Interview with Benedict Drew

Benedict Drew’s work uses the apparatus of film, video and music to test and reflect on the relationships we have with technology and its oscillation between the exalted and the commonplace. He participated in Whitstable Biennale 2012 with his video installation NOW, THING, which was sited in the Oyster Indoor Bowls Club. Performance curator Emma Leach interviews Drew about why he was drawn to this location and the effect it had on the work.

Emma Leach: How did you first get interested in the Oyster Indoor Bowls Club as a site for your video installation?

Benedict Drew: When I lived in Brixton many years ago, Brixton Rec was round the corner from my house – a big sports centre. From street level you could look into the basement which had an indoor bowls club with several pitches. This expanse of green was very beautiful. So for a long time I had this image in my head, of showing work in a space like this. In Whitstable, where I now live, the Bowls Club is in an old fish canning factory. It’s a mysterious, anonymous building that’s entirely dedicated to the people who use it and that gives it another layer of mystery. In the context of the Biennale, there’s a precedent for showing work in interesting spaces in Whitstable. Lucienne Cole’s 67 Made in Heaven in the Bingo Hall was amazing, and Jeremy Millar’s XDO XOL in the Sorting Office. One of the things that happens at the Biennale is that you have access to spaces you’re not normally allowed into.

How did you hear about the Bowls Club in Whitstable?

I can’t remember! I’d never been inside the building until we went to visit it. I tried to find images online and there was one tiny jpeg of people bowling on the whole internet. It was a revealing discovery when we went inside. From the outside it’s quite anonymous; people don’t use it unless they’re inside its specific community. I thought it was great to allow people to go into the building, in the same way I enjoyed going into the Bingo Hall in the previous Biennale.

Inside, the Bowls Club has pitches and scoreboards but also a restaurant and bar.

It exists out of time. You can buy cheap food and cheap booze. It really serves the community – not only does it allow people to play this sport, it’s also a social space where people can eat and drink, which is brilliant.

When I met with the Club Secretary he gave us permission to use the space but we knew we’d need to work around their schedule of fixtures. It meant we only had a couple of hours to install the work on the two Sundays it was open. Did that restriction change the work for you?

In a situation like this you’re working with the space and with their conditions. It was an act of great generosity that they let us use their space. The work emerged out of knowing what was possible to show there, which is always the case. There’s always a struggle between the work you imagine and what it’s practical to do.

What did you like about the artificial greens?

It’s because the green is an entirely artificial surface. It’s a stand in for grass, but it’s not grass – it’s something else. My interest was in it mimicking something. I also like the formal qualities of a large, green colour field.

Did you always imagine a video projection in the Bowls Club?

It’s a very agreeable space for video projection. It has some of the classic elements of a cinema: lots of soft, material covered surfaces; it can be darkened; it has a low ceiling and comfy banquettes. The room frames the screen very nicely. And it refers to outdoor screenings, the baize being a version of grass. Also, it looked good!

It looked really good! The projected light bounced off the screen, lighting up the green around it but leaving the rest of the room in darkness.

The way the room is laid out there are two pitches going lengthways, so there was a sense of infinity behind the screen, a disturbance of scale. I’m interested in the hallucinogenic quality of scale perception, in people losing some aspect of their perception. When we showed the work it was midsummer, it was very hot and bright. People walked to the Bowls Club past the harbour and car parks and there’s no shade on the way. Going inside, it was cool and dark; your pupils dilate, there’s a transition. It’s jarring.

At one point in the video, there was the image of a character screaming and you’d added an artificial sound that made the snare drum in the room resonate. Talking about hallucinogenic qualities, I think there’s something hallucinogenic about this snare drum coming to life.

It’s a cheap trick! But cinema itself is a cheap trick – film is a series of still images giving the illusion of movement. Using the resonant tone was a way the work could escape the screen and it allowed the video to have a relationship with a three dimensional object – not just the two dimensional objects onscreen. So it acted as a rupture. The script talks about the audience – “the bodies in the space” – as being included in the work, so I used the trick with the snare drum to reinforce that idea.

I found myself identifying with the snare drum. It became a participant in the work and it felt like at that point anything else in the room could be sucked into the work.

That’s exactly it. That was my hope.