We also reviewed Stitching, Kneeling and you can read our thoughts on it here.
New Creatives is a talent development scheme supported by Arts Council England and BBC Arts. Check out our New Creatives coverage in the New Creatives Voicebox.
Hello there and thank you for tuning in my name is Chris Hill and I'm a contributor for voice magazine, an online space for young people interested in arts and culture. Today, I'll be interviewing Izzy Mooney about her recent project with BBC's New Creatives: Stitching, Kneeling. How are you doing today Izzy?
Good! Would you like to describe to our listeners roughly what Stitching, Kneeling is and what it's about?
Stitching, Kneeling is a documentary show about the hand stitched kneelers that were made in a little village in Tewin, which is in Hertfordshire.
Yeah. Cool. So, I think it's fairly safe to say that your chosen subject matter is fairly niche.
[00:00:46] What made you choose this in particular?
I was brought up quite religious when I was younger, went to a Catholic school, and I think I've always been quite interested in, church dynamics. I think I've got quite a bit of a funny relationship with the church, and it's definitely a relationship that's kind of somewhat sour.
[00:01:06] But it's interesting to revisit what church communities can do that isn't- that can be good and can be valuable, beyond the constraints of the church, in later life. And try and find things that make sense.
So it's kind of seeing church, not just as a religious organization, but as a community.
Yeah, precisely. Yeah, definitely that. I think as well, I was quite, in my own arts practice, I was doing a lot of work that was, based in traditional craft, and yeh this is like kind of the epitome of that, and sort of interesting to sort of revisit it in a sort of hyper-domestic environment as opposed to like a fine art environment.
Yeah, of course. And, funny you should mention that; that was going to be one of my next questions. Your project, your short film contains, a fair amount of archival footage. There must've been a fair amount of archival work that went into this project; is that something you're particularly interested in or is that just a consequence of the subject matter?
Oh, it's like fully kind of the foundation or like the backbone to most of my practice. I guess it's kind of semi-problematic, the relationship I have with archival work in inverted commas, because I think, there's sort of this kind of hyper-romanticization that you can do with things that feel archival, like, just like the word archival is so meaningless as well and the way that I'm using it.
[00:02:29] It's interesting. I met, an archivist, Phil Owen. Who's the archivist for, the Arnolfini. He said that artists have such a weird relationship with the idea of the archive and they totally romanticize it, and they don't understand that it's actually a really rigid process and artists are always sort of like swarming around the idea of it like flies without understanding that it's actually, it's not, it's not just an idea of something being old or being cared for.
[00:03:01] I don't know. It's difficult to articulate. I think possibly it's... I really liked the aesthetic of a lot of things to do with archives, I like how things are recorded and I like, you know, I like how old footage looks like how old photographs look, and I don't think that's particularly unusual, but, it's interesting to see what things are omitted from archives and the stories that fall between the cracks and things that are, what people consider worth saving and what things sort of just get thrown away.
[00:03:29] But most, most of the film is not archived as such, it's just filmed in an old camera.
Definitely, there's a lot of field recording in there as well. And I guess that's an element that kind of comes up in the short film itself, this kind of idea between the like romantic country village and, kind of contrast that between the hyper romanticized image of what rural life is like and what the realities of that community-driven project were, was something that you have to think about quite a lot when you were doing this project?
Yeah, it definitely was. I think it's difficult because I'd never been to Tewin.
[00:04:08] I don't know if I'd ever been to, Hertfordshire like, it was a totally new place. And I wonder, like, I think sort of retrospectively, I sometimes wonder if that was a bit problematic if I was sort of going in with a funny gaze in terms of not being part of the community, but being like, "Ooh, isn't it quaint?".
[00:04:27] I'm going to film you! You know, even like the first time we visited, it was just like, I don't know if I'd ever been somewhere like that, it's totally a part of how it looked and how it felt, felt really familiar in terms of like, "Oh, this is like, this is like England. This is like how people think about rural England. I know this image, but I don't know if I've ever properly seen it."
[00:04:53] So even the day that we went just to visit, we didn't film anything, we didn't record anything. We went to the, like I think it was the community hall and they had, there's a word for it, and I can't remember what it is, but it's like where they, lots of people were sort of, like a competition.
