Daniel & Clara: Liminal Landscapes

TT Journal, Vol.1, ISSUE 1, 3rd November 2020

Interview with Daniel & Clara, two humans one artist on a journey exploring dimensions real and imagined, the results of which consist of moving image, photography, installation, letters and performance. Questions asked by Tereza Stehlikova.

Daniel & Clara, I have been following your work, mainly online, for quite some time and begun to sense a number of overlapping interests between your work and the concerns of our Tangible Territory project. The key one being the intertwining of inner and outer landscapes and realities, of imagination and the world as perceived by our senses, and the fine line between the two, the liminal space which you seem to occupy and explore.

Having just watched a selection of your films, including INT.LANDSCAPES, Studio Diary Series, and excerpts from Notes From A Journey, I feel I have been immersed in a kind of fresh stream, where visible, audible, tangible landscapes mesh with daydream, where imagination seeps into the world of our senses and vice versa.

I am very curious about a kind of structure (if any) you may apply to this sort of fluid approach to filmmaking, or what sort of thread you may follow so that you don’t get lost? Or, what is the balance between control and letting go? Between knowing and being guided by an intuition?

We are very intuitive creators, for us an image or a feeling appears first and from this the film or project will grow, but in order to be able to respond to these mysterious intuitions we have to have the right balance of receptivity, intelligence and craft. Cultivating these three things are what we believe should be the focus of an artist’s daily work. This is of course a life long process, but for us having a very focused structure and daily routine is the first step towards achieving this.

Receptivity is about learning to listen, to develop the capacity to trust the vague sensations that present themselves to you. Intelligence is about making judgements and decisions about the quality of the thousands of ideas and images that come your way. And craft is having the vessel in which to contain and communicate the visions.

There is always a process of discovery in making art, it is our greatest joy. We seek a feeling that is a kind of enticing unknowing, it’s like hearing a beautiful voice from an unseen creature calling from the shadows, we follow it into the dark and listen to what it has to say, these mysterious whisperings are then captured and brought back into the light and translated into an art object. In order to be able to translate and communicate these vague senses into art one has to have a craft and this can only be attained by daily work. Different artists will be able to hear different voices, no one can capture them all, you have to be in tune with your own capabilities and limitations to know which ones call to you.

So for us having a very clear daily routine and a structure for how we organise our time is about creating the best conditions for creativity and intuition to flow and bit by bit having better artistic skills. Over the past 10 years we have dedicated a lot of time experimenting with how best to organise our lives in order to be at our most creative and best serve the work. We currently have a very strict daily routine and because of this we have never felt more creatively free. The greatest benefit of having a routine is that it primes our minds and bodies for certain activities, at a certain time even if we don’t look at the clock our whole being suddenly becomes ready for creativity, ideas  and images flood in.

And how do you, as two distinct bodies and minds, which make up the single artist that you are, feed into the creative process, sustain a dialogue, enrich and balance each other? I am asking this because it strikes me that such a dialogue is both a privilege but also one that must have been earned?

We met in November 2010 and began a dialogue that continues to this day. The details of this exchange have evolved and shifted over time but at its heart the collaboration that began then stays the same. The key to understanding how we work is that we see ourselves as servants to the artist that is that third being of us combined. We do not have any interest in operating as individuals, we don’t care for our individual voices, we only care about the voice and explorations of the artist Daniel & Clara.

The way this concept materialises in practice is that we accept that every idea that comes, every image we make, every dream we have, everything we do belongs to both of us equally, we put everything on the table and from that we create our work. Ideas grow from this space we have created together, through a constant dialogue, through daily work and our dedication to creativity.

Sometimes, although rarely, we may have differing ideas about the direction something should go, when this happens we know that this means we haven’t yet dug deep enough. We never fight for our positions, instead we put both of our ideas aside and try to find a third way until eventually we unearth the right idea, one that we both fall in love with.

We want to be the best we can be, to have our imagination and creativity work beyond all limitations so that we can contribute something meaningful to the ongoing story of human creativity and imagination. We have found that by being two working as one we can push ourselves so much further than we could have ever dreamt of doing if making art as solo-creators. We feel very lucky to have met and been given this gift.

Given this initial issue of TT journal is partly also about the effect of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown and overall pause imposed on us all (for better or for worse), can you tell us little more about the way your own creative process has been affected or what kind of new structures have you created to channel your creative energies?

When lockdown was announced we were in a bit of an in-between moment, we had just finished a residency at Metal Southend and were staying on Mersea Island with family and planning to move back to London, but as the impact of the pandemic started to unfold we realised that we would be better off staying on the island for the time being. Like a lot of other artists, we suffered the cancelation of exhibitions and most of our upcoming work but we were incredibly lucky that we have been able to stay with family which has softened the blow.

We are quite adaptable generally and quickly took stock of what was and wasn’t possible for us to do in this reconfigured world. Some of the larger moving image projects we had been planning were put on hold, as was a project we had planned to make on a visit to Cornwall. We also felt that it wasn’t a time to rush into anything, the sense of uncertainty and the almost palpable anxiety in the air really affected us and even though we felt the need to work on something we certainly didn’t need anything too complex. The two main things we focused on were “On The Island…”, a series of single shot videos released on Instagram, and the INT/EXT letters. Both of these grew out of our daily walks around the island and the experiences of being fixed in one location watching the spring arrive and turn into summer. The great privilege of being in this beautiful place witnessing the magnificent event that is the changing seasons is currently the thing we are most grateful for and it helped us process all the fear and chaos of the pandemic.

