Award winning international light projectionist Ross Ashton and his wife, the audio artist and sound designer Karen Monid, are all but unique in the art world – there are few if any others that do what they do. Their work has been seen and heard by millions on sites that range from Guinness World Record holding projections for the Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace to work on the 2012 Olympics as well as the Houses of Parliament, Las Vegas hotels and ancient Indian shrines
Appropriately enough, life is rarely dull in the world of light art as they explain in greater detail here…
Ross: We work in a field that up until a few years was very sparsely populated and neither of us would be where we are now if we hadn’t met each other because we’ve given each other opportunities and encouraged each other to do things which I don’t think we would even have done otherwise. Karen used to work for me as a technician and I found out she did sound work in her spare time and I was desperate to have more control over the sound, so to work with somebody who was interested in being more creative with that transformed the way that I work and vice versa.
Karen: I started in theatre and live sound so storytelling and presenting things to large audiences doesn’t phase me at all – being able to do work that touches a lot of people at once that’s something I’m very used to. Live sound is more about enabling something to be heard, but what I like about what we do here is that the visual is the performer, the sound is the performer. It’s not me going up in front of anybody, the work is directly relating to people as a performer and that comes from an understanding of theatre and how performers work to get that connection with people.
Working outdoors the rules are different because you have the weather to contend with and sound works completely differently because the acoustics are completely different outside. In the theatre you can build your own set, but outdoors you build your own relationships with the architecture you’re working on because it’s not going to be anything other than what it is. You have to get used to working with its limitations but exploring its potential as well as a three-dimensional object to work with.
It’s quite a deep skillset to have to know how to work with all this.
Ross: When we do what we do, everyone wants to talk to me because I do the pictures and they think I must be the most important. Nobody ever thinks about the sound until of course you take it away and you miss everything because sound brings all the nuances, all the impact points come through sound.
I was never interested in creating projection for its own sake, I’ve always wanted to do things which are specific to site and if you get to work with somebody who works in audio you can get even more site specific. In Poole we’re dealing with local historians to create the script, we’ll have local performers to perform the voices, it allows you a whole new layer of site-specific work.
Karen: This is different to gallery-based art. Although there are pieces we create ourselves a larger proportion of our works are created collaboratively as we believe in involving other people, we believe in creating in teams with other people. We’ve been told that there are artists who cannot work collaboratively because they have a single vision and they really don’t know how to work with other people, that’s not us, we see art being much more free flowing than that.
Ross: Karen has a mastery of taking very ordinary people, rarely are they actors, and getting a performance out of them that is part of the show. She takes all these different levels of skill and delivers something that is compelling,
Karen: As an aesthetic, for me I like working with people who aren’t professional performers because they read it as they feel it, there’s something more real about hearing an historical document read by someone just as they find it because that’s how it would have been read originally. It wasn’t read by some Shakespearian actor in a fantastic environment it was done by someone in a room somewhere – it’s like having your next-door neighbour telling you about something, it feels more conversational.
Ross: To have a woman at the top of this field is very unusual.
Karen: I think what I’ve always had behind me is that it has never occurred to me to not do it. I think that is the key. I went to an all-girls school and I was raised by my mother and my grandmother and I’ve got two sisters, so I was in a female environment where women had to everything because you just did. If something needed to be done you did it yourself.
I got into sound when I was 11 and started messing around with tape recorders. I was really interested in music and my mother could see that was my passion, so she really encouraged me to explore what that was. It never occurred to me not to do anything that I’m doing now.
Then in the mid-1990s I moved into projection so worked with projectors and knew how to programme them. I did some flat art animation on early video and media servers, way back when you were typing things in line by line – this industry was so young there were no barriers. So long as you turned up and you knew what you were doing, that was the only criteria. Can you do it or can you not do it? That was the only question that was ever asked. The only question Ross asked me was: ‘Have you done programming before?’ ‘Great, come and work with me.’
It was a very open industry in that way and to some extent I would say it still is particularly on the Art side. I have been contacted by people about how I got into this, but I didn’t so much get into it, I kind of invented it. It was that far back and I was just doing what I loved and ended up being one of the people that made this thing a thing. I created the job out of the thing that I love to do to – record things – and I’ve built something for myself out of that that.