[00:05:08] It was sort of like a summer fete where there was like the Victoria sponge competition and it's all things that I've sort of, I know about that part of like English culture, but I've never really seen it in the flesh, like even with - they had a portrait of the queen, like hung really high up on the wall. Like even things like that it was like, "Oh my God, I've never actually seen it, but I know it's so familiar at the same time.
Yeah. I feel like a lot of what you're describing is very kind of culturally coded into British identity, but it's a reality that potentially a lot of people don't necessarily see.
[00:05:50] I mean, even as somebody who does sort of live in the countryside, I do not live in a place like Tewin, I do not live in the kind of the archetype chocolate-box image of an English village. So, I feel like it's an interesting experience to kind of see it in the flesh and realize how much British identity is culturally coded in these kinds of rural images, but how little a lot of people get to actually experience that.
[00:06:18] That sort of goes into one of my other questions of, addressing something that the new UK culture secretary said. He was, I guess, criticizing the BBC for being too focused on modern and urban depictions of Britain.
[00:06:33] Do you think your film helps challenge that idea or kind of present something different? When the BBC is kind of at this crossroads of being kind of examined for what it focuses on?
I suppose, I feel a little bit wary of this question. I think, from my perspective, I don't think that the BBC is representative of, lots of communities of people.
[00:06:57] I'm trying to, I think I'm wary of the question because I don't want my film to be,
You don't want it to be kind of engaged in that kind of political...?
No it's not that at all! I think it's kind of crucial that it does, like, there's no way that it can't, you know, everything's politics, like that is true.
[00:07:18] I think it's more of that I don't want my film to do what Oliver Dowden wants it to do.
No, I totally understand that! It is definitely... as somebody who is fairly left leaning myself, I found his criticisms of the BBC rather... I take issue with some of them, but I think there certainly is an aspect of the BBC that presents a very urban, aspect of Britain.
[00:07:45] Whether that's a problem or not is up to you know, your own personal kind of perspective on the matter. Some people might argue that that is the natural direction that the world is heading in and therefore not to represent that is to be untrue to the license-payer, or it's untrue to what the vision of a modern Britain is, and that if you have to try and present it in rural contexts, then you're actually just looking backwards. There are arguments you can make against that, of course, but that's certainly one angle that you could criticize that position from.
This Country is a really, I mean, I know that's, like, fictional, but This Country is a really good example of, a modern, rural depiction of Britain.
[00:08:32] There are examples of that and, or even just in the way that, what is it that plays on the telly, like Countryfile and things like that. You know, there are depictions of rural life in Britain, but I think it's interesting, because I've read, I was reading quite a lot, a couple of months ago about, rural life for young people and how it's difficult for a lot of cultural services to reach them, just literally because of the distance that they were from each other.
[00:09:05] And it is an issue and I do think that it's really, really important that, kind of rural identities are shown on the tanning, like it would be wrong for me to not think so, but I think, I'm nervous about how I answer the question because, I am suspicious of what the kind of, undercurrent of what all Oliver Dowden was saying, like we're a little bit suspicious of that because you know, I think the BBC still caters for a predominantly white audience.
[00:09:36] I think it still caters for in many ways, an older audience as well. But I also don't feel like, you know, I haven't got enough... I sort of also feel like I don't have enough information to answer the question Yeah. I don't know what the, proportion of...
[00:09:53] I would really love to be able to answer that question, because I think it's a really interesting one! And it's something that like, in terms of the kind of ... Like, I was really anxious about like, what's my film saying, like, does my film come across as kind of like, Touring photo. cause it, Tewin, it's an affluent village. It's, it's very middle-class it's I, was a bit anxious about, how the film came across. I mean, the film literally ends on Jerusalem playing, and that was a very, very conscious decision, but it was something that...
And that would have been, of course before all the problems with The Proms and the debate surrounding the stuff that happened.
Absolutely! And I was really, really anxious about doing that, but it was a really conscious decision because it felt like, like the community, I don't know, again, this is why I feel there is something problematic in me going and filming them as an outsider and not really knowing anything about the village besides, you know, what I'd read on the village website. But from an outsider's perspective, it just seemed like this really alien untouched, part of England when things were really idyllic and that, the whole thing with the village hall, like, that all painted this idea of this kind of very Jerusalem-esque England. But in reality, it's totally at odds to, you know, where I live at the moment or where I lived in the past, and so I think Jerusalem for me was an interesting one to use because it was like, the end of the film talks about whether this, like, whether these crafts and things like that will go on in the future.
