Interview by James McColl
Published May 2017
Megan Broadmeadow is an artist who creates immersive installations. Constructing imaginative spaces through sculpture, light and video. Her latest exhibition entitled Astro Raggi (shown at Plymouth Arts Centre over the winter season) paid homage to Italian inventor Pasquale Quadri who revolutionised disco lighting. Like much of Broadmeadow’s work, audiences were confronted by a culturally forgotten figure in Astro Raggi. Her striking visuals create unique worlds in which characters and stories come alive. Incorporating elements of music, performance, installation and fashion, and in doing so, transforming spaces into nightclubs and Saturday afternoon trips to galleries into raves.
Astro Raggi, Plymouth Arts Centre 2016
The show is in a massive pile on my studio floor (laughs). All that care and attention inevitably ends up in a big heap. [...] Astro Raggi was well received, we got some good comments. It’s always tricky to get people to come out but yeah, quite happy with the response from people who came down. I’m happy with it, there are always things I’d like to change but there’s only so much you can do for a show. [...] Plymouth was interesting because I started using light and having light areas again. The mix of going between absolute darkness and something that is really bright and day lit has been interesting.
I think I work best with immersive spaces. I have to work site specifically because you can’t get everything all the time, you know? In the Plymouth show, there were two immersive spaces and in the middle there were two intermediary spaces. That was the challenge for that show. They’re (the audience) not going to go from one space directly into another so that created a different kind of dialogue for the space and the works I suppose. I designed the show with that building in mind. I quite like the idea of going down a ramp into a dark area and being in an immersive space.
Your exhibitions often seem more like shows than traditional art exhibitions, is this a conscious effort or a by product of what you do?
I think that my old immersive theatre background is coming though again now. I sort of was doing it, then went and did my M.A., made the decision to go back into fine art and then sort of took everything apart and separated it all out. I just made costumes and just did this and just did that and now it’s all come back together to create immersive journeys.
I like immersive journeys more, as it’s not a narrative [sic]. A journey’s probably a better way of describing what I make. An audience can pick up their own narrative through a journey, that’s more theatrical space than a conventional way of making an art show... whatever that is.
At the moment I’m still adapting what spaces I get given. I prefer certain kinds of space. I used to prefer completed, really site specific spaces. A few years ago, I spent a lot time doing immersive theatre and site specific performance. I played around with an actual existing space. I like a building with history! Now I’m more comfortable to create my own environment so it doesn’t really matter what the building looks like because I feel I have enough tools to change it, it’s something of my own doing. I think that is something that comes from a history of being site specific [sic].
I also used to be a lot more scatter gun with it. I could do this here or that there and now I’m kind of like ‘I’m only going to apply for things that are going to fit with what I’m thinking about’. I know what’s going to be right for the work and for me. There’s no point in applying for certain things when they’re just not suitable. When I’m designing things, if I know where I’m going and there’s a date, I’m in the studio and I’ll often work on Sketch Up and in sketchbooks. I spend a lot of time deep thinking, looking at images and just imagining what sort of journey I’m going to create or what the experience is going to be. Then, through Sketch Up, I start to fit that into a space and see what could work within a building. So the design is kind of done in that way before the making. I’ll almost sketch out the gallery plan before I start building, like I say it’s that restriction on space. Quite a lot of it isn’t made before we enter the gallery but everything is prepared beforehand, the filming is definitely all done.
You have a very striking visual aesthetic that runs through your work. At what point did this become a fully formed style?
I guess it has become more refined over time. I’ve always liked colours, patterns and costumes. Costumes were always a big thing for me. The big change, the sort of breakthrough point if you like, was the use of dark spaces and the use of lights. I started using lights about 4 years ago and that changed a lot for me, especially using changing colour bulbs. The way they change the environment, change the artwork, it has been a big breakthrough –that and using the technology that you might find in a night club. That shift has really helped me develop my aesthetic[sic].
There are repeated figures throughout your work. Do you think of them as nameless figures or are they characters?
Yeah I think so. Sometimes they can be figures, I mean if there’s more than one in the program [...] but I would say characters more than anything, definitely. What I’m really thinking about is the exploration of the characters we can all conjure up. I find it fascinating that I think of these characters - where have they come from? (laughs). Do we all have this many characters inside our heads? Probably, but they don’t always get an airing so I’m consciously delving into my head to find out how many possibilities there are for characters within everybody.
At what point do you introduce these characters into your work?
