show though.
Because it’s quite loud isn’t it?
(chuckles) Well part of the loop pedals is to feel that I’m not on my own, or so that the music becomes a partnership in a way. Even by saying one woman and a loop pedal, makes me feel a bit… because when you say one woman you can almost hear just one person speaking and that’s the dynamic of it. But I’m also up for discussion and y’know if people watch it and they say, “Hey that’s definitely a piece of theatre,” I say “Hey, that’s great.” What’s the saying, if it looks like a duck…
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck…
Yeah if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, then it’s a piece of theatre.
Then it’s Kate Radford.
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck then it’s probably Kate Radford… But yeah I mean we’re always discussing it aren’t? Part of the work as theatre-makers is that – and I see that so clearly from other people’s work, and being so happy to see it – of questioning and forms changing and moving and I guess… yeah… what’s theatre anyway?
I think we’re conditioned to move and relate to things by attachments or labels or categorisations of things. And I think a part of my work is to not do that. I make installations that I don’t think are pieces of theatre. I don’t identify as a theatre-maker, I identify as an artist. And not that artists aren’t theatre-makers, but as in, I’m not that specific with my genres to say “I am a theatre maker”, if that makes sense? I would say I’m an artist that does lots of different things and sometimes does theatre.
It’s almost like the tree falling in the woods; if the show happened outside of London, did it really happen? That’s been a sort of test in me coming here, because I’ve been working for a while and feeling… not invisible, because people see the work, and it’s moved people, and it’s made steps in the women’s movement, and so many other things. But within the career element, has it really happened unless somebody’s seen it? And coming here has been like “Okay, well people can see it, so it exists,” but it did exist before! Drought happened last year, it happened in Square Chapel in front of eighty people. And that was as real as it was here, but somehow this is more real because now there are stars next to it, and that’s not a criticism, that’s a question for us as people who work in our sector. It’s the question of where is it more real for us?
It should not be more real for us to sit in a room alone and be like “I am an artist, or theatre maker, or this or that,” than if we were in the National Theatre. It should not be different, really.
You put yourself in a context so that other people can understand it, but you have to carry your own context. That is really important I think; if I was stood in a room in a factory and said “I’m an artist,” they should have the same response. So when I’m alone in the Pennines saying “I’m an artist!” that shouldn’t be different from me saying that here. It’s the same work.
To see more of what Kate is up to, go to www.kateradford.co.uk
Interview by Ciaran Hammond.