Helen Petts is an artist film-maker who explores rhythm, texture, sound and chance events, both in the rural landscape and in her long-standing relationship with the free improvisation music community. Having her works distributed by Lux Artists Moving Image, she regularly shows her artworks in the UK and internationally. Helen often explores unusual sounds in her films, such as sounds produced by everyday objects, expanded vocal technique, violoncello, and other musical instruments.
From 7th – 13th of August 2018, Helen was invited by curator Manshur Zikri from Forum Lenteng to take part at Homoludens: Arkipel’s International & Experimental Film Festival at Goethe-Institute Indonesia, Jakarta. For this year’s edition of Arkipel, Helen took part in Forum Festival Panel ‘Beyond Collaborations: Between Collective and Individual Practice’ where she talked about her background and past experience, where video equipment that supported her activities were once expensive, but technological advancement made them more compact, mobile, and accessible to the public now.
During the weekend Helen also screened one of her works titled ‘‘Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing’ (2012), where she explored the later years of artist Kurt Schwitters’ life and worked through the landscape, collage, sound and walking. We had the chance to speak with Helen about her process, influences, and the rapidly changing art scene that she is right in the middle of.
On her creative process that often involves the exploration of rhythm, texture, and sound.
“My creative process is very instinctive. I don’t have an intellectual method, I used to be an abstract painter and there would be moments when I knew it was going to work. And sometimes I get the same feeling either when I’m filming something or also when I’m editing because when I edit, it’s a bit like painting, where I put things together – like putting two colours together and I’ll see what happens.
In one of the scenes of my film called “Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing” where artist Kurt Schwitters was making collages, he puts two pieces of collage material together and if they sing, they work. And that’s what I do with my footage for my sound recording, and some of the field recording sounds that I collect.
And sometimes they’re just landscape sounds or bird sounds, or the sounds of my footsteps. And I will make sounds and use the form of collages of the picture and the sounds, the rhythm, the texture, the colour, and put them together and see if there’s a kind of interaction and see if they sing together instinctive model.
On whether collaboration is important in filmmaking
I don’t think it was important. For me, as an artist, it’s been wonderful the fact that I can now carry around a tiny camera in my bag at all times, and I can carry a sound recording device, it’s very small. I got a professional quality result. I don’t have to have a crew with me and that changed my artistic process completely since I do work alone a lot. Collaboration for me is just the way of working with other artists who inspire me and teach me and lead me down a new path, but I love the fact that I work alone now and I don’t have to collaborate and have a crew, I don’t have to raise money before making a film. But it does lead to a different way of working, it’s a very solitary existence. But I kind of liked that too.
On her expectation towards the Indonesian audiences’ response to ‘Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing’
It’s my response as a British artist to a German artist’s journey to Norway and I followed his journey to Norway so it’s all within a kind of Western Europe. And I’d like to think - and I’m not sure because I don’t know enough about Indonesian culture - but I got the idea that I understand that there is a tradition of films that explore the concept of animism. I work with nature a lot and I work with mountains, and streams, and bird sounds, and my interest in nature is an almost a spiritual one and I’m wondering if Indonesian audience might be able to respond and relate to it.