An Interview with Nic Green, by Sarah Branton in collaboration with Claire Macallister.
“The internet brought us here. How weird is that?”
And now the internet brings you this – a funny, insightful, moving interview with Glasgow-based artist, Nic Green, in the wake of her sold-out season at Arts House in North Melbourne. Two months ago, Sarah and Claire took part in her feminist performance work, Trilogy, after signing up online. We ate a lot of cake and shook a lot of hands. We also danced naked on stage with forty other incredible volunteer women, in front of our friends, our families, our artistic peers and idols. We found our souls opening up to a greater extent every day and the intricacies of our own performance making changed for the better. Nic, and the other phenomenal artists involved*, were so unbelievably generous with their time and their wisdom and their kindness. From the bottom of our hearts and the bottom of our bottoms, we say thank you. Now it’s our turn to be boring and earnest and serious.
What was the light bulb moment when you defined yourself as a feminist?
I feel I’ve always been politically active. I stopped eating animals when I was eleven, and I was really into animal rights activism when I was a teenager. When I went to university-well, do you know what? It’s before that. Are you gonna write this word for word?
I don’t have to.
Let’s just see what comes out of my mouth then. I used to hang out in this big group of young people, I lived in the Yorkshire Valleys, and there wasn’t that much to do. My friend who was from a different place started to hang out with us sometimes when she’d come to hang out with me. One time I was away and she went to hang out with them without me, which never happened before and then when I saw her afterwards, she had a really bruised face. She said she didn’t have any memory of it and then I heard from someone else - to be honest, it sounded like a gang rape situation. I couldn’t get any information out of anyone about it and when I kept asking her, she kept saying that she didn’t have any memory of it. These were people in my life, you know, my friends, and I never called them out because I just couldn’t see how wrong it was at the time. At the time, I think I was under the doctrine of the idea that women’s bodies were also for sexual consumption. In that time, we were in a Labour government, out of Margaret Thatcher’s conservatism, living in the Yorkshire Valleys who had suffered quite badly under that that governmental vision. There was a strange culture that came about in young women which was later called Ladetteism. I don’t know if you had that here but a woman called Amelo Waledon, she wrote a book called ‘Overloaded’, really captured what it was. She named it, along with other people, as Ladetteism which was about a very vicarious behaviour from women where they would emulate the behaviour of laddishness. I think it was some sort of trying to get some power back, but it was a completely false power. We wouldn’t even dream of talking about the pain had been caused or that somebody had been violated, because that would break the code of this very strange false power that we were performing.That stayed on my mind and I went to see somebody about it in my adult life, because I felt like I had let her down in my life. That probably played a bigger part than I have really known until recently. I started calling everything out, once you’ve seen how things really are, you can never go back. When I went to college and then to university, I had more of a chance to get out of my little town and realise how feminism had been sold to me, under falseness.
The thing is I never told my friend. When I went to see someone about it, I felt so riddled with guilt and I wanted to go and find her. This wonderful woman that I went to see said no you should never do that, because if she genuinely doesn’t know or if she does know but it’s way back there, it’s totally unethical for you to just go round and bring that to her.
What are some things that inspire you? And, for Trilogy, what inspired you?
When I first started making this, I’d only just finished this degree in contemporary performance practice. And I was halfway through my second degree, I did a masters in science which was in human ecology. I was extremely inspired by the potential of the live event, the potential of the gathering of people, the potential of live energies and what that can do really. A lot of this work relies on that liveness, on that meeting with an audience. My most recently completed work, is called ‘Cock and Bull’, and that is performed by three women and we are using the most spoken phrases taken from Tory party conservative speeches, as our material. It’s a great piece of work, really energised, really cathartic, very much feels like some witches gathering where we’re gonna chant this shit away! Because we have to find a way to have some power, we have to do what we can to take power back, even if that’s doing it in a little room with sixty people! I can’t not do anything. It is the job of the artist to think about how they can respond to the world that they live in. I think it would be naivety for any artist to think that they could change governmental policy or something, but that’s not the point of it. The point of it is about how can we connect together, how can we share things or how can we create alternative spaces where feelings can be allowed to be experienced and shared.
Do you have any advice for young artists? Stuff can really get to you, and really bring you down. Anything to overcome that when you’re trying to break into a fucking hard industry?