[00:11:35] And there's this interesting thing with the churches where they've been a lot of churches have been getting rid of the pews because it's not really very practical in terms of the church is a space and space is a commodity now, and so you need to use it wherever you can, and so you get rid of the pews and then that means that you basically have, you know, another community-hall, another space that you can use for young people or for older people or whatever you need to use it for.
[00:12:02] And that was a really interesting thing because in some ways it's like, great! That's great! This is a really good example of the church having to evolve and to become almost more secular in order to meet the needs of everyone in the community. But then it's really weird because it's also totally unromantic because you replaced the pews with these like really ugly chairs.
[00:12:24] It's just interesting because, I mean, I think it's the right thing to do, but it's also, I can totally see for some people how that might feel really weird to see really important parts of the church be sold off in order for it to work and evolve into a modern community. And I think that was, yeah, that was also the idea of putting Jerusalem at the end, but it's interesting as well, like, the church, well, the one in Tewin is really, really, really old.
[00:12:51] And if you look at the walls, There's like graffiti carved into the stone from, I mean, it must be hundreds of years ago and I'm like a whole spectrum of graffiti from stuff which is more recent to things that must be hundreds and hundreds of years old. And it's interesting because all of these objects in the church, they carry a lot of social history, but if no one, if the congregation continues to just get older and older and isn't replaced by a younger community, then the church will cease to be there at all. And so, yeah, like you said, they have to calculate these kind of sacrifices, and it's difficult as well because I do feel really conflicted on it because even, even if you remove the pews and you, make a space, that you can get small multifunctional for kind of community needs, I still feel really weird about it because just the kind of architecture of the church makes me feel quite anxious. I have a really difficult relationship with it, and I think a lot of the film was sort of trying to mend that a bit and try and come to terms with it a bit and not be... not just associate the church with, my own experiences.
Okay. So, from a practical perspective, what was some of the challenges in producing this film?
Well initially I was going to make the film in a different civil parish, it was one up North, but it was just not practical to do the traveling between and so I ended up choosing one that was, based sort of like I wanted somewhere that was sort of close-ish between Bristol and London, because I travel between the two places a lot. So just, that was really awkward.
[00:14:49] And retrospectively I'm like, why did I not choose somewhere in Bristol? That would have made a lot of sense? I think it was, yeah, probably the most challenges producing the film was just, because it was an area that I didn't know, and I didn't know any of the people, it was just liaising and finding people that could be a part of the film.
[00:15:07] Fortunately, the vicar at the church was super helpful and really eager, and sort of put me in contact with, Elizabeth, Audrey and, all who were involved in the kneeler project, I think as well, it was just an anxiety in because they were people I'd never met, but they were also quite different to me in terms of being a lot older and just being from a different background and all sorts of things like that.
[00:15:38] I was anxious about how I would come across and whether I was representing them fairly in the film and things like that. Initially, when I did my first edit of the film, which was still a draft, but it was relatively close to being finished. I sent it to Elizabeth, who was like the main lady who did all the organized, the whole project. She was very confused by the film I'd made, I think she was not expecting it to look the way that it was, and I think that was because, I mean, I'm not a filmmaker; I'm an artist sometimes bumbles around with a camera, but I'm not a proper filmmaker.
[00:16:17] And so the film that I made was probably unbelievably low-fi in comparison to what maybe they had anticipated, and I felt awful about it cause I didn't want to make a film that they didn't like, but also can't make a film that looks any different to that cause it's the only film I know how to make! And that was quite difficult and like a bit upsetting.
[00:16:42] Because I wasn't sure whether they'd still want to be a part of it, even though I was only making a shoddy little short documentary about it. I just think that they just found it quite confusing and didn't quite know what the point of it was. So that was probably the biggest challenge was sort of, yeah, meeting in the middle with that.
It's always a challenge to kind of reconcile what you as a creative want to do with your own artistic vision and how other people are going to interpret it.
Well, the first draft as well got... I'm tryingto remember what happened now. It was all at the same time as my degree show and so the whole film was a bit of a blur. I don't really remember what happened.
