Charlie Godet Thomas in conversation with Andrea Nitsche-Krupp

June 21, 2024
Charlie Godet Thomas in conversation with Andrea Nitsche-Krupp

On the occasion of his fourth solo show with the gallery, 'Little Sound', at VITRINE Fitzrovia, Charlie Godet Thomas spoke with Curator Andrea Nitsche-Krupp about the influences in his work and the residues that remain from his time residing and working in Mexico.

Andrea Nitsche-Krupp: We talked about your work not being beholden to a single medium, but rather it is materially or formally responsive to the idea at hand. Would you say temporality is a common thread throughout most of your work? Your  work unfolds in time, or indexes time, or time is the structure of the work (this argument can be made about most art, of course, but actually speaks to the nature of your practice, I think).

Charlie Godet Thomas: You’re right in that rhythms and measures of time are recurrent themes in the work, be it poetic time and rhythm or those of the natural world. However, I see the work as a stand against temporality, something like a translation of the temporal into a perpetual form. The loop, circle or cycle are long standing preoccupations, for example the sentences that are cut into the vessels of 'Dysfluent Song (Water)' (2023), 'Endless Summer' (2024) in which a fan spins clinking necklaces across drinking glasses, or the structure of the text in 'Infinite Clock' (2021) which was installed in the redundant clock tower on the roof of Vernacular Institute in Mexico City.

Charlie Godet Thomas, Dysfluent Song (Water), 2023. 10 Cut aluminium basins, plumbing system, water. Dimensions variable. Photographer: Jonathan Bassett.
Charlie Godet Thomas, Infinite Clock, 2021. Laser cut steel, paint, LED lights. 120 x 120 cm. Photographer: Sergio López. Image courtesy of Vernacular Institute, Mexico City, MX.

ANK: Relatedly, I’d be curious to know more about how you address pacing, which seems very honed in your practice as it relates to spoken words and voices and poetry.

CGT: Pacing is very important, especially as I begin to make more work with sonic or kinetic elements. Increasingly, I think about my work in terms of writing, asking myself where the stresses should be, what state to encourage in the “reader”, when and if there should be any interruption of that state, and if so, how?

My approach to pacing is probably best expressed through the sound installation 'A Rebirth' (2023). The work took a short four second accidental recording of my late father Allen, which is the only recording that I have of his voice. In the original recording the words spoken are “Rebirth” followed by “Renaissance” as he reads a fragment of a crossword clue and subsequently the answer. It was something that we would do during chemotherapy to keep his mind otherwise occupied. I collaborated with musician and writer Mike Barrett, and together we zoomed in to the sample, mining out the tiniest grains of sound which make up the file which unveiled the melodic potential of presenting the work on a larger timescale. Each second of the recording was stretched to fifteen minutes, with the four seconds of a brief moment in my father's life becoming an hour which then played in reverse. The spoken words become tones and the space between the words hidden harmonics.

In the briefest possible terms, my instinct when it comes to pace is to slow things down, to even them out and let them play out for indefinite or infinite periods of time.

Charlie Godet Thomas, Endless Summer, 2024. Pigmented resin, glasses, bottles, bottle caps, ashtray, embroidered tablecloth, ceiling fan, chain, jewellery letters, wood, metal tubing, table. Dimensions variable. Photographer: Gabriela Sada. Image courtesy of Colector, Monterrey, MX, and Salón ACME, Mexico City, MX.

ANK: With 'Dysfluent Song (Water)' you mentioned that the work originated in part in relation to the idea of a failing shelter for the work’s initial installation in Mexico City. Can you share more about this and how that concept might function in different physical/geographical locations?

CGT: 'Dysfluent Song (Water)' was originally made for N.A.S.A.L Gallery, the main exhibition space was next door on the ground floor. The director of the gallery, Mao, invited me instead to use the first floor of the adjacent building. It’s very unusual in that it has open stairs which go up to the floor he occupies, so immediately there is a sense that you are (almost) inhabiting a domestic space. It is an older building with some elements of “disrepair” carefully left, exposed rebar, some rough areas and rusted and or partially painted load bearing girders and columns. It is such an unusual space, it seemed clear when visiting that I needed to work with these features.

It’s also worth saying that because Mexico City is affected by regular earthquakes, it is not uncommon to see collapsed or severely damaged residential buildings there. It also has very extreme seasonal rain which, depending on the time of year, can result in either flooding or drought. I don’t think that 'Dysfluent Song (Water)' would have been made in any other setting. Whilst it initially seemed strange to relocate this work to such a different environment at VITRINE, the potential of the gallery in Fitzrovia to become a more ethereal space interested me, which we achieved by controlling the light and vista with vinyl, and by painting the floor much lighter to create an almost dream-like enclosed room. Like many of my works, I see this piece as site-responsive and having potential to be exhibited beyond its original space.

Charlie Godet Thomas, Fluctuating Song (Light), 2023. Installation view. N.A.S.A.L, Mexico City, MX.

ANK: Relatedly, are there other ways your work changes according to its site? Are there contextual residues that stay with it from DF?

CGT: The site of the work is of increasing importance to the way that I approach any project, I’m always keen to question the limits of where can and can’t be used in a project, because I relish the challenge of honouring unconventional spaces, or in highlighting unusual aspects of spaces that might initially appear more conventional.

Vernacular Institute, which was once a small school, is a good example of how I respond to a specific site. For that project there was work made for the empty clock tower on the roof as well as for, what is now, a bar downstairs. The Director / Curator Jo and I, discussed the importance of the relationship between the street and the work I was proposing for the inside the gallery, and as a  result of that we made the decision to leave all of the doors and windows open for the duration of the exhibition. This not only solidified the visual link between the city and the work but also invited some magical unintended phenomena; cats wandering through, leaves and dust spreading across the floor, conversations between those on the street and those in the exhibition space and what have you.

