The end of March and the half-asleep city: before the sun’s ghostly presence begins to materialise at midday, we meet with artist Caroline Sabin at her eccentric home made intimate and expansive by books, colour washed walls and antiquated pieces of furniture. From one room to another, we step around softly and converse with Caroline, her eyes quietly aflutter, about her artistic journey, her experience of reality and her practice as a choreographer and Shiatsu therapist. Later on, Caroline invited us to explore together the upper floors of Insole Court, a Grade II listed neo-gothic mansion nestled in the leafy Cardiff suburb of Llandaff, where she will show a new site specific dance theatre piece later in the year.
A soft-spoken, birdlike woman, Caroline manages to combine an inquisitive fluidity and responsive gentleness with the unrestrained and weird workings of her mind. Her visual and kinetic language seems to be structured as an allegorical abyss, hanging off the edge of her mind's universe and sinking into places without surface, where molecules of thoughts float and particles of life disperse and synchronise in the middle of her transparency.
Éric Poindron’s Weird Questionnaire
1 – Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
.kfcjg xiuf ksufug;sy uirgsuzgosg kshurir ociffoiofofof ifgruriirir jn uyetdiyetir nnn.
2 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
3 – Look at your watch. What time is it?
4 – How do you explain this – or these – discrepancy(ies) in time?
Our experience of 'reality' is a collaboration between external data and our own highly subjective nervous systems.
5 – Do you believe in meteorological predictions?
I believe in meteorological best guesses. There's a great deal of information about past weather patterns but then there's all that pesky chaos to deal with.
6 – Do you believe in astrological predictions?
No. Absolutely no.
7 – Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night?
Occasionally. Why don't I do it more?
8 – What do you think of the sky and stars by night?
Beautiful, perspective giving. Awe inducing due to the vastness of time and space they demonstrate.
9 – What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire?
A post in an online support group I'm a member of.
10 – What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you?
The architecture is often something to be marvelled at, triggering both my admiration for the scope of human endeavour and my frustrations at humanity's priorities. The construction of large buildings was often dangerous and low or unpaid (still to this day sadly) and often carried out in areas where the resources could have been better used for housing, education or health care. Of course I am an artist and value art hugely but given a choice I would always feed the hungry before suggesting they visit a gallery for a different type of nourishment. It must be clear from my answer already that I do not believe in an all powerful god who is also emotionally insecure enough to need its creations to worship it! Sadly, organised religion is often used to control bodies and narrow minds.
11 – What would you have “seen” had you been blind?
From what I've read blind people do not experience complete blackness. If one closes one's eyes there are often washes of colour or light, and people trapped in a blackout situation will begin to hallucinate quite quickly – I have had this experience myself whilst caving. Similar to my answer to question 4 (and the subject of my next piece of work) I'm drawing on my lay person's neuro-biological knowledge to remind us that the experience of the images we see, the sounds we hear, tastes, smells etc. are constructed by our own nervous systems in response to external data and a whole load of memory, association, prejudice and preference. I will notice different things in a room than you because we have different interests and associations. As such I cannot possibly imagine what 'I' would see had I been blind from birth as 'I' would be a different 'I' from this one as 50 years of visual shaping would never have happened. If I went blind tomorrow I imagine my mind would create all kinds of sights, copying and manipulating the images it had already produced.
12 – What would you want to see if you were blind?
Wide open landscapes. Loving, smiling faces. Healthy plants, trees and animals.
13 – Are you afraid?
14 – What of?
Abandonment, violence, hunger, illness and pain.
15 – What is the last weird film you’ve seen?
Non-mainstream doesn't feel weird to me! Under the Skin.
16 – Whom are you afraid of?
Unutterable things that were once very close to me
17 – Have you ever been lost?
Not seriously. On long solitary walks I've given myself a fright a few times but found my way in the end. More metaphorically? Sometimes – less than in the past. I've looked deeply into some big questions and while I don't claim any definitive knowledge (is there any?) I'm at peace with my 'current working hypotheses'.
18 – Do you believe in ghosts?
19 – What is a ghost?
