Caroline Broadhead tells us what moved her to link with choreographer Angela Woodhouse
You’re bringing a dance piece to COLLECT called Sighted?
It’s part of a continuing collaboration with choreographer Angela Woodhouse. There’s a puddle of mirrors in front of the performer that forms the divide between them and the audience. There are a lot of sight-lines in the piece. It’s sweet, tender and I think it’s quite emotional. When it’s been performed before, people have been quite moved by it. We ask people to write down their responses. One hopes they have a strong experience. And before they’ve digested it intellectually, discussed it with their friends, we ask for a response. We’ve got books of them.
How did Sighted come about?
I’ve done site-specific performances before. My first piece with Angela was The Waiting Game; it was complicated so I wanted to do something more simple, more practical. Something portable that I could carry and layout in different spaces.
You approached it like a design brief?
Yes, in a way.
You began as a jeweller so how did you come to work with a choreographer?
There was a craft/dance intermix day at the Southbank Centre, it must have been 1980. People like Angela Woodhouse and Pierre Degen were invited. There was no agenda, it was a chance to get to know each other. I ended up in residence on the Southbank. It was a lovely, incredibly intense few weeks. I made nine circular skirts with carbon fibre rods in them so even if the wearers weren’t moving the costumes did. It was the first time I’d had to fit things to a body, somebody who was breathing and moving in them. I stayed overnight at the Southbank Centre to finish them!
What was it that performance offered that you weren’t finding in jewellery?
It was the synthesis of everything – direction, lighting, music, the audience. It was exciting because everything was concentrated on that one moment.
Were you interested in art as a child?
My parents were scientists but my mother was always interested in art. She was a very creative person. I did all the textile things, I knitted, sewed, drew and painted. I went to school at Dartington Hall and the emphasis wasn’t academic but really do anything you want to do! The ideal was everything was creative and self-sustaining – there was a woodmill for example. Even though I was quite oblivious at the time, that’s been a strong setting up of my attitude towards things. I gravitated to art and the ceramics teacher Bernie Forrester suggested I try jewellery – he was so supportive and encouraged me to try things out, to discover things. He had a gentle presence.
You studied at Central School?
I think when I was a student I was still working things out, I was a little adrift. It was when I left and set up a studio with Nuala Jamison and Julia Manheim that everything started to kick in. It was the same time the Crafts Council and Electrum launched. There were things to look at, a different energy about jewellery.
Were you interested in dance?
I wasn’t seeking it but certainly it was very inspiring to see people like Michael Clark and Ushio Amagatsu. And the costumes at the Nederlands Dans Theater.
You’ve been teaching for decades. Does it influence your practice?
It’s where collaboration comes in. You’re working with someone else, developing their ideas but that can help your own. It makes you aware of the processes that trip you up and those that get you going.
Whose work inspires you now?
I realised there are people’s whose work I like and they’re all women artists by chance really. I like Liza Lou, her beadwork. It’s quite amazing partly because I know how hard it is to do it! Doris Salcedo’s work raises the hairs on the back of my neck – a strong physical reaction. At the Tate, I saw her table stitched together with hairs and silk fibres, a response to the testimonies of children who witnessed their parents’ murder during the Colombian civil war. You almost don’t need words.
You’re drawn to objects, not images?
Maybe. Perhaps objects have a stronger importance to me. I tend to go to the ethnographic sections in a museum. Beaded things, leather things – they’re all things that are lovingly made.
Sighted will be performed daily at COLLECT, 8 – 11 May, Saatchi Gallery, London SW3.