[00:17:23] The film ended up going really over-budget because the first one that got handed in like as like a finished project, got like rejected by, the executive producer, I think, or something like that. Maybe don't quote me on that. But basically, they said, well, my interpretation of it was they said, basically, this is rubbish again.
[00:17:44] I'm sure that's not what saying! They were just like, "things need to be tweaked". But that whole process, like at the same time as my degree show totally, was just a lot because as, when you're on a fine art course it's pretty rare that you get told what to do and so it was a bit like, ahhh, hard to hear someone say, "this really isn't good enough"!
[00:18:06] I was kind of used to getting away with quite a lot. I think in the end, I don't think we changed an awful lot. There were, yeah, there were a couple of things and I think it was just so that the things that we changed was just to make the film more linear and have more of a clear narrative, and I think we added, the soundtrack, which, the composer did, who's amazing.
[00:18:29] Such a good composer! We did that and he's called Hugh Cowling he's really, really good. He, just having the like the soundtrack and things like that was just, so that "feel like this when this bit of the film plays and then you need to feel like this when this bit of the film plays", you know, sort of gives the audience a bit more direction.
Obviously as a musician I was really attached to the soundtrack as well, and that soundtrack was wonderful. I thought it was really good and really fit what you were going for with the film.
Yeah, Hugh's really, really, really good. I think I said to him that I just wanted something that sounded a bit like, it would have come from the Bagpuss soundtrack. And, and also in terms of, so I made... the film was pretty like solitary.
[00:19:11] I, do most of the bits myself, which is so a lot of filming, but I'm really, really nervous about filming people. It feels unbelievably rude. And so, there was so much footage that I never got because I was too embarrassed. "Ooh, do you mind if I just whip out my camera now?" So much amazing audio that equally I didn't get my, recording equipment out because I just was too embarrassed.
[00:19:44] And I think that will haunt me forever. And I think I probably won't ever change from being like that because it's... I'm really, really bad at it, and it's, it's really difficult because I'm determined that I want to do all of the bits, I don't want other people to film it. I want to be in control, but the like kind of social niceties make it really confusing, it feels very, very weird.
[00:20:08] And it's quite difficult to kind of interview someone and, encourage them to talk about things that you're interested in and things like, you know, lead the conversation or whatever. It's difficult to do that at the same time as kind of hiding behind the camera and like, growing up, my mum, who I don't have a very good relationship with.
[00:20:28] She filmed everything all the time. She photographed and filmed everything it's just what she's like, and I hated it. I really hated it. And it's funny as well, cause I'm filming on this camcorder that's actually my dad's, but, when we were growing up, my mum had a camcorder just like that.
[00:20:46] And so I just oh my God, I've become her! And it's, it's really, it's just really difficult. It feels really, really weird. And it's interesting, because I keep sort of thinking mildly about new projects that I could do, and I've been sort of talking to my grandparents more and like, my nan does a lot of knitting. She's really, she's a really, really, really good maker.
[00:21:09] That would be a really great thing to do. I just don't know if I can do it. It just feels, it feels like such a huge, like disconnect to try and talk to someone and engage in conversation with them whilst also hiding behind a camera. I really admire people that are able to do it, but I just have, I have a really massive hang-up on it.
So kind of conversely, what part of the production process did you enjoy the most?
I really enjoyed visiting Tewin and it was a bit like going on holiday, sort of go for the day or for a couple of days. And it was so different to being in the middle of London or being in the middle of Bristol. It was really lovely.
[00:21:56] And there were so many rabbits there! I've never been somewhere and seen so many rabbits. It was just, yeah, a totally alien place. I think because I was doing a lot of the work myself, I didn't feel an enormous amount of pressure either, you know, I'm sort of just bumbling around and had the space to think about the project quite a lot.
[00:22:16] And I really enjoyed, I enjoy editing a lot. It's hard work, but I, I liked the process of having, I mean, I must've had like hours a lot of audio and so much of it, although it was great stuff, it just wasn't, you know, the film is short, it's only four minutes that you're given, so there was so much of it that I knew would immediately have to be cut, but doing that process of listening to it and then, weighing up, what's the most valuable thing, what's going to make most sense for the story. I really enjoy doing that
[00:22:48] Especially, like retrospectively I really enjoyed it. Whilst I was doing it was a huge pain in the ass, but it was really that element of it. It just feels like forming something from all of this kind of big void of footage, especially when you're using a lot of archive imagery and things like that.