Well – there certainly is more in heaven and earth than I have dreamed of, but the notion of a separate consciousness existing beyond physical death makes no sense to me. Having wrestled with how matter and consciousness interact the only conclusion that sits well for me currently is that they are like two sides of a coin and linked right down to the subatomic level. For me the whole universe is alive with incredible intelligence and responsiveness and time and space are relative and fluid so it would be foolish to dismiss every witness account of the paranormal as mere fancy, delusion or deception. Echoes? Traces? I don't know.
20 – At this very moment, what sound(s) can you hear, apart from the computer?
Building noise from next door. The sound of the toilet cistern refilling. My housemate coming in from the garden and putting his keys on the table.
21 – What is the most terrifying sound you’ve ever heard – for example, “the night was like the cry of a wolf”?
I was in India staying at the Open Island Centre which sat between two arms of the Tungabhadra river. It was a longish walk to the nearest village and it wasn't possible to get there and back in one day in daylight. The river is vast and powerful and filled with huge granite boulders – no animal that fell in could possibly survive and crossing it involved mostly scrambling but also a few short jumps. During my stay there was an extraordinarily bright full moon and I decided that would be sufficient to cross the river after a day trip to 'town'. The difference between the mildly scary sound of the river in daylight and the gut turning roar of it in the context of night was huge. I was genuinely scared for my life but still pushed myself to cross it rather than sleep under a bush till dawn. I crossed with my heart in my mouth and of course survived, but I have never forgotten that sense of dread.
22 – Have you done something weird today or in the last few days?
Weird or Wyrd? If the latter then we are all wyrd all the time. Weird as in not the social norm? Well – then being a self-employed artist answering a questionnaire from two strangers is probably a little odd.
23 – Have you ever been to confession?
No – but I have a little pop up performance piece called 'Tell me Anything' which is a cross between a confessional and a carnival sideshow.
24 – You’re at confession, so confess the unspeakable.
Not in writing to someone I don't know! I did accidentally steal a cream egg once...
25 – Without cheating: what is a “cabinet of curiosities”?
This links in with another piece of mine – A Curious Zoo. I didn't research in any way exhaustively but my understanding is that they were popular in Victorian times and were display cases containing 'marvellous' artifacts. Fossils, bones, etc. etc. What caught my imagination was the notion of cramming a lot of wonder into a small space. A Curious Zoo was presented on the ground floor of my own small terrace house, with seven performers, twenty eight audience and a pedal-powered harmonium. It was quite squashed.
26 – Do you believe in redemption?
27 – Have you dreamed tonight?
Is the tense deliberate? I don't know whether or what I will dream tonight.
28 – Do you remember your dreams?
I don't recall any dreams from last night and I rarely do. When I do they are horrific.
29 – What was your last dream?
I had banged several six inch nails into my skull. I started to feel this might not have been a good idea. Dread. DREAD.
30 – What does fog make you think of?
That old film where a raggle taggle group steals a dinosaur skeleton from a museum. Sure it's foggy in the film, but why the association has stayed quite so strongly I don't know.
31 – Do you believe in animals that don’t exist?
Brilliant question! What do we mean by exist? I'm imagining a flying hippo with flamingo legs right now. It exists in consciousness therefore it exists.
32 – What do you see on the walls of the room where you are?
Two sets of shelves with a deliberate curiosity cabinet feel. A fire place with the surround made from railway sleepers and an ornate metal fireback. My housemate found the fireback in the back garden of a B&B he was staying at whilst touring. He offered to buy it, but was given it for free.
33 – If you became a magician, what would be the first thing you’d do?
Fly across the universe!
34 – What is a madman?
To be well adjusted to a fundamentally sick society is not a sign of mental health. I have several 'mad' friends who suffer the occasional psychotic break. They are some of the sanest people I know. Albert Einstein defines madness as 'repeating the same experiment over and over but somehow expecting different results'. This chimes very well with me.
35 – Are you mad?
36 – Do you believe in the existence of secret societies?
Of course. There are 7 billion people on this planet. Someone somewhere is doing just about everything. I'd be very surprised if there wasn't at least one secret group.
37 – What was the last weird book you read?
Grief is the Thing with Feathers. It's unconventional in its layout and narrative. I highly recommend it.
38 – Would you like to live in a castle?
