- By Emily Oldfield

From performing together as animal-headed gods at an event to mark the temporary closure of Manchester Museum’s Ancient Egypt Gallery to making collage come alive at New Mills Festival, Ruby Tingle and Simon Woolham are two artists who have collaborated on a number of projects, often celebrating alternative aspects of culture in doing so.

Ruby is an artist known for her highly imaginative and exploratory work, utilising a range of mediums including paper to distort the familiar and create multi-media pieces, often rooted in folklore and myth, treading the point where the boundaries between human and animal begin to blur. Having graduated from Manchester School of Art in 2011, she is Permanent Artist in Residence at PAPER Gallery in the city, and no stranger to creative collaborations, exploring music, song and a range of visual elements with other artists.

Simon himself is a curator and exhibition programmer at PAPER Gallery, his work often involving drawings of occupied spaces and the stories that unfold within them – allowing the meaning of seemingly unassuming objects to be emphasized, enchanting the everyday. He is also curating two ambitious exhibitions this year ‘This Land Is Our Land’ at PAPER Gallery, and also ‘INTER-SECTION’ at the Market Gallery in Huddersfield, where he is lecturer in Contemporary Art.

A running theme between the artistry of Ruby and Simon, is exploring the enigmatic qualities of seemingly everyday items and the capacity this holds not just for individual identities, but identity within the natural world.

This came to the fore in their profound 2018 joint-performance at Manchester Museum to mark the temporary closure (‘It’s a Wrap’) of the Ancient Egypt Gallery (ahead of the extension of the building as part the museum’s £13 million project ‘Hello Future’), arranging a variety of thought-provoking objects and channelling a performance through sound, movement, song and golden masks. The mask worn by Simon assumed the design of a frog, a character and animal which has featured throughout the work of both artists and often in their performances together. 

For example, their joint collaboration ‘PAST/PRESENT/FUTURE NEW MILLS’ was a collaborative rubbing drawing and collage, previewed and performed as part of New Mills Festival 2017 – enchanting viewers with its evocative design and immersive performance, highlighting the multiple layers of the artistry.

Delving into mysterious narratives of hybridity, instinct and evocative natural histories, the work of Ruby and Simon together provides a thought-provoking and alluring experience. Therefore, their upcoming collaboration at Not Quite Light Weekend 2019 https://notquitelight.com/not-quite-light-weekend-2019/  – as part of the ‘Hauntology’ evening on Thursday 28 March, is highly-anticipated. Here at HAUNT, we spoke to them to find out more…

What does it mean to you to be involved in NQL Weekend this year and why do you think an event like this is important?

Simon – “Engaging with alternative spaces and layers of histories of a site is at the core of my expanded practice as an artist/musician and this is a shared interest I have with NQL. To be involved with this year’s NQL event is really important for the development of my creative exploration as an artist and collaborator with Ruby Tingle, events like NQL are really important for engaging both performers and the public with histories of sites, their present conditions and future developments.”

Ruby – “It’s very apt and exciting to be involved with this year’s NQL as I’ve recently been responding to Manchester within my work more than ever, through my music and performances especially, creating my own invented histories and mythologies inspired by the city. NQL is an especially fitting platform for these ideas and an imaginative resource for connecting us with new layers of the spaces we inhabit.  Reimagining the day to day is a huge part of my practice as is using artworks as a stage for bringing the historic to life.”

Would you say that your creativity is inspired by the Gothic – and if so, how?

Simon – “The Gothic and the macabre has been an ever-present influence on me personally and creatively since the late 1980’s. From the moment I first bought the Sisters of Mercy’s early EP’S and reading Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories as an enthusiastic fourteen-year-old Goth.

“Both culturally and socially my world opened up to the creative potential of dressing up, expressing myself, as well as exploring my own artistic and musical interests. To me this is at the core of what it means to be ‘Goth’, an openness to expression and not being afraid of this. To me it is also about confronting death by expressing life.”

