4 December 2008

You are most renowned for your large scale data collecting projects: what initially prompted you to take such cumulative approach to your art-making?

You have to remember that I started this way of working when I was still an undergraduate student at Nottingham Trent University. My first major project ‘data collecting’ project, Eat 22, began on my 22nd birthday. At that time, I remember being most interested in ‘the challenge’, the idea of the process of photographing everything that I ate being an endurance performance. After surprising myself by proving that I could hack it, I became addicted to the process and the structure and order the routine of documenting imposed on my life. More and more projects – experiments into different aspects of my daily life – ensued.

And what, if anything, did you learn about the minutiae of your everyday life?

I created a lot of facts and figures naturally. In one year a person like me eats 1640 meals and snacks, travels 9236 kilometres on public transport, walks 2269 kilometres, drinks 559 alcoholic beverages, produces 7784 gaseous emissions and says 142 swear words. The result of this of course is that I now remember the years in which I was documenting far more vividly than any others in my life. Like a sort of alternative diary, these years have become immortalised through the data which they left behind.

In 2006, you decided to move away from these introspective data collecting projects, instead changing your focus to include the notion of self-improvement in the pursuit of becoming the perfect artist; what prompted you to do this?

There were a lot of cumulative reasons, but the deciding factor was that ‘data collecting’ was taking over my life. The final major project, Timelines, carried out from 26 June – 23 July 2006 was to document every activity that I did 24 hours a day. It drove me totally crazy. I felt as though I was no longer living my life in the now, the present, but instead was living it second hand via the documentation. My mind had become so focussed on the act of documenting, that I could not really be part of or enjoy anything.

An online element features heavily in your work, how crucial has the internet been in helping to promote yourself as an artist?

I learnt how to design websites in 1999 whilst on my undergraduate course. The elective was called ‘digital futures’, and quite appropriately lead to a digital future for my practice. I built the first version of my website in 2000. What I immediately loved about it was that it became the central focus of my practice rather than a physical place – a studio in London, Nottingham or wherever else. This gave me a lot of freedom for where I decided to live. It also gave me an instant audience, a reason for making work, if you like – once it’s online it has the potential to be viewed. I have people contacting me from all over the world as a result.

You’ve recently launched Work With Me, an online campaign to find a long-term collaborative partner: how successful has this been?

I refer to Work With Me as a semi-spoof. I began it initially in the earnest hope of finding someone with whom I could work permanently, and in developing a discursive practice, rather than the introverted one I had been used to. As I thought through the project and developed the text for the website, I began to realise that this search was futile. I was so particular and so demanding in what I was looking for, that it became an impossibility that such a person would actually exist and if they did would have be an exact clone of myself! I have had applications though, at least six to date, but we’re yet to see if anything will come of them.

You also recently made a list of your top 100 influences, if you had the chance to collaborate with just 1, who would it be?

Tough question. I made the list to remind me which practices I was inspired by and what sort of work I aspired to make myself. There are different reasons for choosing each of the people on the list. I really admire Tino Sehgal’s practice, the zero materiality yet massive visual and emotional impact it has, but the idea of actually working with him terrifies me. I have collaborated with a few people on the list already – Joanna Spitzner on the Union of Undercover Artists and Michelle Deignan and Becky Shaw on the Hen Weekend project, which was all good fun. I recently discovered The Hut Project and would be interested in doing something with them in future.

Any further plans or projects in the pipeline?

I have just moved to Glasgow to study the Masters Degree in Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art. Glasgow is a great city to be in and I hope to begin to work on some projects in collaboration with galleries here soon. From January – June 2009 I will be artist in residence a Plymouth College of Art. I will be working at the college and alongside i-DAT at the University of Plymouth to research and develop an exhibition which will take place at the Viewpoint gallery at the college from 23 April – 30 May 2009. I am also working on the first publication about my work ‘Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector’ which will be published to coincide with the exhibition.

Heather Blair