Harry Maberly

14th Jun 2018

Hi Harry, thanks so much for participating – we hope you’re enjoying the coffee!

Hi there, Conch!

Thank you for having me. I am very much enjoying the coffee and the paper!

1. Can you give us an introduction to your practice, interests and experiences?

I guess to try to sum up my practice; performance is normally right in the middle of it, but usually it’s mixed up with some other mediums; most commonly film, and/or writing and installation. So occasionally I do a live performance for an audience, which might be a character telling a story, or attempting to give a live green screen tutorial, but more frequently I will be orchestrating some kind of bizarre intervention into ‘the public realm’ (?) … basically creating/constructing absurd situations that anyone could happen upon, and might choose to engage with.

These projects revolve around characters that I make to help form the context of what is going on. They normally have a simple costume and an illogical ambition, which they (I) then try to bring to fruition.

The nature of these projects means that there isn’t ever one person experiencing all aspects of them, so often I will find a way of documenting them (usually film) to create a narrative for a further audience out of the actual series of events. This allows me to create multiple layers within the works, which is fun, and to play around with different perspectives.

2. Character and narrative play an integral role in your practice, can you talk to us a little about your research processes and how you go about constructing these narratives?


6. How important is it that you perform as characters within your work?

My brain seems to like working in projects – having a specific goal to work towards. If I don’t have any projects on the go, my research mostly consists in reading novels, watching comedy programmes, looking at other artist’s work and writing/drawing ideas for characters or situations. Quite often the name/title of a work comes first, and then I’ll try to figure out what would need to happen in order for the title to make sense/feel justified.

Humour is definitely a big starting point for my projects. I have to find an idea very funny if I’m going to go through with it. I think this is partly because I often find them quite gruelling in one way or another and they are often not very fun to perform, so it helps quite a lot if I can step outside of them now and then and chuckle a bit. And I always hope that some of that humour will come through in the work.

Coming up with a character also happens right at the start. Performing as a character seems to be very important, and I think there are a number of reasons. A lot of it is to do with splitting my mind in two, so to speak. The characters have some kind of agenda – their ideas are often illogical, but they will follow them with a strict sense of logic. I, as an artist, also have an agenda (putting my research into practice, exploring concepts, satirising culture and usually also thinking about the next-level audience, who are watching a film about the character and their doings). So I am juggling two agendas and trying to make them coincide effectively so that neither has to compromise too much. So it helps to have a character other than myself that I can step into. Once I have a character and have done some research into cultural stereotypes surrounding the type of character and institution that I am referencing/playing on/satirising, and, when I have done some thorough wikipedia-ing of key words and ideas, I normally get out and start trying to make something happen. I usually think of the projects along a narrative line, but it’s very much a process of letting a series of events unfold and sticking truthfully to them (which isn’t to say that it’s not subjective). So I try to be prepared for any eventuality so that some kind of narrative can still come out of it.

3. Given the part narrative plays in your practice, is there a particular author that you find yourself returning to again and again?

The two authors that jump to mind most are Douglas Adams and Flann O’Brien. Both of them wrote very funny stories. Douglas Adams wrote the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series and two and a half Dirk Gently novels. I think he found a really funny way of exploring human nature and the absurdity of the human condition by taking a human into a fantastical universe filled with very engaging and human-like aliens, and him just feeling really put out.

Flann O’Brien wrote 4 novels, though so far I’ve only read The Third Policeman. O’Brien was an Irish author writing from 1930’s – 60s and played around with a lot of post-modern, metafictional forms and techniques. The Third Policeman is very surreal and he somehow seems to write about things that are quite impossible to picture or think about in a way that make you picture or think about them clearly.

I think both of them are very good at utilising the endless possibilities of fiction to explore ideas and characters. Part of what I’m trying to do with my work is taking ideas and characters that might function more effectively in fictional spaces (or, at least, the author would have control over how events unfolded) and instead seeing what happens if they have to function in an actual society with actual people.

I also just read two books (‘Kitchen’ and ‘Lizard’) by Banana Yoshimito, which are incredibly sensitive and moving stories about love, loss and loneliness in 90’s Japan.

5. What role does collaboration play within your practice? With works like The Secret Society, did you see society members as collaborators?

I think my practice relies quite heavily on some kind of collaboration with the ‘actual people’ mentioned above. Though I don’t know if I’d use the word collaboration, because it seems to suggest a shared goal, whereas more commonly the people involved in my projects have their own things going on, and might not even know what I’m doing is part of an art work. So I rely heavily on reactions and interactions from people. That’s really what generates the work in a lot of ways.

This was definitely the case with The Secret Society. To briefly explain; The Secret Society is on one level, a performance, and on another level, a documentary I made about the performance, which focuses on the efforts and emotions of ‘The Secret-ary’ (me) who founded and ran a Secret Society, called The Secret Society, for a year.

It started when I stood outside a Student Societies Fair, in Edinburgh, with a desk that said ‘The Secret Society’ to see if people would sign up. There wasn’t a society at this point, but I was able to keep this a secret by saying that I couldn’t disclose any information. I was half expecting that no one would sign up, which would have resulted in a very short performance/story. As it happened, 267 people signed up, and I didn’t want to disappoint them, so The Secret Society came into being.

So maybe it’s more of a give-and-take than a collaboration. It’s definitely very important to me that anyone who interacts or engages with a performance is able to take something away with them; be it a sense of absurdity or a secret stone, seeing as I am getting something out of it.

7. Can you tell us about The Waiting Room? Was performance a natural progression from moving image, or have you worked with Performance before?

The Waiting Room was a waiting room that I installed in The Number Shop Gallery in Edinburgh. It was a sort of general, familiar waiting room, without any specific function beyond itself. The small-scale marketing campaign (sandwich board) focused on the opportunity to ‘wait for free’. Inside the blue room were some chairs and plants and coffee tables with pamphlets on them, and a receptionist (me again) at his desk, who was invariable either on the phone to a colleague or busy with some important admin, and therefore not able to offer any useful guidance or information. Luckily the Pamphlets to Help You were there with some information, and there was a (fictional) radio station, called Contemplation Station, trying to offer some kind of guidance through a pseudo-spiritual/mindful mental journey, with a subtle dose of authoritarianism.

The project came about as the culmination of my residency at The Number Shop, having received one of their ECA Graduate Awards (which I am hugely grateful for). It started with some nonsensical/unhelpful/untrue pamphlets I wanted to make – the ‘Pamphlets to Help You’ initiative – and the title for the radio show. Seeing as these wouldn’t hold up on their own in a solo exhibition, it made sense to make a waiting room where they would fit in.

As I have mentioned, I definitely think of performance as the starting point for any work. I was making performances first, back on my foundation, and started using videos to document, stylise and contextualise the performances, and that process has become more complex since then. With The Waiting Room, there didn’t seem like any need for a narrative or further audience than the people who came and waited, so the documentation was purely documentative. That was also my first installation, which was fun.


Harry Maberly is an artist, based in Glasgow. You can find him at harrymaberly.com and on instagram at @harrymaberly.