We caught up with Kristin and Davy McGuire in the midst of moving their studio and relocating from Bristol to Hull to embark on a new adventure and to explore further creative landscapes, speaking very fondly of their prolific bristolian years and the unforgettable trace that the Hamilton House creative community has left in their souls.
Using paper cutting, film, animation and projection, Kristin and Davy create whimsical miniature worlds and tell stories that make the familiar look unfamiliar, even peculiar and unknown, leaving the viewer perplexed, enchanted and even troubled. These carefully fabricated, if not entirely fabulated worlds are not a means to escape reality but a rich and complex expression of what they’ve got brooding in their imaginations.
There is a volatility and rawness about Kristin and Davy that can make some uneasy, a sense of inner fires barely contained, as if a peculiar veil of melancholy is flying through the air to foreign lands and peoples, a veil that shows us that there are marvellous doors into darkness, gloves left behind, circles of light through which creatures are passing only to return to places that don't exist.
For people who don’t know you, who are Davy and Kristin McGuire?
We are the worst people to answer that question but artistic directors is probably the most encompassing job description and augmented reality is probably our most used medium/ technology. Together we co-direct a multi award winning creative studio, producing art installations, theatre shows and films across the globe for the likes of Google, Harrods, Courvoisier, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Barbican and many more.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Kristin: Laughing at boys when I could climb trees higher than they could.
Davy: Getting caught for pissing on my dog.
How did you two meet?
In Holland. Kristin cast Davy in one of her performances and he asked whether we could extend our professional relationship into the private realm.
How do you influence each other creatively?
That’s really hard to unpick. Our joint creativity is like a little avalanche, each of us has ideas that then inspire and prompt the other to go further and so forth. One idea adds to the other until it all culminates in some joint piece of work.
What are the most striking similarities between your visions? What about the differences?
We both like dark, wistful worlds, and we are both absolutely product orientated. Experimenting for the sake of experiencing a process doesn’t satisfy us. We like having a very clear result in our minds before we begin working. As for the differences Davy is more interested in illusions and humour and Kristin is more interested in aesthetics and atmospheres although these interests overlap. For example for our new show we’ll be working with (sexual) violence and while Davy is more fascinated by the issues of power, strategy and adrenaline that come with violence, Kristin gets curious about the physicality, aesthetics and psychological sensation of violent actions.
What are your greatest strengths as a team of creatives?
We really complement each other in terms of project delivery and timing. Kristin works ahead of time because deadlines paralyse her whereas Davy thrives on the adrenaline of being close to delivery dates. That’s when his most potent workforce kicks in. And creatively we just click, we have enough similar but also diﬀerent interests to keep things exciting for each other.
What are your major sources of inspiration? What about your most poignant common influences?
That changes a lot and depends on the particular project.
Kristin: I used to be a dancer and when I was younger I could be thrilled by purely geometric, algorithmic choreography. That interest completely changed to more narrative, figurative works later. I like detail, elegance and metaphorical darkness and whichever artist or artwork can give me that will inspire me but I don’t really obsess with artists or works for very long. If I named particular people now I might look back at this in a year's time and think ‘nah’.
Davy: Pinterest click holes. My dad. Walking about. I just absorb my environment. Playing with toy soldiers and making little bases for them.
In your work you orchestrate elaborate and whimsical scenes of mesmerising theatricality. How would you describe your relationship with reality and the outside world?
Haha, we aren’t escapists! Davy loves real people and spends a lot of time with them and Kristin has always been a very rational person. We both get excited by scientific hypotheses that explain the world and the behaviour of all living things. We create these fictional worlds because they artistically fascinate us and they allow us to realise what we’ve got brooding in our imaginations ‒ they aren’t a means to escape reality.
How important is it to you to provoke reactions in the audience? In which ways do these reactions affect your work?
Very important. And if they respond ‒ in whichever way ‒ we’ll probably make more of the same work. Call us attention or success whores but we supply more if there is demand ‒ until we get bored of it.
What is the most frequent question people ask about your art?
How do you do that? or What sort of art do you do? (Followed by a big sigh from both of us because our creative practices are hard to fit into an elevator pitch.)
To what extent is your work autobiographical?
