The room you enter is full of heterogeneous objects, and it is up to you to decide how to tear them apart. A joyous invitation to restore the enchantment to matter, however banal it may seem. Playful and deeply creative.
The New Zealand artist Kate McIntosh invites the spectator to reinterpret the commonplace, to reconstruct an all-encompassing obsolescence so that it takes on a whole new meaning. In doing so she brilliantly examines the implacable desire to consume in a society crippled by a constant pursuit of the latest new thing, discarding without questioning and purchasing without thinking. Here, the joyful, thoughtful deconstruction and reworking of objects leads to a sort of rebirth. The audience becomes the artist, works are created and exhibited.
A playground where a wide variety of everyday objects are nicely displayed: cups, toys, figurines, knick-knacks, shoes… An irresistible invitation to dismantle them, roughly or delicately, as you prefer. Worktable is a solitary/intimate journey through different spaces, involving decisions and actions to undertake, as the audience transforms the chosen item into something new. A joyous call to act, to remake our environment and to bestow something with enchantment, no matter how banal it may be. Brilliant and profoundly creative.
Produced by SPIN
Concept and Direction Kate McIntosh
Technical Coordination Clare Noonan + Anda Skrejane
Production Sarah Parolin
Thanks to Bruno Roubicek + Hester Chillingwort + Caroline Daish + Palli Banine + Ant Hampton + Joe Kelleher + Tim Etchells + Adrian Heathfield + Simon Bayly
Presented in association with UQÀM
Written by Diane Jean
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Kate McIntosh (Brussels + Wellington) SPIN
Born and raised in New Zealand, Kate McIntosh now lives in Brussels. A multidisciplinary artist, she initially trained as a dancer and has been producing works internationally since 1995, collaborating with artists like Wendy Houstoun and Tim Etchells in the United Kingdom, Meryl Tankard in Australia, Michèle Anne de Mey and Davis Freeman in Belgium and Simone Aughterlony in Switzerland.
She has been experimenting with different disciplines since 2004, from theatre to video and installations. She is interested in playfully bringing spectators into her performances, getting them to directly contribute to the artistic event as it unfolds. Using humour and social commentary, she gets them involved and engaged, exploring tangents and championing the manipulation of objects and the use of diverse materials.
For her own works, Kate McIntosh has collaborated with Eva Meyer-Keller, Jo Randerson, Lilia Mestre, Charo Calvo and Diederik Peeters. She has produced several short films that have been presented at festivals and exhibits in several countries. A founding member of the performance collective and punk rock band Poni, she is also a co-founder of SPIN, an artist-run production and research platform based in Brussels. From 2017 to 2021 Kate McIntosh was artist in residence at Kaaitheater, a performance art theatre in Brussels.
You have been presenting Worktable for the past 10 years, and the performance has been seen in 45 cities around the world. How has it evolved since its inception?
Since 2011 certain segments have been polished and refined. I’ve slightly modified the structure of the rooms where the different actions take place, and reduced the list of objects available for selection, given that some objects are more popular than others.
That means I can better prepare these artistic events. I also work more closely now with the people who welcome the audience to the venue. It’s a very delicate task; you must provide solid information but not reveal too much of what is about to take place. But fundamentally, nothing has really changed. I think that what I like about this installation is the diversity of audience reactions. In each city the reactions are numerous and varied and universal; there are no notable differences city by city.
These are human reactions. I’m not present when the event takes place, so the people are left to themselves and no one is filming them. I really like that the experience is theirs. Often people don’t know my name, and that’s the way I like it. Most of the time people discuss it amongst themselves once it’s over. That’s what I prefer, knowing that they’ve shared a particular intimate experience, knowing that they then compare their emotional responses to the experience, that they are surprised that each has experienced something quite different from the others.
How has your work been honed and refined over the years?
My background is fairly traditional. I was trained as a dancer and became an actor in my twenties. Then I started creating shows where I danced and acted. I quite like the theatrical aspect of my work, but I developed a growing interest in objects, their shape and form.
Then I became interested in the spectator, in incorporating the audience into my research on objects. Worktable is my first piece to reflect those two interests. I really wanted to create a piece where no one is watching, and no one is being watched. I started this piece because I’ve never liked shows where people are asked to participate, as I find the premise very suspicious. I wanted to create a performance where I would feel at ease, pursuing something I’m curious about. Worktable is part of a trilogy of performances (along with All Ears and In Many Hands) that involve the active participation of the spectator. I learned a lot doing those pieces, which toured for many years.
I’ve just presented a project called To Speak Light Pours Out, which is based on sounds and music. The audience is seated around the stage where three performers create rhythms with drums and percussion, with some poetic and political texts also featured. Challenged in a gentle way, the audience is part of this particular space that allows us to listen together, but each at his or her own pace, an approach I had experimented with in other works. We created a soundscape that channels the energy of the rhythms, voices and texts, and their meanings.
People enter your installation and are mostly alone in a room as they engage in transformative actions. Do they all respond in the same way to the work to be done and the ensuing result?
Some people are emotionally invested in the objects they choose. They recognize them as part of their own personal story. Others do not feel that connection. I place objects in the room without specifying any meaning to them. The object is simply there and you work on taking it apart.
It is individuals themselves who create the emotional content. When they arrive in the final room and see all those objects on display, they find it very beautiful, very moving. Prior to arriving there, they had a hands-on understanding of how the objects were re-imagined with care and attention. They are well aware that choices were made, because they were confronted with making choices and also with the difficulty of finding solutions to the problems involved in creating new objects. Some find that last room somewhat sad. It’s as though they are in a hospital surrounded by suffering people, which I completely understand. Some stay there for hours; it can become very meditative.
Worktable is very much about transformation, about change. And the period we are now in is one of profound change. Unexpected, not at all welcome, but unmistakably an imposing presence. We might ask ourselves, How can I engage with this period? What energy do I want to bring into this changing world? The idea for the installation came from an earthquake in New Zealand in 2011. I imagined this piece soon afterward. The thought occurred to me that everything could explode, everything that seemed solid could be pulverized. It was a violent thought, but also full of potential for renewal.