Catinca Malaimare on Leather

We walk through Catinca Malaimare's exhibition Astropriest at Brooke Benington, discussing saddles and leather jackets as pre-used objects that hold bodies

The following conversation is a slightly different format to the usual Mater interviews, as we took a walk through Malaimare's exhibition, Astropriest, discussing the materials and themes with the artist as we went.

Catinca Malaimare I’ve been working with lights for a long time. They create a really sculptural gesture in the space. And here it's slightly architectural and graphic and light follows the lines of the light strips. It's also the RGB colours of red, green and blue. And then there's a lot more white than I usually use. Just because there's a lot of painted sculptural elements that I just want to know the colour palette of that to come through.

Maddie Rose Hills Interesting. So what would your rooms typically be like a bit darker than this or is that

CM There's a lot of kind of a unifying kind of colour that that basically makes everything belong together. And for this one, I really wanted to work with green an red and blue. They're also kind of reflected on the two saddles, there are two main sculptures and performance props in the show. So they have two individual identities really. One called Wishing Bone and then the other one is called Kissing Spines. So one of them is slightly more romantic with a colour like cool blues and purples and silvers. And then the other one is like this is a slightly more camp mechanical green. And they are kind of referencing racing costumes or motorcycles or cars. So kind of like quite mechanical

MRH And then this one isn’t upholstered

CM Yeah, exactly. So there are three steel frames for the two saddles. But the steel frames have this multi-gender personality to me, like upside down they're kind of this erect, phallic object, and then when you turn it upside down, they're quite kind of like limp. So they're kind of a masculine object in the space. And then the saddles have a bit more of an androgynous quality, they're also like a craft object. They have status as an object that's made for riding, for equestrian worlds. When you turn them upside down, which you can see in the clip when one of the performers picks them up, they have quite a different anatomy.

MRH It looks like a tongue as well with that strong red colour

CM Exactly, and they have like quite a lot of layers, which you get a lot more of in the performance, when there's movement being kind of overlapped with the object. So they are kind of waiting. They're in this sort of traditional pose, kind of resting essentially, like how they would be in a stable, and then you kind of flip them over. Or like a performer interacting with it, it becomes a lot more like a wishing bone or like an organ or like an animal. So they have this very perverted but also playful quality. Like also, I think, for me, they seem a little bit mischievous, you know, like, if materials can be mischievous, a leather saddle is is one of those

MRH Totally, especially there's something about leather in combination with like these chains

CM Yeah for sure. And with these steel frames.. I like the fact that this is such a masculine object, the saddle in this position slots right under that crevice. So I like the idea that there's a play between them. There's a tension between them, and then that gets externalised and the performers add a third kind of tension between the human and this object.

MRH Yeah. Where are you getting the saddles from?

CM So they're second hand saddles they've been used before. There quite a new object for me to use. And they're a continuation of how I've been using leather in my practice, which has come through the costuming of the performer in racing suits. At first there’s the minimal changes that I make to them. So the vintage racing suits which I’m now painting elements of it. So I'm really transforming the costumes as well. And then through painting, the racing suits become this really camp, flashy personality. So I wanted to translate that into an object that doesn't necessarily need a body to be worn into to be flaunted. Because I feel like they're capable to flaunt and flash on their own. So they're, they're that extension of the costuming of the performers into an actual sculptural prop.

MRH Is there a lot of cleaning that has to go on?

CM Well, when they came to me from the shop or from the stables, they obviously had that very pungent smell. They had liquid all over it, which was like, unidentified liquid. That I'm not even sure what I was touching. But that sort of builds into the objects actually. So I didn't really strip it down. I cleaned and painted it, but I didn't really want to go back into like factory defaults.

MRH Yeah, there's still the sort of marks of wear and tear on them.

CM Exactly and I really like that they have been used, they have been worn. They're not pristine saddles. Both of them are for jumping. And one of them is called like a hunter saddle, which is this one. And then the other one an Olympic saddle.

MRH Oh, and it sort of looks like it's in flight or something.

CM Exactly. So they kind of have specific cuts that signify what they're used for. But also for me, they follow human anatomy essentially. So the construction follows that pubic area pretty accurately. I like the fact that they are sort of moulded around a horse's spine, but at the same time they're made to comfort the rider. They're caressing one body which is the rider while they're moulded and made to comfort the horse. I like the fact that it's an in between object, it's also a mediator between the horse and the rider.

MRH And then it's a separate skin entirely from a different animal.