Specifically, I am interested in your “On the Island…” videos, short pieces created for instagram. These videos show you standing in a landscape, feeling, listening, absorbing the surrounding landscape. From the point of view of the “audience”, I find these short films incredibly grounding and reassuring. As if I too can participate in the immersion in a landscape, even if I am elsewhere, perhaps stuck in my own small apartment, far from nature. Can you tell us more about the idea behind these and how you feel this project may develop?

The “On The Island…” videos appeared almost without intention. We were given an old, slightly broken iphone in March, and we had also recently set up an instagram account, and with these two new tools were considering how they could be used to create and present art in a way that worked with the limitations of the camera and the platform. Our work is generally very immersive and intended to be seen projected in a cinema or gallery space, we personally find it quite hard to properly engage with films on a laptop and the phone screens are just the worst, but finding these tools unexpectedly in our hands encouraged us to take up the challenge and see what we could do.

Having this question in mind as the pandemic hit was fortuitous timing, everything that we were engaged with suddenly moved online: meetings, screenings, exhibitions, all communication was relocated to the screen. This was quite difficult and overwhelming at first but gradually we adjusted. We were being mentally sustained by our daily walks through the countryside of the island and with this new recording device started to collect short sequences. In a way they are a kind of “going back to basics”, simply setting up a shot and recording it, they are raw and unedited, connecting to the earliest films of the Lumière Brothers. We were also thinking about traditions of landscape painting, particularly en plein air painters from Constable onwards, who would go out into the landscapes near their homes and let the particulars of how the light moves throughout the day, the weather and the shifts in colour dictate the mood of their work.

Then of course through this process our inner world began fusing with this environment and the videos carry this sense of communication between the inner and outer worlds; on the one hand, there is an opening of our sensing abilities to the influences and agencies of our environment, and on the other, the pressure of our presence and our personal narrative impressed upon it. It is amazing to us that this very simple approach has turned out to be such a satisfying and creative experience. For the moment we are quite happy to continue and see where it leads us.

Another question that occurred to me in relation to my own query…At a period when so much time is spent in zoom meetings, the idea of what is “here” becomes ever more interesting? Where is this shared here between people occupying different locations, joined by a Zoom interface…Your work is rooted in a place, yet is also part of an imaginary inner landscape, which is shared between two human beings and later also their audiences’ imaginations and memories. Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be “here”?

This is such an interesting question! Something that comes to mind is that “here” is already a complex notion even before the connected world of the internet, but what the internet has done is enabled us to externalise the complexity of our inner experience of “here” so that we can begin to understand what is going on within us. Our feeling is that when we are experiencing being in a place we are already in multiple dimensions simultaneously – while we may be physically present in an environment, within our interior world we are simultaneously rapidly moving between past, future and several imagined layers of reality.

This is a subject of great interest to us, particularly in what it means in relation to how the viewer experiences our work. With moving image, especially such as ours which is so rooted in particular places, it would be easy to think that the work is about those places, that maybe we wish to transport the viewer to those places, but what we are more interested in is creating a first person experience for the viewer, one in which they encounter not a place but an experience of themselves – we hope to make work that is a first person encounter with an art object which has a particular mood/aesthetic to it but which, like a landscape, doesn’t tell the viewer what to think or feel but creates a situation in which they can become conscious of how they are thinking and feeling.

Finally, during the lockdown, you have also been working on a series of letters. Just like INT.LANDSCAPES, a film where the viewer is invited to construct their own visual landscape with a selection of clues you give (sound, flashes of images), these letters feel like little glimpses into your own private universe, inviting us to construct in our own minds, the place they have come from. What are your thoughts/intentions behind this project, what is the importance of them being printed (hence material) and where/who did you send them to?

Once we went into lockdown and we realised we would be cut off from everyone for some time, we felt a need to create something physical, something that could be touched. We had already begun a mail art project before the pandemic but it became even more important after that. We felt the need to send something material from our hands to the hands of the viewer, to create a physical connection with each person who received our letters.

The INT/EXT letters became a way for us to process our experiences throughout the pandemic, they are a narrative that unfolds in real time, responding to our environment and things that happen to us. As with our other works, they explore the relationship between inner and outer experiences of place, how we project our psyche out onto our environments, and also how these in turn impact on our thoughts, imagination and inner states. These letters were sent to strangers, all of them people who work in the arts whom we have been aware of but have never met. The letters are a way to give them a kind of private experience of our work, it will be different for each person, depending on their unique circumstances, how and when they read the letters.

Daniel & Clara’s work has been exhibited and screened internationally at galleries and film festivals including Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin, Kettle’s Yard, Whitechapel Gallery, BFI, Fabrica Gallery, Close-up Cinema, Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival, Doclisboa, Microcinema Artist Moving Image, Museu de Arte Moderna Rio de Janeiro, Black Box Farnham, Film Mutations Zagreb. To find out more about their work, please visit their website:  https://daniel-clara.co.uk/