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The Whalebone Box: The Andrew Kotting Interview

  Andrew Kotting has been making his highly idiosyncratic films since the nineteen-eighties, and has built a fan following for his very British sense of mysticism and connection to the landscape. In this latest film, The Whalebone Box, he charts a trip taken by himself and writer Iain Sinclair from the South of England to the North of Scotland to return the whalebone box of the title there, a box that has mysterious properties connected to the sea. Mr Kotting was good enough to answer our questions about the project and his career in general (and yes, he did answer in all capitals).

TSI: Have you always been a film fan? What were your favourites growing up?


AK: LESS OF A 'FAN' AS I GET OLDER BUT THERE WERE CERTAINLY FILMS THAT HAD AN EFFECT ON ME WHEN I WAS YOUNGER - DAVID LEAN'S DR ZHIVAGO FOR INSTANCE WAS PERHAPS THE FIRST TIME I REMEMBER FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE BIG SCREEN AND ALSO JULIE CHRISTIE AND GERALDINE CHAPLIN, POSSIBLY EVEN OMAR SHARIF - IT WAS EXOTIC EROTIC EXCITING AND SAD - I WAS ABOUT EIGHT YEARS OLD AND MY PARENTS TOOK ME TO THE ODEON LEICESTER SQUARE TO SEE IT - IT WAS IMMERSIVE AND SPECTACULAR AND UNLIKE ANYTHING THAT I HAD EXPERIENCED BEFORE BUT THE FILM THAT CHANGED MY LIFE WAS DANID LYNCH'S ERASERHEAD - THEREAFTER LIFE WAS NEVER QUITE THE SAME - I HAVE A LOT TO THANK HIM FOR - HE IS HOWEVER AN ARTIST THAT WORKS WITH DIFFERENT MEDIUMS AND NOT JUST FILM AND IN THIS SENSE HE IS VERY MUCH A KINDRED SPIRIT.

TSI: How did you become a filmmaker in the first place?

AK: BY HAPPENSTANCE - MY LOVER LEILA WAS DOCUMENTING PERFORMANCES THAT I WAS MAKING IN THE LANDSCAPE ON AN OLD SUPER 8 CAMERA THAT I HAD FOUND. ONE OF THESE SILENT 'DOCUMENTATIONS' WAS CALLED KLIPPERTY KLÖPP TO WHICH I ADDED A POST SYNC VOICE OVER AND FOUR TRACKS OF MUSIC. IT GOT SELECTED FOR THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL AND POSSIBLY BECAUSE OF THE FACT THAT I COULD WATCH ANONYMOUSLY FROM WITHIN THE AUDIENCE I BECAME INSPIRED ENOUGH TO WANT TO MAKE MORE FILMS. I THEN GOT TO SHOWING THEM IN FESTIVALS - OFTEN PERFORMING LIVE IN FRONT OF THEM - THIS WAS IN THE 80's AND A WHOLE NEW WORLD OPENED UP FOR ME....

TSI: Was the whalebone box of the film your own possession? How did you come by it?

AK: IT WAS IN THE POSSESSION OF IAIN SINCLAIR, GIVEN TO HIM OVER 30 YEARS AGO BY ITS MAKER, THE SCULPTOR STEVEN DILWORTH WHO LIVES UP IN THE OUTER HEBRIDES. IT WAS IAIN THAT CONVINCED ME TO DOCUMENT ITS JOURNEY BACK TO THE ISLE OF HARRIS FROM WHENCE IT CAME. IT IS A MAGICAL OBJECT WITH STRANGE POWERS AND VERY VERY HEAVY. HEAVIER THAN A CAR BATTERY SO I WAS CHOSEN TO CARRY IT.

TSI: Why do you think so many of your films involve journeys? Does that make for meditative films?

AK: IT MEANS THAT THE VARIOUS TANGENTS THAT THE FILMS INVARIABLY GO OFF ON CAN BE CORALLED BACK ON COURSE BY THE STRUCTURE OF THE JOURNEY. I ALWAYS HAVE A BEGINNING MIDDLE AND END BUT ELSEWISE EVERYTHING IS UP FOR GRABS. IT'S A SPINE ONTO WHICH I CAN HANG STUFF. BOTH SOUND AND IMAGE. MEDITATIVE COMINGS AND GOINGS INCLUDED. DREAMINGS AND REALITIES. FOUND FOOTAGE, ARCHIVE AND TEXTS TO BOOT. IT'S A DEVICE FOR COLLAGING LIFE ONTO THE BIG SCREEN.

TSI: Do you think you can bring your own significance to objects like the box, or do they hold that significance regardless of who is in their vicinity?

AK: THEY ALREADY HAVE THEIR OWN POTENCY BUT I AM IN A POSITION ALONG WITH MY COLLABORATORS TO COAX NEW LIFE OR MEANING INTO THEM. AND THEN SOMETIMES THROUGH THE JUXTAPOSITIONING OF VARIOUS ELEMENTS - ALMOST ALCHEMICAL - SOMETHING SPRINGS TO LIFE WHICH IS OFTEN OUT OF MY CONTROL. I JUST SIT THERE AND WATCH AND LISTEN AS IT HAPPENS....

