Jude Cowan Montague spoke to fellow writer Emma Roper-Evans about her work. As the two inhabit a similar circle of artistic friends there were many correspondences to draw on in the conversation. Each Summer they take part in a residency in Atina, Frosinone co-organised by Jude and Chris Simpson and the Atina Arts Association. The next one begins on 18 August, 2019.
TST: You are a writer of books, poetry and collaborator with contemporary artists in sound, film and other media. Can you tell me something first about what you’re up to right now?
E R-E: Sea level rising piece with paper artist, Elôd Beregszászi, and my daughter, India. Elôd made a ruff out of rice paper, which dissolves in water. It willl involve a figure entering water in soluble clothes but, as it is a filmed performance it may alter a lot, as it is a one-off. Weather will have a great effect on it, which is exciting as we really are impacted and dependent on weather, giving the piece extra heft.
TST: What is your background as a writer – I know you spent many years in Hungary, can you tell me how that’s influenced you. Perhaps there are writers and the theatre scene that have made a particular impression, artists who you would like to share to an international audience. Tell me about your own trajectory and about a couple of artists and writers that you have encountered along the way.
E R-E: In Budapest I was involved with a theatre company ‘Mozgó Ház’ (Moving House). I learned a lot from them. Hudi, the director works with dancers, actors, and musicians to create wonderful pieces of work, which are performed in all sorts of spaces. Once they were rehearsing in an old factory and the police were called as locals heard noises, saw lights flickering and thought a satanic cult was holding a séance. The police were very phlegmatic as you can imagine! I loved the spontaneity of their practice, how it reacted to actual circumstances and conditions, throwing off the ropes of polish and fluency: Allow disruption; allow change, each performance is unique. I learned a lot from them.
TST: I know you’ve been working with artist Chris Simpson and others on artist work outside the gallery. Please tell me about this.
E R-E: Chris is my artistic soulmate, he thinks freely, he allows for all the above. He is very courageous, I value courage above all. I write a piece and then he creates a way to display it: On walls, pavements, in car parks, on bridges, old hoardings. We did an early piece ‘Rats’ where we literally did have rats running over our feet. I had to have quite a few drinks after that one.
TST: What do you think the relationship is between poetry and visual art?
E R-E: Symbiotic, quite simply.
TST: The long form of the novel is extremely challenging – I find it so – can you tell me something of your experience with the form. Have you got long form work that you’re going to publish that we can look forward to reading?
E R-E: Working now on second volume of novel now. Related to the sea level piece, all about climate catastrophe, geographical changes on the planet. Imagining Antarctica with no ice, large amounts of land underwater, a totally different planet because of our greed, but it has hope as well, new beginnings. It is the journey of a single human being across an altered globe.
TST: You have collaborated with sound artist Umia K, Cleaver Boi. Can you share something of that project with us, your feelings about it, and what you achieved that interests you. Was this your first time working in depth with sound art?
E R-E: Working with Umia was wonderful, or rather she did the work. She recorded my voice, so I sounded alike a young boy, an old woman, an old man. It was marvellous, just by a change of pitch I became 6 different voices. I love that because, to be honest, I’m pretty bored with my own voice. I love radio too, when you and I did that piece for International Women’s Day 2019, I adored it. It was a ball; spontaneous, free, wild. I love working with sound. The piece I’m working on now will have a separate sound track, which I’m thinking about.
TST: Your daughter, artist-photographer India Roper-Evans is a fascinating artist in her own right. Can you tell me about collaborating with her?
E R-E: Indy has been an inspiration for me. We started doing things together when she did her ‘locus criminis’ project, where she shot a fictive crime scene using friends, artists, family and I wrote a paragraph to go with the image. So it was image-led, she produced the photograph and I reacted to it. It was through her that I met many artist friends here in London so, I could say, she pushed me out again. When I came back from Budapest, as a single parent with 3 kids I was very constrained, depressed, was writing but not doing anything with it. Meeting all these lovely people in London has helped me a lot.
TST: Finally, you are one of the artists who travel to Atina, Frosinone each August for an experimental residency. Can you tell me about that residency and how it has been for you. What have you got out of the experience and what it is like to be in this hot-house space in this beautiful mountain town. Why do you return?
E R-E: Atina is great; everywhere you look there is beauty. It has been occupied for so long, peoples, gods, stories for so many millennia. There are 1000s of stories in every doorway. This will be my 3rd visit. The first year I wrote poems, which I pinned to the forest and a huge storm came and washed them all away. The next year I worked with Umia, did sound pieces, which blew in the wind. And this year, this year, who knows? That’s the best bit about it. You never know till you get there!