Notes on 'Living Organism'

Kate Liston, 'Treatment' (shown in 'Living Organism,' August 2018)

Tess Denman-Cleaver:  A few years ago I wanted to make a performance that had the same atmosphere as Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, so I started writing – sort of automatic writing – while repeatedly watching the film, to see if somehow the spirit of Travis Bickle would get into my language or something. Since then I’ve been refining this approach to writing with rather than about films as a way of expressing how it feels to engage with particular movies, their atmospheres and what they are as an experience for a viewer. Having written a piece called Absorb with Kate Liston’s film Need Moisture, she asked me to create a performance with Treatment during her Feel After the New See exhibition at Hatton Gallery (2018); this is Mutualism, which I re-perform for the Women Artists of the North East screening at Tyneside.

Kate Liston:  I’m interested in the ways our actions can feel determined, or even scripted by outside forces. This is something I wanted to explore in my film Treatment, which uses text from the script I used to plan the film as a counterpoint to the action you see on screen.

It’s this sense of scripting that I see in the films shown at Living Organism by Ella Bergmann-Michel and Joyce Wieland. Bergmann-Michel’s Where the Old People Live closes with the syncronised goodbye waves of the retirement home’s residents called to action by the unheard director. In Wieland’s Handtinting, gestures are repeated through the cut and copy of film editing until they appear to be choreographed.

In Treatment a woman drinks kombucha, and engages with the SCOBY used to make it. I had been brewing kombucha for about a year before making the film, I bought my SCOBY from Amazon, I gave its offspring to friends living in the city, and posted one to a friend in Redcar. When I was brewing it I was also reading about probiotic strains that are made in labs and that are researched for the different effects they have on human behaviour. I read that bespoke probiotics are being made that are intended to produce desirable characteristics in the person taking them. Homemade kombucha contains unknowable probtiotic strains – perhaps these might allow the person drinking them to access different ways of being, acting and desiring?

Holly Argent:  I saw Sneha Solanki’s Kombucha growing in a glass tank in Sophie Buxton’s house in Whitley Bay a few weeks ago. It reminded me of the SCOBY in Kate Liston’s film Treatment. Why would you ever want to put that thing on your face?

I thought I’d give it ago. Not on my face, but drinking it. It wasn’t what I expected; I thought it would be a bit fizzy, more acidic on the tongue.

Sneha’s SCOBY grows tentacles; it’s mature like that. They grow downwards into the tank filling it up with a mass of membrane, morphing into a type of jellyfish. I’m not sure if it’s the ‘mother’ SCOBY or a new SCOBY and frankly, I don’t really know much about Kombucha or have a desire to drink anymore of it, but Sneha’s ‘continuous brew system’ made me think about ways we could provide an environment to support a living organism: an archive, a library or a creative practice. You have to care for it and feed it, do so correctly and the collection of organisms can make something golden.

Okay, the Kombucha analogy is a little far-fetched but the Women Artists of the North East Library does host a number of women’s practices, it’s living and it’s growing.

EBM  Ella Bergmann-Michel / Electronic Body Music

Job Corps  A programme run by the United States Department of Labour that offers free-of-charge education and vocational training to young people aged 16 to 24. Job Corps was founded in 1964.

Kombucha  A slightly sweet fermented tea that contains natural probiotics and is thought to be good for the digestive system.

The New Frankfurt  An affordable public housing programme that operated in Frankfurt, Germany between 1925 and 1930 / An alliance of artists and architects was involved in the project, including Ella Bergmann-Michel / The name of a magazine that documented the project.

The League of Independent Film  A group who organised critical lectures and screenings of experimental documentary film. The league was co- run in Frankfurt by Ella Bergmann-Michel.

SCOBY  Symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Kombucha is made by adding a SCOBY to a batch of sugary tea and leaving it to ferment.

Treatment  A functional filmmaker’s synopsis / A course of care for a patient.

Women Artists of the North East Library  A project bringing together the work of artists who identify as women and are in some way associated to the North East of England. Since October 2017, it has existed as a physical collection, an exhibition, a programme of events, a research project and a framework within which to work and invite others.


Holly Argent

Holly Argent graduated from Newcastle University in 2017. Besides the library itself, and the exhibition at Workplace Foundation, she has recently presented work at Arthouses, Whitley Bay; The Everyday Political at CGP, London (July 2018), Studio is Sudden: with Giles Bailey and CIRCA Projects; and The Northern Charter. She co-curated Where Do We Go From Here? at Ex Libris Gallery. Argent was awarded the Forshaw Rome Residency at The British School at Rome from Newcastle University (July 2017) and the Luby’s Legs Foundation Emerging Artist Bursary. She currently sits on the Programme Committee at The Northern Charter.