Jordan Kay and Genevieve Kay-Gourlay

For the first time since the start of our residency programme, we had a collaborative duo working in our studios. Genevieve and Jordan are siblings who have decided to put their family at the centre of their artistic project.

What have you been up to during the residency?
Genevieve: “We have been following on from the family’s on-going research into our history, investigating documents, our mother’s own research and different versions of our family tree from either side of the family.
Jordan was already really interested in family trees, even fictional ones, like the family history of Indiana Jones or the Lion King. My own work has always been intensively research based and likened to case study; being that we were coming from two separate practices, it seemed like the ideal subject matter to use, in terms of the way that I work and the way that Jordan was already working.

There were already bits and pieces of research, quite thorough in some places and very sparse in others, and we used different means of communication with the family in order to fill in the gaps. We used the phone but we preferred using Skype, Jordan in particular prefers it as it is more immediate. We didn’t just record the conversations; we recorded the situation and the device of the computer itself which created a distance and made it feel more removed. There is something quite interesting with this approach and we haven’t stopped recording when the conversation ends, or during miscommunications, or connection problems.

Genealogy and the mapping of family histories is one of the world’s most popular hobbies nowadays…
It is and sometimes without people even realising that they’re doing it. When you join Facebook for example, you want to add your relatives and research individuals that are connected to you in some way. This project is not just a collaboration between two artists, but more a collaboration between two individuals that also happen to be related. Jordan defines himself as a writer, so we’ve had a very interdisciplinary way of working; using different fields and methods as a construct to develop the overall project.

How do you turn this into an art project?
We were following rules in term of structure or information but the conversations we were having are not purely factual, it was about getting a feeling for the character and the individual and getting reacquainted. Dates haven’t played a huge factor in our project either and one of our rules in organising the skype chats was that Jordan wanted to speak to people that we actually know already.

So you didn’t talk with anybody that you hadn’t met before, or hadn’t met for a very long time?
We spoke to somebody that I hadn’t seen for a very long time but Jordan did see her recently when he went to Canada. He also got to meet a couple of other people during his trip but I knew nothing about them. I guess we only talked about people we knew because we don’t have any way of connecting with people we don’t know. We’ve been in touch with people directly or via someone else, but some people are completely off the radar, we wouldn’t even know where to begin to get in touch with them!

Is this going to be something you’re going to continue after the residency?
I think so. We’re going to speak to our Uncle Mike next week and our sister who lives in New Zealand. We’re dependent on people’s schedules and the logistics of that are sometimes problematic. What is important is that the family tree has almost acted like a vehicle for us to have a critical dialogue with one another. The product is not necessarily the most interesting element of what’s been going on; it’s the conversations that occurred because of it that are forming the work itself.

How are you going to collate this information?
We have recorded every single conversation that has occurred every day of the residency. There is currently about six hours of footage, audio or video, for every day that we’ve been here! It’s interesting because the first hurdle we had to overcome was our big sister/little brother relationship and how do we restructure this dynamic. Also we hadn’t been in each other’s company for 3 years, as Jordan’s been studying here and I was in Carlisle so we needed to get to know each other again.

We’ve never had a sister/brother artistic duo as artists in residence before, could you tell us a bit more about how this collaborative working came about?
I have been very interested in my brother’s approach from a very young age. He would watch a film in its entirety with the subtitles on, would pause at every new subtitle and copy down the letters. This was before he had learned to read and write at school. He is basically self-taught literate, through film. I was incredibly fascinated by that, even before I went to art school. So now has been the perfect opportunity and place to collaborate together.

How did the space influence you?
Jordan usually works in quite a small scale, so the space has allowed us to enjoy the scale in a big way! A lot of my work previously has involved video, as has Jordan’s but with the inclusion of text as well, both practices have been quite isolated. To bring our practices into a shared space has made the conversation bigger, which means the work ended up getting bigger.

The project itself is huge in terms of concept too.
It’s never-ending, infinite. At the moment we have discovered family in Argentina, South Africa, Scotland, Germany, New Zealand, Canada and America. It is worldwide and it is infinite in terms of information. On top of that, we began with records that we thought were quite thorough and accurate but we found out that one family member who was disowned might have willingly tampered with them and changed information on purpose. So it is almost a fiction and it would be as important if it was a fictional family tree. It is almost irrelevant whether it is a truth or not as the process is what is at the centre of our project.

A lot of our conversations revolve around films; it is an interest that we share and something that Jordan uses to relate with things in life as a way of processing. It has played a really big part in conversations about being in this space, working with this material. Even in terms of understanding the concept of twins or the idea of the deceased.

How involved have your parents been in the project?
We haven’t had a conversation with them and that has been quite purposeful. We haven’t skyped them on purpose. Our knowledge is based on what they have told us, we were only as informed as other people have allowed us to be. Our mother passed on a lot of her research to her brother’s wife via email, and then lost access to her email account and didn’t keep a copy of it. So our Aunt has a lot of information that obviously our Mum knows about, but doesn’t have in concrete. They did provide things like photographs or birth certificates but we haven’t really spoken to them as part of the recorded project.

Where will you go from here?
Because so much has been archived, we’re going to have to look through it with a bit of distance. We need a bit of an overview and look at it as a whole to understand what’s going on! It will be interesting to see the structure of this as an object, a bi-product of a process.

From Jordan Gourlay Kay

What have you enjoyed about the residency?
It’s family business. I liked writing and the game when we named the films.*

Oblivion, Wreck it Ralf, James Bond, Indiana Jones. Oblivion has Tom Cruise – Mission Impossible, War of the Worlds. I like Meet the Parents – Robert de Niro was in Shark Tale. and Star Trek. Madagascar. The Neverending Story.

What have we done in the studio?
We came on the underground and we walk. We get something to drink. We do work. It’s different. Drawing, activities, family tree stuff. Labels pencil masking tape ruler string paperclips photographs. Skype was good – the people. Made videos working with Ginny.**

Singin in the Rain – moses supposes his toeses are roses

Talk about other things. Music. Films. Greek gods myths and legends. Twins and people pass away.

*game similar to ‘articulate’ where you have to describe a film without saying the title and the other person has to guess what it’s called/the actor in it/the characters’ name.
** Ginny is the family nickname for Genevieve

Jordan and Genevieve will see their work exhibited in the Project Ability Gallery alongside the other artists in residence in January 2014.

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