Interviews with Artists

Rosie King

Interview by James McColl


Published October 2018


Discussing her most recent moving image work, I talked to moving image and installation artist Rosie King, graduate of Plymouth University. Having lived and made work predominantly in Plymouth, King has recently moved to Glasgow to start a MLitt in Fine Art Practice at Glasgow School of Art. This conversation (just prior to her move) focuses on two projects, GONE (Preserve Us) a multi-screen video and sound installation that documents King working with a cartographer, geologist and psychic to explore a village’s past, present and future, and The Bird Watcher, a research based observation piece about Russ, a local Plymouth bird watcher who she regularly goes birding with - the act of bird watching.

Like The Bird Watcher, much of King’s work stems from research periods that are spent working with individuals or small groups and often explores her relationship with these subjects. Our focus during our time together (and a recent discovery for King) is the need for control in her work.


Working with Russ, the best conversations have been when I didn’t have any recording equipment with me (laughs). What I tend to do is take those conversations and think about them as I edit, even if I might not have the dialogue for it.

I've been thinking quite a lot about control over what you see and obviously, working with a bird watcher, I was thinking about magpies quite a lot and I have a real need to salute them even though I’m completely aware that it will change nothing. I quite like that appearance of control over my future.

Does that action have anything to do with Bird Watching?

No (laughs). I’ve only been working with one bird watcher and he’s been doing it for a long time, over 25 years, I think he finds it painful. Also, what I’ve really got from working with Russ is not to personify birds or another living thing. You can’t give it your feelings, it doesn't have a human way of interacting and that's been quite interesting. I’ve been thinking about myself, control and this need to control your fate, even though you can’t.

Through A-N I’ve had an artist development bursary and part of that bursary has gone towards two mentoring sessions with Rory Pilgrim... we went right back through my work and started to pick out things, what became quite apparent is that control is in a lot of the work. I think if you’d spoken to me a year and a half ago, I would have said I very much work with a site or an interesting place, now I don’t think it’s that important to me. I think I just happen to be in specific places as you often do, and I make work about what’s around me.

Does doing more film editing feed this need for control? I think editing is where you realise how much control you want over everything.

I think so. Working with moving image, I’m definitely more aware of it. You can completely change things can’t you, as you edit? I’m not really a good camera person because I’ve always had this thing where I find them quite intrusive to a moment. I have it way more with photography, you’re only selecting one moment. Working with film more, what you’re selecting - it’s still so controlled even when just out filming. I’m definitely thinking more in that sense.

I’ve had trouble in the past as I’ve started to create narratives that aren’t actually there - because that’s the narrative I’ve wanted. You can sometimes slip into doing it and sometimes you need go back and look at footage again as that’s not actually how things went.

I think that has very much been at the forefront of my mind these last few weeks. It’s just that damage of trying to fit something into a narrative you think you want.

Do you consider yourself to be an ethical artist? There are moral and ethical grey areas when you are making work - especially film work. You have subjects that are a part of your films, how much do you grapple with that?

At the minute, yes quite a lot. I used to make moving image work with found footage, mostly taken from YouTube that amateurs had uploaded and some work with advertising. I have absolutely no ethical issue taking from companies and adverts. I’m completely fine with taking that imagery, but using stuff from amateur film-making or from people who upload stuff for whatever reason, I’m aware that there’s some things I can’t use and some I don’t use. Someone’s uploaded it in a state of mind that they might regret. Now working with other people, I try to be really clear with them about where they sit within the work. By making this film I’m not giving them a voice. I think that’s a distinctive part for me, but it is hard.

You want someone to have their guard down and be as ‘them’ as possible, but that’s also when they are their most vulnerable and you don’t want to take advantage of that or show their vulnerability if they don’t want it shown.

What you were saying about working with your Gran, that you’d have these really long conversations and you’d realise that she had got to a point that she’d forgotten that she is being recorded - it’s so tricky. I was at an art event recently and there was a talk about terms and conditions for yourself. Most people, including myself, were thinking about it in terms of working with institutions and giving ourselves rest days but I’ve been thinking about whether I need to write a terms and conditions for working with other people. That would be something I give to other people when I start working with them, just as a way of that conversation being there right at the start. Where I had that conversation with Russ I think he’d probably forgotten because we spend so much time out together birding, he’s forgotten that I’m actually there for a different reason than he is. I do also really enjoy birding. Now I’ll just go birding for the sake of it.

For The Bird Watcher, you used a smartphone to record footage, was that because it is far less intrusive?

Yeah I think I’m more into this, from the practical side of walking around with someone all the time there is only so much equipment I can take by myself. Having no budget meant I couldn’t have a crew and I couldn’t have good equipment, I quite like the restriction that has placed on it and I think that’s really shaped the visuals... I’m not trying to mimic that high quality effect and it works for this piece. It will be interesting as on this MA I will suddenly have access to all this good equipment.

