In the second part of an interview with the creators of “K A P A D I A”, Rebecca Livesey-Wright discusses ‘sense experiences’, opening night, Delia Smith and what it takes to become a hoarder.
R: Rebecca Livesey-Wright, T: Theo Tennant, L: Lucie McLaughlin
(Photographs: Rebecca Livesey-Wright)
R: When I first walked in there was hardly any light at all, and the first thing that hit me was the smell of onions and cabbage. How did you try and play with that sense experience?
T: I think we wanted everything to be an extreme.
L: And also a very all-encompassing experience. We didn’t want to do anything by half.
T: We used the tunnel [which led visitors along the side of the house and directed them through the back door] to disorientate people, pumping sound into the space. Then coming out of that into darkness, your eyes have to adjust, you see the screen [with a dated Delia Smith cooking programme] and the smell hits you – it all hits you at different points. I think we managed all the senses by enhancing them and taking some away, so that by the time you get through the tunnel you feel like you’re in a completely different world. We were going for extremes, playing around with them and manipulating senses, so that in each room you were forced to adjust.
L: One of our tutors described it as a half haunted house, half Mike Nelson installation. I think it was down to the objects we used and how we incorporated original features into our art. Like the cupboard under the stairs – from the outside, it looked normal, but then you opened it and heard this sound coming out. Surreal.
R: There were parts that I wanted to interact with more, but it was almost too scary! I was tempted to get into the cupboard under the stairs and sit and watch the little video, but no way was I going in there – and that in itself shows the success of what you were trying to achieve.
L: Thank you! And I know what you mean about feeling terrified. There was a moment when I was speaking to a tutor in the room filled with smoke, and we couldn’t see each other at all. It was such a strange, disembodied conversation, and that worked well. The house was like a real-life, adult playhouse. You know, the way you opened doors and found something there. People didn’t really know what was around the corner – especially children, who were really scared! There was this one girl who was so terrified that she refused to go up the stairs. She was asking “What’s up there? Is it a monster?”
T: I couldn’t believe her reaction when she came out! Her parents asked her “Did you enjoy that?” and she went… [Theo makes a terrified face, eyes wide and shakes his head].
L: I had to use the torch on my phone because she refused otherwise.
T: But looking back, I think there was so much more potential to make the piece even more interactive. Like in the kitchen, to have been able to open cupboards. People are naturally curious, and I just knew they’d open every one of them.
L: And there was just our coats in there…
T: …and our tools. I would have liked it to be far more interactive from that perspective.
T: However, what we did achieve was immersive, but it was just more about sense experiences. You walk in and you hear this screaming, then you see the thing under the stairs. And then you go upstairs and you experience all of the rooms, and you look up and there’s the mirror that reflects into the attic. Everywhere you looked, you discovered something else.
L: People were literally running around the house like 9-year-old children. It was strange to see.
R: Do you think people behaved like that because of a connection to the house or because people naturally reverted back to that strange, child-like, explorative behaviour?
T: It was a mixture of the two. The behaviour of people in the house was strange and it surprised me. It reminded me how poeple react when they’re at fairgrounds or fun houses, and there was something very positive about it. The house now feels so close to us, and it felt special to see these people in it drinking, laughing, walking around and chatting to us.
L: I think on the opening night, it could have turned into a bit of a house party by the end. Our tutor told us about how she used to go to different artists’ collective shows and how they’d serve food and drink at the shows – that it was about the whole experience.
R: Who was it that came on the opening night? Was it fellow students or people from the street?
T: I’d say it was about 80 per cent students, 20 per cent from the street. I think overall we had about 200 people on Friday.
R: That’s so good.
T: Yeah, it was amazing, and a really fun night.
L: I was so nervous that people wouldn’t turn up, or they’d turn up for 30 seconds and be like “Oh whatever, it’s a bit boring” and leave. But people wanted to stay and we had to kick people out at the end. After that, they were hanging in the street – even as we walked home, there were people all the way up Holloway Road.
