Sounding it Out: Morgan Quaintance interview

Morgan Quaintance has worked in art criticism and across music, sound and moving image. This month, David Dale showcases his film practice in a new solo show

Preview by Myriam Mouflih | 03 Jun 2019
  • Early Years, Morgan Quaintance, 2019

Following an exhibition at LUX in London, David Dale Gallery will show the first Scottish solo exhibition of artist Morgan Quaintance.

Probably best well known for his writing and sound practices, Quaintance’s filmmaking practice is fairly young. He studied Sound Art at London College of Communication before pursuing an MA in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal Academy, and has written extensively for publications like Art Monthly and e-flux journal. However, he never really saw himself as an art critic or identified with that.

Filmmaking was something Quaintance felt was outwith his grasp; his experience of being on music video sets in the late 90s had put him off, too reliant on large crews and long days. But he’d always loved film, rifling through his older brother’s VHS tapes and finding an informal film education in Hong Kong action movies and cult horror. And when he did get his hands on a camera, he was into it. Now, Quaintance is continuously making work – he’s never not making a film. He works intuitively and usually has a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t early on in the process. “If I’m not involved in the material or I don’t feel enchanted by it somehow, then it’s probably not going to work,” he says. It was through making documentaries, first for the BBC and then for DAM projects, that he found his feet in filmmaking, marrying his adeptness for sound and image to weave portraits of people, situations and places.

The two elements are equally important in Quaintance’s practice. "One of the main things about when I make work is I really want to draw the viewer in. I want you to be emotionally involved in the material and kind of want people to enjoy what they are engaging with. I’ve never been shy of affect, I suppose, which is the academic way of talking about feeling. For me, sound is a way to bypass the concrete. What I mean by the concrete is more just stuff – tables, chairs, the world, people, identity, etc – and somehow get to something that is almost beyond speech. But that’s more to do with feelings. And the currency of feelings, I feel is more to do with what can’t really be spoken, and in some ways, music allows you to push at and prod at those things. So sound is really important in that sense.” And he has a knack for this, using sound as a way to fill the space that words can’t articulate.

Some of his composition work features in his films and he cites musique concrète as an influence on his sound practice. He explains: “It’s sounds from the world, so a cup smashing or a door closing, and the composers would make sound collages by reversing the sound down or pitching the sound down or speeding them up or changing the EQ, and would make these sound collage pieces that are really kinetic; it feels like a sonic world where sound is colliding into each other. Like objects in space hitting each other, propelling towards each other.” This influence can be seen not just in his sound compositions, but in the editing of his films, too. He utilises sound to “propel the viewer through something that doesn’t necessarily have such a strong narrative".

His interest in the use of sampling the everyday in musique concrète and using archive footage almost feel interconnected. Quaintance utilises archive footage as a method of building relationships, a way of building a new narrative from pre-existing material, and building relationships through that. While making the films, he has reconnected with the people in the footage, forging relationships with them in the present. "Even if I’m not actually interviewing them, all of the films do have this thing where I as a person have gone out to meet and talk to people; even though I’m saying that’s not so important, I think methodologically speaking maybe that might be described as part of my practice," he says, "being with people.”

If being with people is part of his practice, then the relationship between filmmaker and audience is an interesting one. The three works in the show could be seen in so many different settings. Another Decade has screened at Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, but also played to sold out audiences as part of the London Film Festival’s Short Film Award programme. His films have screened as part of lectures and talks and Quaintance is not precious about the setting in which people experience his films, but is more concerned with the viewer and their response. He notes “there’s no ideal situation, it just means in some situations it might be read in a different way.”

While his own life and experience influence the work, he is reluctant to explicitly impress too much upon the viewer, instead leaving the work the space to be interpreted. “It’s not my place to go out and tell people about themselves, but within my work, I’m obviously going to talk about my own experience, and my experience is multicultural, is multi-ethnic and it cuts across lines in terms of class and race.” He talks about growing up in London, and “watching the city change rapidly, not nostalgically or anything like I want to go back but I think living in London, where I’m from, anyway, everything’s just gone.”

None of his three films are necessarily nostalgic – Quaintance isn’t longing to go back to another time, but maybe, instead, in his work there is a sense of wanting to reflect on and preserve moments that are easily lost in a city of rapid change and development. He is using what is already there to make something new.

Hysteresis, David Dale Gallery, Glasgow, 15 Jun to 27 Jul