Yes, but mainly as I'm choosing to imagine an amazing location somewhere remote. I prefer small cosy spaces, but I also like being up high and I'm sure I could make myself a snug nest in a turret.
39 – Have you seen something weird today?
Other than my chin hairs that seem to grow an inch overnight? There are many 'weird' objects in my house. From my chair I can see a toy made from the stripped body of an automated Tigger toy and a Tiny Tears doll head. It still jumps up and down.
40 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever seen?
Wyrdest film might be Richard Linklater's Waking Life.
41 – Would you like to live in an abandoned train station?
Sounds good! As with the castle I'm imagining it in a nice spot. I like the idea of all the traces of travel and people left behind in what would have become a tranquil place. As a child I loved 'the wood between the worlds' from CS Lewis' The Magician's Nephew. It was an incredibly peaceful place but had access to a multitude of other, exciting places. An abandoned train station might have a similar feel of peace/potential.
42 – Can you see the future?
No! But sometimes it seems that I can… by which I mean that some friends will always be late, others will always be generous. I'm pretty sure before I eat some roast chicken that I will find the experience pleasurable. Didn't someone clever say that the best way to predict the future is to observe the past?
43 – Have you considered living abroad?
Yes, and I have.
44 – Where?
45 – Why?
To take my post-grad in choreography.
46 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever owned?
Jan Svankmajer's Alice.
47 – Would you liked to have lived in a vicarage?
And been the vicar's daughter? I would have been the classic rebel!
48 – What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?
A novel by Danielle Steel. I was staying in a holiday cottage and there was nothing else to read. I really didn't think it was possible to write that badly. The fact that she is a best selling author is one of the weirdest facts on this planet.
49 – Which do you like better, globes or hourglasses?
Aaargh! You're asking me to choose between time and space! Both are pretty essential for anything to happen.
50 – Which do you like better, antique magnifying glasses or bladed weapons?
First response is one of aversion to bladed weapons… but in a life threatening situation I'm sure I'd feel differently. Did you know there's a project that involves making outdoor gymnasiums for 'deprived' areas out of the steel from confiscated knives? I love magnifying glasses (and microscopes and telescopes) and have a chandelier made from plastic ones.
51 – What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness?
An extraordinary number of bacteria and other microscopic organisms as well as fish and aquatic worms etc. etc. Nature just as it is is beyond extraordinary. I have a saying: 'The garden is infinitely more miraculous than any fairies you might find at the bottom'. The figures vary widely but a conservative estimate for the number of bacteria in a gram of soil is 10 to the 10 made up of 4K (peaking at 50K) individuals all interacting with each other in complex and specific ways. Mind boggling.
52 – Do you like taxidermied animals?
I do! But it's so wrong. I see them in shops but don't allow myself to own one. That creature did not give consent to be used as an ornament.
53 – Do you like walking in the rain?
Gentle rain – yes. A downpour can be exciting and even pleasurable in a warm climate. Sideways freezing rain – no. The pleasure there is getting indoors.
54 – What goes on in tunnels?
55 – What do you look at when you look away from this questionnaire?
An old display case from the now refurbished Cardiff library. It's been filled with fake insects made by an artist friend.
56 – What does this famous line inspire in you: “And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.”?
An epic journey deep into the psyche.
57 – Without cheating: where is that famous line from?
Sorry – no idea!
58 – Do you like walking in graveyards or the woods by night?
Yes. Preferably without a torch. I spend time off grid each year and experiencing darkness is one of the pleasures. As a child my favourite spot in Brighton was the graveyard just up from Churchill Square.
59 – Write the last line of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
Kjf;z;fgsgj sh;os ksu h;os;ousogo oshf;soig ;lfih sihsihgsipg sh;sh sl;h lhhohoj ddd.
60 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
61 – Look at your watch. What time is it?
15.54! I'm astonished!
Thank you, Caroline for the beautiful experience! Can you also recommend us a song and a recipe?
A song: Into my Arms by Nick Cave. An atheists devotional poem.
A recipe: Egg Banana Pancakes. Mash eggs and bananas together and pan fry in butter. With a couple of rashers of bacon this is a gluten free breakfast for champions!
Official website: Caroline Sabin