Edinburgh’s Arusha Gallery continues to exhibit thought-provoking works by artists from various parts of the UK, and THE PAST IS SINGING IN OUR TEETH – a gallery wide video and sound installation by Kate McMillan, is no different. Her latest work confronts the viewer with spell blankets, hag stones, a 2-channel video installation with the video filmed at four different parts of the English countryside (with one of Kate’s three daughters appearing in the final scene), and most interestingly perhaps a performance by Glaswegian percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir at the launch party during which Signy – dressed in a pocketed spell dress – attempted to evoke voices from hanging objects (see photo).
Below interview with multi-media artist Kate McMillan offers further insight.

Newsdesk: Kate, please tell me a little about the concept of ‘spell blankets’ and ‘hag stones’.

Kate McMillan: The spell blankets were made in response to the appointment of Donald Trump and the notion that progress is not inevitable - that the rights women have fought for may be eroded. The blankets assume the idea of protection. The hagstones have a variety of different mythologies attached to them across Europe. In Britain, it was believed that wise women could look through the holes and see into the future.

Newsdesk: During your time in Australia, did you study any of the Aborigine beliefs?

Kate: In the first instance, we don't use the word 'aborigine' as this is a colonial term. I am quite familiar with the culture of Noongar peoples which is the language group from Perth in Western Australia. There are 250 distinct language and cultural groups across the country.

Newsdesk: Your work seems to hark back to ancient times when a wise woman seemed a lot more in tune with nature, the power of plants and ‘other dimensions’ – do you feel that as a society in general and as women in nowadays world we have lost our touch and sense for ‘magic’ and primordial intuitions?

Kate: There is no doubt we have lost touch with many things. I think art and culture provides an opportunity to see ideas differently, to seek questions for different futures.

Newsdesk: What, in your opinion, is the difference between female empowerment (as a mother, as a ‘warrior’, as a worker, as a healer) between now and the past centuries?

Kate: I don't think I would use the terms, warrior or healer, as these ideas have been used to undermine women's knowledge. I do however think women often approach challenges differently, largely because they have treated differently by society, not because of some innate difference. Women are often more collaborative, empathetic and resilient as a consequence. There are still many challenges and at the current rate of change, it will take another 176 years for women to achieve parity with men in the UK.

Newsdesk: How would you explain the title ‘Past is singing in our Teeth’ to someone unfamiliar with your work?

Kate: The title refers to the idea that our past leaves a residue in our bodies - and that if we listen closely, we can see and observe it.

Newsdesk: Tell me a little about your collaboration between sound artist Louise Devenish and writer/composer Cat Hope…

Kate: I have been working with Cat since 2007. She has been the most important collaborator in my career. Even though we work in different creative spheres, our ideas often intersect. She has also been an incredible mentor and support. Louise is the most accomplished percussionist I have ever worked with. She is diligent and attentive and was the first person to perform this score when it debuted in Berlin.

Newsdesk: How did you get to collaborate with Glaswegian artist Signy Jakobsdottir?

Kate: Signy was suggested to Cat as the best percussionist in Scotland. The role of the percussionist in this score, is to bring a voice to these silent objects - the notion that we can hear the past if we listen.

Newsdesk: How do you see the future in terms of the motto ‘Spring does not always flourish?

Kate: I am presuming you have noted this Latin phrase (ver non simper viret) from an earlier work of mine. You will see in the film that Spring is the only season not represented. My Father died in Spring and I can recall the heavy blossom of the Jacaranda tree being incongruous with how I felt. In terms of the future, I don't think the seasons as we know them will exist for very much longer due to climate change. In Noongar culture there are 7 seasons but they are much harder to observe.

‘The Past is Singing in Our Teeth’ installation runs until 26th of August at:
Arusha Gallery, 13A Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 5QG / Tel 0131 557 1412

(Follow Kate McMillan’s work via kate_mcmillan_ or www.katemcmillan.net )

Photo by Dàrio Rodrigues.