Harry Clayton-Wright thinks You Otter Know

After hanging up the old touring heels for the time being; I spoke to performance artist Harry Clayton-Wright about coming home, collaboration and making new work beside the sea.

Hi Harry, welcome home!
A little bird tells me that you’ve headed back to the Fylde Coast to work on some new projects. How do you work? Can you tell us a bit about your processes? 

Usually I’m sat on ideas for quite a while, then when the medium becomes clear (stage, screen, installation, photographic work, zine) I’ll spring into action to make things happen. I’m very lucky to have been able to work with some incredible collaborators over the years and so we’ll build on ideas as we bring them to life together. I prefer to only show things that are fully formed, so I can often be quite quiet for a while, but that’s only surface as I’ll most definitely be working, dreaming and cooking things up in the background.

What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in
your work?

Collaboration. It takes a village. I’m always so energised when building creative projects with others.

What does your work aim to say? Does it comment on current social or
political issues? 

I was once told that to too closely define your work’s meaning doesn’t allow room for personal interpretation, which I often think about when having to write blurbs or show copy. So I do like to offer insight into my process and help people understand a context, but I also like it to be found, discovered and experienced with an open mind by the viewer without me explicitly having to tell you what you’re looking at. I’m very interested in making work that draws you in but then pulls the rug out, that can make you both laugh and cry, take your breath away, that is enjoyed and experienced as entertainment but also carries weight and provocation and subversive undercurrents, and maybe even shock a little too.

Should music and performance be publicly funded? 

Yes. 

Portrait of Harry in gold suit
Harry Clayton Wright Photo by Sam Taylor-Edwards. Styling by Nathan Henry

What memorable responses have you had to your work? 

When I performed a 107 hour durational piece at Glastonbury, The Slumber Party, where I was dressed as a teenage girl who wouldn’t leave her bedroom for the entire duration of the festival, the window frontage to the installation was smashed in by one of the revellers. That was INTENSE.

Who are your biggest influences? 

Pee-wee Herman, Keith Haring, Grace Jones, Freddie Mercury, George Michael, Cher, John Waters.

What is your dream project? 

To make a big dance piece with beautiful sets, ridiculous costumes and lots of performers.

Do you think that Blackpool provides a decent creative environment for performers? 

Blackpool has such an incredible entertainment history and growing up here with this insight into the legacy and hard work of show business has really inspired me, the art I choose to make and my work ethic with how dedicated you have to be with your craft as a performer and maker. I do think that while a place is what you make of it, the existing backdrop to work within here in Blackpool is fantastic. It feels like we’re living on a movie set and is always a privilege to work in the town.

What jobs have you had other than being an artist? 

I worked at the Sea Life Centre in Blackpool when I was 20. My job included wearing a mascot costume to greet guests, then subsequently getting rugby tackled by stag and hen parties and wrestled to the ground on Blackpool Promenade for being stood in a mascot costume. Also, it was occasionally my responsibility to deliver talks about the fish or sharks. The marine biologists were always way better at it than me, of course, but as I could never remember all the facts when it was my turn, I just used to turn those talks into naming ceremonies instead as a way to pass the time. 

How has lockdown affected you and your work?

The Spring tour of my debut solo theatre show Sex Education was postponed. The development of my second full length show, which was due to take place over summer, was cancelled. I’m not gonna lie and say there are days where I haven’t felt pretty dejected, but I was also lucky to be commissioned by Homotopia to make a new zine publication which has been a great outlet and avenue for my creativity during this time. You Otter Know is inspired by a love of top shelf publications and the graphic design from 70s, 80s and 90s porno mags. Art, poems, glossy photo spreads, new writing, lessons learned from a heady career in show business, it also features some of my incredibly talented friends too. You can view the publication at youotterknow.camp (dot camp, I know) and you’ll receive a high res PDF download – for free – when you sign up to the mailing list. So regardless of your financial situation, everyone can enjoy some new art at this time. 

You usually get paper zines, when you have an online publication, it’s often super functional, like a schedule, brochure or catalogue… What attracted you to publishing work in this medium?

You Otter Know zine front cover
You Otter Know, Harry Clayton-Wright & Polari Press.

I wanted to create a digital experience that could be viewed on phones or laptops, wherever you are in the world. Personally, I have a huge love of old scanned in magazines and so at the heart of this I’m replicating an experience that brings me a lot of joy and paying homage to those publications and their incredible graphic design. Polari Press, who designed the zine, worked so hard on getting that feeling just right. Of something you’d found it in the loft and put it straight on a flatbed scanner, page tears and fading and all.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

Know when to leave the party. Never be an unwanted guest.

We’re really glad to see Harry back on the Fylde Coast; to keep up to date with everything that we’ve talked about (and many more projects), take a look at Harry’s Twitter, Instagram, and website.

 

Cover photo by Rosie Powell

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