T: It was amazing because there were, like, 50, 60 and 70-year-old ladies in their front gardens chatting to these crazy art students.
R: I think that’s really nice. When I first arrived at the house, I thought: “Oh god, this is going to be unapproachable. What are they going to be like? Am I going to be like a fish out of water?” And then you were all sitting at the front of the house and it felt very welcoming. Was that intentional, considering the way Mrs Kapadia used to sit outside?
L: It just ended up happening because that’s where the sunlight was, to be honest. And the fact that we wanted to be there to greet people.
T: And we had lots of fun doing so. The whole thing was fun.
L: The entire experience – from greeting people at the front, to seeing them hanging around afterwards – was amazing. In the installation set up, too, because we would always take a few beers, put on some stupid music and have a little dance in the strobe lights.
T: We were stressed, naturally, but it was great.
R: One of my favourite parts of the house was the kitchen, where I stood and watched the cooking video for quite a while. I thought there was quite a nice irony there, but again I don’t know whether that was intentional. How did you pick the video or was it just random?
T: We definitely wanted Delia Smith.
L: And we wanted an older Delia Smith programme. We didn’t want one that was recent, because we wanted that kind of time warp feeling, that people would come into the house and it would be like walking right into the 60s or 70s.
R: To me it seemed ironic that you were in a house where a woman used to hoard, where there was mess everywhere, everything was chaotic and completely disorientating and then Delia is telling you how to eat your pasta properly.
T: Yes, she was teaching people how to eat! It was a great clip. I liked it because it meant you went down the tunnel and then came into the kitchen to be greeted by a video telling you how to eat, like you had to forget everything you knew before and be retaught. You had to start again inside the house, as it were.
L: I think all of the magazines and the books that were hoarded in the house were also interesting… It was such a mixture – she had a lot of fashion and film magazines. When I say a lot, I mean stacks – like every single issue for the last 30 years. There was also Happy Homes magazines and catalogues for blinds and homeware, tapestry, clothing. We’ve got all the receipts and letters from curtains and furniture, catelogies with gadgets and electric tin openers, and it was all to do with her making and filling this home.
T: We even found an advert for the cooker in the house, with her writing all over it. It’s like she’s trying to work out how to use it… it’s just bizarre.
L: The children’s letters we found were almost existentialist.
R: That’s quite nice though, that you don’t know who’s it is. Like you said, it’s this really existential thing that’s not tied down to a specific person. It makes you think about how somebody would reflect on your life if they were to go through everything you’d ever collected.
T: Exactly, but the interesting thing is that all those belongings – that we found to be so important – were deemed worthless by others. If you think about all the stuff that’s worthless in your own room, all those little scraps of paper, books you’ve read twice and are now dog-eared to death – all those things that would be left behind as you moved from your house, ironically it was those that enabled us to build up a whole life and personality.
L: The ‘worthless’ things became the most important. Last night, we had a pile of Kapadia’s belongings on our kitchen table at home and we said “Why would you keep this?” A tiny scrap of paper that has four words on it, or a shopping list from 1962 – why would you need to keep that? But it’s the tiny things that enabled us to build up a bigger picture.
R: She’s moved did you say?
T: Yes, she’s now just off Caledonian Road in an old people’s home. We were organising to – and in a way I’m happy that this didn’t happen – have several interviews with her, but unfortunately she got quite ill. It’s a strange thing, because every time I cycle by it I think: “You’re right there, and I know so much about your life”.
R: What have you done with everything now?
L: It’s in our house.
R: So now you’re hoarders?!
T: I suppose so! But we could take only a few things because there was so much stuff. It was a goldmine and taking things away felt like robbing a bank – everyone grabbed whatever they could fit into a bag. There was no time to actually sift through and pick the good stuff – and I’ve only got about 1 per cent of what was in the house! And you know, we can’t keep it all because otherwise we become like her.
Interview by Rebecca Livesey-Wright