*Location: I was brought up in Nottingham but have lived in Bayswater/Nottinghill for the last 30 years.
*Currently working on: I am currently working on some live footage for a Matador band called The Ponies.
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This interview took place at the end of April, 2007.
All video stills / images provided and reproduced with permission, from Gina Birch ©
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How did you first get started with art, and begin to produce the films / video-artwork that you currently do?
I was good at drawing when I was at school and I applied to do an art foundation course at Trent Poly in Nottingham, where I kind of fell in love with Fine Art. I was really into all sorts of things other than drawing and painting, like conceptual art, land art, performance art, Then I went to Hornsey art school in London, where I started out doing crazy things like jumping through huge paper screens and filming myself doing it, and making films where I would film an event project it and film the event again in front of it, simple things like walking down a corridor, or jumping in the air. This is where I met Ana and we started The Raincoats as the most vibrant thing happening in London at that time was The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Slits, The Roxy club in Neal street where we went 4 or 5 nights a week.
After we formed the Raincoats and it kind of took off, I had to take two years off from college, to tour, record and whatever we were doing with The Raincoats. I bought a super 8 camera and just filmed lots of stuff, light, water, people, some shows.
When I finally went back to college I made two longer films on super 8, which I graduated with and have no idea where they are now, lost I think.
Much later I went to do film at the Royal College of Art, but that was a very commercially biased course and didn't really nurture the art side of things, just made everyone very anxious about career prospects!
To what degree do you think that having arts qualifications, and learned techniques enables your current work?
Do you think that arts qualifications are necessary for people to explore their creativities?
So I have a BA Hons in Fine Art and an MA RCA in film direction.
Most of the techniques I have learned I have taught myself and also friends have shown me stuff. Of course going to college gives you the legitimate time to spend on 'exploring one's creativities' but the institution itself is not necessary. It is good to be in creative environment though and find some like minded people with whom to share ideas or inspiration or even just enthusiasm.
What is your process of video making for your live shows? Are your videos spontaneous and improvised, or more structured?
I recently saw you perform solo at Ladyfest Leeds, and part of your onstage performance included projected video artworks accompanying your music.
Are your videos created to accompany particular songs, or is the process of video making more coincidental for you?
Some are more patchworks of moods and others like the flowerhead one, was specific. In that one, I wanted to express the idea that when you are loved or in love, you bloom and blossom, but also I wanted to express the idea that love is very complex. It can be glorious, but it is often selfish, sulky and threatening.
To what degree does your performance require both music and art? Could you imagine performing your songs without visual accompaniment?
I ask this as I found that the two combined created such a fuller picture of you as an artist and performer. I almost cannot now imagine the songs without the visuals playing an important part in my experience as viewer, and my experience of understanding and “feeling” your songs and lyrics, and my emotional connections to both.
I have often performed songs without the visuals, usually different songs, that I can play with just the guitar, because the videos have sounds on them as well, things that I have recorded on my own or with other musicians and so they are specifically for shows where I can have a richer soundscape than just me and my electric guitar. I have only in the last few years dared to perform so nakedly, with just a guitar and it is very liberating because you don't need any extra paraphernalia. I have now invested in a projector and a small amp so that I can also travel with my stuff and perform in different places.
Do you find that visual artwork allows an avenue for people to connect more readily with your creativity and artistry since it is an 'easier' medium to access? By this, I mean to a more casual onlooker, do you think images are more immediate than say some lyrics, or emotions, or articulations; (and hence why MTV et al is so popular?!)
I like the visual side of things because that is what I enjoy making, and also as a solo performer it is nice for the audience to have other things to look at than just me!! Is it an easier medium to access? I don't know, I suppose it definitely connects with some people but not everybody likes the adulterated form!
I don't want to fall into the trap of assuming that all artwork created by women “must” be autobiographical if it deals with stark and acute emotions, but it kinda seems an important question to ask when viewing your work since you are there onstage, a part of it. To what degree does personal experience and autobiography influence or appear within your video artworks?
The first video I normally show is made up of a series of signs on the A1. I was doing a tour with Helen Reddington and I decided I would try to film every sign I could from North to South on the A1 and then layered them and made them into this beautiful ethereal landscape, of day and night, lights, signs, weather, rainbows etc and that is for the song “Where have all my lovers gone?”
The next one is not specifically for the song, but something that I started with a friend. He said he wanted to have a shoe camera so that he could film up girls skirts.. which obviously I thought was a great idea (not!) and I suggested we put a camera in each shoe and made a film of us walking, cycling, etc and we made few different projects with this idea and I used some of this footage (sic) for “You'll never get anywhere like that”.
The next one is me carrying a series of worldly woes, represented by a small cardboard box, which as my worldly woes, or baggage increase, so does the cardboard box. Ida with whom I was playing at the time, had an alter ego as a superhero of psychological problems, called 'Denise Danger' and Denise appears at the end to come and give me a fresh start and my baggage becomes very small and unworrysome again. I had used this concept in a video I made for New Order staring Jane Horrocks and shot in the North of England, but I wanted to do it again in a more downbeat way.
The one for 'Clutter' was made, when I heard a man saying he wanted to make a film of naked women cleaning and I felt strongly that I would prefer it to be made by women, so Ida, myself and a friend of Ida's who all liked to clean naked (sometimes) decided we would make the film and I made it into a trilogy so that it is (perhaps) less voyeuristic.
The video for “I'm glad I'm me today” is made up of some early footage that mostly I shot, but sometimes my husband shot of when my oldest daughter now seven, first came to live with us and how happy I was and am that I am now a mother.
The last one, for “Someone loves me” is discussed above.
At Ladyfest Leeds you spoke onstage about aspects of inspiration and empowerment. How important to you are events which celebrate, and importantly encourage female creativity and expression?
I am writing a song about it, because I think it is extremely important to have role models, inspiration and empowerment… a place to express oneself without feeling threatened or completely misunderstood.
To what degree was/has your creative and artistic output been supported and encouraged throughout your life?
Not very, I was teased relentlessly by my father and I always felt very shy of expressing myself or showing anyone my work. Ana in the Raincoats was always very keen for me to write and to sing my own songs and really encouraged me. I was cripplingly shy though and it is only later in life that I have developed rather an opposite persona that doesn't have any shy bits left and it's so much nicer to be that way.
Other than creating video artwork for your own work, you have produced promotional videos for other musicians such as Daisy Chainsaw, Solex, and The Pogues.
How have some of these projects come about; and how does creating videos for others differ from the process of creating work for your own projects?
I work with a variety of artist/musicians. I really like to collaborate. I may have the starting idea or the band and then we all chip in ideas which I then refine and try to bring to the screen.
What do you personally find are the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of being an artist?
I find it brilliant that generally I don't have a boss, I don't have to be anywhere specific every day and that I can express myself, go to shows, exhibitions, be inspired and it's all part of my job! The down side is when things aren't going so well, when I've been bored, depressed, heartbroken, uninspired, I have envied anyone with a job, I remember one day feeling so envious of the bus conductress that she had a regular life and a steady job and I felt like a whirling, sinking fearful mess!!
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