Interview with Jerwood/FVU Award Winner, Marianna Simnett

This March artists Lucy Clout and Marianna Simnett, winners of the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2015, premiere new moving-image works in an exhibition at Jerwood Visual Arts. Created in response to the project title What Will They See of Me?, the two artist have spent the last year expanding on their initial proposals in the first stage of the Awards in April 2014. We speak to Simnett about her work Blood and her use of untrained actors in her films.

A: How does your work respond to the curatorial theme What will they see of me?
MS: Blood responds to this theme as an investigation into what makes a subject a subject. In the film any “me” is infected, progressively swelling, messy. “They” can also be “me”. Me can be male, or female, or both. The protagonists in my film cannot be seen as whole. They are partial, missing and fused.

A: Why did you choose to set Blood in Albania?
MS: I began my research into Albanian sworn virgins (burrneshas) a few years ago when happening upon a Victorian explorer called Mary Edith Durham. The Albanian law of blood, the “eye for an eye” mentality, and the way people seemed to live via metaphors was an exciting prospect. I am struck by the insistence with which a lie can become truth – I say I’m male and therefore I am. A broader interest in the location was my own eastern European background and upbringing.

A: How does Blood develop the themes of your previous film The Udder?
MS: In The Udder, the teat became a thumb became a phallus became a nose… In Blood , the nose takes over and we are taking a look at the inferior turbinate bone, one of the three shelf-like slugs that we have in our cavity. The theme of chastity is also prevalent in both. In The Udder, the udder swears the oath via the deaf herdsman. In Blood , the sworn virgin has long since taken it so we explore how such vows actually operate today.

A: Why do you choose to use non-actors in your videos?
MS: There is something magical about asking someone to play the part of themselves. It’s harder in a good way – no-one wants to be seen or scrutinised for who they actually are, so I embed their identities back into a fictional zone, to camouflage the real. I think it is about rejecting interchangeability. These people are the only ones who could possibility fill the role, because the role is born from them. There is no backup, no reserve, no understudy.

A: Why video art? Could you see yourself using any other mediums in the future?
MS: Absolutely. I hate feeling categorised. I do draw and perform which will happen more. My background is in music and theatre and video enables me to encompass many mediums at once. It gets close-ish to answering some of the questions I have. I can communicate with it yet it is bigger than me.

The Jerwood/FVU Awards 2015: What Will They See of Me? is at Jerwood Space, London, until 26 April 2015 and CCA, Glasgow, from 30 May to 12 July 2015. The Jerwood/FVU Awards are a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella (FVU) in association with CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow and University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries.

1. Marianna Simnett, Blood 2015. Produced as part of the Jerwood FVU Awards 2015, What Will They See of Me (7).