CM Exactly. The overlap of all the flesh and moulding that goes on in that three-way relationship is really interesting. I was writing the text for the show and I mentioned the horses that are kind of absent from the show, because I wasn't necessarily interested in having been mounted on a horse anymore, because it's a kind of a sad instance in that they can cause quite a lot of pain or this is also why this one's called kissing spines, which is a problem in the spine of the horse, which can cause excruciating pain and essentially can retire a horse. They're made to comfort the rider but can put a lot of pain on the horse. So I kind of wanted to remove the horse from that equation. And then just focus on the rider and on the saddle, because I feel like there's an interesting relationship there. You mount them and there's some sexual tension that happens between the object and the human. And that also gets extended in the performance where, basically two performers are in a sort of mount position, but the way they're installed, they're gonna go in between their knees to extend that tension.

MRH So where will it be placed?

CM So they're both facing the wall, so there's no interaction between them but there's a tension. So a slightly romantic kind of innuendos embedded in that relationship. But they also have a very singular and private relationship with their own saddle. So they’re two private moments essentially. And I like the fact that they're never really sitting on it, it's more about having it between their knees, which is much more tense and, and it requires a lot more bodily energy to sustain that position.

MRH Will the jackets come into the performance as well?

CM They don't come into the performance, they signify that there are two characters, they're going to occupy the space for the duration of the performance. At the moment, they're covering the speakers, which I really liked. They create a muffled sound quality. So they are sort of hiding something. And the soundtrack is made with that idea in mind, that it's a hidden source. So you're not quite sure whether it's organic or mechanical. Even with the saddles you're going from an organic element, now painted, it's become a lot more mechanical, it references a lot of that motorcycle aesthetic. And the same with the leather jackets covering the speakers, they're, they're quite a camp, clowny object, with broad shoulders, they have quite a lot of kind of craft put into them.

MRH Well I was gonna say with the craft, because the way that you've painted the jackets particularly, it really highlights the intricacies of the stitching as well. And that craft that goes into this almost like macho object, and then the detail within the stitching, I've never really looked at much before until I see it painted like this.

CM Yeah, it's quite feminine in a way, and it's very geometrical. I like working with that geometry that provides a structured focus point. The gaze wanders on this object following the lines of the material. So they're kind of parallel with the saddles, essentially.

MRH Did you research much into the design of leather jackets? Or like, are there particular people who really made the best leather jackets? Or is that not really that interesting to you?

CM I haven't, because I think I sort of came to leather through an interest in clothing a performer in a very camp, playful way for a different persona to perform

MRH And removing it from what it was maybe

CM And also, I started with suits, which are very sculptural pieces because it's sort of like they're made to be in a seated position. And then when you kind of like, stand upright in them you can kind of see like bulges around kind of like the back, the elbows or shoulders. So all those creases that they get once worn. They become like a second skin that doesn't really fit right unless you're in that motorcycle position. So I think I started getting attracted to that sculptural potential of it. The fact that it's, it's something that can adorn the body, but also forces it in a specific stance. So haven't really researched the material itself and the sort of histories of it, I think I've sort of come through it very naively.

MRH And there's a reason it’s all the second hand one's for you. Its about What's the history post-the moment that was made? What's that in between gap after it’s made, before it comes to you.

CM Yeah, exactly, and I think a lot of the letter leather jackets and like leather suits that we kind of get to London, they come from like the south of England. And there's a lot of history there. So they kind of get circulated back. And now you can find them quite easily in London through people who are kind of a mediator between the owners and the new possibilities for use. But yeah for me, the leather is a live material as well, because they need to get hydrated, constantly, that the saddles get oiled. So that freshness of the leather and of the material gets renewed and revived as if it's a face or skin. I like the fact that this care in that relationship between owning a leather piece, and then using and preserving the the object.

MRH Yeah, totally. And these objects are part of a wider installation with scaffolding poles. Are these things that you typically work with?

CM Yes, I've been working with that industrial kind of materiality for a while, it’s something that is very easy to build with. It's this modular material. And here, I wanted to bring the object more into the space and give it that measure to the body, that elevates the object. It anchors it into the space as well. I work a lot with that architectural kind of thinking and the geometry of the space, like, I'm really interested in that positioning. I really wanted one to be on a wall and the other one to be more in the space, but also quite close together. So that tension between them is felt when you walk through the show, you can go around them, crouch down and look at the different layers, the different heights and perspectives. And there's also some materials that you're not seeing right now, but they come with a performance. And that's the more religious kind of materials we'll be using quite a lot of Catholic fabrics and the costumes are hand sewn by myself, and they are an intricate layering of all these like different meanings. There's second hand leather, and there's the Catholic like silks layered on top of the performers bodies. And also the title of the show like Astropriest.

MRH I'd love to know more about that.

