Check out Mali & Dan's postal exhibition with OUTPUT here
Hello and welcome to the latest episode of OUTPUT Gallery's podcast. My name is Gabrielle de la Puente, and I was the manager of OUTPUT but I have taken a step back at the moment due to bad health, so I'm just here doing the podcast chats while Michael Lacey is running the show. That show at the moment is a series of postal exhibitions that all the artists we're working with have approached very differently so far. I'm joined on today's podcast by Mali Draper and Dan Waine who have worked together on a project that pulls in images, text, sound design, storytelling and real-life adventure. Hello both, how are you doing?

MD - Doing good thanks!

DW - Hiya.

So before we get into the work that you've produced for the postal exhibition, can you tell us a bit about yourselves - who are you, where do you come from, and importantly, how did you both meet?

MD - My name's Mali, I'm originally from South Wales, but I live in Liverpool now. I like working a lot with sound and writing in my art practice, and obviously collaborating with Dan. And we actually first met at OUTPUT Gallery, when Dan did that exhibition, one of the first few exhibitions that opened up. One of the workshops.

DW - Hi, my name's Dan. I'm originally from a town called Winsford, it's not too far from Liverpool. I've lived here for about five years, I think, maybe six? Who knows, what is time. I have a weird art practice, I just do everything. I'm quite crafty, to be honest - like, I make rugs now, and puppets, textile art stuff, I also do sound work for- gallery art? I don't know what you'd call it. Writing, workshops, I don't know.

So you have an exhibition practice and then other things that you make as well?

DW - Yeah, yeah. More recently I've enjoyed putting exhibitions on that I'm not in rather than putting my own work in it.

Mm-hm. Mali, you mentioned that you both met at OUTPUT Gallery, that was at Dan's exhibition, which amazingly was in May 2018? Quite a while ago, now. It was OUTPUT's technically second-ever exhibition, we had originally done a bit of a pilot show to see if the space could work, and it was a look back over the original Kazimier venue. Then Dan did a solo exhibition, and as a part of that you had a workshop, and that's how you met, isn't it?

DW - Yeah, that's how we met. I was doing a sound making workshop, and that brought Mali straight through the door.

MD - Yeah. I was really new to Liverpool at that time, so I was trying to get involved and just saw it advertised and thought, cool, let's see what this is all about. Then it all went from there.

How did you go from meeting in that workshop to collaborating and having studios together?

DW - We originally went into collaborating and sharing studios because I was trying to run a studio project space in one of the Independent Biennials, when I was fresh out of Uni. It was a bit pants, not gonna lie... but it was fun and it was very low-key and gave us a space to play with. I met Mali in a cafe once and mentioned I was doing it and needed people to come and be part of the space and do whatever they wanted there. Mali came along and joined the "studio" - air quotes! - and then we just got chatting about ideas and stuff, and work. I don't know if we decided to work together on something...

MD - I think it happened quite naturally, we were just always there and chatting, like... oh yeah, let's try and make some things together.

What were those things?

MD - I think it was writing first, wasn't it? We were writing our own little bits. I'd write something and send it to Dan, Dan would break it apart and make some new form of writing out of it and send it back. So it was like this very to-and-fro... that's how it started out. Then we said, let's make performances out of it. We'd both never done performance, as well. I've always been so scared of putting myself front and centre, I've always hidden behind the work, you know. So it was a challenge that we wanted to try together. We did a few little performances around the city, events were popping and we just tagged along. It all just happened like that, really.

How was that collaborative practice informed by your individual practices - what did you bring to the table?

DW - We both do writing and sound work so it was that, but just our different approaches... I'd say I have a much more playful approach where I try things, it's not really planned out, there's a lot of happy accident moments in there. I'd say Mali's is much more informed...

MD - I don't know about that!

DW - She's probably better at describing it than me.

