In Conversation with artist, Graham Dolphin and pianist, John Snijders

In this week’s blog, we discuss Graham Dolphin’s new film, Gnossiennes’, with the artist himself, and pianist John Snijders.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

(GD) I’m a visual artist that works across a range of mediums including film, sound, drawing, sculpture, text and curatorial projects, exploring the concepts of self-identification and idolism.

(JS) Even though I could now be considered an academic working at Durham University, I’m first and foremost a performer of mainly contemporary chamber music with over 30 years of performance experience. I also founded and still run the Ives Ensemble, a group for contemporary music based in the Netherlands.

Where did the idea for Gnossiennes come from Graham?

(GD) I’ve made a few works in which I have used music and its relationships to sound before and I’m trying to explore what happens when you dislocate them through layering, repetition and multiple screens. When this fracture happens, the split confuses our normal reading and listening experience, constructing a new reading of how the sound is created and how film itself works. 

Can you explain what the film shows? 

(GD) The film is shot from a single camera above the piano keyboard where we see John performing. The two-screen film shows the six Gnossiennes pieces played at once, the image of the keyboard repeated as a single, elongated instrument, with six pairs of hands playing simultaneously.

John, can you tell us a little bit about the composer of Gnossiennes, Erik Satie?

(JS) Satie has been one of my musical heroes for a long time. He was one of the most original composers of the early 20th century, paving the way for a lot of later musicians by inventing all manner of highly original ideas. He has a very specific sense of humour that would find its way into his scores, where he adds all kinds of strange absurd texts that are only meant for the performer, not the audience.

This project came from a collaboration between NGCA and Durham University, how did that relationship develop?

(GD) I’ve had the pleasure of working with NGCA a number of times, including a solo exhibition of works in 2016. Their support has been invaluable allowing me to make new and ambitious work. Through their introductions this project has been a close collaboration with John, the performer in the film, whose own research is in the junction of fine art and music so this was a very good fit for us both. Dr Simone Tarsitani’s expertise in making the audio and visual recording for the film was fundamental in realising my initial ideas. As an artist I am in the privileged position of having ideas and seeing them into reality, this is only achievable through collaboration with institutions but more importantly the individuals within them. 

(JS) After Graham reached out to the university’s music department to discuss the project, I was immediately interested, as not only have I been a long-time admirer of Satie’s music, but the link with visual arts is also very much something I work on. Because the project fits perfectly within my own research, we were able to make use of the department’s Concert Room, grand piano and our brilliant technician, Simone. The work consists of both of us doing our part, with myself providing the material for Graham to make the video in the way he conceived it.

Interview conducted and edited by Matthew Fearn, Visual Arts Assistant, NGC and NGCA.

Do you have a story to share? How have you unleashed creativity during lockdown? We would love to hear from you! Let us know of your creative ideas by emailing us at [email protected]

Support Sunderland Culture and become a subscriber today to be the first one to receive latest newsletters, programme and exhibition updates, events information and lots more.

Make a donation today and help us make Sunderland a place where everyone can get involved in world-class arts and culture.

Stay connected with Sunderland Culture Instagram Twitter Facebook