[00:23:06] It's fun to sort of cherry-pick things, although also very stressful, cause you're like, "oh God, I hope I don't misrepresent things!". The, archive footage right at the beginning of the film, the stuff that's in black and white, I have such a huge hang-up about using it because it's not in Herefordshire even it's not in Tewin.
[00:23:24] It's just random archive footage of people in England a long time ago. I mean, they might not even be in England. I think they are, but that felt to me, like really dishonest. I felt quite anxious about things like that about how archive imagery can be sort of just thrown in.
So, themes of community and acts of community bonding are at the core of the film in general.
[00:23:48] Do you think this takes on a new perspective because of coronavirus?
In some ways completely. And it's interesting as well because my, so my partner took up cross-stitching over COVID. And it was really, really difficult to get any of the materials, like all of these places it's sold out, of everything that you needed. I think it like for a lot of people, it made sense to take up a hobby, like knitting or cross-stitching or whatever, you know, with this kind of abundance of time for those who yeah, for those who were laid-off and things like that.
[00:24:21] And I think I'm wary of the question about community, because all these things, you know, right at the beginning of lockdown, there was kind of this influx of community-feeling in people doing the NHS clapping or like rallying together for mutual-aid, and obviously there are still ongoing examples of that. You know, a lot of people are still involved in mutual-aid projects. And I did think a lot about Tewin whilst I was in lockdown, particularly because the women that I had spoken to were older, and so I was thinking they must be more affected by it and I wondered what their lives would look like during lockdown.
[00:24:55] I think I'm wary of the question because I'm not sure how sustained some of these kinds of ideas of community bonding have been as lockdown has kind of eased.
[00:25:07] People are people and even, I don't know, I think we're still deep in amongst it and I think in some ways, yeah, there's been some really good community work, and, in some ways, there hasn't been at all. I've started so many cross-stitching projects, I've started so many knitting projects, and I never finish any of them. I've not got a very good attention span, and I sort of wonder that with a lot of kind of community-minded projects: some people totally have the mentality to approach those projects with all that they've got and it's amazing. I think during COVID, there's like, there's a lot of people who suddenly have time and so they think, "Oh God, I should do that!"
[00:25:46] And then they don't sustain it. Maybe I'm just saying that because that's how I feel. I don't know. I'm not very, even with the, with the cross stitchers that they did at the church. I know that the women who I spoke to, they finished off quite a lot of peoples' who had started theirs but couldn't quite finish.
[00:26:02] I know that Elizabeth definitely finished off her husband's one because he couldn't, I think he did some of it, but he didn't want to like fill in the background takes ages. She finished it off and I think the project, obviously, the project for them was obviously great and it got loads of people in the community involved, but the film, I don't think really focuses on that.
[00:26:25] If the film was to focus on that, I would've spoken to more people, but in the end, it was sort of, it was just those three women. I don't know how it ended up just being about them. But I think they were the ones who really... who it probably mattered the most to. But then again, I'm not sure, like, again, it's that thing of, I'd only just turned up to the village. They were the people that I was told to speak to. I'm think I'm panicking because I'm thinking: I didn't do very good filmmaking should've spoken to more people!
The reason why I think you did, and in speaking to those three people in particular, as you got three people who were kind of telling the same story, but from different but aligned perspectives and they all sort of became. The vehicle by which to talk about something bigger than them. So, I don't think that was bad filmmaking at all! I think you've changed kind of ideas of how you're going to format it on the fly, and it works really well.
[00:27:24] Let's end with kind of three short questions. Voice magazine is an online magazine for young people, and I think the New Creatives in themselves in no small part are young people. What do you hope young people would take away from your film?
I'm aware that this is a bit of a rubbish answer, but I think I want people to just know that New Creatives exists and that it is a really, really good opportunity. Just to have the freedom to make a film with a budget and with support, has been unbelievably helpful for me. And I, and it's difficult to say at the moment because I still feel very kind of in amongst it, and it wasn't very long ago.
