Anna Jane catches up with Stacey Guthrie, who exhibited her painting Kiss My Ring at the Bad Behaviour Open last year. She talks to her about what she’s up to now, her inspiration and her opinion on arts education.
A: We had you at the Bad Behaviour Open in 2016, and it looks like you’ve been quite busy since then, what have you been up to lately?
S: I’ve got a new video at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, a modern creation myth based around the menopause. It’s a swamp, made from the tears and soap suds of hundreds of women doing laundry, stuck in the swamp endlessly doing laundry, and they can’t get out, and have soap suds in their eyes so they can’t see. So a menopausal woman comes along and says “what are you doing? why are you doing this?” and takes them to a new place, where they don’t have to do any laundry.
A: Is that from experience?
S: Well, I’m peri-menopausal, but I’m finding it to be a really powerful time in my life, apart from the physical annoyances, it’s really empowering. Socially we’re not supposed to enjoy it, because it’s meant to symbolise the end of our youthfulness, our fertility and our desirability. Society treats aging women like “what are you for? if you’re not having babies or cooking my dinner what are you for?” I think as the second generation who came after the first wave of feminism to go through the menopause we’re thinking “fuck that”.
The invisibility that comes with being a middle aged woman is a relief. Part of me thinks “oh no I’m not pretty anymore”, but ultimately not caring is so liberating.
A: From where do you draw your experience?
S: There’s a huge bank of source material, particularly in advertising and media. A lot of my work is about the fetishisation of housework, where we’re still being sexualised, while at the same time being sold products that will keep us in the home; it’s a really weird dynamic and it’s everywhere.
A: I find that a lot of focus on women’s issues in art tends to be quite global and broad, but yours has a specific focus.
S: Well I’m quite simple, I can only do things that I understand, and the only thing I understand is my own experience. At first I thought it was quite self-absorbed, but actually all of my experiences are shared experiences. It’s a bonding experience, by talking about myself I’m actually able to communicate with a fair few women. We’re able to share a moment or a common experience, that I’ve managed to put into the world by way of me putting my severed head in a dishwasher.
A: You’re a very multi-media artist, do you do all your filming, editing, building yourself?
S: Yeah I’m a total control freak. I cannot give it to someone else to do, and I’m not an expert in any of those things, so it kind of ends up having a sort of taped-together feel to it, which I like. I was embarrassed about it at first because I thought it would be too slick but I like it.
A: Well I think there’s too much focus on slickness in the art world, and your style lends itself to the subject matter anyway.
S: Yeah, and I think it shows a woman in some considerable distress, sat in a basement on her own, making something. And I think that draws people in, because they don’t feel intimidated by it, because it’s not this slick beautiful artwork, it has a lot of humour and a home made aspect to it which draws people in.
A: It’s more relatable I think.
S: Yeah it’s more relatable and accessible and it’s not saying like “you don’t get it”.
A: I think that’s the main goal of a lot of contemporary art is to create a barrier.
S: Yes and I’m always suspicious of work like that because I think it has more style than substance, I think they’re hiding when they do that.
A: Well you studied fine art, how did you find arts education?
S: I was lucky as I had really nice tutors, who were aware of and consciously fought the academisation of creativity. I can intellectualise it with the best of them, and use all the jargon but I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about how things need to be truthful. A lot of art nowadays is about “look at me aren’t I clever?”, but one of the purposes of art is to elevate the life of the person looking at it, and if you’re going “I’m gonna write this in a foreign language to you”, then you’re not allowing that person to be elevated, you’re making them feel stupid. Art is about making peoples’ lives better, and if you’re excluding people you’re not making anybody’s life better, you’re just showing off.
Interview by Anna Jane