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Playtime Artists: Wilkie Branson

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Wilkie Branson. I am an artist whose practice is rooted in both film and dance. My relationship to both these forms comes principally from a need to express and communicate with others. As such, much of my work uses these devices as tools to tell stories. Over my career this has presented itself in the form of short films, live dance and theatrical works which seek to combine the two disciplines. As an artist I’m drawn to the meeting point between these two forms and my work continues to explore the possibilities which arise from this convergences. Often, this has meant pushing boundaries in highly technical workflows, but within my work this is always just means to an end rather than the destination. I hope my work speaks to people; casting some light on the things which have had resonance with me in my life.

What’s your background?

I started dancing when I was a teenager, getting into b-boying through hiphop. It was one of the first things I found that embraced me for who I was and really allowed me to express myself in a way that meant something to me. I got into filmmaking whilst finishing my university course (geography). At the time our b-boy crew, Physical Jerks, was battling and touring street theatre around the UK, and making films to document what we were doing was the best way I could find to communicate to the people around me how central the culture had become in my life.

The b-boying videos developed into short films which acted as little vignettes for me to express things which were important to me, and the dance gradually made its way from the clubs and battles into the theatre. I had originally embraced hiphop because it gave me a chance to express myself and nurture the things which meant most to me. The evolution into dance film and dance theatre was just a continuation of this. The motivation and the essence of what I do in my work is the same as it was when I was 15, it’s just the form and context that has developed into something different. At first glance people would associate me less with hiphop now than they would have done then, but it’s still hiphop to me.

What will you be working on during your time at PDSW?

I’m currently working on a new project called TOM. It’s a film which will be presented as a 3D installation. The work combines animation, CGI, physical models, and the green screen capture of dancers. It’s a very technical and time-consuming process but the reasoning for this choice is that it allows me the creative freedom to create a world which only exists in my head and bring this to life. The narrative of the work is all about the how we see ourselves in the world, how this can control us and how we become estranged from the individuals we were as children. There are a lot of issues around projection of the self into society and because of this it made most sense to try and create the world we have in our heads rather then trying to set the story in the world outside. It’s quite tricky to describe the show in words so its probably best done in a video.

How do you work?

Most of my work involves extended periods of time working alone in quite an intense fashion. As the work I create is an articulation of something I want to communicate it’s very important for me that it is as well crafted as I can possibly make it. I think because of this I tend to work across a lot of different roles and have quite a precise vision at the start of a project. I then try and reproduce it as best as I can. For me the essence of the work and the motivation for creating it is the most important part and that’s the thing I start with the beginning. I try to preserve it through the process so once I can see it fully in my head I don’t tend to deviate much from that.

What role does the artist have in society?

People have to deal with a lot of pressure in society and it can be difficult to find the space to reflect and be inspired. I think one role that artists fulfil is to help people to find a way of doing this a bit more.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

Probably the naked dancing in Bristol city centre hereinafter described…

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

My first job was a cleaner – I was better at it than my studio would currently suggest. I also worked as a cloakroom attendant in a night club, technical support for video editors, and as part of the estate team for the wildlife trust. I enjoyed them all in a way.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

We performed White Caps in Mumbai and a really shy old man came round the back of the stage to find us after the show. He was so thankful and said some of the most beautiful things about his experience of the show. I’ll never forget him. We were documenting the whole tour and sadly we didn’t manage to capture that moment but I think it will always be the most incredible performance I’ll ever be a part of. To perform outdoors in Mumbai for thousands of people was such a magical experienced in itself but coupled with the impossible mission we went through to get the show up it was really a special memory. After all that for this man to be so generous with his thanks – it really touched me. That show is covered in the second half of this podcast episode if you’re interested >>>

What food, drink, song inspires you?

The song which moves me the most is Billy Cobham’s Heather. It’s both immensely beautiful and heartbreakingly sad all in the same moment. I discovered it in my dad’s record collection after recognising a sample in it from a Souls of Mischief track I loved. I think Cobham wrote it in his hotel after visiting a museum in Hiroshima and seeing all the children coming out in tears. It’s so powerful and haunting, and you can hear all that in there. I once memorised the whole song, all the phrasing and rhythms so I could do site-specific video in Bristol to it. I took off most of my clothes and did the solo in a storm in-amongst all the morning commuters. So it was literally a flash mob/man. It was quite strange. Hundreds of people passed me and not one of them looked at me. I think they probably just couldn’t face a naked breakdancer on their 8.30 Monday morning commute. You can still see it online although the amazing Luke Harney re-wrote the Heather track as we couldn’t use Billy’s version for copyright reasons >>>

What do you dislike about the art world?

Trends, rules and going to see something and feeling like you’re not in the intellectual art club.

What do you dislike about your work?

Starting it.

What do you like about your work?

Sharing it.

Should art be funded?

I think it probably should because, as with a lot of things (like science and the environment), the commercial value of it in the market place is not always very direct or immediate but it does has a profound effect on the lives we live. You can’t always make much money from art but it makes us a lot richer. The only way we can have that for everybody is through state funding.

What research do you do?

Creatively most of what I do is quite instinctive and I don’t spend a lot of time researching things. If I do something and it feels and looks they way I want it to, then it’s right. However a lot of the technical things I do I spend a lot of time researching. For example, in TOM I have had to learn how to turn my physical model into digital models using photogrammetry. But this kind of research is very targeted and thanks to having the whole world of knowledge on the internet it’s just a case of looking up how to do something every time I don’t know what I’m doing.

What is your dream project?

A research into relaxation on a beach somewhere.

Favourite or most inspirational place?

I’ve had some really inspiring visits to beautiful some places like Iceland, which I walked across a few years ago, but honestly I think people are what inspire me the most so it would have to be somewhere like Bristol.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Possibly “kick that leg back when you do this”, which was the final piece in the 6 month puzzle in learn how to do windmills. Although, I thought when I could finally do a windmill all my problems would be solved and turns out they weren’t, so perhaps the epiphany was that life should be more about the journey and not the destination.

Professionally, what’s your goal?

I just want to keep making things for as long as I feel like I need to make things.

See Wilkie’s full profile here >>>

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