Don’t worry about breaking into anything, just focus on the integrity of the work, on the integrity of your collaborations. I’m lucky in that I’ve never thought I’m not gonna be able to do something, so there’s a wonderful naivety in that because it frees you up to make things that really matter to you, rather than things that you think are gonna be successful. With Trilogy, the first part of that we made on holiday in France, me and Laura [Bradshaw], in the bedroom we were sharing and we presented it in a little room, in a little space in Manchester. Then we expanded that part a bit to include other people, because it was on its own at the beginning. I had to really fight for other opportunities to make other things. If you know what you want to make, just make it and don’t give a shit about what anyone says. We have to remember it has to start and end with the art. All the rest is bullshit, it’s just capitalism, we’re all involved in that. I’ve seen many of my good colleagues and friends get sucked into that and I think we’ve gotta remember it’s about the art.
What surprises you about Trilogy? And what surprises you about the people you welcome into the work - the participants?
It's different every night. As soon as we decided to do this with Arts House I thought immediately, this work can be better, so we’ll try to make it better. In the performance itself, I’m always pleased about the differences between the events. I always listen for when Jill Johnston’s on, what the audience are doing. And sometimes they’re really vocal, sometimes they laugh - when Maler pipes up, they join in with the ‘Town Bloody Hall’ crowd, they boo. I listen in for those differences and I enjoy them and I create opportunities in the work where I can’t fully direct what happens. There are some surprises on purpose. What surprises me about the people who are in it? I try to be very open to whatever people are bringing. I remember this woman in Edinburgh once, she said ‘I just think this might be a load of bollocks’, [laughs] which I really enjoyed, because it could be a load of bollocks. I mean it could be with us all sitting here, revelling in each other’s company or it could be really important. I think sometimes some of the worst art I see is trying to say that something is one thing. Nothing is one thing. Nothing is simple, nothing is pure, nothing is monocultural in that way. I was gonna say I don’t feel so surprised cause I think I’m just up for it! I’m up for it!
The show has such a strong focus on the female body, or a stereotypical female body keeping within the gender binary. What have the challenges been in welcoming trans people into the space and those who might feel that their bodies aren’t the right ‘fit’ for the work?
Yeah, that’s huge. Definitely we haven’t succeeded in dealing with them. If we were going to do this performance again, which I don’t know if we will or not, but if we do, I need to think more about it. I came here thinking maybe we’ll have people in all sorts of phases of transition and I was really up for discovering that and working through it together. But that hasn’t happened and that’s probably because the invitation wasn’t quite right. I made sure on the invitation to specify that it was intended for all identities to be included, but I think it’s just the thing of that because it is a naked dance, it might feel limiting to some people. Because it’s a mistake in the work, really, to only present cis-women. There’s other kinds of women as well that I would like to see in this space that are not here. Another thing is that, yes, it’s a problem with this artwork and yes it’s a problem with some kinds of feminism, and yes, it’s a problem with art. Because funded theatre, mainstream art, supported art, I think, tends to be made, as much as I hate to say it, by white, middle-class people. And that’s another problem. So that when the invitation goes out on certain lists, there’s only a small amount of people that are seeing it.
What does it mean to perform Trilogy in a new country and in Australia for the first time?
When you come here, you have some awareness of land issues and ownership problems. The narrative is different living in Scotland. I’ve been thinking so much about that in relation to Jerusalem and this song that was literally owned by women. HOW has it become the anthem of the white old man, I just can’t believe it! And William Blake, he was a total sexual deviant, he was political, he was an artist but he’s presented as fucking Churchill-esque?! How do people get to take a little portion of what is a whole story and say “now we’re having this”? I’ve been thinking about when peoples, or the narratives of cultures or communities or places, are just wiped out. What can we do to fight that? It’s a new resonance that I feel I haven’t connected with in the past. Also, people are really tired because we’re in a different timezone and someone in our cast is pregnant. Before we’d go and get pissed and then the next morning we’d do the show and we just didn’t look after ourselves at all! Because we didn’t need to, we were twenty! Now it’s different - travelling that distance to get here has brought that up, that we are ten years older than we were when we did it before.
So, personally, performing in Trilogy feel like an absolute gift. How do you feel giving such a gift, and knowing that it is a gift?
I’m pleased it has a positive potential for people. I believe in the power of expressive forms, of dance, of togetherness, of the body. So I expect the process to have some value based on that but I never know what that value will be for people individually.
I have one more question, what do you wish you knew the answer to?
I wish I knew more about what people’s real fears are, and why they would vote in this way, in this [EU] referendum that’s happened. It’s fear of difference, is what I think, that’s very, very deeply rooted in a cultural psyche. I would say I’m more for questions, than I am for answers. In the work I make I try to create spaces where it doesn’t feel like we’re trying to answer things, it feels like we’re trying to explore the edges of questions.
* the other artists include Laura Bradshaw, Bron Batten, Candy Bowers and Murray Wason.