I only recently met Kathryn Elkin and had the chance to familiarise myself with her body of work. Kathryn started talking about her interests and showcased her recent work Mutatis Mutandis (2014). The video focuses on a still life on a dark tabletop placed against a yellow backdrop. The most striking component of this is a bloody liver in a crystal dish; a wooden baton stands behind it, while the rest of the tabletop is occupied by a glass of red wine, a half-filled milk bottle and a red-andwhite tea towel on a plate.
The aesthetics of the film reminded me of the Belgian-born poet, writer and painter Henri Michaux’s short stories: the abstract, inexplicable state of affairs as an anonymous hand moves the piece of liver or pours the milk, invigorating the listener’s senses, while a voiceover informs you of a fable that was once told to the artist by her mother. It describes a liver becoming animated if left with a glass bottle of milk in the fridge overnight. Kathryn translates the story with jump cuts, while discrepancies between visual representation and spoken pronunciation introduce word plays and free associations, appropriating the fable. Mutatis Mutandis is a Latin phrase meaning ‘the things being changed which need to be changed’. The necessary change (in the title) is brought alive through the image and the voiceover that transcribes and translates the movement captured as speech.
In the follow-up to our conversation, Kathryn brought forward her recent commission Michael’s Theme (2014). This videowork makes use of previously unbroadcast fragments from the opening and closing of several episodes in the first two series of Parkinson, a talkshow programme from the 1970s. Elkin produced the work as part of the Artists and Archives: Artists’ Moving Image at the BBC residency programme that offered unprecedented access to the corporation’s facilities and archives. The artwork is not only a collage of cutouts (from the recordings of Parkinson) but also a composition of Elkin’s improvisations and interventions within the ‘making of’ the programme.
These two works for me are hints at Elkin’s extensive body of work that manifests itself as performance, video and writing. What astonishes me the most are her genuine engagement, the aesthetics of her production and her irregular artistic conduct.
Born in Belfast, now based in Glasgow, Kathryn Elkin focuses on writing, video and performance work. As well as participating in the Artists’ Moving Image project with BBC Scotland, her work has been shown as part of the Collective Gallery Edinburgh’s satellite programme and is currently included in Till the Stars Turn Cold at Glasgow Sculpture Studios to 14 March. Selected by Fatoş Üstek, independent curator and writer, London.
This article was first published in the March 2015 issue.