In advance of their show this month, Glasgow based sound/art/performance collective 85A talked to Central Station about Cargo, Camera…Action!…

In a video about Cargo, Camera…Action! Dom Hastings describes the art scene in Glasgow as “DIY & grassroots.” How would you describe it?

There isn’t so much commercial presentation in Glasgow. There’s only really two commercial galleries. I’m sure a lot of artists would like to have more opportunities in that way, but for us it becomes more of a breeding ground for different artists getting together to create different types of events, heavily inspired from the music and arts scenes mixing.

It’s a way of getting things done and learning from each other, even from other people’s mistakes. There’s such a huge arts community with loads of people doing things and that’s really inspiring. Even if you’re not necessarily part of it, you’re friends with everyone and there’s a supportive community in what you’re trying to do.

Cargo, Camera...Action - Photo: Eoin Carey
Cargo, Camera…Action – Photo: Eoin Carey

How did the collaboration with Glasgow Film come about?

The first collaboration was Jan Švankmajer for the Glasgow Film Festival in 2013 at the closing party. Glasgow Film approached us. That was the first official commission that we did. It was a matinee to an evening performance with ten mini-cinemas in it. We were screening Švankmajer’s early animations, his short films and made an immersive environment that people could walk around in. It was a mixture between more focused theatrical sit-down performances and then just stuff that you could stumble upon. Everything was bespoke to the film and we responded to his films to create a cinema environment.

The audience had to interact with the performance, for example if they wanted to watch this one film they had to be led around by a grim reaper with a chain. You had to go to a restaurant and book your table and when you got served there was a big slab of meat with a screen in it. It brought a new audience to Švankmajer as well as bringing out the older audience. Those films are nearly twenty-five years old so we were bringing the Surrealist out from under the rug and mixing the visual arts and film audiences.

From there, they approached us. We also had some ideas about doing something for the Commonwealth. The commission came about from that, from being on the scene and doing lots of film-based works. Their brief for the commission, was to transform underused locations along the River Clyde and make them into bespoke cinemas. That’s what we’ve done consistently; take over disused spaces and make them into cinemas.

85A & GFF present Jan-Svankmajer - Photo: Neil-Davison
85A & GFF present Jan-Svankmajer – Photo: Neil-Davison

So if you could use any disused space in the world what would it be?

Chernobyl? There’s a few spaces in Glasgow we’ve got our eye on discovering. We don’t necessarily go out looking for spaces. Usually, something finds us. Either we stumble across a space and we all respond to it or someone gives us a space. Things are corrupt, decayed, industrial. When we’ve been asked to do something, like recently with Dark Behaviour in the Arches in a nice space, the first thing we do is go ‘where’s the rubbish, where’s the stuff?’ We make a space look messy. There’s not really any shortage of places like this. We’re quite easy on the requirements and pre-requisites.

Last year, we made ourselves a community interest company. That means we’re able to go to businesses and parks and ask for disused warehouses and are able to get rates relief. It’s a good deal because there’s an exchange which isn’t monetary. The more people that go in there, the more it keeps the place alive a little bit instead of this massive space sitting empty. That’s Glasgow, isn’t it? You just get given spaces if you start looking! We’ve never paid for a space ever and that’s been ten years of working in buildings.

How do you go about creating a performance? What’s your creative process like?

Torturous! We have brainstorming meetings and drawing sessions at the very start. It’s all heads together and then we maybe naturally split off and develop things and bring them back to the group constantly. Because we are unfunded and most of our work is commission based, we have to apply to make work. So we have to devise an answer to a brief and come up with something before it gets made and get the concept sketch. It’s accepted, if you’re lucky and then we decide to do something totally different!

It would be pure luxury to have paid rehearsal times throughout the year for different things, but it just doesn’t work like that. It comes together in a more organic way of whoever is working with whoever and creating something. Life is the stage. We get paid from our other jobs.

A lot of things start as casual conversations between a couple of people and then it’s just like ‘ that’s an amazing idea!’ and you get a call ‘ alright, we’re going to do it like this!’ It has been a real treat over the last few months, we’ve got a studio, an HQ with a rehearsal space and a warehouse. It’s where we will build our stage; a full-scale 20 metre deep, 20 metre wide stage. We can practice all the kinetic elements on set and with all the props. With the show, we’re effectively performing it five times in one day and we’ve got different music acts for each one. There will be a tempo change within that so we’re going to bring the musicians in to do rehearsals.

With such large performance elements, how do you go about rehearsing?

In Glasgow we’re blessed with big living rooms and big bedrooms. So we work like this or we work on site when we’ve built the show. On one occasion we had the workspace in The Glue Factory one week prior to the show. Right towards the end you can find a space somewhere.
Cargo, Camera...Action - Photo: Eoin Carey
Cargo, Camera…Action – Photo: Eoin Carey

What should audiences expect from Cargo, Camera…Action?

They’re totally vital to the performance. If they don’t show up, the film is not going to be complete! We’re filming the last scenes of a film that we’re making and they’re the extras of the film. They’ll have some quite important jobs to do in making the film resonate and come to life. They should expect lots of music.

It’s a promenade experience with a café and the backstage crew bar, but really since the audience are the extras, it’s for them. It’s an all day wrap party. There’s talent scouts and mobile make-up station to prepare our extras. Then they’ll come for the shoot and they’ll have to do what the director says.

We stumbled across an article in the Scotsman back in February with the title ‘Cannibal Rats in Ghost Ship head to Scotland.’ This is the film that we’re shooting the final scenes of. We’re making a big cargo set. We’ve got cannibal rats.

85A & Glasgow Film Cargo, Camera, ACTION! Launch Event
85A & Glasgow Film Cargo, Camera, Action! Launch Event.

Durational performances are quite long, what are some of the challenges you face when performing?

Not enough hours in the day and not enough energy drinks to go around. It’s like giving birth, really tough at the time but afterwards you forget how hard it was and you look at what you’ve created. That’s what theatre and live performances are. It’s the adrenaline people feed off. A lot of it is down to the people that come to work with us as well. It’s not for the faint-hearted!

The real challenge is making a living in between shows. Once we get to the point where there’s a week until the show, we’re in familiar territory. With a long lead-in like this one has, it’s making sure that you can be available to do the work and the devising can be tough as well. As we’re getting more established and recognised, there’s an expectation that we need to come up with another good show. Then there’s pressure and the dynamics of a big group. It’s the big family syndrome of all of us trying to get along with each other and be fulfilled creatively. As you grow or become more recognised, there are challenges that come with that; making new work together whilst maintaining an income.

Cargo, Camera…Action! is our biggest show to date in a lot of different ways. We like to make it so that each person who comes to our shows has a good seat. When you go to these big events and there’s an aerial performer 200 feet away from you and this massive crowd, you feel like nobody. That’s why we’re doing the same show five times instead of doing it just once because then everybody is going to get a good seat.

We’ve taken down the amphitheatre’s capacity quite considerably to make it more intimate. This has always been so important throughout the history of all of our work. Our cast for this show is up to thirty. So it’s thirty to three hundred. We think that’s a good ratio. People call us mad for this, saying that it won’t last, that it isn’t sustainable. We think that’s what makes this special.

See 85A in Cargo, Camera…Action! on 26 July at the Clyde Amphitheatre. The event is free but some parts of the events are ticketed. For more information see the Glasgow Film website.  For more Cargo, Camera…Action! see our featured event. Want more 85A? Read our first Q&A with them here.

Photos courtesy of 85A and Glasgow Film. Interview by Madeleine Schmoll.

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