TSI: It's always good to see your daughter Eden in your work - how much does she contribute to the making of the films? Does she enjoy watching them?

AK: EDEN ONLY EVER WATCHES FILMS THAT SHE IS IN. SHE HAS A MASSIVE EGO LIKE HER FATHER AND IS AS SELF-ABSORBED AS THE REST OF HER GENERATION. HOWEVER, SHE IS BOTH MUSE AND INSPIRATION. JOY AND PAIN AND SHE CONTINUES TO KEEP ME BEGUILED AND FASCINATED. WITHOUT HER I AM LOST. ALONG WITH HER MOTHER LEILA, FOR OVER 32 YEARS WE HAVE MANAGED TO KEEP SANE BY INCORPORATING HER INTO EVERY FACET OF OUR LIVES, WHICH IN MY CASE MEANS THE WORK THAT I MAKE AND AS SHE HAS GROWN OLDER SHE HAS BECOME EVEN MORE VITAL TO MY PRACTISE.

TSI: For those who are new to your work and are starting here, can you tell us what Eden's condition is and how it affects her?

AK: EDEN HAS A RARE NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER CALLED JOUBERT SYNDROME. SHE IS MISSING A VERY IMPORTANT PART OF HER BRAIN WHICH IS CALLED THE VERMIS. WHEN SHE WAS FIRST BORN HER LIFE EXPECTANCY WASN'T GOOD. BUT TODAY SHE IS MORE ROBUST THAN MOST. THE SYNDROME IMPACTS ON EVERY FACET OF HER LIFE, FROM BALANCE TO BREATHING, FROM WALKING TO TALKING TO SEEING TO THINKING, TO UNDERSTANDING AND COMMUNICATING. SHE IS ALSO UNFATHOMABLE AND VERY BLOODY MINDED.

TSI: Also for those newcomers, what would you say to guide them through the stories and impressions you create? What should they be looking out for?

AK: PERHAPS IF THEY HAD A CHANCE TO WATCH MY FILMS GALLIVANT, MAPPING PERCEPTION AND THIS OUR STILL LIFE THEY MIGHT BETTER UNDERSTAND WHO EDEN IS. GIDEON KOPPEL ALSO MADE A BEAUTIFUL FILM WITH HER WHICH IS ON THE DVD EXTRAS OF HIS FILM SLEEP FURIOUSLY.

TSI: Has the land of Britain and its nature always been important to you? Do you have any favourite locations you have used in your work?

AK: BRITAIN HAS ALWAYS BEEN IMPORTANT AND ITS PEOPLE AN INSPIRATION - IT TENDS TO BE THE LANDSCAPE AS OPPOSED TO THE CITYSCAPE THAT BEGUILES ME DESPITE HAVING GROWN UP AND LIVED IN LONDON FOR OVER 40 YEARS BUT THE FRENCH PYRENEES HAS ALSO BEEN HOME TO LEILA MYSELF AND EDEN FOR 30 YEARS. THE FORESTS AND MOUNTAINS OF THE ARIÈGE WHERE A LOT OF THE WORK IS CONCEIVED OR DEVELOPED IS VITAL. HOWEVER IF I HAD TO CHOOSE ONE LOCATION IT WOULD BE THE WHOLE OF THE SOUTH EAST COASTLINE OF ENGLAND, MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE ON A CLEAR DAY I CAN SEE FRANCE WHICH MAKES ME LONG FOR THE PYRENEES.

TSI: How much mysticism do you think you can find in everyday life? You seem to find so much of it in your films.

AK: IT'S EVERYWHERE, YOU JUST HAVE TO BE ALERT TO IT. PUT DOWN YOUR DIGITAL APPARATUS AND TURN OFF THE TV, SWIM IN THE SEA, WALK THE WOODS OF A STORMY NIGHT OR SIT IN A GRAVEYARD ALONE. IT'LL COME AND FIND YOU. THIS IS SOMETHING THAT I SHARE WITH IAIN SINCLAIR. HE IS A GREAT SEER, WHICH CAN BE FOUND IN EVERYTHING THAT HE WRITES. WHEN WE ARE WALKING AND TALKING, THE LANDSCAPE AND, CITYSCAPE SPRINGS TO LIFE. THE MYSTICISM IS WAITING TO BE DISCOVERED AND THEN ACTIVATED.

TSI: What it is about 16mm cameras that appeals to you? What does one bring to the piece?

