Hearing Voices: Siân Robinson Davies Interview

Feature by Isabella Shields | 29 Jul 2016

We talk to Siân Robinson Davies about combining art and comedy and Conversations, her upcoming show of scripted conversations between inanimate objects, body parts and concepts

What piqued your interest in the 18th Century It Narratives?

"I was actually made aware of the It Narratives after I had started writing Conversations. In the It Narratives, the strategy of writing from an object’s perspective was used as a way of having a central character that could transgress the strict social boundaries that divided people from different classes, genders and ethnicities, such as a coin that passes between hands.

"Conversations is more about how the objects communicate and learn from each other. When two differing perspectives come together, there is the opportunity for learning. Often the characters in the conversations fail to understand each other or explain themselves, just as we humans do."

How to you negotiate the balance between art and comedy in the Conversations?

"I don’t see the two as being mutually exclusive. I see humour as being a quality that can be employed in art. Comedy is a humorous art form that happens in comedy clubs, or is a genre of film or literature.

"I love the improvisational premise of stand-up comedy, where much of it is written and rehearsed, but when it’s good, it sounds totally off-the-cuff. I really enjoy writing dialogue and making it sound life-like and discursive. Writing Conversations was very much like writing stand-up comedy, but because I was writing for other voices, I had to work on the characterisation more than I usually would.

"I had lots of friends read through the scripts as I was still editing them and they would often read them in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Their interpretations helped me to bring the characters to life."

Was it your own train of thought that informed the characters?

"All the conversations were developed in different ways. Soup and Table came from my boyfriend’s struggle to understand that best-before dates don’t apply when you put things in the freezer, and this led to the idea that a freezer is a kind of time machine. I was also thinking about how the different time-scales that objects live through might affect their perception.

"In some cases, I started with a particular subject for the conversation and the objects were decided on later, as in the discussion between the apple and the grass about metaphors and symbols. Lipstick and Breeze Block was written from the starting point of tactility; I was imagining how they would touch each other, in a really sensual way.

"The objects become aware of their own roles because they have to explain themselves to another object. I was thinking how strange the things I take for granted become when I try to explain them to someone who doesn’t understand. I teach computer literacy to adults and I was once describing how Facebook works to a woman who had never encountered it, and as I was talking I was thinking, 'Facebook is mental.'"

Absurdity comes into the work but it’s all grounded in the mundane.

"I’m asking people to work hard imaginatively, because there’s very little spatial content in the exhibition. The colours on the monitor are more something to rest your eyes on while you listen, and a way of maintaining the playfulness of the work in a fairly stark room. Using everyday objects that are familiar eases the imaginative work that the viewer has to do. There are some talking concepts in there too, but they are always coupled with an object.

"Perhaps the most moralist conversation is Pillow and Revenge, but there is also something in Flying and Feather, which is about whether abstract concepts can take responsibility for actions. Can businesses take responsibility for damages? Legally and financially they can, but not emotionally. Flying’s character is an opportunist, taking credit for the good things and passing the buck when things go wrong."

Conversations will exhibit at the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop until 31 Aug