Artist Questionnaire: Jamie Shovlin

On the eve of the cinematic release of the artist's feature film, Shovlin talks fiction, reality and friendship

By ArtReview

Jamie Shovlin, Rough Cut (production image), 2013. Photo: Simon Webb. Courtesy the artist. Cocommissioned by Cornerhouse Artist Film and TIFF: Toronto International Film Festival Jamie Shovlin, Rough Cut (production image), 2013. Photo: Simon Webb. Courtesy the artist. Cocommissioned by Cornerhouse Artist Film and TIFF: Toronto International Film Festival Jamie Shovlin, Hiker Meat film poster, 2012. Courtesy the artist.

The artist Jamie Shovlin continues his excavation of the boundaries between fiction and fact, and the structures that underlie both, with Rough Cut, a feature-length 'documentary' about the 1970s exploitation teen horror flick Hiker Meat. As Rough Cut proceeds it becomes apparent however, that older film is a movie that has only ever existed in the imagination of Shovlin and his crew. What the audience gets instead, is a spirited study on the essence of imagination and the materialisation of ideas. ArtReview put some questions to Shovlin about the project.

Who was, or who do you claim Jesus Rinzoli is?

Jesus Rinzoli is the director of Hiker Meat as placed within its fictional historical timeline. In reality, it’s a name given to the ‘director’ of Hiker Meat, who is characterised as a composite aggregation of several actual exploitation-type directors. It’s important to mention that Rinzoli’s is the only original name within the cast and crew of Hiker Meat as the rest are either pseudonyms or aliases of three directors - Joe D'Amato, Jesús Franco and Bruno Mattei. His name comes from an alternative reading of Robert Gober’s early sink sculptures.

Who is, or who do you claim Mike Harte is?

Mike Harte is the originator of the concept and screenplay of Hiker Meat. His original pitch, of an imaginary film named after an anagram of his own name, was forwarded back in 2005 as part of an earlier project, Lustfaust: A Folk Anthology 1976–81. Mike is many other things also: an old friend, a man who knows three (good) ways of poaching eggs, someone who actively worries about his ability to ‘play’ himself.

The film is a ‘making of documentary’ concerning a film, Hiker Meat, that we only get to see snippets of. At one point, in an interview with Harte, he says ‘It’s easy to put shit in afterwards, as we know from this whole process’. Is the whole thing an attempt at the reversal of process?

It’s a bit of back and forth. As I mentioned, Mike initially developed the idea for Hiker Meat as imagined content for the seventh album, Überblicken/Überzeugen, by the at-the-time fictional band Lustfaust. It was filmic but never intended to be translated into a film. This later became very important in making Rough Cut around it. I liked the idea that at every remove from Mike’s original 300-word outline, the narrative and focus of the story changes as a consequence of the process applied – whether he’s expanding his own original treatment, or I’m substantiating it through clips from other films, or Euan Rodger is reinterpreting it through writing a musical score – and the person applying the process. That continuum of development and disruption was exponentially expanded when it came to asking around thirty or so people to put into action a script that had been stitched together from hundreds of other films. With that understanding came the realisation that each of these removes should be placed centre in Rough Cut, that the material (and methodology) that you’d normally want to hide or put at the periphery of a production should be the film’s focus. I guess with standard filmmaking, you have a script and then you put it in to play. Our script, for a few scenes from Hiker Meat, was secondary to what we were after.

The material (and methodology) that you’d normally want to hide or put at the periphery of a production should be the film’s focus

Lustfaust did the soundtrack to the film. They were a fictional band you faked a documentary archive for in 2006, but who have since become real and you have played a number of performances as. The band, as a concept, went from fiction to reality in a way. What side of that divide does Rough Cut sit under?

Without the fictional-to-real transition that Lustfaust made, Rough Cut wouldn’t exist. That was a transition that I didn’t want to happen – I thought the idea of Lustfaust performing was absurd. But, three people – Mike, Murray Ward and myself – worked on the original Lustfaust project so democracy won and they became an actual performing band. I increasingly lost touch with what the presence of the band as a live entity meant in relation to their origin as the empty centre of an imagined archive documenting tape-trading in the late 1970s, until around late 2008, when I got tired of requests for them to play ‘art’ gigs. By this point, the live performances were shambolic and pointless with no apparent relation to the original project and were driven by Murray, who developed the musical content for the original archive. He lost interest in the project around the same time that I decided I wanted to work with the consensus that somehow Lustfaust were now considered a band. And that’s when Hiker Meat was resuscitated, as a means by which the band would generate music for an ostensible reason – to score a film – and that’s also when Euan started to direct the musical side of the project. Whether that film existed or not didn’t seem to matter at that point. Euan composed two separate scores for the film(s), one a genre-specific 1970s homage for Hiker Meat, the other a vocal-only score for Rough Cut with the latter produced under his own name.

At another point, two of the crew, just messing around, film each other, lens to lens – one with a handheld camera, the other on his phone. One of them says offhand, “holding a mirror to mirror”. These are not your words, but you chose to include them in the film ­– is that how you see the camera, and indeed, film: a tool to reflect reality, or even a machine to create reality itself (maybe ArtReview is reading too much into this innocuous comment!)

A ruse to look at the social environment and people involved in the making of this thing

It is an innocuous moment but also the only one where Dave Petty, who we referred to as the “fly on the wall” and who is the one behind the camera in a lot of footage used in the film, is revealed. It serves as an echo of the film at large and the notion that in any social situation, a camera only increases self-consciousness. So the camera operates on both levels you mention. The principle idea was to have this central conceit or pursuit – we’d attempt to recreate shot-for-shot, over the course of seven days in the Lake District, several parts of the collaged version of Hiker Meat. We’d then redub and Foley each of those sequences before degrading the footage to make it look like one of the films that served as its source visual material. This was the supposed aim while in reality it served as a ruse to look at the social environment and people involved in the making of this thing, from initial development to the shoot itself and on to post-production. There was an implicit sense of trust with the people involved – beyond the Hiker Meat shot list, I didn’t really direct anything in terms of telling people what and when to shoot. I established some very broad guidelines that could be defined as an approach and hoped that the people involved would generate enough material for me to articulate a secondary story.

How was the process of turning director over artist?

Terrifying. I usually work relatively solitarily and am an awkward communicator at the best of times, so the undertaking was already a challenge. I was aware that the structure that was set in place in reshooting Hiker Meat gave me some degree of escape – rather than direct in person, I could delegate to my phone and show the actors and crew the original shot we’re recreating. I thought that having this preexisting storyboard would make it easier but it actually increased the difficulty and limitations on what we could do. It quickly became evident that we couldn’t get everything we we’re after so it became about defining what was integral about each shot in relation to its place in the recreated version we were making. I also realised that a lot of the emphasis on what this film would be was going to be established in the editing suite, so I spent a lot of time on the edit, rolling it over and over. There was over sixty hours of footage to work with so it was clear that you could relate the shoot and the related processes in a hundred different ways. I think the material gradually suggested its own story the more familiar I became with it. It’s tricky to reconcile. It felt traumatic with the arduousness of the shoot and the post-production documentation and then immediately revisiting the intensity of those experiences in secondary form and from multiple perspectives in the edit suite. I think I’ll have a go at some still lives in a shed next.

Rough Cut is on limited UK cinematic release from 6 December, including a week-long run at Curzon Soho, London, and the Cornerhouse, Manchester. For excerpts from the film see Shovlin's Vimeo channel.