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The Mandrake Hotel's Artist in Residence: Magnus Westwell

The Mandrake Hotel hosted their first Artist in Residence of the year with great success- Magnus Westwell, a Scottish artist, director and multi-instrumentalist, is recognised as an experimental composer and choreographer.

Image: BLOODYSOFFE

From 8th April to 14th April, Westwell transformed the hotel's Masha Hari Theatre into his personal laboratory for sound and movement. Throughout the week, Westwell composed and recorded new music in response to improvised movement by dancers Oscar Li and Oceane Robin, meticulously recording and documenting every detail of the compelling operation. Immersive long-form ambient soundscapes were tailored to The Mandrake's unique spaces, from 'The Portal' entrance to the glass-fronted lift, reflecting The Mandrake through Westwell's sonic lens.

 

The Mandrake Hotel hosted special programming from 10th April which featured open studio sessions, lectures and guided tours with Westwell and his collaborators, curated by Creative Director Maguelone Marcenac.


Magnus with dancer Oscar Li during an open studio afternoon at The Mandrake Hotel

Part of this programming included a special conversation event, led by Artscope and delivered to an intimate gathering of art world professionals and curious enthusiasts. We are delighted to share a synopsis of our discussion with Magnus Westwell below.

 

Artscope: To begin, can you share with us in your own words how you came to be where you are today and what it is about your chosen medium that is so important to you?

 

Magnus Westwell: I am native to Scotland, and so my music journey began by playing traditional Scottish instruments such as the fiddle, then I moved onto classical piano and violin. I started dancing ballet age 10, eventually moving to Glasgow at 14 and London to study dance. I also started choreographing, and it was then that my teachers advised I focus and pick one discipline, but I remember feeling pigeonholed and I didn't want to limit myself.

 

AS: Perhaps there was this prescient idea that there was more to be achieved with everything altogether rather than rejecting any aspects of music and movement that excited you or where you saw potential.


MW: Yes, I think so, on reflection!

 

AS: Now, this project within a project which we viewed just now, is an exercise in actively isolating these mediums, pulling them apart and engaging them side by side in a sort of parallel approach. Why did you decide to do this and what do you think it will bring to your finished body of work?

 

MW: Back in January, I had this feeling that I wanted to take a step back and slow down. Alot had happened in succession for me, and I had learned that focusing on process gives great insight into the ‘being’ of the work itself, why it works the way it does, reveals truths for the artist and the audience, which I wanted to explore. I could then share these finding with the audience, which is a relationship that means a lot to me, the connection between the performer and the audience.


AS: You’ve described your artistic process before as very focused on “deconstruction”. What do you find so important about this ability to deconstruct?

 

MW: I am deconstructing my training and education in a formal sense, I learned the rules in order to break them and be liberated, more opportunity for original work. I find that decay and collapse is actually the similar process as building and composing, just in reverse, it’s all made up of the same stuff, just arranged in different ways.

 

AS: This notion of composites and constructing or deconstructing is really reminiscent of how one of the most important conversations being had at the moment creatively, culturally, politically…and that is philosophies to do with the Self notably via the body...themes that surround autonomy, ownership, identification, representation, preservation, protection…many artists are reflecting on these concepts within the context of AI, transgender rites, abortion bans, ongoing consequences of Covid-19 intervention or lack thereof, not to mention geopolitical violence and war in Gaza, Ukraine and the list goes on.

 

The ‘body as the muse, the subject or even as the canvas itself’ is no new idea by any means, Yves Klein, Carole Sheeneman, Ana Mandieta, Kiki Smith, Felix-Gonzales Torres to name a few. But if you look at contemporary practice right now, a significant approach from artists like Jes Fan, Pippa Garner, Isaac Julien, Julia Philips are specifically choosing to use deconstruction physically and conceptually to investigate these arenas and as you say, reveal truths that might ultimately help us heal. You might be on to something when you say ‘it’s all made up of the same stuff, just arranged in different ways’.

 

I’m also interested in the link specifically to do with the Self and the Self’s experience of your work, on an individual, introspective level and also in relation to others who are involved. Can you describe what is happening here in your practice, how the Self is positioned as a performer, an audience member, a composer, as well as in relation to the whole?

 

MW: Performance is a form of communication, it has the power to create intimacy amongst strangers. Sound and movement and dance and choreography all connecting together in different ways at different intervals. This allows the artist and the audience to create their own rules, and fosters a mini climate and ecosystem of acceptance. Additionally, I often evade putting performers 'on display', instead they are facing away from the front and often immersed in smoke, so the dancers also feel comfortable and enjoy themselves, within themselves.


Magnus Westwell answers questions from the audience following an open studio performance with Oscar Li

AS: Moving on to stylistic aspects of your work in addition to form and composition, you’ve cited William Basinski, Abul Mogard, Christoph De Babalon, Leonard Cohen and Pina Bausch as greatly inspiring. These artists certainly embody a ‘hauntingly beautiful’ quality to their work, this duality of opposites that together create something new. Could you share for us what makes this combination so powerful?

 

MW: Life is contradictory, it is also made up of the good and the bad, without the bad it wouldn’t feel good. When something breaks your heart it is because you were in a position to love, or feel happy. I want to create a space that acknowledges this reality and I want to emphasise its relatability and its impact on us. There is so much potential as well in juxtaposing these ideals: making intimate states of mind that feel shared, strangers becoming friends, feeling unified and protected in a desolate space..that’s what my work ‘Broken Light of My Heart’ in collaboration with Machine Woman was born out of in fact, how there is an innate theatricality within rave culture, it is multisensory just like my practice.

 

AS: Both in the context of the euphoric and the desolate as well as in the wider landscape of performance, choreography and composition, these art forms are by nature atmospheric, they are inherently motivated by and come to life through space and dimension. How does this physical, spiritual, emotional and conceptual atmosphere influence your practice?

 

In creating this world through movements and sound and staging, what you produce has to fit somewhere, and so the environment is as important as the content occurring within it. But I am most excited by the notion that the space can be infinite, endless, limitless. I use lighting and haze to make more physical and textural the setting, but there isn’t a sense of any boundaries.


AS: On that topic, you’ve been living here at The Mandrake this week, where the hotel landscape has become your studio, surrounded by visitors and team members who have become your community and collaborators. Can you share for us a bit about this experience and what it has meant to you?

 

MW: The Mandrake has been hugely inspiring. There is a riskiness and a darkness to it that fits with my work very well. It's built to feel like you exist in a different universe, with careful attention paid to the way space is formed here. There is a huge amount of range and scope to experiment with. I was invited by (Creative Director) Mag previously to perform at the hotel and it's a joy to be invited back and be so encouraged by their talented team.


 For more information on The Mandrake's Artist in Residency programme, please email kate@artscopeintl.com.

 

 

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