Natasha Caruana

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This month’s Marguerite ‘Mover and Shaker’ is the is the photographer and Senior Lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts, Natasha Caruana. Working mainly with still photography, moving image and installation, Caruana’s work elicits responses that test and reveal groups’ assumptions about their place in the world. Caruana’s somewhat ethnographic approach is grounded in research, most of which is concerned with narratives of love, betrayal and fantasy. With this in mind, the questions of how today’s technology impacts relationships is a central theme in her photography, which is reflected in the photographic project Married Men; a series that examines why men become adulterers. Currently based at Studio Voltaire, one of the UK’s leading independent arts organisations, we visited Caruana at her studio to learn more about her mentorship programme, how her projects evolve and why photographer Sophie Calle would be one the guests at her ideal dinner party.

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Your celebrated series Married Man is the result of a three-year study around the male motivations for extramarital affairs - can you tell me a bit more about this?

The series started with me noticing that the use of technology in our everyday lives was changing the way relationships were forming. The piece was created using dating sites for married men to meet mistresses. I set myself up as a mistress and carried out a mix of performative, investigative research into the reasons why men were looking to conduct an affair. The work created a unique perspective on the elicit dating scene. The series has gained more relevance with the passing of time, on reflection in 2008-9 this was the very start of a new digitised way of forming relationships. Over 18 months I dated 54 men and went on 80 dates in total. The images do not reveal any faces but open up many conversations around power roles, stereotypes and online/offline behaviour.

Can you summarise how you think technology is defining relationships today?

Technology is making the world smaller as we are able to see and share different people’s perspectives, creating new and otherwise unattainable connections. I was lucky enough to do a residency at the Open Data Institute, during which time I was able to consider the wider implications of technology, not just what it means for us day-to-day, but how transparency of data can help us make better decisions. The project I created interpreted divorce data and what forces beyond our control put pressures on a relationship. The full installation of this work, Divorce Index and Curtain of Broken Dreams - a moving image work and coinciding sculpture, will be shown at the Science Gallery London from 21st September 2018.

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Would you say that your photographic technique is autobiographical - as a participant-observer using the camera lens?

I often draw from my own life with the view that the personal can be universal. The camera has never been an integral part of my process.

Your work Timely Tale addresses the idea of choice and how, in the long run, too much choice can often lead to decision-making paralysis and its consequences - is this focusing on theorists such as Barry Schwartzby and his The Paradox of Choice?

The piece of work explored my mother as a 60 year old woman suffering from mental and physical illness. I produced a 360 film viewed via a VR headset. The film and installation told the story of excess choice within my mother's life, from men on Tinder, clothes in her wardrobe to piles of medication in her draws. It charted how in some ways we are given so much choice, for instance swiping left on men, but in other, such as our health at the time of the NHS crisis, our choices are diminishing as funds are cut.

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I have read that you generally source your material from archives, the Internet and personal narratives - can you tell me more about how you decide where to draw your specific material from for your different projects?

The projects evolve. I don’t plot a research roadmap before I start out. They are very organic and normally take one or two years to produce.

In August you will be running a mentorship programme for four recent creative graduates can you tell me more about this - how did it come about?

I have been running a mentorship for the last three years. It is a moment to give back to my field. I was never able to do an unpaid internship. Secondly, I firmly believe that we need to share more of the working processes with emerging female artists as it is such a minefield. The mentorship evolves with my schedule each year. This year I will be supporting four mentees from Cornwall, Yorkshire, Birmingham and London for the week-long residential programme.

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Thanks to your recent Newsletter I saw that you have been awarded Arts Council England funding. Can you explain in further details what this will offer you?

This was Developing your Creative Practice scheme and will provide me with 8 months to evolve my practice more confidently into installation work, through mentorships and courses.

Do you think that collaborating is integral to an artist’s practice in order to progress?

Collaboration can take many forms. I am fortunate enough to collaborate on a weekly basis with my studio team. Whilst each commission offers new opportunities for partnership and inspiration.

How did you get into lecturing and is this something you will always want to do?

I split my week lecturing at the University for the Creative Arts and the studio. I find this structure very beneficial as it gives me the opportunity to share my research whilst staying in touch with the concerns and perspective of new generations.

What were your motivations behind joining Marguerite?

It was an opportunity to go to talks and events that I hadn’t organised myself.

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Can you summarise in three words what being a member of Marguerite means to you?

Stimulating, sparkly and snazzy.

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If you could invite four photographers to dinner, who would they be?

Lee Miller - The original artistic Chameleon.
Susan Hiller - Starstruck but she has to be there.
Nan Goldin - Not just for her work but to give support for her recent war around the Oxcontin drug.
Sophie Calle - My working practice has often been compared to Calle’s but have yet to meet her, I imagine given she is French she will also help with the best wine selection.
Patti Smith - I was too ill to join her evening at Paris Photo last year and have regretted it since.
Juno Calypso - And my work wife. Because together we can make it a party.

Want more? Check Natasha out here!
Words by Lara Monro and photography by Luke Fullalove.