What was the first work you made together?
MM After we started working as a duo, we went in search of a studio space we could really make our own together, outside of school. In school, all of the work spaces were so divided between discipline that we had a hard time figuring out our place there, and it got tiresome having to always split the time and work in either one of our respective departments. The space we subsequently found was in a derelict care home that was being rented out to artists on the cheap as part of a council anti-squatting programme. At the same time, we were realising that a lot of each of our works were about site-specific concepts, and manifested as physical interventions into landscapes and locations, and so it made sense that the first work we make should be within this space, inspired by what we found there.
Set the scene for us. What were your first impressions of this place, how did it feel, and how did that initial experience shape the work you then made?
MM The space we rented inside this building was a kind of hospital room, covered with tiles from floor to ceiling – super clinical and completely empty except for a single window and a water tap. In thinking about what the room had that we could respond to, we decided to take a piece of the view from the window when standing in the middle of the room and looking out, and bring it inside. The window looked out onto the garden, so we dug out an entire piece of garden and built a tank inside of the room in which we replanted the whole thing, tree for tree, and flower for flower. We installed a watering system on the ceiling and we tiled the whole outside of the tank in the same tiles as the space so that it would look almost as if like it was meant to be there, as if it always had been there. For us it had this connection to a sense of healing, in response to the place and its history and its clinical feel. There was this theme of trying to create something out of nothing, and a very human control over nature we wanted to probe. It was February when we planted that tank, and Spring occurred much sooner inside our room than outside. After two weeks, all the flowers started opening up and the trees started blossoming while outside – the view from the window – it was still grey. It was a temporary installation that only lasted three months and we invited people to come and see it throughout that time. We documented it in time lapse form, on what looked like security cameras and called it Conservatory Observatory.
It’s interesting because even with this very first example of your collaboration there’s this idea of inside and outside colliding, which seems to be an ongoing thread in your work. Often in statements or when talking about your work, you’ll mention your interest in nature and the natural world, and how yourselves, materials and situations can comment on it or alter it in some way. Why is that such an important theme ?
MM This is very much something we’ve tried to unravel along the way. We read and research a lot into the way we’ve evolved as a species, and we talk and think about how recently we’ve started living with phones and screens and skyscrapers in the timeline of human history. It feels like unnatural circumstances we’ve ended up in, like something is off, and we share this deep underlying interest in this other way of living we could have had, that we’re largely disconnected to in society now. We try to give ideas about these things a kind of shape by making art, in the hope that it will touch or inspire people who perhaps haven’t made these connections to the way we live now. Maybe we could have evolved into a different kind of species who lived more in unity with the world around them, instead of trying to manipulate everything, making mistakes and then attempting to quick-fix them. Maybe. Our interest in the natural world has probably stemmed from that. Of course initially, as with anything we do, it came from an intuitive interest – as in, it’s just one of those subjects we naturally felt the urge to explore and make work about. But the ‘why’ specifically is interesting, and it’s something we’re trying to discover.
That says a lot about your process too, doesn’t it? Because some artists would think of a specific concern and then they would work out how to visualise it from there. Yours is more about feeling your way around materials and spaces and then going back and thinking: why are we doing this?
MM Absolutely, and it’s funny because in school at least one of us (Marte) was marked as one of the more ‘conceptual’ thinkers who would really pre-think out all works. But that was on a smaller scale, and inspiration for each of us would come from smaller instances or things. Now, we have kind of zoomed out and had the time to think far more broadly, on a larger scale. We got specifically interested in the moment you can label something as natural or unnatural and then specifically in finding the little chasm between those two moments. That’s probably the core question our work asks: when does something turn from natural to unnatural? And how can we manipulate that?