The change in your work seems to be that before, you would go to a location where there are already people and you’re interacting with them. Later, you invite people to go to a location or invite them to be a part of your work. In GONE (Preserve Us) you invited three people to be a part of it - it’s still your work but they are the subjects of it.

I’m not sure I‘m massive on working with big groups of people and obviously working in a public space, you’re working with a really big group of people. I still quite like elements of performance, I really like how you work with performance and moving image, how sometimes it’s there and sometimes you pull it right back and I’ve been thinking more and more about working with space and performance again. I think that is probably something that will come out in the MA a little bit. The work (The Bird Watcher) I’m making at the minute, I would be very happy if someone just saw it on their laptop screen. Whereas GONE (Preserve Us) had to be sighted somewhere and people needed to come and see it. I just tried doing it as a single channel piece and for me it didn’t work as much...I tested it in front of other people but it’s not right for it. I think that’s partially frustration of not being able to show it anywhere as three screens.

GONE (Preserve Us) was shown in a Nightclub, is that where you want that work to be seen?

I like it being slightly out of context, I think if I showed it in the village where it was filmed it would give it a very different feeling, showing it out of context allows it to talk about many different places, whereas if I showed it just in that village, it would’ve been about just that place and it’s not just about that place, it’s about our changing coastline and changing places.

You have a lot of work outside of galleries. When does the question of where a piece will beshown come into effect for you?

I don’t think I’ve shown in a gallery... no I haven’t. I am really aware of that. I think it happens as I’m making the work, I become more and more aware of where it will be shown. Obviously sometimes you’re making work to be shown in one place. I’ve not done that for the last two years so now I’m much more able to choose where I show the work. The reason why I’m making this film at the minute as a single screen is because I want it to go further and I think it’s quite a private piece. I really like the idea that someone could just watch it on their laptop and that would be fine.

I think there’s a genuine frustration when you’ve made work for just one thing. It starts and stops there sometimes, it can be really hard to take it somewhere else like a gallery. As an artist who wants to continue making art as a career, are you conscious of the fact that you need work to travel? For it to be seen?

I would still take on site-specific work or institution specific work but I won’t take it on now if it doesn’t come with a fairly decent budget and timeline. I’m so fed up of making work that’s shown for two days and I’ve made it on two hundred quid, I don’t make good work like that and I want to make the best work I can. So I’d rather not get those commissions and instead make stuff that can be shown, make stuff for myself that then can be shown in a much wider context.

What is the relationship you have with the subjects in your films? Do you see yourself as a Director or do you see the project as some form of collaboration?

I see it as a mixture of the two. I’ve only worked on two projects like this so I’m definitely feeling my way. The first, GONE (Preserve Us), I very much felt like a Director. I knew exactly where I was taking those people, I had maps of different points we would go and film at. Obviously they then add all the content so things change. That piece changed quite dramatically, and even in the last week before the show I did another edit that was pretty different. Whereas this time working with Russ (in The Bird Watcher), I started out by going out with no plan. It was partly because I didn’t know anything that he was going to be talking about so I almost see that as a research stage, even though I was filming at the same time.

I don’t think I could have done those two projects in the same way. We shot GONE (Preserve Us) in two days and I was working with a Camera Operator and Sound Recorder so I had to have a plan, whereas working with Russ, we had been working together for over six months so it feels much more like a research project which became a filming thing. I just couldn’t have applied the same process to both things.

The Bird Watcher seems like a far more confident film, possibly because you were behind the camera, whereas with GONE (Preserve Us) you seem slightly more removed from the film.

I feel way more confident about going out and actually being in control of the camera, whereas before I started this project (The Bird Watcher) I really didn’t. I felt like I had to know everything which is so weird because if I suddenly started printmaking again I don’t think I would. There’s something about cameras that really freaks me out (laughs). I’m going into a moving image based MA and I’m really trying to prep myself that it’s OK that I don’t know all the technical stuff and actually, I don’t think that’s so important to my work. Obviously, knowing more means I will be able to control decisions, in terms of how something looks, but I’m sure some people will disagree with that.

It will be interesting to see if when you have all these skills available to you because of the MA, it will change your work. I suspect you will go full circle, experimenting and ending back at this point.

Yeah that’s what I’m expecting. I’ll get really excited about all this equipment which is great because that’s kind of what you’re paying for isn’t it? (laughs) as well as the teaching.  Then I’ll have these options but you know, I don’t even own a camera, I don’t have the budget for it. It took me ages to get a decent audio recorder which has been a really big thing. I think imagery you can really play with when it’s not of a good quality but audio you just can’t.




If you like this why not read our interview with Juliet Fleming


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