VV: We are very curious, our practice allows us to explore many different kinds of knowledge and perhaps process information in nonlinear ways. Although we may be a-jack-of-all-trades-and-
Sometimes we take a pseudo-specialist approach to performative actions, for example acting as scientists, gardeners, architects, historians, not with any lack of respect for experts (who we greatly admire) but as a playful methodology for learning and discussion. A tangent of this latest project was an interest in Julian Cope; post-punk and power-pop star turned antiquarian. He became a self-taught author of Neolithic culture, often coming at archeology from a perspective of rock culture and road trips, he talks about how The Ancients were very concerned with the drama of the landscape, his take on standing stones and neolithic sites as theatrical stadiums reflects his knowledge of musical performance and the behaviour of people when they congregate.
We are interested in difference and how cross-disciplinary knowledge combinations can cause shifts in perspective, research is important to us and sometimes it seems that the more time we have for it, the more time we crave.
** In relation to this multidirectional form of research, is there something unifying about your findings, or the opposite?
VV: We often feel a unifying sense when a project comes together… but there is always a simultaneous feeling of expansion as often many points of interest have appeared and the resolved aspects of the work sit alongside the fragmented beginnings of other projects. For Gang Days it felt like the unifying aspect was an exploration of megalithic structures informed by personal experiences and general investigations. We eventually imposed on ourselves the task of making giant paper-mache rock forms which we had to transport from the site of construction to their destination. Visitors had the option to participate by making an offering or coming on a walk which was a take on real and supposed folklore of the area, mixed with a boundary marking ritual which acknowledged the historic and current land-use around the site in question. Our approach doesn’t feel sporadic but our projects often feel endless.
** In the press release about a workshop you hosted, you said “a big concern is helping to build confidence for the teenagers so they understand how they can access cultural spaces and realise that these spaces belong to them.” It made me think of the price of the Bath Springs, and who owns this natural resource. Are boundaries something you seek to dismantle in your work?
VV: We can think of quite a few reasons why people may want to control or restrict the access to sacred places and natural resources – whether we think it positive or negative to do so – and a number of ways in which this is done. Neither are necessarily static through time. When a building changes over centuries from temple to tourist attraction we see a shift in whose interests it is protected in. Sometimes we feel suspicious of those who profit from what we feel should be open to all. But on the other hand an entry fees might just go to staff and owners for the cost of upkeep and preservation. Or it may be a way to limit the amount of people who come to the door. Those who want to visit and use a site as was originally intended may want to block those who are just curious. Tensions arise when the different interests cross.
The reverence held by spaces and places is hardly static through time either. Archaeology shows us signs of vandalism and graffiti alongside worship throughout history. These thoughts were present as we explored and discovered various sites and were felt differently by each member of the group. Is it ok to touch the stones? What about climbing on them? Does how the sites respond to you depend on the faith and intention with which you approach it?
It was interesting to see how myths and stories reflected the times they were from. How we might re-imagine them now. Our work and performance didn’t hide that, it was more revival than period piece, continuing the conversation by mixing eras and references, deciding to play with our responses. That went some way to resolving or maybe yielding to that tension.
VV: Perhaps every person, naturally, has different inclinations and interests and if raised in certain environments would learn and understand them through observation whilst growing, drawn to and repelled by certain things. Plenty of knowledge is passed down, the accumulation of generations, or centuries worth of observed and collective knowledge, or belief. But there’s always potential or sometimes a need for these beliefs to change. Just because there is an observed action and reaction does not mean we truly understand why. Even on earth, only 5% of the seabed is mapped, apparently we’ve identified only 14% of species. We know a lot less about the world than we feel, and beyond that, our sense of ‘self’ might balance a bit on the relative belief as to our size and impact in this thing.
So there’s most likely a bit of both in there, instinctive and learnt. But either way, that still doesn’t mean that anyone’s interest in land or history will be ‘whole’. We are part of an ecosystem, but maybe we can’t choose our place as readily as we want, or rather we are both blessed and afflicted with the ability to think and desire a different place. We search for it, so maybe some of the shedding is a battling with the feeling that we should be beyond needing to know our place exactly.
VV: We meet at Keele motorway services on a drab Thursday afternoon in August, armed with spades, caution tape Jiffy bags and rubber gloves. We enter the sight by jumping a large metal gate. We are not sure what we will find. An initial combing of the forest floor uncovers, a pill pot, a drinks can and a sun bleached bag of crisps from 1995. We cordon off an area of investigation for further inspection. The ceremonial nature of the excavation is tongue-in-cheek but we are serious in our belief that forgotten places and uncharted cultural gatherings such as these are of significant importance. This activity and its documentation is a celebration of that.
Exploring further we find a small make-shift dwelling. Inside there are old burnt-out pots, clothing, a beer can impaled on a stick marks the territory, we conclude someone has been living there. We are instantly drawn to this structure, our practice has always been linked to our existence on the fringes of the city – who ever has lived here has committed to this a few steps further. It is strange to think there is a service station 200 ft away, the gentle hum of the motorway is reassuring.
Our communal journey has reached a juncture at this moment in time, for some of us circumstances have meant it is not possible to all live together right now (strange after so many years), but we have grown as a group in a way which can only be described as family. It is the logistics of life and exacerbated house prices that have complicated our desire live communally in the long term, but our stern belief in the value of community still remains.
In terms of where we are now as a collective – things have continuously changed and shifted over the 8 years we have been working as Vulpes Vulpes, we have grown and evolved in some interesting ways and have different ideas but luckily we have desires, principals and politics which have remained in many ways aligned. We have always aspired to be an open, flexible group – with no set rules, not tied down to any constitution, just with the deep understanding of wanting for a better world – and believing in the importance and effectiveness of small and slow change.
More recently it is clear that we are evolving as individuals more than ever, now that we don’t all live together. Each with our own practice (art, music, poetry, theatre etc) developing alongside important life decisions. We have been able to fluidly accommodate and even benefit from the changes but not without continuous discussion, openness and letting go of the ego.**