SPILL STINGS 2: Nic Chalmers

Thu 01 Jan 1970

Conversation with Nic Chalmers by Madeleine Hodge This is the third of a series of conversations with the National Platform Artists, but I’m not writing about them in order.  It’s a thrilling process to be given a glimpse at works that are in the being made and finished for the events next week. The artists I have spoken with are generous, bold and seem more than happy to share thoughts about their work with a total stranger and again with a sharp intake of breath I recognise the enormous courage that underpins a creative practice. As we sit down to talk about Nic Chalmers new work All Erasableshe begins by telling me that she finds it hard to describe her work, and that she often finds herself in a big mess, veering into tangents and talking far from the subject.  I say, “Of course, I understand that completely.” For the SPILL National Platform, Chalmers is working with a second performer for the first time and they are collaborating on a piece of text that she says she has been writing since before Christmas.  The piece is a series of interconnecting texts that begin to slide into each other. She works from the understanding that everyone knows that they are performing and this makes it possible to do whatever she wants: it can go anywhere once the artifice is understood. “It is a performance about performance” she says. “It is about how people perform, manufacture and document themselves.” The piece will also involve collaboration with a sound artist who uses electronic manipulations on exposed piano wires and an artist who is working with pre edited archive film materials.  “And,” she says this carefully, “it is a machine….” I imagine these four elements/living breathing/infecting bodies working together, operating the machine from the inside. I imagine that from inside it is hard to see, let alone describe the outside of the machine. This makes her attempt to describe it to me quite a daunting task. Chalmer’s program notes refer to ‘the swimming pool as the site of disappearance’, and, as a keen swimmer. I ask about the swimming pool. She replies, “It started as I was swimming a lot and I wanted to explore altered states, the philosophical space of altering, or when a state alters so much that things are no longer enough….” She pauses, and I think of the pool and finish her sentence: “it’s like disappearing from a space that has no exit,” I suggest. She politely agrees. “It is about removal to elsewhere”

“It’s about how someone might manufacture his or her own disappearance”

“It’s about escapism”

She says she has trouble with endings.  When she gets to the end, she always finds another beginning. “There is no point at which we might be stopping, it’s about having something that could be stopped but at the same time is unstoppable.” She says “It’s about opening doors or portals,” and her hands unfold in front of her. “I see my work as in terms of architecture, it’s like a building that is endlessly…what is the word?….. extending.” She pauses and sometimes looks far away, I am aware she is describing something indescribable, and while it’s dizzying to try to understand what the work might actually look like, feel like, or how it might be experienced, it is charming to witness these continually unfolding thoughts. I feel like we are both reaching towards something that sits between us.  She is describing and I am finishing her sentences, mutating her intent and to some extent keeping it alive, and I am aware that this is where the infection begins to take hold. She says “Whenever you make a choice, you erase a whole multitude of other possibilities. I like being in a place of arriving and….” She pauses… “never deciding” I say. She says “it’s a beat or a pause, I suppose”

Everything always unfolding

Reappearing, disappearing and swimming underneath

There are lots of starts and finishes.”