MD - I think for me, I never did much writing until we started working together, or until I'd left university, anyway. What I'd found, I was working so much with sound at uni because  there was just good resources there. And then all of a sudden I left and didn't have access to that anymore, and I still wanted to make work, so I thought, I'll just write. I can still put my ideas out like that. That's the stage I was at when we met, and that's why I was writing and I think we were both trying to find ways to still make sound. When you leave uni you don't have your student membership to Adobe anymore! We didn't have a way to make sounds for a long time, I don't think.

DW - I think I came into writing after doing my dissertation and realising that writing doesn't have to be a big, thoughtful, intense block of like, a full essay that you've put your soul in. When I realised it could be bitty and fragmented and suggestive and stuff like that, I started writing more. It was like - this is how I think, but I can write that way and it's OK. I think that's how I got into writing, especially with how Mali said before, she would send something over and I would take it apart and put it back together again. That's basically my whole art practice, to be honest! That's how I approach everything.

A lot of what you have said manifests in the postal exhibition that you've done, which has a million different aspects to it. Can you describe the whole project to the listeners?

MD - Well, where do we start. Originally we had this idea for the concept of a story, we've written this story together which is about this character who accidentally gets trapped on an island for an evening. It's the sort of island where the tide comes in and covers the road back to the mainland. So they're stuck there for the night, the atmosphere is quite moody and uncertain. For me there's always this sense of optimism in the writing, where the character can still see back over to the mainland. We've talked about this recently, what we think the work is actually about, because we wrote without talking too much about that at the start. I think a lot of the work is influenced by the fact we're like, in our mid-twenties, we don't know what the future holds, it's quite an uncertain few years. There's so many ways you could relate that to the story, I think. Throughout the story, the character falls in between dreamlike states and then waking states, it's all about these feelings that might or might not have occurred on the island, because the story is recalling memories of being there.

DW - We've made up this island, I know there is a lot of places that are like this, especially in Merseyside, there's that Hilbre place, that we've never been to.

Oh my god guys, you've never been?

MD - I've actually been and seen it from across the other side, from the mainland to the island. But I've never been there.

You do immediately get that tension when you walk across the sand to the island, because you think - OK, we can only be here for like, five minutes and then we need to turn around and go back in case the water comes in and we're trapped. It's really cool.

MD - My friend told me this. I think that was something that influenced the story a bit, because I'd heard about this, having to get back at a certain time.

DW - I was told about it as well by a friend, but yeah, I think the fact that it's this made up, fictional place... it's that whole otherness about it, that confusion, the veiled reality of it, there's always that play between reality and fiction within the work and within this fictional island that we've made. We do have completely different approaches to it. Like Mali said, her approach is very much working towards the optimism, and escaping it. Mine is like, sitting in it, and enjoying it, and being in that weird, confusion space. I allow it a lot more and explore it and go deeper into it - what else can I find and turn on its head, and make into some strange fiction, whereas in reality it's just a rock or something really boring.

So you've got this story, then. How have you built outwards from that, how is it presented?

MD - I think one of the main things is that the sound and the writing really influence each other, on the poster that we've made there's a little section in the top right corner that is like a list of key words or prompts, that's basically taking main feelings or motives from within the story to guide how the sound is composed. For example, I think one of the words might have been like, float away, or something like that. So that particular piece of the sound design was quite floaty and dreamlike, for example. So the sound and the writing really interlink, and the sound element is meant to support the atmosphere that we're trying to convey in the story.

How do people access the sound?

MD - So there's a sound work that we've made, and you need to download an app which is called Echoes. It's all explained in- we've made a little print that's sent out with the A3 poster. You can either scan the QR code that takes you directly to the app and directly to our sound work, or you can just search for it yourself. But you go to Princes Park, which is based in Liverpool, and you follow the map and just walk into these blue zones that we've marked out on the app. It will automatically track your location and trigger the audio that we've made. So within the audio there's sound design and us speaking parts of the story.

It's very cool!

MD - Yeah, I love it.

