In conversation with Gudrun Soley Sigurdardottir
Ahead of her performance at Toynbee Studios on 5 April, Artsadmin Trainee Emily caught up with BANNER artist Gudrun Soley Sigurdardottir about her new work and its development over the past year.
Till The End is a performance investigating life and death. Can you tell us more about the process of making the work?
Till the End was a process that started in 2016 when I received the BANNER award. My process began with an interest in beginnings, middles and endings, and how we mark these in life and within theatre. I created a piece of work, which was to be premiered at Toynbee Studios last May. The day before the performance my grandfather passed away and, due to the personal nature of the work, I chose not to perform. His passing was unexpected and difficult to come to terms with and so I had a few months away from the work, which felt important. My grandfather’s passing changed the context of the work completely, even though it is still an exploration of beginnings and endings. I think life and death have felt really present over the last year – with his passing and also the celebration of a new baby in the family. This has been the most difficult process but it has also allowed me to reflect and craft a performance from the complexities of these experiences. Till the End is a new performance exploring beginnings and endings, presence and absence and things appearing and disappearing. The work is presented in a light-hearted way, using magic show conventions as a way of investigating these themes.
You were awarded the Artsadmin BANNER Award in 2016, how did this period inform your latest performance?
The scheme gave me time, support and resources to properly invest in my performance making in a variety of ways and has provided me with further opportunities to develop my practice. The team have provided me with on-going support over the last year in the development of Till the End and without it, I wouldn’t be presenting this work.
What did the BANNER scheme offer you as a recent graduate?
I graduated in 2016 from the BA (Hons) Contemporary Performance Practice programme at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). I think one of the most important parts of the scheme is being taken seriously as a performance maker immediately after graduating and the positive effects that had on me. The scheme allowed for mentoring support from the team as well as connecting me with artists with a similar practice.
Your work often explores the dynamic between the performer and the audience, such as your piece Elision, performed at BUZZCUT Festival 2017. What is it about this kind of exchange with audiences that interests you?
I have always been interested in my relationship to the audience and have explored that in various ways throughout my studies and current performance practice. My work is responsive to the space I am in and working with what is in front of me, acknowledging that the audience are part of the work and therefore encouraging their participation. In the fourth year at RCS, I created my first hour-long solo performance, part of that work was getting the audience to join me in an Icelandic sing-along of a song they had never heard before. There’s some kind of magic that happens with an invitation like that, something that I cannot really prepare for, and I like that level of surprise and trust in the audience. I am not interested in pushing the audience or making them feel uncomfortable, but to explore the possibilities of our exchange and if they are willing to be part the show.
Elision is an exploration of my national identity through an attempt to stay warm in a fake tropical set. There is a moment in the work where I invite a group of audience members on the stage and instruct them to stand as a group on one side of the stage as I stand on the other, asking them to copy my movements. There is a different level of audience interaction in each performance I make, all depending on the themes and the different ways of approaching that exchange. The work I am performing on 5 April, Till the End, also follows the theme of engaging the audience, one of them being predicting the future. I think it always comes down to the same thing; how can I actively engage the audience in the exploration?
How much of your personal experience informs the work?
I think my experiences always inform the work I make and how I make. My performances are an attempt to understand the world a bit better, which is quite a big task, but maybe manageable with a sharp focus on a particular aspect of it. My autobiography weaves into the work; so rather than it being confessional or based around my story I think about how my autobiography can be part of the exploration of a theme or a question.
How do you decide the form of your work?
I usually start a process by questioning what is bothering, exciting or confusing me and from that point figure out a frame that allows me to explore that in the most liberating way. Till the End has been a difficult process because of how personal the subject matter is, so I had to find a frame that would allow me to unpick and understand what I was going through. The craft is really important to me, how to explore something instead of just naming it.
What can people expect from Till the End on 5 April?
I’m interested in what people expect from Till the End from reading about it, and how their expectations of the work will affect their reading of it. I’m interested in whether or not I can tell you what to expect and how my description of what you will see and hear might not be what you see and hear at all. What if I tell you there will be references to a magic show? What do you think of magic shows? What do you like and what do you dislike? Will it make you interested in the work or not?
You can expect to be part of the performance, a rabbit costume, and a search for something that has gone missing and a long list of things coming to an end.
BANNER, an award for artists graduating from art school, is an Artsadmin initiative supported by Goldsmiths, University of London, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Live Art Development Agency.
Image: Gudrun Soley Sigurdardottir, Elision. Photo by Julia Bauer.