Ruby – “The Gothic seems to have a presence within my practice without an intentional focus on it - the natural world is at the core of my work as a source of inspiration, and although on a surface level this doesn’t seem to connect with the ‘dark’, there are layers of bleakness there: contemporary issues such as extinction, pollution, invasive yet crucial conservation etc. I’m also fascinated by the unknown, the cryptozoic and how these could become domestic, much of which has its roots in horror and the Gothic. Sometimes work can be physically macabre. I use a lot of dead materials - skins from old handbags, found fragments of taxidermy and shed animal parts… this kind of preservation and reanimation of the dead is my most obvious link to the Gothic. I’ve never personally conformed to a code of dress, but as Simon has said, without ‘Goth’ I feel that freedom of expression through adornment, which is so important to me, wouldn’t be so available.”

Manchester is a city of many alternative cultures and underground experiences. Would you say that this, as well as the city itself, has influenced you?

Simon – “Of course. I was born and bred in Wythenshawe on the outer fringes of Manchester and growing up there has been one of the biggest influences on my practice. In fact, my PhD at MMU, completed in 2016, focused primarily on transporting around and interpreting space, through the collective generating of narrative associated with growing up in Wythenshawe, but also simultaneously interpreted a present incarnation and our deeper relationship.”

Ruby – “Hugely- I’ve had so many contrasting experiences whilst living here for the past ten years; as a location and home it has become almost many places and times within one. The attachments, connections and imaginings I’ve accumulated here, as well as the city itself have affected my work and my self greatly. It’s a place where I’ve had one of the most transformative personal life periods so far. I’ve always felt since moving here that the city itself is constantly mutating atmospherically as well as physically, which is a perfect terrain for an artist who is fascinated by transformation and the need to self-mythologize.”

Is there an aspect of Manchester you would like to see more explored through the creative arts?

Simon – “I think what NQL is doing right now, creatively activating alternative spaces in and around Manchester through all forms of the creative arts, is what is needed. More of this!”

Ruby – “Same!”

How will you use the themes of NQL Weekend to inspire your performance?

Simon – “It’s early doors but exploring the space, atmosphere and histories of the site we perform in will be the biggest inspiration on the performance.”

Ruby – “Definitely. I’m sure we will also both draw on existing Manchester based notions which are living within our practices; I imagine the space will breathe life into these to combine with fresh responses, which is always exciting.”

Which other local artists and creatives around Manchester are you particularly enjoying the work of at the moment?

Simon – “I’ve been involved with a few events ran by Anthony Donovan (Murmurists) who runs Classwar Karaoke. One of my highlights in 2017 was performing as ‘The Frog’ in a church in Whalley Range together with over 100 other performers.”

“The performance at St Margaret’s Church, Whalley Range, had over 100 performers, artists and film makers, plus the privileged audience. This was a church of celebration, an unbridled joy of creation. How the multi-talented Anthony Donovan managed to get this planned, organised on the night and delivered by meticulous attention to detail with unflustered calm was a mystery.”

Ruby - “Proforma’s first event at The Dancehouse was great… the city having a focused platform for contemporary live, sound and video art is invaluable.”

Can you tell us more about any upcoming projects and ways we can find out more about your work?

Simon – “I am curating two ambitious exhibitions this year ‘This Land Is Our Land’ at PAPER Gallery, where I am the curator/exhibition programmer and ‘INTER-SECTION’ at the Market Gallery in Huddersfield, where I am a lecturer in Contemporary Art. I also have a chapter in a book called ‘Drawing Conversations: BODY, PLACE, SPACE’ coming out in the summer, my chapter is called ‘In Search of the Shortcuts’, published by Cambridge University Scholars. Also, this summer I will be embarking on a residency and having a major solo exhibition at Drawing Projects UK in Towbridge.”

Ruby – “I’ll be showing new print work at PAPER in May in an exhibition Simon is curating, and I also have exciting plans this Summer for the launch of my new double album, No Such Thing, which I spent most of 2018 recording. The release will be performed via live mixing electronically with other instrumental accompaniment; this will take the form of a performance somewhere in Manchester although I can’t release details as of yet. Aside from this I’ll be performing music in the UK and in Berlin with my other long-term collaborator Dirty Freud. You can see my work and listen to/download music here.”

Images 3 and 4 with thanks to Chris Payne

Featured image with thanks to Helen Darby