For our penultimate instalment in the Interview Series, we interviewed Alex Billingham as part of our proposal to offer insight into how practising artists were coping with these unprecedented times. They have provided us with a window into their current practice and how they have repositioned with lockdown restrictions.
Who are you?
My name is Alex Billingham. I am a live artist based in the West Midlands. Most of my work deals with my genderqueer identity and how I approach different topics. I’ve got a particular interest in nuclear technology, slightly born from my childhood and how we relate to it, and all the surrounding cultural baggage of it. It’s quite nice to take that and reinterpret it from a genderqueer perspective because a lot of the information that’s out there about it is very much written from a white cis male perspective so it’s quite nice to have a slightly different view on it and a different way of interacting with the material. I also have a climbing injury which is meaning that, year on year, my mobility is reducing, so previously I have been making live art that is very physically demanding, very exhausting, but I’m finding that I need to spend more and more time recovering from the performances so recently I’ve been shifting more into film making as a more sustainable approach and also because I found I really love the editing process. It’s quite interesting, the difference between live performance and a recorded performance and how they work in different ways.
What is your artistic practice?
My artistic practice is, like I said, mainly as a live artist but I also work as a curator for Vivid Projects in their live art programme, currently working on a live art programme for ten artists called VLTV, which we had developed anyway because there wasn’t as much live art and art available on the internet, and we wanted to address that slightly for people who couldn’t physically make it into the gallery but the COVID hit and everybody did it, which was brilliant, it’s great but obviously it meant that we could refocus, so it could be less about the audience and more about supporting the artists so that they’re in a position to hopefully continue making art when we come out of this. I’d also recently developed my first theatrical show called “Nuclear Tides”, which was obviously about our relationship with nuclear technology because I really wanted to see how liv art would work within theatre, because although they share a lot of the same tropes they’re very different things. It’s quite interesting creating within that quite tight structure of theatre.. Obviously lockdown has stopped any theatrical touring of that nature which was annoying because this year was the year that it was going out to tour nationally, but once lockdown is lifted again I’m hoping that it will begin touring in Liverpool, but obviously we’re going to have to see how that goes.
I was quite fortunate in the sense that I decided to also this year make my first feature length film called “Iceworm” and I had already got the principal photography done in Norfolk so I was in a position to actually have all the footage and learn the editing process. Obviously it’s meant that I’ve shifted much further away from doing traditional live art and much more into learning how to edit this year.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently coming off quite a few projects. I have literally just recorded a micro commission for Shout Festival called “Glistening Scum”, it’s about Donald Trump and it involves me bathing in twelve litres of glitter, obviously referencing his golden showers. It was a piece I initially did for a project four years ago when he got inaugurated, inaugreated? When he got sworn in. Because I find him a detestable human being and needed an outlet for that, three hours of bathing in a bath of glitter, people could come and talk about their feelings about Donald Trump with me and give me golden showers. This piece is completely different although the base premise is the same it’s been specifically designed for film so it’s incredible heavily edited. It’s quite a grotesque piece. Very much borrowing from the sci-fi horror in the 1970s.
A lot of my practice also involves sound work, using things like theremins, sort of old fashioned synthesisers. The reason for this is I very much like to use my own material, I don’t like to borrow or use other people’s material if possible and it gives me a lot more control. Initially I was learning the sound technology to build soundscapes for my performances so it became a more encompassing thing which led on to the theatre, although obviously with doing film work, that’s incredibly useful for that too and a lot of the sound I make sounds like it possibly comes from the cutting room floor of BBC’s radiophonic workshop.
What is next?
As I say I’ve been extremely lucky with having the film to edit so that’s meant I’ve spent a lot of this year learning editing skills, learning film skills, I’ve probably watched every Youtube tutorial on how to edit something or film something. And although I don’t like this kind of talking to camera, performing in front of a camera, that’s fine. Next up, possibly a wee bit of a break because I’ve had a lot of projects that have come to fruition at the moment but I’m hoping next year to make my first vinyl record using some of the sound techniques, mainly because everyone loves physically holding something, the idea of having a vinyl record is lovely, but also I think it’s a good way of preserving and keeping something which is so ethereal. I’m also looking at working towards my second feature film, hopefully with that one it won’t just be me because although I’ve done most of the principal photography in Norfolk, obviously a lot of it with lockdown meant that a lot of it was filmed in my studio or in my back garden so a lot of it is using me or nature so it would be nice to use other people within the film and actually build up a wee bit.
Where can we find you?
You can find me at alexbillingham.co.uk that should have links to my Vimeo page and also my Instagram.