Interview: Artist Joseph Morgan Schofield on FUTURERITUAL at ICA London
We caught up with curator Joseph Morgan Schofield ahead of the electric FUTURERITUAL event series featuring Benjamin Sebastian, Charlie Ashwell, Daniella Valz Gen, Es Morgan, Soojin Chang, Rubiane Maia and Teo Ala-Ruona.
This live programme, running 18 – 29 May, includes four performance art works and a workshop exploring queer kinship and collaboration, and is accompanied by Divinatory Strategies, a three-part sonic essay available on the ICA’s website.
Main image: Manuel Vason
Tell us about your work for FUTURERITUAL. What should we expect?
I’ve organised FUTURERITUAL since 2017. It’s a research project considering the use of ritual in contemporary queer and performance cultures. This May, I’m convening a fortnight of things at the ICA: I’m making a performance, and there will also be new live works by Soojin Chang, Rubiane Maia and Benjamin Sebastian; Es Morgan and I will lead a collaborative workshop thinking about queer kinship and partnership; and there will be a three-part sonic essay (available online) entitled Divinatory Strategies featuring conversations about ritual, art and queerness.
The works and approaches of the participating artists are all very different which should make for a potent programme of ritual experiences. I’m also struck by the generosity and the warmth of the artists who are participating in the programme – it has been so nourishing to be in dialogue with them all, and I’m excited for people to experience them and their work.
In my preparations for my own performance, I’ve been thinking about prophecy, ecology, and trans* futurity. I’ve been reading about millenarian sects – medieval Christian groups who prophesied the end of the world and its transformation during their lifetime. I describe my work as ‘queer ritual action’ – I distil my research into a physical and material language from which I ‘speak’ in performance. The work is called ‘with bare feet touching the sky I yearn’.
There’s a lot of spontaneity in my actions so I can’t say exactly what will happen, but I have been gathering materials from the Pennine Moors such as heather, bones, earth, stones, and I’ll activate these with sweat, blood and fire to create a ritual experience. Through the work, I’m hoping to hold space for people to process, mourn, yearn and commune.
What ingredients make up your work?
I read quite promiscuously before a performance, and do physical preparations – tasks in my studio and out in the world. The aim is to fill up the tank with experience, sensation, memory, knowledge, and allow them to shape the work. As I say, there’s a lot of spontaneity – which I think about as a kind of ‘channelling’ of desires and impulses. I’m also very sensitive to qualities such as space, light, sound, the energy of the audience. So I try and leave lots of room for these ingredients to shape the actual performance as well.
Tell us about your space VSSL?
VSSL is a project space and studio I started with my collaborator Benjamin Sebastian in Deptford. Benjamin is also presenting a work during FUTURERITUAL. I’m not someone who needs lots of alone time or private space to make work, rather my practice is informed and expanded by exchanges with other artists. When we were getting a studio, we were very interested to have a space where we could host other artists – for residencies, workshops and performances. It’s also a way of addressing the fact that there are no dedicated spaces for performance art in London. We make our work here, and collaborate with others to make their work.
Who or what inspires you?
I find inspiration in the world – in the seasons, plants, rocks and things like this. I also draw a lot of sustenance from my connections with other artists. As well as my performance work, I’m also making a sonic essay for the FUTURERITUAL programme. It’s a way of having conversations with other artists whose work I’m interested in. These kinds of meaningful exchange are food and fuel for my practice to grow. I hope to be that for other people also! The sonic essay is called Divinatory Strategies, and I’ll be talking to six inspiring artists: Charlie Ashwell, Daniella Valz Gen, Es Morgan, Soojin Chang, Rubiane Maia and Teo Ala-Ruona.
What advice would you give to early stage artists and people wanting to run a space for new work?
Do it! Artist-run spaces are very undervalued within the arts world and funding structures but it is essential that we have autonomous spaces where we can connect, make work, gather, exchange ideas and commune. Participation in those kinds of spaces has been essential to my growth as an artist. In terms of practical advice, I’d say start with the money – how are you going to pay the rent? It’s sadly impractical to assume that the Arts Council will fund everything – though they can help – so there has to be another way of making rent. Sell tickets, have a ‘donation’ bar, rent studio space, write funding applications, do commercial hires. We need more of these kinds of space in London.
What are your favourite London haunts?
During the pandemic I moved from Dalston to Forest Hill. I needed more green space and Sydenham Hill Woods have been very nurturing for me. If you’ve never been, I would definitely go for a walk. It’s incredible that there are these ancient woodlands in London – it’s a totally different side to the city.
In Forest Hill, I love to eat at 161 Food+Drink – they do a reasonably priced set seasonal menu. Kirkdale Bookshop nearby is also a great independent book store with a huge second-hand selection. In Deptford, I love to go to the Enclave galleries: Castor, Indigo+Madder, South Parade, and Xxijra Hii.
FUTURERITUAL at ICA Full event programme
Benjamin Sebastian: 3 Reflections²
18 May 2022, 7 – 10pm
A newly commissioned live installation unfolding over three hours – a constellation of mirrors, reflecting aspects of the body, time & spaces they inhabit.
Joseph Morgan Schofield and Es Morgan: Summoning
20 May 2022, 2:30 – 6pm
Summoning is a free workshop for artist pairs, exploring kinship and selfhood facilitated by artists Es Morgan and Joseph Morgan Schofield.
Soojin Chang: Heavenly Shower of Bank Notes
21 May 2022, 8 – 9pm
An experimental ritual performance oscillating between a fighting ring, feast, and transaction.
Joseph Morgan Schofield: with bare feet touching the sky I yearn
26 May 2022, 8 – 9:30pm
A newly commissioned work exploring prophecy, wildness and mythic time.
Rubiane Maia: Every Time I Trace The Horizon, My Hands Catch Fire
[Book-Performance, Chapter III]
29 May 2022, 4 – 6pm
A new iteration of Rubiane Maia’s ‘Book Performances’ inspired by Automatic Writing and Psychography.