AK: I USED TO WORK A LOT ON 16MM BUT IT IS NOW TOO EXPENSIVE AND TOO CUMBERSOME AND OFTEN OVER FETISHISED FOR ITS CELLULOIDIC PROPERTIES. I STILL USE IT IN THE FORM OF ARCHIVE OR FOUND FOOTAGE WHICH ENHANCES THE WORKS HAUNTOLOGICAL POTENTIAL. HOWEVER, IT'S STRANGE HOW MANY PEOPLE THINK THAT THE FILM WAS SHOT ON 16MM WHEN IN ACTUAL FACT IT WAS SHOT ON SUPER 8 AND SUPER 8 APPS!

TSI: How did you go about choosing the clips from old movies and documentaries for The Whalebone Box? Did they just spring to mind or do they need more research?

AK: WHAT INVARIABLY HAPPENS IS WHEN I'M RESEARCHING ONE PROJECT THINGS ARRIVE BY CHANCE OR HAPPENSTANCE THAT I KNOW MIGHT BELONG IN A FUTURE PROJECT. I HAVE A WONDERFUL RELATIONSHIP WITH SCREEN ARCHIVE SOUTH EAST WHO ARE BASED IN BRIGHTON AND HAVE SUPPORTED THE WORK EVER SINCE I MOVED TO ST LEONARDS ON SEA. IT IS AN AMAZING RESOURCE AND I'LL VISIT A COUPLE OF TIMES A YEAR JUST TO SIT AND LOOK AT ANYTHING NEW THAT MIGHT HAVE COME IN. THE COLLECTION PRIMARILY CONSISTS OF HOME-MOVIES THAT HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED OR BEQUEATHED IN THE EVENT OF A FAMILY MEMBER'S DEATH. THE FOOTAGE IS MOVING AND POWERFUL EVEN IN ITS MUNDANITY. IT'S A FIX THAT I NEED. I MAKE NOTES OR DOWNLOAD LO-RES FOOTAGE TO TAKE BACK TO MY STUDIO IN THE HOPE THAT ONE DAY IT MIGHT FIND ITS WAY INTO A FUTURE PROJECT AND THIS HAPPENS WITH SOUND, NOT JUST THE IMAGERY.

TSI: How do you think the coronavirus will affect people's relationship with the landscape and nature? Will we appreciate it more now?

AK: I HOPE SO. THE WORLD AS WE KNEW IT HAS GROUND TO A HALT. WE ARE HAVING TO RECALIBRATE OUR NEEDS SYSTEMS, OUR BELIEF SYSTEMS OUR PRIORITIES. AS A HUMANIST I'M HOPING THAT WE MIGHT BE DONE WITH ALL THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS INFIGHTING AND MOVE ONTO THE HIGHER GROUND. IT HAS GIVEN ALL OF US TIME TO REFLECT ON WHAT REALLY MATTERS. ALTRUISTIC ACTS ARE SPREADING LIKE THE VIRUS ITSELF. IT GIVES ME HOPE BUT THERE AGAIN... PERHAPS GRETA THUNBERG'S MOTHER WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG WHEN SHE SUGGESTED THAT HER DAUGHTER HAD SUPER POWERS. WE NEEDED A NAÏF TO REMIND US OF WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE. THE FUTURE COULD BE BRIGHT BUT ULTIMATELY IT REMAINS UNFATHOMABLE DESPITE THE WARNINGS, JUST LIKE EDEN IT IS ALL ONE HUGE RIDDLE THAT WE ARE PART OF.

TSI: Are there any films you would recommend that you believe are on your wavelength and would appeal to your followers?

AK: I THINK IT'S MORE ABOUT THE VISION OR VOICE OF FILM MAKERS RATHER THAN THE FILMS THEMSELVES SO OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD ANY FILM BY MARGARET TAIT, ANDREA ARNOLD, LYNNE RAMSEY, LES BLANK, WERNER HERZOG, DAVID LYNCH, MAYA DEREN, SHIRIN NESHAT, LARS VON TRIER, BEN RIVERS, MARK JENKIN, MATT HULSE, AGNÈS VARDA, CLIO BARNARD, MIRANDA JULY, JANE CAMPION, MARK COUSINS and RUBEN ÖSTLUND ASWELL AS ANYTHING WRITTEN FOR TV OR THE STAGE BY ALAN CLARK, MARGARET ATWOOD, HATTIE NAYLOR, STEWART LEE, SEAN LOCK OR PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE.

TSI: Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share with us?

AK: ALONG WITH THE ANIMATORS GLENN WHITING AND ISABEL SKINNER EDEN AND I HAVE BEEN COMMISSIONED TO MAKE A SHORT FILM CALLED DISEASED AND DISORDERLY WHICH WILL INCLUDE HER DRAWINGS, PAINTINGS AND COLLAGES AND MIGHT EVEN MORPH INTO A VR EXPERIENCE WITH HIGH END CGI SURROUND SOUND, THE LOT. ARCHIVE INCLUDED OF COURSE....

Many thanks to Andrew Kotting for taking the time to reply, and check out The Whalebone Box on streaming services, it's as strange and thought-provoking as ever. Nobody makes films like he does. Click here to visit his website.
Author: Graeme Clark.

 

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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018