Tom: Well I think the main reason is that I can’t do anything else. I mean I feel a bit like I’m having a bit of a midlife crisis with it at the moment, because it’s a bit of a struggle at the moment. So I’m thinking about what are the other options that I could be doing, and I don’t know what they are. I can’t think of any. I’ve tried. I really love it still, but there’s other things that I hate that are making it feel harder than it has ever felt before.
Jo: And is that stuff around the art or the art itself?
Tom: It’s all the stuff around it.
Jo: And is your practice something that you do every day?
Tom: Yeah, so I’m always thinking about it or doing something.
Jo: And what sort of impact do you think it has on the rest of your life as a person?
Tom: Well I think it’s integral to it. Someone said to me yesterday, because they were a friend of a friend so they didn’t know me or they didn’t know what I did, he said something like “what are the things that get you going” or “what do you like?”. I was just like; well, it had to be connected to the fact that I make performance because there isn’t that much else really. I don’t really have a hobby. I mean it’s all intertwined isn’t it really? So I have taken up things like exercise or other things but they are part of, they’re connected to that. So the reason I do exercise is because it is connected to the fact that I need to keep my body in some sort of shape for my artwork. Reading is connected with – I only read things that are related to things that I’m researching about really.
Jo: And has it always been like that? How do you remember getting into it?
Tom: Well I think that I probably was a bit late to it, because I graduated, I did a degree, and then there was this sort of wilderness period of not really being able to do anything really. At that time I was just, well I was just partying really and taking drugs and clubbing and having fun, and that was all I did really. I claimed benefits and I mucked around, and I think that is because when I was graduating there wasn’t a massive support structure for going from education into the arts. You just had to carve your own path really. I think now education courses seem to channel you to do that, like writing an Arts Council application could be part of that module or something. We never had anything like that really, so I just was sort of wandering around for about seven years, and gradually doing more bits and stuff until it became more like ‘this is what I can do now’.
Jo: And do you take time to reflect on your process quite a lot, or is it something that you do more in the moment?
Tom: I probably do reflect over it constantly, yeah. I see some projects as successful. I have one project that Clara actually calls ‘the project that will never die’ or something. I can’t remember the way she put it, because it just always works and it has always worked, and I sort of follow that formula really. I keep following it in different places and it’s proved to be really, well financially, it’s proved to be really good because people are wanting to invest in it, it’s engaging with older people and the pieces are interesting to audiences as well. So I keep doing that. At some point I’ve reflected on that and said, “that’s a good project and I need to keep doing that”, and I enjoy doing that.
Jo: And obviously you work quite a lot on your own, but how important are other people in your practice? I guess that question has two parts, audience and then other collaborators.
Tom: Well there’s lots of collaborators that come on board. I work with people that might do sound design or write me a song or something, or I might just get someone in to say “oh I’m developing this piece of music, can you sharpen it up with me”, with outside eyes. Then if I’m doing something that has a bit more of a participatory feeling to it, then I’m working with those people as well. They also are the audience as well, but they are like co-authors of the work so they’re integral to it as well.
Jo: How does it affect your practice? What does it bring to it?
Tom: Well, it’s just another pair of eyes really. It’s also just discipline really, because if you put me in a room on my own, I do take a while to actually knuckle down and do some work. Whereas if someone is there or I know someone’s going to come in and say “alright, show me the bit that you’ve done”, I’m sort of forced to try and present them with something, so they don’t just watch me looking at Facebook!
Jo: How about audiences? What role does an audience play in your work?
Tom: I think about them right from the beginning and I think about their way into the work. I like to somehow meet them at the beginning of a show, so whether that’s like they come in and there’s music playing and I’m in the space handing out chocolate. Or there’s a moment where I go round and refill people’s drinks or something like that. So I feel like they’re invested in me and I want them to meet me on that way.
I think that’s something to do with charming them, which I try and do whenever possible because I think it creates a nice experience for them, because they’re coming into my world in a way. Sometimes it’s like, if it is a very personal show then it’s like, you have to sort of come into my brain and sort of see that I’m going to tell you about the way I perceive things to be. So you might not have thought about that before, or you might think the same thing and you can share that.
Jo: Finally, if you knew someone that was thinking about making a show or doing something, getting involved in being an artist, either professionally or not, what advice would you give them?
Tom: Well, I think it’s about childhood. So I think it’s trying to tap into that thing that you had when you were a child; that you might have felt like you’ve lost, but you haven’t lost. When I think about my childhood, we did lots of things that were really creative. We just did slate drawings or we made up stories, or we had a dressing up cupboard and we did all those sorts of things, and read poems or stories for each other. So I’m always trying to encourage people to do that, and that could just be actually through conversation as well, because conversation can be creative.
If I’m hanging out with my parents, I’m always trying to get them to draw or write poems or something. And sometimes I organise these tea parties for older people, and I cover the table with a huge white paper table cloth and loads of pens, and the conversation is documented by writing notes about what people say, but they could also do a drawing or they could do something else if that’s appropriate.
So yeah, I would encourage them to tap into that childhood thing. And I suppose I feel quite strongly about a lot of these places that are the kind of gatekeepers of art. Like some of these places are really austere and white, and everyone that goes there is of a certain age or they’re kind of hip. It would be really nice if that didn’t happen so much, and that older people especially – because I think that’s my interest really, is working with older people – felt like they could go to those places and they had an opinion about it, they wanted to say things about the art and stuff. I took a group of older people around an art show at the Arnolfini, and that was the first time that a lot of those people had ever been there, and they all lived in Bristol. It’s just a shame, and they had all really great opinions about it too.
Jo: Brilliant. Thank you very much.