New Art Exchange and Arts Council England are currently supporting Exotica Suite - a collaborative work by the writer Wayne Burrows and musician Paul Isherwood (The Soundcarriers). Burrows won the New Art Exchange Prize in 2013. The project explores the 'Exotica' craze of the 1950s and the threads connecting its play with real and fictional cultural artefacts from eighteenth century Polynesia and England. This week I spoke with Wayne Burrows about this exciting and elaborate project which will be launching at New Art Exchange today Friday 10 July,click here to book to attend. [Colette Griffin] WithExotica Suite launching this week can you go into some detail about the project, which you have been working on with New Art Exchange since you won the NAE Prize at the Nottingham Castle Open in 2013?
[Wayne Burrows] The end results of the project are a book, Exotica Suite & Other Fictions (Shoestring Press, £12), and a CD and vinyl LP, also titled Exotica Suite (price tbc) that includes a full-length album of remixes and re-edits of texts from the book performed to music by Paul Isherwood, whose own band are The Soundcarriers, half of whose members are based in Nottingham. We'll be launching it, with a promotional film made to accompany each track, at New Art Exchange on July 10 from 6 – 9pm. The plan is to open for drinks in the cafe-bar at New Art Exchange, then have a screening of the films – which is also a chance to hear the full LP – starting around 7pm. It's going to be fairly informal and is free, though booking is recommended via Eventbrite. After the launch copies of both the book and CD will hopefully be available through booksellers, music retailers and our own online outlets.
[CG] Exotica Suite exists as both a book and a vinyl LP and audio CD, what led to you collaborating with musician Paul Isherwood, best known for his work with The Soundcarriers?
[WB] I'd been a fan of The Soundcarriers' music since I bought their first single at Selectadisc in 2007, and got to know Pish and Adam after doing a LeftLion interview with them in 2010, after 'Celeste', their second LP came out. I'd also wanted to do something merging writing with music for years. But the particular spark for this project was when Paul came to the opening of Marine: A Story in Eight Objects, a piece I had in a group exhibition at the Castle in 2013, He'd seen the film bit of it, which had placed my narrations over some remixed tracks by Les Baxter, and mentioned he'd been playing around with some tracks in a similar vein but had left them undeveloped because they weren't songs so he wasn't sure what to do with them. It was soon after this conversation that New Art Exchange awarded their prize at the 2013 Open to the fake artist's collages (I often make work under the fictional identity of Robert Holcombe) that I'd submitted and said they were especially interested in the questioning of identity in the work. That was when the two things started to come together.
[CG] Can you tell us a little more about the process of working with New Art Exchange on this project and how this outcome came about, was it your plan from the off to produce a book and a CD?
[WB] The form that Exotica Suite eventually took came from a lot of conversations, mainly with Roshni, at New Art Exchange over the few months after the Nottingham Castle Open award was made. Initially, it was going to be a sort of 'Marine' part two, with just one short film and some narrated texts, maybe a printed chapbook, but as we talked further it became clear that there was potentially a bigger project there. The end result was that in the Summer of 2014 I did a lot of research and New Art Exchange agreed to support a GFA application to expand the project. This meant I could commission the music properly, we could pay contributors to the recordings and get some assistance with production, and I could buy (just) enough of my own time to write and make the work. The plan was to have a vinyl LP rather than a CD at the launch, but big changes in the music industry over the last 8 months mean lead-times to get vinyl pressed have escalated massively. Now, Exotica Suite will be a book and CD until the Autumn, when we can finally get a vinyl LP in our hands. Watch this space for details of a separate launch for that later in the year!
Why did you choose to work with the 'Exotica' craze of the 1950s as a theme for this body of work?
It was really unfinished business with the work I'd made for 'Marine: A Story in Eight Objects'. I'd been asked to respond to things in the Castle's decorative arts collection in a semi-fictional way and the whole story had unfolded around a tiny packet of Hawaiian bark-paper samples, brought to England on a ship called HMS Blonde in 1825. It turned out that ship had been placed under the captaincy of Lord Byron's successor, his cousin George Anson Byron, and its purpose had been to return the bodies of Hawaii's King and Queen to Honolulu after they'd died in London, so the whole history of Hawaii and its early contact with Europe and America was fresh in my mind. In Exotica Suite, that 1950s period not only gave us some templates to play with musically, but an interesting case study in how complicated questions of authenticity in culture can be. 1950s 'exotica' could be very cheesy and a bit dubious, but its embrace of musical and other fictions also allowed artists like Sun Ra and the Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola to use these fictions in new ways and break through with audiences they might not have found otherwise. Exotica Suite starts from the (fictional) idea that Hawaii briefly colonised England in the 1780s and left its mark on the culture...
The Nottingham Castle Open led to you working with New Art Exchange, facilitating the dialogue for this project, is this something you could have done if you had not been awarded the NAE Prize in 2013?
I don't think it could have happened in this form without New Art Exchange providing the support and match-funds we needed. The fact that I've been working with New Art Exchange has also influenced the shape of the project by framing it in a culturally diverse context. I think the public aspects of the project, especially a panel discussion we organised in April this year, with Fawzia Muradali Kane, Maryam Hashemi and Kashif Nadim Chaudry responding to the projects's themes, mean the writing in the book and our construction of the music tracks have both benefited from some additional nuance and consideration. I suspect this has made it a much stronger project overall.
Prior to 2013 had you exhibited in the Nottingham Castle Open? And would you recommend applying to the Open to other artists based in the Midlands and if so why?
I'd never entered the Open before 2013 as in general I just don't apply to anything that requires payment to enter. That the open is free, and isn't a competition but a curated exhibition from which a number of commissions are awarded, makes it very different to a lot of other – in my opinion, slightly dubious – things out there. If you're making work in the region and have something you'd like to show, you have nothing to lose and quite a lot to gain by doing it.
There is still time to apply for this years Nottingham Castle Open, deadline 12 July.