Interview with Kate Blackmore: directing The Glass Bedroom, News

Interview with Kate Blackmore: directing The Glass Bedroom

Kate Blackmore is an artist working with the documentary form across art and film. She has just created The Glass Bedroom, a 6 x 5min series that profiles artists who use Instagram as a platform for performance.

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Your series, The Glass Bedroom, profiles six Australian millennial artists who use Instagram to create self-portraits, revealing how our understanding of art has changed in the digital age. You are an artist yourself, what attracted to you to profile these artist?

I’m fascinated by how people perform different personas or idealised versions of themselves on Instagram and how authenticity and identity are distorted in the social media echo chamber. My interest in performance stems from my background as an artist – for around 10 years I’ve worked with a collective called Barbara Cleveland, (formally known as Brown Council). The four of us (with Kelly Doley, Diana Smith, Frances Barrett) create performance art for live contexts as well as for video - our work often highlights the way in which people ‘perform’ in everyday scenarios.

How did you choose which artists to profile?

I was specifically looking for artists who were both the subject and the author of their photos, and whose posts had a clear intention. People say that Instagram’s made everyone an artist but I don’t think that’s true. Sure, there are elements of artistry involved in the composition of a photo but I think what separates everyday Instagrammers from artists is intention. The artists we profiled in the series are using it to express and critique ideas e.g. Giselle Stanborough’s Instagram account (lozein_official) is made up of digitally altered images featuring Giselle performing the role of an ‘entrepreneur’ to raise questions about the changing role of the artist in society and how social media is impacting our relationships.

Many of the artists you have profiled in the series appear to be quite controlling of their image. As a documentary maker, did you ensure that the artists had input into what the audience sees with out diluting their true personality?

Most of my work begins from a conversation and it’s through constant dialogue and collaboration that it takes shape – documentary is a product of human relationships. Because the artists in the series are experts in self-representation and content creation with a sophisticated understanding of the image economy, it was essential that they had input into the way they were depicted.

The Instagram feeds of the artists functioned as mood boards for the visual style of their episodes – we pulled out particular photos that we found evocative and these formed the basis for the script, scenes and locations, some of the photos were even restaged for the camera. I also requested that the crew, including Bonnie Elliott (cinematographer) and Elliott Magen (editor) researched the feeds so that they could tap into the artist’s online worlds.

Can you tell us what the meaning behind the series title is?

I started thinking about making this series after reading an article by media theorist, Dr Erika Pearson who likens the way people craft their online identities to the performance of an actor on a stage. She uses the metaphor of the ‘glass bedroom’ to describe how on social media sites the front-stage and the back-stage areas are combined, creating a space which is partially public - and private. Inside this space intimate exchanges occur with varying levels of awareness with distant friends and strangers moving past transparent walls. Performances in these online spaces generate an aura of intimacy whilst maintaining a safe distance.

This idea plays out in all the episodes but it’s particularly striking in Amy Louise’s (@ilovebrucewillis) who has an ‘audience’ of 162k but is careful never to reveal any intimate details of her life for fear of trolling. So she’s developed a mysterious and enigmatic online persona, giving people just enough of herself to keep them interested.

Can you tell us how you secured funding for the series?

The series came about through Art Bites, a Screen Australia and ABC iview initiative. We were one of four teams lucky enough to be commissioned which meant we received $50, 000 to make the series. Bethany Bruce (producer) then managed to secure another $25, 000 in post-production funding from Screen NSW. It was a small budget but we managed to make it work. As an emerging filmmaking team, we are so grateful for opportunities like these because they enable people who are just getting started in the industry to get their first screen credits.


One of the standout elements of the series is its stunning cinematography. Can you tell us how you came to work with acclaimed cinematographer, Bonnie Elliot, on this project?

Bonnie shot four of the episodes in the series (Carolyn’s, Damiano’s, Giselle’s and Amy’s). Rowan’s episode was shot in New York so we worked with New York based cinematographer Christine Ng and for Lexi’s we worked with Sky Davies as hers was shot in Melbourne.

I’d worked with Bonnie previously on two of my video art installations, Girls (2014) and All Wedding Wishes (2016). Both works are intimate, dual-channel documentary portraits: Girls focuses on a group of teenage girls growing up in a public housing estate; and All Wedding Wishes profiles a young Assyrian-Iraqi bride on her wedding day. In each work, Bonnie’s sensitivity to the subject matter is clear and her images are so evocative. Bonnie’s a great collaborator and has a lot of experience working with artists – she’s very patient and open to experimentation, I love working with her.

You’ve previously mentioned that Brigit Ikin introduced you to the series producer, Bethany Bruce and its editor, Elliot Megan. Can you tell us about working with them both?

Bridget has been a mentor of mine over the last few years – she encouraged me to explore my interests in film and I’m incredibly grateful for her support. I first approached Bridget with the idea for this series in December 2015 when I was in India working on a documentary about the Red Brigade, a collective of female domestic violence activists. I said I wanted to apply for Art Bites but needed a producer and she suggested that Bethany Bruce would be perfect – Beth was working with her at Felix Media through a Screen Australia Enterprise People grant. Our first meetings were over Skype but it was clear from those conversations that Beth and I had the same vision for the series. We finally met in person when I returned to Sydney in February 2016, and since then we’ve been meeting up or talking almost everyday. I’ve learnt so much about the filmmaking process from Beth - working with her has been a dream and we’ve become great friends. I’m excited to continue working with her on many more projects.

Bridget suggested Elliott Magen to edit the series because he, like Bonnie, has experience working on art projects but he’s also a brilliant documentary editor. Elliott completely immersed himself into the worlds of each artist - he managed to establish a cohesive style for the whole series whilst also somehow distilling the unique aesthetic of each artist in their individual episodes. Working with him was a real pleasure.


You also mentioned that you are inspired by director Clio Barnard who is known for pushing the documentary form – what is it about her work that you enjoy?

I’m interested in filmmakers who combine both fiction and documentary forms in their work, like Clio Barnard, Alma Ha’rel and Roberto Minervini. In documentary, the addition of fictional narrative elements makes sense because it highlights the constructed nature of the form and the fact that every representation is a misrepresentation. Filmmaker Robert Gardner said “The very idea of finding a way to reproduce some reality that can be called another person is, on its face, a total absurdity.” I find this blurry territory exciting on both a conceptual and formal level and it’s where I want to push my work.


Can you tell us about your Masters program at the Free University of Berlin in Visual and Media Anthropology?

I enrolled in the MA Visual and Media Anthropology at Free because I was excited by the international context and interdisciplinary nature of the program. Its aim is to widen the traditional concept of ethnographic research through integrating artistic processes. My classmates are people from all around the world, from a range of professional backgrounds who are interested in experimenting with new media to develop unique ways to ethically represent cultures different to their own. The course has been great in that it’s provided me with the language to articulate what I do and what I’m interested in as well as the support to push my practice to a new level.  

What are you working on now?

As part of my Masters I’m working on a documentary about the repatriation of the Gweagal artefacts from the Ethnological Museum of Berlin to the Traditional Owners here in NSW. I’m also in the early stages of developing a film with and about my collective Barbara Cleveland and the mythic feminist performance artist (Barbara Cleveland) – who we recovered from the margins of Australian art history – and who has been a key feature in our work since 2010.


Watch The Glass Bedroom now:

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