A lot of people compare Berlin now with New York in the 1970’s. Do you understand what they mean?
It’s to do with the recession. Maybe it’s something to do with the city as well. But I think it’s more to do with the recession, or – I don’t know what to call it – the unemployment situation. People can’t get work, but they have to be able to eat, so they live here for less than you can in London or Dublin. But at the same time you’ve got more time to do creative things. That’s what happened in New York then.
Is that why you went over there?
I was following my instinct, I’d say. There was nothing for me in Ireland. I was interested in working in photography, and there was no way to get work because they wouldn’t employ women at the time. Plus you had to go to photography school to get work, and the course wouldn’t take women. And in London? I didn’t see much difference there.
All those people running around calling themselves artists were guys – it just didn’t have that energy I found in New York. I immediately found that city a very creative place on a level I’d never come across anywhere. Perhaps it’s like that here now.
What goes through your mind when you watch your films after 30 years?
I think they’ve stood the test of time, that’s what goes through my mind. They still have this energy that’s beyond me – it’s an energy that’s out there now. Creativity is not something you can own. If you start to believe you own it, then it withers. But the films do bring back a certain time as well. I mean I was younger, for a start. I look at them and think, “God, how beautiful we all were.”
One of the films being shown at Britspotting, ‘Visibility Moderate,’ is about travelling back to Ireland. Why did you make that film then, after you’d been in New York so long?
I love travelling, I love entering different worlds. Obviously I know Ireland very well. When you live away from home and you go back you see it through the eyes of a stranger. You have a knowledge of a place, and you’re more acutely open to the bizarreness of it. It was important to jump into making a film while I was still open to it. Part of the film is about the Ireland that Ireland is trying to sell, and what people kind of expect when they go there. Ireland’s become so good at capitalising on this, and selling the blarney and the craic to death.
How do you feel about that?
Well, it’s a load of nonsense isn’t it? But it’s interesting because everything is constructed anyway. You just get the feeling in Ireland they’d sell their granny if they had to. Things are collapsing in Ireland now though. Which is a good thing.
Is it, why?
It’ll give us a break, you know? From this mad consumerism. Let us pause for a minute and see what we want, exactly.
So why did you go back?
Lots of reasons. One – I got a job. Two – I was getting depressed. New York was beginning to close in on me. Three – I wanted to go back because I’d been away for twelve years. Four – I thought Ireland had changed, and I’d be able to go back. But I got a shock. I found out it was too soon for me.
Does the ‘experimental’ label bother you?
No, I’ve got nothing against it. We all have to be experimenting. We all have to discover new ways to describe the world. People who are successful making large-scale feature films are always experimenting and drawing on the avant-garde. They pick all those tricks up from the experimenters.
And I think in this proto-fascist world that we’re going into now at the speed of light, experimentation becomes more and more important as a way to resist.