Unlimited mentoring – reflections

Last February Gareth and I underwent a period of artistic mentorship by the brilliant artist Nwando Ebizie. Funded through an Unlimited Micro Grant, the mentorship gave us an opportunity to think about how we could progress our creative partnership.

Part of Nwando’s role was to act as both an artistic provocateur and a sounding board, prompting us to consider different perspectives and to challenge us to work together in new ways.  One task she gave us was to take on different personas during our improvised performances, and to explore how we could develop our engagement with our audiences. 

This challenge built on some work Gareth had been doing with his voice:

Gareth: “I’d been training with a vocal coach called Rebecca Phillips. I’d sung in my earliest works, but hadn’t for several years and I wanted to become more confident. Some of Nwando’s suggestions were to think of several personas: real artists (like Klaus Nomi), fictional characters, and personas from my back catalogue, and try switching between them.

As a live artist Gareth definitely felt very comfortable with this challenge, however I found it slightly more difficult!  Most of our previous performances have been very linear with myself and Gareth working behind the technology. In many settings this works very well and creates a stark, stripped-down Kraftwerk like feel to the piece.  However we’ve often thought it would be nice to explore ways in which we could build more movement into our work.

Whilst I didn’t necessarily take on a persona, I did rise up to the challenge of being more visible.  So one idea we explored was using my wheelchair as an actual musical instrument via a contact mic hooked up to Gareth’s ableton set up. This came about as a result of a conversation with the artist Tim Spooner, and some knowledge of his set up in his performance installations. We used a contact mic Gareth had from an old banjo, and thought it would be an interesting step to attach it to different objects, seeing what sounds they produced – so the instruments spill out from the table and into the room itself.

Wikedpedia describes a wheelchair as:

“a chair with wheels, used when walking is difficult or impossible due to illness, injury or old age related problems, or disability.”

Rarely are wheelchairs talked about in a non clinical way – unless you are watching the paralympics!  So it felt almost liberating to embrace the use of my wheelchair within my art form and also for me to take more space in the room. I can really envision how this would work brilliantly with a live audience. It also pushed our collaboration into a new area – myself working with the wheelchair percussively, Gareth modifying the signal through Ableton. 

Gareth:  “I could sense each of us listening to what the other was doing, and making adjustments as the quality of the sound or the tempo changed”

We were also able to discuss with Nwando ways in which we can use other technologies, and creative methods, to make our performances more multi dimensional. This might be through other art forms such as video projection and installation art. Or by working with more bespoke mobile and experimental technologies – such as hacked Xbox controllers or track motion.

Gemma Nash and Gareth Cutter performing together in Liverpool 2018

It was a fantastic experience to have such interesting and stimulating creative input from another artist.  During the mentoring, we took the opportunity to make a promo video filmed by Alex Mannion-Jones. Sadly, due to illness, we weren’t able to also meet up with Tim Spooner on the last day.  But we will use this postponed session for further mentoring support for a new CUTTER//NASH collaboration with Riannon Amstrong and Wellcome Trust.