Glasgow-based artist Corin Sworn on learning Italian, listening to poems and being amazed by Shanghai
Based in Glasgow, artist Corin Sworn was born in London and raised in Toronto. Her films, drawings, photos and installations often seek to examine the concept of narrative, exploring the subjective nature of memory and "the means by which artefacts are borrowed, adapted and reconfigured to tell various stories". Sworn's most recent solo exhibitions include The Rag Papers> at the Chisenhale Gallery, London, and the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Germany, and Endless Renovation, which was part of Tate Britain's Art Now programme. Her video work Lens Prism (2010) opened the Whitechapel Gallery's 2012 Artists' Film International and her short film The Foxes featured in the 2013 London film festival's Experimenta series. Sworn was recently announced as the winner of the Max Mara art prize for women – an accolade previously bestowed upon artists including Laure Prouvost, Andrea Büttner and Margaret Salmon.
I just got back from Shanghai, which was wild. It's grown so enormously, it's mind-boggling. It filled me with awe and trepidation. We went to the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre and it had a picture of Shanghai in 1984 and then another of the skyline today; the 1984 skyline is absolutely unrecognisable. In 30 years, the city has completely changed. Our hosts were very generous and took us around China to eat different types of food. The most fun thing was having a hot pot, which was like a big heated soup over a gas burner in the middle of table and you just order various vegetables and meats, and dip them into the soup to cook them.
I read this book of essays and poetry in the summer. As you read things, you're reading both the texture of the words and the ideas that they unfold. It's unusual to be able to hold both things in your mind at once while reading... but somehow you're able to do both with this book.
There's one section of poems called "short talks" – prose poems that are about a paragraph long, like little lectures. I've read bits and pieces of her work before, but this was the first book. I picked it up in a bookshop in Toronto – one of these wonderful bookshops where you go in thinking that you'll be there for just a minute and you end up gradually falling in love with more and more books.
I've been playing this free app for learning languages, which is really fun. You just play games to learn the language. A lot of them are repetitive, but that repetition helps you to memorise vocabulary. I'm trying to learn Italian as I will spend six months in Italy next year.
She has an exhibition at the Western Front in Vancouver and I wish I could go to see it. She makes films and installations that often have a wild sense of invention and they crazily unpack ideas that you think of as being in the domain of order or reason. I'd seen her films before in Vancouver and then I was invited by Tramway in Glasgow to curate a collection of films, and I included her work. Her work can also be seen on the Catriona Jefferies Gallery website.
I spend a lot of time listening to the PennSound website. I like David Antin's "talk poems".PennSound has an archive of poetry readings and interviews with poets. I like reading poetry but, because it's organised sonically, to be able to listen to poetry is really pleasurable. I listen a lot in the studio while I'm working – it's kind of a way of having company, especially if I'm doing something that is quite labour-intensive but the focus it requires is more general, more like patience.
I've seen Richard Youngs and Luke Fowler, of Lurists, play together quite a bit and each performance is very different from the last; always a sort of playful exploration. This is a collaboration with another person, Heatsick. I like seeing Richard and Luke as they seem to meld such opposing sounds. Where Richard adds the casual yearning of folk, Luke plays erratic sci-fi sounds with synthesisers… and somehow it works. Their last collaboration was at Nice'N'Sleazy's in Glasgow where they played with Paul Thomson of Franz Ferdinand. Their music is getting dancier and if you found a way to dance to it the moves you'd make to this album would be pretty erratic and zany.