An Interview with Dylan Martorell

Art Press Release from Australia. Published by anonymous on Saturday 16 February 2013.

An Interview with Dylan Martorell image

Experimenta recently interviewed Australian artist Dylan Martorell about the sound installation he will be presenting as part of Melbourne's White Night festival. Martorell's practice is primarily concerned with the human trail evident in our refuse.

Jared Davis: The work that you’re producing for Experimenta at White Night is based on a piece that is currently exhibiting as part of the Kochi Muzuris Biennale, can you tell us how that work came about?

Dylan Martorell: It’s the third part of a project that I’m doing created by Asialink called SOUNDTRACKS; it’s a project exploring mobility and interactivity with a series of public sound‐based works.

The first one was created in Jogjakarta and taken to Jakarta for the Jakarta Biennale, and the second one was the project that I did in Northern Thailand, creating a series of robotic workshops with Buddhist monks. That was a combination of robotics and it was kind of like a sculpture workshop as well, part of the workshop was sourcing rubbish from around the temple, with which we created 12 piece percussion units in the forest; so they [the monks] had to use their ingenuity to make a percussive unit using the trees and anything they could find to secure the beaters to. The third part of the project was the [Kochi Muziris] Biennale in Kerala India. Asialink met the people that were doing the Biennale last year and gave them my catalogue. Two of the people from the Biennale came to Melbourne and did gallery and studio visits. I met up with them when they were here and got the invitation about a month later.

Just going back to something you mentioned there on the robotic drums, you’re still exploring those a little bit, can you tell me, I’ve seen some documentation of it and I’m really interested in how you came to be working with Buddhist monks in composing those works?

Basically I did a residency at this place called ComPeung, which is run by a Thai artist. I went over there with the concept of working with a local orphanage, because I was told that there was an orphanage bordering the residency. But when I got over there it wasn’t actually bordering the residency – it was about 20 minutes away – and when I tried to get access to the school it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. And so the guy that was running the residency suggested that I ask the temple on top of the hill and see if the Buddhist monks wanted to do it, so it was totally out of the unknown, I didn’t even know that there was a temple close to the residency space. And it’s a different conception of Buddhism as well; basically it’s young punk‐y kids – because Buddhists monks in Thailand – I guess it’s like the Catholic monasteries in Ireland 50 years back. If you have naughty kids or kids that you can’t afford to look after you send them to become Buddhist monks, it’s not something that they choose to do. So I was working with 15‐20 year old kids that had been placed there by their parents, to become Buddhist monks for life. Once you become a Buddhist monk you’re allowed to sing, but you’re not allowed to play an instrument, so a lot of these kids had been playing drums and guitars and stuff but they weren’t allowed to, so it was interesting that they let me do a workshop with them. They were all really excited as well. It’s funny because they’re not allowed to play an instrument but they are allowed to have mobile phones [JD laughs], so they were taking video documentation of the drums and uploading them to friends but they’re not allowed to play a guitar. [Chuckles] Quite strange, the rules were made before phones were invented…

So I can tell from this that you work pretty closely with the sites that you’re given and communities as well; going back to Kochi can you tell us a bit about the site in particular there and the people that you worked with?

The Biennale was in Fort Kochi, and Fort Kochi is not actually that big, it’s probably about the size of Brunswick [in Victoria]. And there were 5 or 6 different sites, in old spice factories, in disused lots of land, and… the main site of the Biennale was this place called Aspinwall. Apparently it used to be a small palace which was taken over by the spice trade a couple hundred years ago, and it had been derelict, left unused for about 80 years. Until it was bought just before the Biennale was announced by I think a hotel group, who gave it to the Biennale to use for the duration of the Biennale; it’s just an amazing space. When I went there in November there was no electricity, it was all overgrown, there were snakes
everywhere… they cleaned that up for the Biennale but just going through the place with torches was just amazing, you know, it was an experience unto itself. The spot that I chose was three small servants quarters, the rooms were a scale that I thought I could work with easily, having to come down from Australia and finish a piece of work. I wanted to create personal spaces, spaces that you could go into and feel quite comfortable, not overwhelmed, because the pieces were interactive, I wanted it to be an inviting space, I didn’t want people to feel like they were performing. And so I went over there in November and chose the space and pretty much finished the work in November and over a week
before the opening then completed it. Normally I like to take it out onto the street and interact with the public, and so this was a bit different for me because I had to create a piece of work that would stand alone for three months. I had to approach it a little bit differently… but yeah it’s still standing.

It’s a very particular site there that you’ve worked with in Kochi and you’re going to be bringing particular elements of this work down to Melbourne. What are your thoughts on the Campbell Arcade, is there any particular history or something that you’re looking to tap into there, and how do you imagine some of these sonic environments from a particular area in Kerala will meet an Australian one?

Because the [touch sensitive] work that I’m using works with electricity each site reacts in a different way. As far as working with the space I’ll collect bits and pieces of materials from around Campbell Arcade to use in combination with the Indian materials, but I’m just going to be focusing on the [prerecorded] sounds from India, I won’t be doing any recording around Campbell Arcade – which I normally would do – I just wanted to use the palette of field recordings that I did in India. I’m just very happy with them and I think it will be quite a nice experience [JD: They sound like they could be amazing echoing down in the arcade] Yeah!

Obviously music plays a big part in your work, just to finish up our chat I thought I might ask you what the relationship between your work and in particular improvised music is; does the act of performance in music improvisation hold a particular weight over say recorded music for you?

Oh yes, I find it incredibly hard to record music, I’ve almost given up on recording music, and when I document my work it’s basically if I’ve applied for a grant or some kind of funding, I have to document my work to actually prove that I did it [chuckles], when I wouldn’t even document it. You know, the excitement is all about the process and the actual event, and the way that I treat my visual art practice has come directly out of my work as an improvisation musician – it’s the same methodologies that I employ if I’m playing a piece of music – when I’m doing sculpture or installation. It’s a nice way to work as a musician as well, if you’re improvising with your environment you don’t have to rely on a lot of materials to make your work, and I think it’s important to have an unknown factor and an excitement factor if you’re creating work, you don’t really want to know what the outcome’s going to be. And if you don’t know what materials you’re going to be working with until you get to the space then that’s really going to designate the outcome.

This interview was performed by Experimenta.