Our work is much more archetypal than autobiographical. We often tell stories without words and they are easier to communicate when you tap into stories that people know through cultural osmosis. Our autobiographical dramas have never featured in our work and it’s probably best it stays that way.
What about irony and social criticism? Is there room for any of that in your work?
Our work is not purposefully socially critical but we have experienced our work in situations where it could be perceived as such. We once animated a street in Hull with projections of little people living in the nooks and niches of neglected buildings, feeding oﬀ discarded food and building lives from garbage thrown out by humans. When the local trouble maker found our work in his patch he seemed so proud of it that he invited the paroling cops to take a look. It was a really touching scene. We also sometimes get emails from people who are touched by our work. One that stands out was from a cancer survivor who saw our theatre show The Paper Architect in Australia and she wrote to us saying that each year she survives she remembers the sad, joyous and hopeful experience of The Paper Architect: “It made my living experience so meaningful and real.”
You don’t seem to like stories that have a happy ending. Are you melancholic people?
Haha, well observed. Kristin enjoys melancholy in real life. Davy experienced a lot of melancholy but he doesn’t like to express it in real life. We are both quite cynical people in everyday life.
What do you prefer, the mystery or the transparency?
Mystery anytime! In art at least. In life and between the two of us it’s definitely transparency.
What has been the most challenging project to date?
Probably our first commercial commission and our first large scale theatre show took a few dozen pounds oﬀ both of us. But that was because we missed a few steps leading up to those big projects in our career.
What is the most challenging thing about working with paper?
Its fragility and decay. And getting typecast into paper craft artists.
What is a typical day like in The McGuires studio?
There is no such thing! That is the beauty of our job. Every project and every day is so diﬀerent. We might spend a day ironing pond liner, recording a monologue, sourcing vegetable beds and getting covered in glue. And the next day we are on a flight to Japan, ready to spend the night locked into Tokyo’s most expensive jewellery store. The only consistency in our work is its inconsistency.
What would be the dream project for you?
Kristin: A delicate, dark and sexy immersive theatrical installation the size of a haunted house.
Davy: I don’t really have a dream project.
What are you working on at the moment, both together and individually?
Davy has just finished a 10 by 10 meter city made of cardboard, inhabited by holograms of little people and visited by 13,000 big people. And Kristin just finished a year oﬀ from The McGuires, doing a postgrad at Glasgow School of Arts on sex, death and pole dancing.
Do you have any particular anecdotes you would like to share with us?
Oh, there are too many. One of Kristin’s recent Facebook statuses read like this:
Kristin: “Marriage is essentially about a woman bartering her reproductive capacities for access to a man's protection and resources.”
Davy: “So I am supposed to protect you and bring the money home in order for you to pop out
some Mini-Davys for me?”
Davy: “We are not doing very well here, are we?”
What subject appears most often in your conversations?
Sex, science, religion and violence. Peppered with rhetorical questions on who’s done the dishes.
Your studio is based in Hamilton House. How important is this place for you and your work?
Extremely important. Hamilton House has been a place for us to grow. Sadly it is coming to an end because the area has turned really lucrative. But maybe it is a good thing for us to move on and find an environment that can take our studio to the next level.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in Bristol?
Hamilton House is our favourite place in Bristol by a mile.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
The odd thing is that we actually could live anywhere in the world because our work and our life are not dependent on a particular location. Believe it or not, but we will be moving to Hull next year… but the bigger ambition is to have a studio in London, Tokyo and New York as well as a tree house and train set in the loft.
What is your perfect day at home like?
Davy playing the guitar or piano, Kristin reading a non-fiction book, and our dog and cat snuggled up on the couch. All at the same time in the same room.
What can we expect from Davy & Kristin McGuire in the near future?
A theatre show. Pitched as “a dark psychological thriller that voyeuristically peers into the erotic, clandestine underworld of two tarnished, tainted and cynical would be lovers, each with something to hide, whose paths irresistibly collide to ultimately descend into doom.”
Can you recommend us a book, a song and a film?
Davy's song: Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit
Davy's film: The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Davy's book: All Dogs Have ADHD
Kristin's song: Lana del Rey's songs
Kristin's film: Carry On Camping
Kristin's book: Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene