Richard Layzell has been a leading innovator in the fields of live art, video and installation since the 1980s. He has been commissioned by most major public galleries and museums across the UK and completed many international artist residencies. As an experienced facilitator he’s led creative workshops with people of all ages and backgrounds internationally. He has pioneered socially engaged practice and worked with many diverse communities nationally and internationally. His interactive installation Tap Ruffle and Shave was experienced by 100,000 people of all ages and abilities on its UK tour to London, Manchester and Newcastle.
He is currently working on The Naming, a major action research project which challenges and questions how, through categorisation and naming, we distance ourselves from aspects of the natural world and the cultural world.
Richard Layzell is the author of Live Art in Schools, Enhanced Performance (ed. Deborah Levy) and Cream Pages (ed. Joshua Sofaer). He is an honorary associate of the National Review of Live Art and a course leader in fine art at University of the Arts London.
About Kino Paxton
Kino Paxton is a maverick environmentalist, movement artist and film-maker. Their relationship to the natural world is a life blood. They bridge the gap between experience and ideas in a state of intuitive awareness. Paxton invites us to challenge how we see ourselves in relation to other living beings, especially trees, birds and rocks, in the tradition of Deep Ecology and with the fluidity of Heraclitus. Their collaboration with Richard Layzell is a natural extension of this. They work together to create interventions and promote action.
‘Mischief leads to understanding.’ ‘A beach is not a shoreline.’ ‘Blame the manufacturer not the machine.’ ‘There’s always time for bad disco.’ KP August 2020
Below is a transcript of Emma Leach talking to Paxton about their relationship with Layzell and their role as activator or trickster in Layzell’s working process.
Warning: this interview contains strong language.
Emma Leach: Is Kino there?
Kino Paxton: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
EL: Great. Hello, Kino! Nice to meet you.
EL: The first thing I’d like to ask you is why you appeared to Richard in a dream? Why was that your first appearance?
KP: Well, I would question that because the dream that he had was not about me, it was about somebody who was not him who he wanted to have a relationship with. I came later. I think the dream was important and it gave the space for him to find me and for us to begin working together.
EL: So the dream prepared the ground for you?
KP: Yeah. Beautifully put, Emma.
EL: What’s it been like working with Richard?
KP: [Pause] Why I’m hesitating is I don’t see it as work. It’s more like a process that’s interesting and useful. I’m able to challenge him and point things out that to me are completely obvious, but to him are less so because of the way he is.
EL: There are things that Richard misses?
KP: Yeah. He’s a bit of a worrier. And he can tend to over-prepare. We’ve done a lot of stuff now since January and he’s got this imaginary pressure that he needs to know what it’s becoming. He’s got these three questions: ‘Is it becoming a film? And/or a performance? And/or a book?’ From my perspective, I think it’s not useful to have those imaginary pressures when we’re six months into this. Well, I guess I’m not so product-oriented, to be honest with you. And I’m not really an artist, I’m a presence. You know he had this relationship before with Tania Koswycz? Well, she was an artist and she was ambitious in terms of the work they did together. For me, I’m more interested in the risk of the unknown and the intuitive elements that have come through his relationship with Heraclitus.
EL: Are there ways in which you’re alike?
KP: Yeah, in some ways I represent aspects of him that he could be more. Although occasionally I scare him, he recognises that I’m a force for defiance and risk.
EL: Richard talked about how he’s beginning to wonder if The Naming is not just a project that has an end, but if it’s a new way for him to be in the world. I guess that goes along with him transforming personally too.
KP: Yeah, we have talked about that recently and I thought it was so obvious that I was surprised he even brought it up.
EL: When do you feel the strongest? And when are you hardly there at all?
KP: Quite an interesting way of putting it. Well, let’s talk about Mardalsfossen in Norway, where we were at the weekend. He’s over-prepared, it’s kind of absurd. He’s got all this stuff. Every conceivable bit of portable equipment. We get to the top of the waterfall, or the highest bit you can get to comfortably, and Richard sets up his camera and he thinks, ‘OK, right. Well here we are, better do what I prepared to do.’ I didn’t want to do anything, I just wanted to spend a bit of time. This is classic Richard Layzell behaviour! He’s starting to fret. There’s nobody there, it’s incredible, we get to the top with this stunning view of this colossal waterfall and he sets up his tripod. So he does a bit of filming and, you know, we’ve had this debate again and again. You are not doing this for the camera, Richard! I’m sorry, that’s not what it’s about. So why is the camera even here? And then what happens is that some people arrive, he moves the camera and it fucking falls over! It could have completely smashed up! I thought it was hilarious! I was pissing myself! So he looks to me, sees me laughing, and goes, ‘Oh yeah. Oh, I see. Yeah, OK.’ So in a moment like that I’m very present, because I’m in the present. I represent the present in our relationship.
EL: I guess you were present all the way along, weren’t you? You were watching this thing unfolding with Richard setting up the camera and maybe he was more aware of your presence at the point when the camera fell over?
KP: Yeah, I was there. I was there to be consulted with and I was waiting for that moment to come. And then it came.
EL: What does The Naming mean to you?
KP: Well, I’m very involved with it. At the weekend there was a sense of a pilgrimage and homage to Arne Naess who is considered the founder of deep ecology. We’d just been in Canada having a lot of contact with First Nations communities and it hit me and him in the face that the whole ecology movement and the beginning of the activist movement… You look at First Nations and you just think, well they were deep ecologists. Hello! That was their belief system, about honouring all living things equally. I’m sure other people have had those thoughts, but in The Naming, for that to unfold is really exciting, it’s changing the emphasis of where we were going with this. So if I can be a reminder and an activator, an irritant, a trickster in this process who allows potentially profound things to happen then that makes me feel better about the whole thing – art or not art, whatever it is. Is it a bit of ecology? I don’t know what we’re doing. I don’t care! I don’t know what to call it and that’s part of the point. I don’t care what we call this process. Let’s just do it, see what happens.
EL: What are you changing about the way that Richard is approaching this project?
KP: I think he’s taking things less personally. I think he’s more accepting of his physical self. I feel I’m reshaping the balance of his process. I mock him at times. I make very clear proposals about things. I think I’m an incredibly good influence, and very useful.
EL: Thanks very much, Kino.
Emma Leach has curated performance for five editions of Whitstable Biennale, 2008-2016. She is currently Project Manager for an offsite project, Raising the Sittingbourne Barn.