DW - In each of the areas you walk into we've transcribed what's said, and we've done a little description of the sounds, and there's images that go with each one.

When people walk around Princes Park, they enter these blue zones and they then have access as you've said to the audio, and then an audio description if people need them, and there are images as well - what are those of?

DW - They're images of places and things that we've collected over the past few years and put in, like an online archive on a drive somewhere. Just if they have a certain atmosphere about them, like a strangeness about them that we thought might be relevant to the work. Now and again we'll go back into it and be like, oh - this image talks about this part of the text, or this bit of the sound... it all suddenly fits together more. Some ones are definitely attached - either they look like part of this island, or something the narrator might have thought about or seen, or if it's just a mood, it's quite visually represented in the image.

MD - A central part of the work is this mysterious red light in the distance. Both of us, whenever we see an interesting red light or something flickering in the distance, we'll stop, take a photo and chuck it in the google drive. A lot of the images also have this red light or glow about them as well.

How is that red light and guiding element through the piece- does it have any real life or literary inspirations? Where did that come from?

DW - When I figured out why I was using the red light, it was because it's the stand by light on things. When something's on but not operating. That moment before something is useful or engaged, it's a floating moment, like an in between. It's there, it's waiting, it's ready, it's not used that. It's got a push and pull factor to it - it could be used as something to go towards, or something that stays waiting. The red light in our work has an air of mystery to it, especially to the narrator. Thinking about what it is, they see it moving sometimes, it takes different forms in the work. We use it as a point of reference in the writing, it will activate these moments where the narrator thinks a different way or moves to a certain place. One of the influences of using it was from the book Metro 2033. In this book there's been an apocalypse and the whole of human civilisation has been living in the underground Metro stations of Moscow. They don't have any light anymore, they just have fire, or in the richer Metro station districts which are like villages somehow, they have a red emergency lighting that's left over, the generator still works somehow. But that's the only light these people will ever see. Living by this light and being stuck with it, it's like this constant presence in their life. It's the reason they could never see daylight or it would completely ruin their eyes, but it was also the way they could go about their lives and see. It was a luxury to them. It's a really positive thing in some ways but also the thing that was holding them back.

It has that tension you were describing.

DW - Yeah, not quite one thing or another. That whole book, the whole way through, you don't know what's real or not until the very end. Or at least I didn't when I was reading it. The whole time, the people who live in the tunnels think they're imagining... you don't know if it's the psychological impact of living down there or a genuine presence they feel down there. A lot of that influenced me and the way that I write about the character on our island, how they interact with their environment, how the red light impacts them, what they think they see.

Do you think that feeling of being on standby and the story you've written, where someone is isolated, is very relevant to our current situation in the midst of a pandemic?

MD - Definitely, yeah. It's so funny that this work is getting released during this time. Our work is not about the pandemic at all, it's not about what is going on. But I think that the feeling of uncertainty, the unsettled environment, is just so weirdly relevant to the last year. It's really interesting as well, this standby point of the red light, I love how Dan uses it in such a fictional way. For me I related to this idea of the red light in the sense that when we first starting writing this story, I felt like my life was on standby at that point. I was not sure what to do next, I was in such a weird place - should I try and get an art career going, or should I get another job? I think we could both relate to that, it was a real world feeling in relation to the red light.

I want to ask about your writing processes. I know you've mentioned how that process happens between the two of you, but individually, how do you go about writing? It's something that I'm always interested in because I spend so much time in front of pages, writing and editing and deleting things and starting again. Does writing come easy to you, is it difficult? When do you write best, where do you write best, how does it happen?

MD - I've been thinking about this a lot recently. A lot of my writing comes from anxiety, in a way. A lot of it is trying to get thoughts onto a page and processing them. There's quite a lot of pieces within the work, there's one - I don't know if you've listened to any of the sounds yet but there's one where the character is talking about the imp on the mind, trying to let go, don't push it, don't pull it - that was me trying to learn how to gain perspective on the situation. I don't constantly write, I just do it when I need to get something out. That's where a lot of my writing comes from, I think. I use it to process what's going on in my head.

