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Unplanned HORNET: An Interview with Kate Pelling

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

I have been an artist for more than 25 years, working predominantly with experimental video, drawing and publication. I have had a wonderful career, including showing my work extensively in the UK and the USA, and also in Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, and Switzerland. When I was a child I discovered that I could use drawing as a form of communication and it was a way for me to understand the world around me. My current practice remains true to this idea and I have developed a research-based approach that focuses on drawing and video editing processes.

What was your first job in the art field?

My first job in an art field was as a life model. I had quite a traditional art education and spent many years drawing life models, but for three years I also posed while students drew me. During the classes I listened intently to the feedback that the tutors gave, which allowed me to learn more about drawing the human figure even when I was the figure they were drawing! This early experience has influenced all of my work since in a lot of different ways. It is particularly evident in how my video works are predominantly filmed from a fixed position.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I come from a working class background, which means I don’t have the resources or contacts that a lot of artists have, and this has overshadowed my entire production since I first started out. I believe that it’s important for artists like me to take up space, on the screen and in the art world and that is very motivating.

I am best known for using direct address to camera. Alone in front of the camera, the dominant narrative that runs through my work is of searching for ways to communicate with the world and ways to use editing processes to expand that communication.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

The filming of a new piece never ever starts with a script. Usually, I just have a vague plan of what I might talk about. However, as with ‘Unplanned HORNET’, sometimes even the vague plan goes out of the window! It is in the editing process that I usually ‘discover’ the video, or realize what it is meant to be about. By focusing on the editing process as the driver of the narrative, I have developed a new method of editing called ‘blind editing’, which involves making cuts to the video without looking at the footage, so when I approach a new piece I really do not know what I will end up with!

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

There is a lot of artists’ film and video that has influenced me, for example works by Martha Rosler, Takahiko Iimura and Kevin Atherton. But I also get a lot of inspiration from YouTube and TikTok videos, where direct address to camera is often used because it can be achieved with limited resources. Mainstream film and TV has also had a huge impact on my work, for example the Big Brother diary room or Errol Morris’s fantastic films using his ‘Interrotron’.

One particular YouTube video had a huge effect on my practice – it involved a woman talking directly to camera and used subtitles to correct things when she made a mistake – and I realized that there are just so many ways to add layers through the editing process.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

New technologies are pushing the industry forward and artists and film festivals will always adapt accordingly. It’s a very exciting field to work in. Hopefully, new innovations will expand both creative and professional opportunities.

Currently, there are too many artists working in precarious situations due to the pandemic, the war in the Ukraine (from a European perspective) and the rising cost of living. I really hope that the industry will find a way to address this in the future. I filmed ‘Unplanned HORNET’ in May 2020 at a time when, for the third time in two years, I had lost all of my paid work. I am however grateful that ‘Unplanned HORNET’ came out of this stressful period of time and that film festivals such as the Tokyo International Short Film Festival are working with artists and creating opportunities.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

I would advise young artists that they should maintain their integrity. Following trends might give you short bursts of popularity, but if you want a long career then integrity will provide the roots for your practice to grow. I would also advise them to remain absolutely determined to follow their vision. It’s not easy to have a career in the arts but it is very rewarding if you can make it work.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Yes! Creative work can bring about change because it offers new ways of looking at the world.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

This is a wonderful time to be making short films. Filmmaking and opportunities for showing short films have become much more accessible and the variety of what is available is truly universal – there’s something for everyone!

From a personal perspective, the pandemic hasn’t changed my taste but it did expand what I watched, I spent a lot of time at home and wanted to consume as much film and TV as possible.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I have so many projects that I want to complete! My main focus at the moment is a series of films called ’50 Wigs’, in which I use wigs as a kind of narrative device to explore ideas around community. I also have some wonderful collaborative projects that I hope will get started again soon. My publishing platform ‘Fifth Floor Publications’ turned ten years old this year. The publishing platform has an emphasis on experimental works that examine aspects of making artists’ film and video and/or drawing practices and I am looking forward to expanding the publishing side of my practice. There’s lots to do!


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