Dissecting objects and rebuilding them into a completely new image is what Manchester-based artist Michael England does to its utmost perfection. His breathtakingly beautiful creations exude a darkness that lured PingMag into taking a closer look at his fascinatingly morbid works…
Written by Chiemi
Michael, you do photography, film making and animation – but which is your major field?
It varies between the three. I tend to get sick of the pain and time involved in animation and move over to photography, filming, still work, drawing or typography for a break. I do everything myself, so animation when working alone is very time intensive. I’ve been commissioned by lots of different people and companies; I tend to do a few commercial jobs a year and fund personal work with musicians from this.
Your work for the British Bola is quite impressive! For that, you dissected fish. What did you do exactly with it?
There are a few bits of fish-based elements in the piece below. The majority of it is made up of all kinds of things, some found, some generated. With the work below, which was for Skam artist, Bola, it was about three years between the images for the sleeves. I saved all the parts till they had withered and aged to show time in the evolution of the species. The first stage is the embryonic level; three years later the same elements were old and about to die in a cocoon, each time rebuilding the birth, death and growth of the subject.
Because they look so beautiful it’s really hard to imagine you dissecting fish in your studio… How do you produce them exactly? Do you use tweezers and scan them in one by one?
A lot of questions about fish here are beginning to make me feel like a bit of a fishmonger… Yes, I have an elaborate array of medical equipment and really good scanning equipment to take the smallest of things and bring to life the detail in them. With that, construction varies, software varies. Afterwards, if the parts are real, I dry them out when I can.
So when you create something, do you have completed image in mind or do you keep experimenting until you think it’s perfect?
Sometimes I start drawing, other times it’s an image, or sometimes just an idea. I’m into form and where form loses its outer structure and becomes something more internal or macro or undefinable as an object. All the work for Bola is based around this theme: to define the structure of the music, whether it be in colour, shape, time or movement. It varies, whether this is a predetermined idea or structure. It can evolve through the process and end up being something else. It can be good either way.
Why are you so into dissection and rebuilding things? Any special experience in your childhood…?
Dissection isn’t my only approach; I approach some work straighter than others. I came from a typographic and photographic background. As regards what has influenced the whole rebuilding thing, I guess, this would be LEGO: I spent years as a child rebuilding LEGO into what I wanted as opposed to following the instructions. I never really did any work on frogs or other creatures when I was young. I dont want to sound like some graphic Frankinstine nor morbid in anyway I really appreciate life, especially its beauty. Although i am not a vegetarian, I don’t kill anything other than fly’s and mosquito’s.
Did you discover anything special through your production process?
When working in dissection mode, I think what I have discovered is that the most mundane elements offer real beauty when seen in detail, which is usually not noticed with the naked eye. In the rebuilding process you find that form is infinite and the context of the subject can be completely altered into something visually new. It can change conceptually as well.
So, what else have you done recently?
I was recently commissioned to work on an installation for the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. It was the first time I’ve dealt with a serious subject like that. It involved dealing with scripts, characters, location shoots in the Caribbean… everything had to be historically accurate. It was four consecutive screens running three four-minute stories about daily plantation life for slaves. Below are some examples of my other approaches.
Installation for the International Slavery museum in Liverpool…
…dealing with daily plantation life of slaves.
You’ve also submitted a short movie to a virtual film festival presented by Toshiba in Second Life. The music is amazing and the whole thing is experimental, dark and very beautiful. Can you tell us a little about it?
The two musicians in the piece go under the name mayming. They are Semay Wu and Seaming To, two British-born Chinese musicians that I work with. The audio piece was an improvisation, I treated it as a game almost, with each of the artists entrapping each other with spells. At each stage as they ascend to various levels, the characters face spirits or witch versions of each other, hypnotising themes through music, trapping them in prison balls, et cetera. The piece submitted is the trailer for a live composite performance piece that we’ve been applying for funding for. Hopefully, it will be a large-scale, live cinematic piece.
The two musicians, mayming, jumping around in the film…
…definitely worth checking out.
So you obviously often create work relating to music. When you work on a visual for an existing track, what’s the most important thing for you?
To subvert narrative in a graphic manner; choreography (if possible mathematical); to generate everything myself.
It’s hard to imagine asking a team of people to represent what I do. It would make life a lot easier, especially with the time involved in moving image. But unfortunately my process relies on a deliberate lack of structure sometimes and that tends to open up new directions for me and usually ends with not enough time to fit all the ideas into a piece. This is why doing treatments doesn’t always suit me, as I sometimes don’t know what it’s all going to end up looking like myself – and nine times out of ten that ends up being a good thing. That’s what is really good about working with music – there are so many ways to represent it. All the best work is with people who fully trust what you do, which is important for me when working with others.
I think people, especially clients, need to embrace chaos a bit more. Especially in promos or when dealing with anything creative. I believe in craft and I like effort to be visible in my work.
Finally, what is your future plan?
God knows! I hope to generate enough cash to make a short, multi-narrative weird sci-fi animation story that I’ve been dipping in and out of for a while now. I’ve spent a long time doing work for other people, I like that a lot, but it would be good to do something for myself. I’ve also been trying to finish my website for a long time now. I just keep having to do other things, so it keeps falling to the back. Some day it will be at www.michaelengland.co.uk, but at the moment it’s all in bits. It will be the first time all my work will be viewable in one place.
Also I’m going to join a Bola gig at AVCERVANTES Festival theatre in Spain on October 25th, 26th, 27th, we haven’t played together for a long while so it’s going to be nice to play together again.
Michael, thank you so much for showing us your work today. Don’t forget to visit Japan with Bola someday!