[00:28:08] But it's difficult to say exactly what I've taken away from it, but the people that I've spoken to as a result of making it, the perspectives that I've learned about and the other filmmakers that I've met through it. It has been invaluable. And I think more than wanting young people to take away something from the story of the film or the themes in the film, it's just that it exists.
[00:28:30] And that it's possible to make a film that I think I was quite anxious that they might not pick it because it was a bit of a boring or like, it's not, I obviously, I don't think it's boring, but I think some people hear about what it's about and maybe find it a bit difficult to relate to, which makes complete sense, but that they are looking for kind of a breadth of different films, and that it's there and available.
So do you have any plans on what you're gonna work on next? And do you have any projects on the go?
Not specifically. I got the Dreamtime Fellowship in October last year, I've been based at Spike Island, with a studio, which has just been extended till December to take into account the fact that we couldn't use the studios over lockdown.
[00:29:16] I've just been pootling about in the studio really. I do a lot of ceramic stuff, so, I love working on ceramics, but it's so nice because I've been amazingly lucky and privileged to have the opportunity, cause it's really Luke Jerram who funds it is, really supportive, but also like totally let's see you just get on with it.
[00:29:38] So at the moment I'm having a complete kind of crisis of like, I've got no ideas! I don't make any art! I I've just been at a bit of an artist's block, that's it. Yeah, I've got artist's block at the moment.
Yeah. Everyone goes through it, I mean, my, my mum's a painter. My mum is a fine artist as well she paints wildlife and I know that she goes through that exact thing, fairly frequently. She's just like, I have no idea what I want to paint right now, but it always resolves into something.
Absolutely. and at the moment I'm so lucky to have the space, to have that and know that the studio will still be there, next week or a month's time, it'll still be there.
[00:30:18] So at the moment, I'm just sort of, yeah, working on my ceramics things. Oh, and I'm also helping, work on a potential new film, fingers crossed.
So yes. Where can people find more of your work and kind of see what you've been up to? What you've created?
I was really dreading this question I've got a really big problem with reporting my own work.
[00:30:39] That's something that's great about New Creatives is that I sort of have a, you have to make the film there's no way you can get out of making the film and then the film like concretely goes somewhere. I don't have a website. I will try and make a website. But I have an Instagram, like...
[00:30:58] Yeh an Instagram is absolutely fine!
[00:31:00] I deleted Instagram in the last five days!
[00:31:03] I was like, oh, peak, why are you asking me this question!? Oh God, I've just deleted it! It still is there, I just, I'm not using it at the moment, so you can link my Instagram, but not with any particular promise that I'll be using it anytime soon.
[00:31:18] Yeah, I was talking about it with my partner the other day. I think it's really, really difficult, cause I'm not really sure... in a lot of ways, when I look at the kind of, portfolio of work I've made, I sort of don't feel like it's appropriate to put it online. Cause it's like, some of it I'm quite pleased with. Quite a lot of it: it's not, it's not what I want to be yet.
[00:31:40] And so I don't want to put it out on the internet because it feels like I'm not there yet! I'm not there yet! Give me a couple more years and then there'll be somewhere closer. But at the moment it still feels a bit not quite there. Yeah. But I'm sure soon enough I'll have, I'll have something.
[00:31:56] I'll do something like that.
So, yes. Thank you very much Izzy for coming on today. Thank you all for tuning in my name's Chris Hill, you can find my articles up on Voice Mag. I'm under Christopher Hill and I write on matters concerning music and gaming and quite frequently the intersection in between those two things.
[00:32:16] And you can find various recordings of me playing online on YouTube. You can type in Chris Hill flute, some of my performances will eventually come up.
[00:32:25] And thank you for all tuning in, have a great day!
Today's episode was made possible by Voice Magazine, an online platform for young people interested in arts and culture. You can read Voice over voicemag.uk, and find it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as @voicemaguk. The Voice Contributors are also on Instagram over at @voice.extra.
[00:32:48] If you're looking for another podcast to listen to the Contributors release the Voice Extra podcast every Saturday, where they talk about the pieces they've produced and the culture they've been enjoying. If you liked this podcast, please consider helping us to make more with the donation of any amount at voicemag.uk/donate.
[00:33:05] Thanks to Kevin McCloud for the use of the track Thief in the Night, you can find more of his work at incomputech.comTom Innis was the executive producer.