Flatpack Festival
Film for all the senses
Lights by Kinna Whitehead

Interview: Kinna Whitehead

Tuesday 26th March, 2024

Dyad, a multimedia exhibition by Kinna Whitehead, can be found at Birmingham’s T Street Gallery till next Friday 5 April.

You may have seen Kinna’s work at previous Flatpack Festivals, and we’re excited to present three of her films as part of Flatpack 2024 (see Kinna Whitehead: Wave).

Dyad is the first solo show from the composer, filmmaker and musician, showcasing films that get us thinking about the natural world, and how we relate to it. We caught up with Kinna about the influences behind her work and the importance of live performance.

Q: What has the response been like to Dyad so far?

A: So far it's been very positive! I was happy to see many people come to the gallery for the private view and I have enjoyed discussing the work with the T Street Gallery visitors. I like to hear which piece of work has been meaningful or particularly interesting for others.

Q: You’ve said previously that your work is very connected to the natural world, inspired in part by growing up in the countryside - with this exhibition being no exception. What is your relationship to nature, and how do you see art building a bridge between nature and humanity?

A: Throughout my life I have always felt a longing to return to natural landscapes, whether woodland, the sea, or far-reaching hills. I also consider myself to be a spiritual person and my work is often inspired by the beautiful teachings of Buddhism. To me the natural world easily allows me to connect to a calm and centred way of being, and I find it easier to remember the world’s oneness when in these spaces.

I often feel a tension between the desire to create new art and music, and an acute awareness of the negative environmental impact that these activities can cause. So, where possible, I believe art should advocate for the preservation of the Earth and remain conscious of the impact (whether negative or positive) that human creativity can have on the planet.

Q: Is there a particular feeling or experience related to this - or generally - that you want people to have during and after watching your films?

A: While watching my films, I want people to become mindfully aware of the issue being raised in the particular work, but to also feel a sense of calm. I do not want the viewer to leave in a state of fear, but with an understanding of the issue or emotion that I have attempted to portray. I would like for others to also feel inspired to create themselves!

Q: In your films themselves both the visuals and sound are carefully considered - how important is it that your films are multisensory in creating this specific environment for the audience? And what changes do you think happen when your works are performed live, i.e. with musicians?

A: I grew up loving art and music, and for a long time felt I had to chose between the two. They are both integral to my creative self, so now I enjoy making work that can encompass both worlds. However, if an idea needs to utilise just the sonic or visual element, then I won’t try to force the work into a particular medium.

When the works are performed live, I believe that the music will become more important to the audience than it is when played from speakers or headphones. The listener will probably become more aware of the impact the music is having on their emotional response to the film. I am also interested to see how the inevitable imperfections of live performance affect the audience’s experience of the films (whether negatively or positively).

Q: Moving on to the music then, who are your biggest influences when it comes to composition?

A: My long-standing favourite composer is Philip Glass. I love his operas and particularly enjoyed the ENO production of Akhenaten that I was fortunate to see. The intense and busy stage production balanced very well with the long, minimalist passages of music. My favourite work of his, however, is his album Songs From Liquid Days, as he worked with many incredible songwriters and lyricists that I love, including Suzanne Vega, Laurie Andersen and David Byrne. Minimalist influences are definitely audible in my work; I believe in giving each idea space to say more than it could had I tried to force an emotion or concept onto the listener. I have also been a massive Kate Bush fan for as long as I can remember - I love her energy and strong artistic vision!

Q: Well, we can't wait to show your films at Flatpack Festival. In particular Lights, which was selected to be displayed in the 2023 Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition and was awarded the Arts Club Under-35 Award. Could you tell us a bit more about the story behind the film?

A: Thank you! The idea for this film came when I was on an evening walk at Littlehampton beach. I found the harbour lights particularly beautiful and I noticed that they were slightly out of sync with each other. The gradual rhythmic change of the lights inspired a two-part minimalistic composition, where the treble parts follow the green light and the bass parts follow the red light. I was lucky to immediately hear this sequence of pitches in response to the lights, so the composing process was relatively fast. Only the violin and cello are present throughout the entire piece; and other instruments are introduced at different times, to create textural change. The timing between the two musical parts slowly shifts, with the lights, alongside the gradual darkening of the harbour.

Visit Dyad at T Street Gallery until 5 April - you'll need to book an appointment via the T Street Gallery website.

You can book now for Kinna Whitehead: Wave at Flatpack Festival, Sunday 19 May.

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