CM I think for me I like when you can kind of baptise something and you give it a name, but they could also be self baptised. So in a way, how I think about it as the character, self baptise. And this Astropriest character, which is I guess a play on a more digital, futuristic, entity and a religious entity. That's supposed to be a figure of authority, or a figure of knowledge and the performance and the installation itself has a lot to do with loneliness, and the idea of like, things that are present and things that are absent. So there's that kind of binary of presence and absence and materials that they're physically to show and then the absent ones like horse is suggested. They're not just kind of ephemeral. They are actually really anchored materials.

MRH And there's a video playing, which I'm guessing is more similar to what the performance would be like. With some differences, because the figures are holding the objects in this video.

CM That won't be the case in the performance. So in a way, it's a little bit of a of a meta material, if you will, it's the suggestion of interaction that happens between a body and a saddle in privacy almost, it's that kind of moment where maybe you don't have access as a public. It's voyeuristic for you to look into it. And that's why you're getting quite cropped framing. So you see the shoulder of a figure, you see the wing of the saddle.

MRh Yeah, they sort of merge into each other as well in moments

CM Exactly. And the whole kind of narrative of the of the film is the presentation of the main character, which is the Astropriest, and his face is never fully unveiled. There's a level of veiling, through the cropping, the framing, through the costume, or he's hiding behind the wing of the saddle. You just get that little level of anticipation, but actually that doesn't really get satisfied in the performance either, because the main figure is going to be facing the wall the entire time for 15 minutes, because he's singing. He's singing for the lonely people in the room and singing for the lonely everywhere. And his voice is this very moany cry. Helpless, sort of, hypnotic siren call. He's trying to hypnotise you, to follow a sort of romantic logic of his voice, but actually, it's a mirage, there's an ending where when the performance ends the voice dies. So you're left with a heavy feeling of has my loneliness been satisfied?

MRH Why do you think that's like a theme for you? And is that a common theme? Or is that specifically in the show

CM I think it's been more common in my work in the last six months, I'd say, I'm a really lonely person, I think, and I make work from a place of loneliness. For me loneliness is a state that you just kind of never really resolve. You can have a populated existence but still feel lonely, whether that's physically lonely, emotionally lonely, or just psychologically lonely. So I think I like to work through these really personal feelings of loneliness, of kind of longing.

MRH Is it a bad emotion to you? Or is it not about good or bad.

CM It's a fruitful emotion I'd say. It's something that comes with sadness as well. And you know, it's a sadness that cannot really be resolved. And I really learned that recently, it's a heavy thing to live with the idea that you'll never be, you know, not sad, like you will never, you know, go beyond this, this point of loneliness. But I think it does a lot in terms of my thinking around kind of like romantic attachment. Whether that's true person or multiple people or an object or material, or to yourself. So you can look at narcissism and loneliness too. And that creates a certain aesthetic or an image. Because you're never really looking at yourself, you're either a reflection or a demonic Alter Ego kind of materiality, that happens to have your face and your body. So I think even the performances about that, you never interact, their loneliness is never fulfilled, one is calling for the other, the other one is silent. What the Astropriest is kind of using the voice to reach all the corners in the room and kind of like traverse and hypnotise the audience and the rider. The second performer is the one that has the body mobility has a lot more agency to move in those 15 minutes, whereas the other one doesn't, so they kind of, they never, they can never really meet and satisfy each other's loneliness really. And I think that also sort of feeds into how I exhibit my works, because they tend to start with performance. And the material of the show expands from that into props, text, sound, video. And especially for this show, there's quite a lot of empty space in it as well. And there's white light, which is something that I am actually afraid of, I like hiding behind light and I hide behind filtered light. And this one actually has a lot more white light that even I'm comfortable with, as an artist, and as a person. I feel the need, you know, to kind of like, hide under something or be anonymous. These pockets of quite intense light are very exposing.

MRH Yeah, because the quality of light is quite surreal. There are all of these colours if you look up, but you get the feeling when you're in here, that it's not affecting things too much. But then there's just these really subtle, like, differentiations on the walls.

CM Yeah, and I think it takes for you to be in the room to start noticing those changes. That observation is always there, either through observing the shadows on the walls, or the reflection on the leather or on the steel pole. It's a fully immersive light installation. It's toning down the reality to create a slightly off reality, that's not really a dream sequence, but it's not quite right. Not quite natural light.

CM From now on until the performance is going to have an added layer of a voice. We're layering voices on top and then on top of that layering, you have the real voice which will be sang through a microphone so you can get really immersed you know. In a way the voice picks up from the load of the lights, and instead of having an immersive light environment, you're actually gonna have an acoustic. The audio will be slightly distorted so you get a lot more of the Astropriet’s presence through the sound and through his voice, and then that will culminate when the performance happens where you actually hear his voice live with very little mediation, you are kind of in his line of attack.

MRH Of attack! Interesting word choice.

Astropriest took place at Brooke Benington, 4 May - 10 June 2023