DW - I use writing to process things but in a very different way. It's a way of interacting with the world, that I can make sure I understand. I mean I take it and rewrite it and decide what it is for myself instead of what is given to me. I think that's why I'm so focused on fiction and turning things more fantastical, a made up space where there's more possibility or interest to something there wasn't before.

MD - I think the fictional parts of the story, you can tell it's Dan's writing compared to mine. I think that's what you lean more into isn't it.

DW - Yeah, as a person I'm much more off in my own world, in my own head, I dunno. In a different space to what everyone else seems to be. I'm a daydreamer, I always have been, like very heavily. A lot of the writing comes from allowing that and leaning into it, rather than like, get out of your head Dan! Rejoin the real world, kind of thing. How you're always told as a kid, if you're a daydreamer you're not going to go anywhere on focus on anything. That's not true, you're just focusing on something else, and it can be really interesting. That's what I write about, what goes on in my head, I guess.

It sounds like you're both writing to process reality but ending up in two seperate places that are then brought back together in the work, and are able to present that tension, the push and pull, the weirdness that you're aiming for.

MD - Yeah, I think that's- nail on the head, you've worded that so well. That's the thing with me and Dan as well, we both have so many differences in our interests and our approaches. But there's enough that still complements and looks like a piece of work, you know?

Definitely. So the sound piece is accessed by visiting this specific area of Liverpool, somewhere you've both been working for a few years. How has Liverpool, if at all, informed the work and maybe your wider practice, as well?

DW - It's probably not technically a positive thing, but the amount of studio spaces we've been in for really short amount of times, and shared but then we've had to move out, it's been bought up by a developer or knocked down or something else. The majority of places that I've used as an art space don't exist anymore. That constant hopping from one place to another in our practice has informed in a way a bit of the way we work. We work in fragments anyway, we work in bits, going away and coming back together a lot. It's also been really forced by our environment. That could be an anywhere thing, it just so happens that it's been in Liverpool. Maybe also like the mystery thing, of all these places that you hear about but never go to. I know Liverpool has a lot of tunnels, I've been through one of them and it was the spookiest experience of my life, it was so cool. All those weird secret parts of it, that excites me. That definitely links to how I write and how I think.

MD - I think definitely what Dan said, that unsettled working process has definitely influenced where I come from in the writing, because we've literally just hopped about. I like to get settled somewhere so I know I can plan long term, for projects I just think that would be so much better but we've not had great access. We've always had to move in somewhere, know that we'd only be there for a few months, pack up, go on to the next place and then- yeah, that's been quite hard. Also I was so new to Liverpool. When I first moved here I didn't know any of the creative spaces well at all, so my introduction was the art scene was very unsettling, at first, anyway. We just work from home now, and over the internet together, don't we? I think it's easier. I would love to have a studio eventually and have somewhere to work.

DW - Why? It's a tiny box with a table if you're lucky and it's so expensive. I've honestly thought about upping how much rent I pay by a small fraction so I can have another room. That would be cheaper every month than having studio space. A house! I would still be renting it and that sucks, but you know. It boggles my mind.

It's interesting that you talk about jumping from all of these different spaces out of necessity, developers coming in, stripping the place down completely or making it not an option for artists anymore. Then this piece, in a way, evades all of that because you've situated the sound pieces in a park.

MD - Ooh, yeah.

DW - Yeah, I've always been interested in putting art in public spaces, I think- I don't know if we'd have done it if there wasn't a pandemic. We have to focus on these public outdoor spaces now which is really nice, because it means people enjoy them and appreciate them, and it means they'll probably be more protected. It's nice that artists are engaging with that as well, coming out into public rather than gallery spaces.