Both the Vitrine space in Bermondsey Square and the space in Basel have really unusual qualities, both completely throwing on its head the standard architectural commercial art gallery model. The space in Basel is particularly interesting, as well as difficult to navigate as an artist. It is essentially inside-out, with glass external walls and an office hidden inside a series of sliding walls and doors. There is a sense of everything being on view there, it is far more accessible and generous to the public passing by, which also comes with a certain degree of joyful trepidation, for myself at least.        

I’ve been so lucky in the scope of different spaces I have been able to work with; abandoned hotels and haciendas, old schools, parks, spaces with glass walls, church crypts, domestic spaces, former gyms, empty corporate buildings and train stations to name a few. As to if there are residues from Mexico City, inevitably, I lived there for a good chunk or time, have a lot of friends there, my daughter was born there! But it is too difficult for me to unpick exactly what or how, perhaps I am too close to the work to see it clearly.

Charlie Godet Thomas, Fractured Poem, 2021. Installation view. Vernacular Institute, Mexico City, MX. Photographer: Sergio López.
Charlie Godet Thomas, Roman Fleuve, 2017. Installation view. VITRINE Basel. Photographer: Nici Jost.

ANK: Your handwriting is very distinctive, yet does not feel exceptionally personal (but maybe that is me!); how do you think about your handwriting and the graphic identity of your work?

CGT: It’s interesting that you make the observation that the “handwriting” I use does not come across as exceptionally personal, because it is a fabrication really. I think this started when I was still in school where I was always getting in trouble for drawing in class, I soon realised that if I was writing I would be left alone, the result of which was that I used to spend my time making up fonts and learning to write in them. The style that I use now, which I developed around 2017 is partly my own creation, but it is also a tribute to my mum’s handwriting which was very graphic. That brings to mind a work that I made just after she died called 'MOLLY.OTF' (2020) whereby I made a digital font from shopping lists I found amongst her possessions. The set was incomplete though, because she hadn’t used some letters, “Z” for example, never appeared in the lists.    

Before about 2016, I was using type-set texts which I found to be a compromise, I could never find a font set that didn’t inadvertently distract or add new connotations to the writing and so this approach of painting, drawing or designing a more, but not exceptionally personal font was a step-towards better controlling those variables.  

Charlie Godet Thomas, MOLLY.otf, 2020. Two digital prints, downloadable font (on USB with tassel), display box, yellow tissue paper. 36.5 x 26.5 cm.

ANK: Relatedly, could you share a bit about the role of found text in your work? Letters appear in 'Fix', for instance, and the phrases within 'Dysfluent Song (Water)' are lines of poetry that feel found, whether or not they are…

CGT: In the past I made work using found text, a strategy that was probably accelerated by reading Unoriginal Genius by Marjorie Perloff, alongside John Ashbery and Louis Zukofsky amongst others. Around 2018 however, I began to see my use of found text for what it was, a defence mechanism which allowed me to sidestep responsibility for the text presented. To confront that I started introducing my own writing, which up to that point I had always guarded fiercely and kept separate from my practice. The movement from type-set text to a more hand written style happened at the same time as my movement from found text to my “own” writing, they are two sides of the same coin.

Of course the degree to which your work can be your own is a complicated one, the Romantic poet John Clare stated, “I found the poems in the fields, all I did was write them down”. That sentiment has always resonated with me in that I do hold on to language, aphorisms, quips, insults, colloquialisms, wordplay, linguistic slippages and what have you. These all end up in my writing, and they are sponged from the world.

ANK: Follow- up: Sometimes the text in the water pans bleed into one another depending on how one moves about the space: “Resisting the wind...of leaves…”, perhaps forming another kind of made or found text?

CGT: That’s an interesting observation, and it is also true to life isn’t it? In that when we are reading something it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, there is always a degree of experiential layering and a weaving of our lives and observations into what is being read. The text the viewer/reader finds, is one with multiple readings which they collaborate on unwittingly.

One of the interesting things that I have discovered in bringing these poems, or poetic fragments into sculptural installations is that they bypass the inevitable linear structure of poetic writing inherent with its presentation on the page. The page doesn’t give much scope for circular reading, for circles within circles or for sentences to realign and shift as we move through space, but in my work this is a form (and poets love form) that I can play with, and that still brings me surprises and joy.

Charlie Godet Thomas, Little Sound, 2024. Installation view. VITRINE Fitzrovia. Photographer: Jonathan Bassett.
Charlie Godet Thomas, To the core, 2018. Installation view. White Crypt, London, UK. Photographer: Rob Harris.

ANK: Music while you work or silence? If music, favourites?

CGT: I need silence or ambient noise when I am writing, but I always have music on when I am doing anything else, I don’t like to hear my own brain ticking for too long. On heavy rotation at the moment are; Marvin Pontiac, Labyrinth Ear, Cymande, Boy Harsher, Curses, Slowdive, Sleep, Weedeater, Hak Baker, Amanaz, All Them Witches, Miles Davis, Jenny Hval, Sophie Hunger, Amyl and the Sniffers and Gang Gang Dance.

Andrea Nitsche-Krupp is an art historian and curator based in London. She is Exhibitions Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. She has contributed to publications for Tate Modern, London; the Katonah Museum of Art, New York; the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; and served as editor of Shift: Graduate Journal of Visual and Material Culture. Nitsche-Krupp has a PhD from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.

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