The characters quite often come from an object. Objects start it, or a story. Some objects are created for a character or I find an object and characters come out of that.[...] With Astro Raggi it was character first. I saw Pasquale Quadri original lights in a club. It was brought out especially for one night because they’re not fixed anywhere anymore. They’re like museum pieces. It was amazing! It was huge! Everyone was like ‘oh my god, what the hell is that?’ It was like something from another planet. I was chatting to the guy who had taken it there and he told me about the inventor because I was so interested in the light. So they came both at the same time. Quite often it’s like that, where what I’m working on something and I’m not expecting to find the next thing but things just appear or turn up.
May The Stars Be Set Upon The Board, Cardiff Contemporary 2016
There is a running theme throughout your work in which you drag things up from the past and confront the audience with them...
I’ve always been interested in little forgotten things or alternative histories. Myths and legends and back stories. I like the ones that don’t get an airing, I think a part of my role is to bring these things back into attention, or bring them to attention because they’re important. I’ve made a judgement that people need to know about this thing but I don’t necessarily give it to them on a spoon, it’s like an art version of it. It’s reinterpreted. It doesn’t seem right to give them the full story from the beginning; I prefer the emersion first. The hope is that people go away and read about these events and discover the actual story after seeing the art work, after having their own experience through my eyes.
In another Project, Mercury 13 (based on an early team of trainee female astronauts who never got to go into space), you again bring forgotten figures back from the past. What makes you want to tell these people’s stories, What about their stories clicks with you?
With the Mercury 13 project, I had been on a long tedious drive back from a festival ... I went to the national space centre on a whim actually, and I just drove past. I wasn’t supposed to be going there. It was only to break up the tedium of the trip. The centre had an information panel about Mercury 13 and it was like dumpth! It was sort of ‘oh god, this is really exciting!’ Mercury 13 is in the national space centre but it’s not built into our national history. It’s not something that is presented to us as history which is something everyone has accepted. It’s a thing that is really significant but undervalued. I think that is a big one for me. In that case it was something almost on a global scale because the space-race was such a massive thing but it’s a very male dominated history. That’s what everyone accepts. So for me that was a really important story to tell.
Mercury 13, Galeria Melissa London 2015
Do you have a specific reaction you want the audience t have and do you have a specific route that you want to take the audience through?
Yeah I suppose I’m trying to get them into a certain mindset. I want them to feel... disorientations quite a good one! I want to get them feeling weird really [sic]. I want to take them into a weird space, one that is sort of other worldly or a psychedelic place. The other side of the brain I suppose. You could say the right brain or the right hemisphere, rather than the left. I think about it in those terms, sort of psychologically. On edge is usually quite good (laughs). Mirrors are surprisingly effective. [...]It’s quite amazing, you literally put a curtain somewhere and it’s like going into this other world. Going through a vale is a bit carnival-esque. Feeling like you’ve been turned upside down is quite a big thing for me.
Will you take time to reflect on the show you’ve just completed or are you focused on the next thing?
It was a big push to get those two shows (Astro Raggi and May The Stars Be Set Upon The Board) done pretty much back to back. It took a lot of effort and energy so I’m having a bit of a breather and a rethink at the moment. I’m going to look for some funding and take some time out to research and have a bit more time to put things together. I’ve got a show coming up in 2018 and I’m mainly thinking about that because that’s going to be a big one. [...] That one’s going to tour I think. I’m sort of thinking about whether it’s a piece that evolves or if it should be different each time it arrives somewhere. It’s quite ambitious so it needs a lot of planning and thinking (laughs). [...] Generally what I do is I make and then I go feral. Then I slowly start coming out and see other peoples shows or research, just see what other people are doing because I don’t get a chance to see that when I’m in my making process. Then I’m into my design and playing stage.
How would you like people to think of you as an artist? If you were to describe your practice to an audience what would you say?
Oh that’s a tricky one. Oh I know! I like sculpture theatre. Paul McCarthy coined that phrase. I really like that. I think all theatre is sculpture anyway but that’s something that resonates with me. Is that enough? (laughs). The three word game is fun, you should try playing that. It’s a game that some friends and I used to play. We’d say any artist’s name and if someone didn’t know who they were you’d use any three words to describe their art. You only ever need three words but I’m not quite sure what mine what be. Costumes, immersive... wood (laughs).
Megan Broadmeadow is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include A Corruption of Mass, Standpoint Gallery, London, Mercury 13, Galeria Melissa, Covenant Garden, London, Blinc, digital arts and projection festival, Conwy, North Wales and Staging the Artwork, Article Gallery, Birmingham.
If you like this why not read our interview with Alexander Duncan
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