Interview

Catherine Sullivan The Chittendens_01  2005 (3 people standing in messy room)

Catherine Sullivan
The Chittendens 2005
Courtesy Catherine Bastide, Brussels and Metro Pictures, New York © The artist

Catherine Sullivan The Chittendens 2005 (man in white suit sitting in living room armchair)

Catherine Sullivan
The Chittendens 2005
Courtesy Catherine Bastide, Brussels and Metro Pictures, New York © The artist

Catherine Sullivan The Chittendens_03 2005 (woman in red standing with surprised expression behind reception desk)

Catherine Sullivan
The Chittendens 2005
Courtesy Catherine Bastide, Brussels and Metro Pictures, New York © The artist

Catherine Sullivan The Chittendens_04 2005 (Woman in dark room with baby pram and shadows)

Catherine Sullivan
The Chittendens 2005
Courtesy Catherine Bastide, Brussels and Metro Pictures, New York © The artist

Tate Assistant Curator, Vincent Honoré, spoke to the artist:

Vincent Honoré
You called The Chittendens a ‘hysterical film noir’. Could you explain that?

Catherine Sullivan
The first component, Chittendens Scenes (Morbid Naturalism), takes place in the maze of small offices, and the interaction of the characters would seem to establish a vague narrative. A camera moves at random and repeatedly through the waiting room, pantry, bathroom, conference room, and executive office, creating a narrative that mutates according to the status of the room and how the characters play, or perform, their individual scores. This heightened behaviour never coalesces in any way, and I wanted to create the effect of the camera in flight, as if it passes through each room only long enough for a glimpse of the most hysterical aspects of each interaction. The camera seems to enter each room almost accidentally, and then leaves when the activity becomes too intense. The cinematography and setting are film noir-ish, and I wanted to create a sense that the camera witnesses the office breeding this heightened behaviour.

Vincent Honoré
How did you work with the composer, Sean Griffin?

Catherine Sullivan
We began with a choreographic method that we had developed for an earlier piece called D-Pattern. Sean and I were both interested in composition or scoring strategies from the 1960s that use numerical sequences. I was interested in how a numerical scoring system could be applied to an actor’s performance, which is impossible to break down into quantifiable units. Through work on D-Pattern, I became interested in developing these scores further, and in what would happen through the combination of music and performance with mise en scène and other elements of film language.

Vincent Honoré
How do you consider the performers’ bodies in this work?

Catherine Sullivan
I am interested in what produces or generates the behaviour of performers. I have always viewed the devices – be they texts, reenactments of historic performances or received styles and gestures – as a means to animate different qualities in each performer according to their individual biographies. Performers, especially actors, absorb aspects of the behavioural norms we all experience, and in this sense all of my projects have begun with a certain anthropological interest.

Vincent Honoré
What is some of the background for The Chittendens?

Catherine Sullivan
While driving in Phoenix, Arizona, I passed an unassuming brick and glass building, outside of which was a sign depicting a lighthouse, a tall rigged sailing ship and the name: ‘The Chittendens’. I found out that The Chittendens is an insurance agency, and I was reminded of how common maritime imagery is to American business culture. At the time, I was reading Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, and the iconography of the Chittendens insurance agency in some strange way became the context for my reading of the book. Veblen associated social pathologies with the ‘pecuniary’, with acquisition and ownership and the structures that determine those processes. For Veblen, the circumstances of life are economical and thus inherently pathological. All of these ideas in some way informed the making of The Chittendens.