A bit of research and practice – an interview
“Soul Food, and Music: Research and Innovation for Creative Business”
By Kim Errington, Neil Maycroft and Jim Shorthose
2008 ISBN: 9781842331347
Getting on the Train of Thought – An Interview with Mik Godley
Mik Godley is a living Venn diagram of artistic practice. He is an activist, lecturer and painter. He is currently concentrating upon his Considering Silesia Project which responds to internet sources through a focus on his conflicting heritages.
Authors (A) – Mik, what does the term research mean to you?
Mik Godley (MG) – It’s a question, as you know, I have been looking at quite a bit over the last couple of years. The relationship between academic research and artistic research. They are not distinct for me, but they do have different aspects and aims. The overlaps between the two are perhaps trickier to define… you have this circular movement if you like, and any definition of research has to move and shift as that kind of relationship develops. What research means to me is dependent on the stages of the work as well. There will be periods of time when I tend to focus very much more on my practice. Other times on other things. Recently for instance I’ve been spending a lot more time working on the communication of my work. And part of the reason for doing that is very much connected to research in terms of trying to gage public responses in a different way. At the moment I am exploring what the internet can do for this research. The project I am working on experiments with the way that work can be seen over the internet, but also involves trying to find other artist’s work that have some relevance to the kinds of things I am doing. So it becomes a mix of research and networking if you like.
A – The idea that research has a circularity within it is interesting. Could you elaborate on that a little and give us some examples of where you see that circle?
MG – I have always thought, as far as developing my practice is concerned, that it’s almost like getting on a train of thought. It might take some time to generate, but having been at it for twenty five years or more, you see a pattern in how you operate. For me it is very much a case of how certain influences from the outside world, which could be as simple as reading the newspaper or other events in your life and the world around you, obviously provoke thought. And from this you begin. You begin a discussion around a pub table, you find other people have certain connections with that and they chip in with thoughts, lend you books, and gradually the thoughts build up and you take them back to the studio. In the studio you are in a particular situation, in relative isolation, where you can process what has been fed into you and consider how you respond. Almost ‘document’ the responses in your studio practice.
A – You mention the relationship between research and networking. Networks can be one of the key resources to draw upon for research. To what degree has cross-disciplinary working and collaboration been useful for developing your work?
MG – It’s been useful to see a commonality of thoughts and connections across what, on the surface might seem quite disparate things. During in-depth discussions you begin to realise that this person making films or that person writing a play are dealing with similar themes to you… Not exactly the same but there will certainly be things you can connect with.
A – What other disciplines have you collaborated with in terms of the research leading into the creative practice?
MG – There have been a number of them. One of the interesting people I have discussed work with at length has been François Matarasso who is a writer engaged in similar wartime history research. Graham Lester George is also a writer/screenwriter, those two have been quite key. The Creative Collaborations MA at NTU was very fruitful. Jezz Noond and Elaine Grew understood my way of working and were very encouraging as far as that was concerned…
A – Can you tell us about the relationship between researching history and your biography? About the relationship between personal dimensions on the one hand, and the outside social and political world on the other? How you bring those two dimensions of research together?
MG – That’s been very easy because the whole project has been based on the realisation that I am very much a product of the world. I mean that in the very specific biographical sense, that I have a mixed background which has created situations throughout my life and has had repercussions. This is essentially what I am investigating at the moment. So the outside world, talking about Europe over the past 70 years, has come to a point where it has created not only me but the next generation. It is the politics in the personal if you like, that I have tried to respond to in a visual way.
A – Do you start with you as the lens and then look backwards through history or do you start with this notion of history coming forwards to get to you? Or is that the wrong question?
MG – It’s not the wrong question, but in some respects it becomes more complex than that. It becomes both. Certainly as far as the size of the project is concerned it began with a very general ‘Oh, this is interesting, let’s have a look’ sort of thing. It was through that process that I recognised that I was unearthing issues that were very relevant to me on a personal basis whilst also having a degree of universality that I responded to very strongly. I realised that here was a scene of discovery that I needed to pursue.
A – If knowing history is about knowing where we are so that we get to understand where we are going, then we get to the idea that history is about the future. This automatically gets us into the notion of politics in the bigger sense of the word. So to what extent do you see your work as being political in the sense of you making statements back to the world that are about society as a whole?
MG – It is certainly political. I am examining Fascism, looking at the reasons and motivations as to how on earth it could have happened. Once again it’s this dialectical way of one informing the other. The most important thing it has sparked is a realisation that throughout the project an understanding of the relationship between what and how it happened then, and what is happening now has become a greater part of its motivation…
A – You talked about bringing public responses into your work, how does that feed back into the bigger question of research?
MG – It was made easy by doing the Creative Collaborations MA. You get a level of public feedback through that process. One of the things that was surprisingly gratifying for me was the realisation that I had found an arena to work in that enabled me to gauge responses I’d not had before, and that encouraged me to continue. However, I would be wary about following the market demand thing. I have not wanted to respond to public responses too directly by saying ‘that was popular so I’ll do ten of those’.
…it is market research, but not the same in terms of how I responded to that kind of research. Having the insights you get from public responses, from peers, curators and the general public can confirm it’s worth investment in continuing along that train of thought, because you are in a situation where it is generating communication. I think most artists want that degree of communication.
Thanks to Jim Shorthose for permission