From Miniature To Monumental… The Big Interview: Kristin McGuire

Recreating Hitchcock’s Psycho with paper and light, and changing the way we see nude statues forever: Deb Laing meets resident artist Kristin McGuire at the Williamson Gallery and Museum…

Multi-award winning husband and wife artistic team Davy and Kristin McGuire tell stories through tiny, highly-detailed, cut paper dioramas and digital projection; a very modern take on traditional shadow puppet theatre. Combining Davy’s expertise in theatre and film with Kristin’s skills in contemporary dance — who has performed with many international companies including Cirque du Soleil – the couple are exhibiting at the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum (Birkenhead) this month, as part of the Museums at Night initiative.

Culminating in a special event next week that unveils their new work STARKERS, the McGuire’s will animate one of the gallery’s permanent residents, ‘Pauline’ — a life size, marble neo-classical statue by Giulio Tadolini (1881) of a naked woman — through clever use of 3D projection mapping, music and Pauline’s previously hidden ‘voice’. Originally a gift donated by a Miss Jane Walne of Belvedere Road, Liverpool, we doubt Miss Walne would have foreseen this lively interpretation: challenging, as it does, our idea of what artworks would think of the museum visitors if the tables were turned.

We spoke to Kristin McGuire on whether she anticipated the theatrical aspect in the gallery as a challenge, posing a series of questions about her past and present work…

“I grew up with Grimm fairytales and German Expressionism”

The Double Negative: How much does German culture or aesthetic influence your work? I’m particularly referring to The Ice Book (2009), the first animated pop-up book pivotal to your career, and one which has toured more than 13 different countries and received half a million views online?

Kristin McGuire: The season we were [living] there influenced the work. It was winter and it was snowing. The book is about the Snow Queen, who goes to look for warmth, for love… being German, I grew up with Grimm fairytales and German Expressionism. Maybe I have been influenced subconsciously by the architectural landscape to produce work that reflects a German aesthetic. The imagery is white, crisp, clean looking; maybe that’s what you can see in the pop-up books?

Where do your ideas originate and how do you achieve such seamless visuals in paper and projection?

I think we are both perfectionists… we try to make it look quite magical without any strings attached. We use a lot of contemporary equipment along with traditional craft elements; we try to hide the equipment without destroying the illusion.

The Hunter; courtesy Davy & Kristin McGuire

The Hunter — from which you received the Simon Beckett Award (2013) — perfectly illustrated your skills in staged drama using 3D and 5D imagery. The illusions you and Davy create, it may be suggested, are more akin to early performances of magic and film, rather than computerized wizardry?

Yes, you could say that; that’s why we work in miniature. We just love immersing the audience into an optical world in order to create  ‘otherworldly’ experiences.

A fantasy world, one based on early cinematic images?

Err yes, I think we produce work that is more human and nostalgic; we try and contain a traditional aesthetic and keep the magic alive.

“Pauline gets revenge! She is a very neo-classical sculpture; we will be bringing her to life with projection mapping, concentrating on her eyes and mouth”

Is magic on the cards at the Williamson Art Gallery on the 30th October with STARKERS?

I hope so yes, Pauline gets revenge! She is a very neo-classical sculpture; we will be bringing her to life with projection mapping, concentrating on her eyes and mouth, and accompanied by rich monologue written by Richard Hurford. The composer for the music is Fyfe Dangerfield of the Guillemots.

And can you tell us more about the techniques and technology used?

First we 3D scanned the marble statue, and then digitally overlayed the image. Projection mapping is almost like dressing her; tailor-fitting the images to her body. I recited Richard’s text by heart, narrating into the microphone, whilst my face was being filmed. Davy then digitally extracted my eyes and mouth, transposing them onto Pauline’s face.

STARKERS seems to push the idea of multiple realities; where does this come from?

Pauline has her own story; she comes from a long line of female nudes in art history. The reality in the gallery is that visitors and staff think she’s a lovely thing to have around. I’m not sure that it was our intention — to bring her more public attention — but to get the public to look at her differently… what I have found fascinating is that she has been standing there all the time being looked at.

As a temporary reality, this installation will in effect reverse the gaze?

Yes, literally! She will see the audience, imagining them naked; we want to throw back the notion that she is unassuming! We have also given them [the Williamson] three other works that you can also see on site, all dioramas, and part of the Psycho Series: Homage to Hitchcock.

“The miniature is a fascination we both have; Davy has been creating little worlds since he was a child and I have my fascination with detail”

Do always reference other works that inspire you?

No, [but] they help us imagine how we put our vision across. For example, at the moment we are working on a larger project working with black rather than white paper sets influenced by Film Noir.

Are we going to continue enjoying your immersive miniature set pieces?

The miniature is a fascination we both have; Davy has been creating little worlds since he was a child and I have my fascination with detail… but also for practical reasons, if it’s just the two of us, you need to keep the project small. That way you can control the whole thing.

Psycho: Homage to Hitchcock courtesy Davy & Kristin McGuire

And now?

Now we are being more ambitious and working with more people, from our environment, people we can trust and who share our ambition, our aesthetic.

Do you ever find yourself compromised in any way when commissioned to design a set piece?

No, with commission work — for example, the Cognac House Courvoisier project — feeds from and into other creative ideas. If we require a bigger stage we go with that and try to make it happen.

You tell stories silently, which automatically gives the viewer a feeling of history; why?

We use the moral fable because we don’t want saccharine coated characters and narrative… we both like archetypal stories, we don’t use spoken language often. I use body language rather than words for the shadow figures in the dioramas, and Davy conveys atmosphere through music. Our stories are dark but at the same time kept simple to tap into what the audience knows.

Will the audience know what Pauline has been seeing for all these years at the Williamson?

Surrounded by other nudes hung in the gallery? It’s fascinating; I mean the history of the nude in the art gallery? Hopefully Pauline coming to life will be as atmospheric and exciting on the night.

Deb Laing

The McGuire’s Museums at Night event Perfect? will be held 7.30-10.30pm on Friday 30 October 2015. Including the launch of STARKERS plus creative food, bar, and live music from Manchester-based dreampoppers O>L>A and Manchester Pride headliner DJ Riv  – £16, book tickets here

See the McGuire’s Psycho Series: Homage to Hitchcock at the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead, on display until 1 November 2015; plus STARKERS, on display from 31 October to 30 November 2015 – free entry

See more on the McGuire’s website,

Posted on 20/10/2015 by thedoublenegative