MD - I think it's so interesting to have the work in the park. When I was at uni I did this module called Beyond the Studio where we looked at artists who take work outside of the studio or outside of the gallery, I loved that module. I did quite badly in it but I really liked it. It's taken this long to make me work in this way, or the pandemic has pushed us to make work in this way. I'm like- why have we never done this before?

It's been a very interesting year for artists.

MD - I think so, definitely, the adaptions we've all had to make. I think a lot of it is like, how have we not thought about these things before?

Are you itching to get back to normal, or do you want it to continue to change - to not go back to how it was before?

MD - Do you mean in terms of galleries?

Yeah, the way that Liverpool's artists function - do you think we should find a new way to go about things?

MD - I feel quite excited by a lot of the changes I've seen, especially at OUTPUT the way everything's gone postal. It would be really cool to see galleries - why not bring back what we had but do things differently too? The way we've all adapted has got to stand for something or mean something now. I'd hope the two could work together going forward. It's presented new opportunities and new ways for people to work, so I think it would be a shame to just be like - oh we don't need to do that anymore, let's just go back to the old way.

DW - Yeah, there's definitely a laziness in the old way, as well - this is the way it is, so that's what we're going to do. It's never going to suit everyone, in every way, not just art - all of life.

MD - Don't get me wrong I still like going to galleries and stuff.

DW - I'm craving it a bit.

MD - I just think if there was more of a mix in future... it's just exciting, it's new, isn't it?

Yeah and it's often more accessible for people, as well.

MD - I totally agree.

DW - People can't always get to art galleries and with stuff being online, it means you can access it almost whenever. It's going to work a lot better for a lot of people so why not always have both, like Mali said?


DW - If we could do an exhibition somewhere there's more we could do, and a lot of work we can't do because people need to touch it, or something.

MD - That's the hard thing, yeah. The original proposal that we gave to you is the least covid safe...


DW - No spitting or anything, but...

MD - I didn't mean to word it like that! I mean like, it was all interactive and touch based, the technology.

Do you want to describe it for people?

MD - Yeah, so basically, originally we proposed to build a pool in the gallery, project into the pool, but also- we've got this device by a company called Playtronica, and the device we've got is called a Playtron. You can connect wires to conductive objects and it would trigger sounds in the gallery. The idea originally was to have that but because you have to touch things, in that sense it's not really good for Covid. In the future it's still something that we'd like to do. I've always wanted to make a piece of work with a pool in some way. So, yeah, it's one for the future.

DW - We really wanted to bring the element of water from the island into the gallery space and have it be interactive, textural, but also it has this conductive thing to it. It brings the sound in, you can mix the sound in the pool - the interactive thing was going to be sections of the pool that you could touch, it would bring parts of our sound and you could mix them yourself, layer and fragment them yourself. That's another part of our practice that is really important.

MD - We've kind of, in a way, included that in the sound walk. In the middle of the sound walk on the map there's a section where there's lots of like, the blue zones overlap, and you have to walk in between them yourself and they trigger single sounds. So you're remixing the sounds yourself by moving. We still brought that in, we tried.

DW - It's adapted.

Well maybe some fancy Liverpool curator is listening to this - not even just Liverpool but somewhere else and they're like, do you know what? We want an exhibition with a pool in it. We're going to get in touch, let's make it happen. Because the original proposal was great, it just feels so long ago, that was the conversation we were having and now we're doing a postal exhibition instead.

MD - I know!

Crazy. So - if any listeners want to access this postal exhibition make sure you are following OUTPUT Gallery on social media, we'll be posting links so you can receive one of the prints for free in the post. If you're also signed up to our mailing list you'll get a link via email as well. So any details for that are on www.outputgallery.com

Where can people find you both online?

DW - So, I don't have twitter or anything but I do have an instagram, @dan_waine.

MD - I'm just on instagram, @malidraper.

Amazing, thank you so much for chatting to me and thank you listeners for listening to the conversation, and we'll see you on the next episode of the podcast. Bye bye!

MD - Thank you!