Interview: Kathryn Elkin – 'I'm interested in celebrities becoming simplified or more two-dimensional'
Artist Kathryn Elkin discusses her new solo show Television, improvised videos and rounding off the Parkinson stuff
Kathryn Elkin fuses the personal with pop culture to create self-reflexive, often absurd, video art. Her latest exhibition Television brings new and older works together to explore her practice's long-standing relationship with the 'televisual'.
At what point did television become important to you?
I think it's always been there in some way. Like any suburban kid, a lot of my childhood was spent watching television, and I had fantasies about being interviewed for TV. There was that idea that being on TV somehow made you important, worthy, special or exceptional in some way.
In terms of my art practice I think there's an interesting divide between filmmaker-filmmakers and artist-filmmakers. I think for artists the more natural mode is television rather than cinema. Artists such as Joan Jonas and Vito Acconci were influential for me when I was studying at undergraduate level. They used broadcasting technology – at the time it was portapaks. You could say that was the beginning of digital video becoming an art form.
Three new works feature in Television. In what way do they build on older work?
In some ways it's a rounding off conceptually, though maybe not formally, of the work I've made so far. It's certainly a rounding off of the [Michael] Parkinson stuff, I don't want to do more of that; I'm not obsessed with Parkinson! Or maybe I am, I don't know.
The newer works suggest a move away from this archival reference; it's liberation from that in a way. Of course you're always trying to move forward. I suppose in a way I've tried to take a crutch away for myself. We'll have to see what people make of them.
How much in your videos is improvised on the day?
A lot of it is. Basically I'll have a load of stuff I want to do, could do. I'll have a kind of order I think I'll do, but if something is going well I'll put my energy into that. A key thing as an artist is to have the humility to recognise when something is good or better than planned, and to just go with it.
What attracts you to your subjects?
I'm interested in celebrities becoming simplified or more two-dimensional as they develop under the spotlight. Parkinson started out interviewing people like Orson Wells; it was high-minded stuff. Later, as he became more of a caricature of himself, the show became really flat and boring.
When I originally did the Helen Mirren piece as a performance it was because I was fascinated by her transformation from sexy thespian woman, to sexy older woman. She took on this completely different character and received quite different attention and treatment. Also, I was 30 when I performed the piece, the same age Mirren was in the famous interview with Parkinson. So in a way it was role-play as strategy.
Is the autobiographical element always present in your videos?
Yes. I think it's hard not to allow that. I'm unambiguous about it: physically I'm in it, either my voice or body - usually both. It's a classic technique really, that reflexive thing of showing the mechanisms of a medium in the making of an artwork.
This reflexivity can cause discomfort or embarrassment. Is this something you encourage?
I'm really interested in this idea of embarrassment: The tension between the strong desire to be looked at and the potentially horrifying reality. On the one hand you want to have agency, but there's the danger it could be excruciating to let people look at you.
CCA, Glasgow until Sun 4 Sep