In a new GARAGE series of interviews and portraits, we look into in the close knit world of the creative industries. The series namesake ‘Six Degrees of Separation,’ comes from the theory that no matter what, you are six individuals away from any person in the world. With this is in mind, we start with someone we know, like and want to know more about. In speaking to them we are connected to the next interviewee and through this we investigate the lengths of this interlinked, connected world. Perhaps the previous sitter mentioned the next interviewee in our meeting; perhaps they are close friends or just professionally connected... who knows where our sitters might take us and to whom?
Our first interview with Eudon Choi provided a stepping-stone to Jules Wright, the founder and director of a renowned institution here in London, The Wapping Project.
She speaks with Abi Fincham and Holly Hay about her journey throughout the creative industries and her newest space, The Wapping Project Bankside.
Abi Fincham: You moved to London from Australia when you were 19. What was your dream?
Jules Wright: To work in a theatre, to be a director in the theatre, even though I was doing something entirely different! I got the scholarship to study, but my reason for getting it was to get over here into theatre. So that was my driving ambition.
AF: Did you always plan to stay here?
JW: I didn't know if I would or not. I was incredibly competitive and ambitious, I thought you grew out of that at some point, but I haven't. It's also that thing of always wanting to be afraid. As soon as you become complacent then some of the edge goes out of it for me. And I haven't changed on that score.
AF: How has the Wapping Project’s amazing space evolved from the first initial idea?
JW: I didn't have a very concrete view of what it would become and in a way it has become much more than I imagined because I think that at the time I probably thought of visual arts and theatre, but actually it's become an institution. Wherever I go in the world people go 'Oh my god, the Wapping Project'.
It does have a kind of very magic, personal feel to it and somehow whatever I do to it, it kind of works. For example, we rediscovered an old disco ball in the filter house and everyone said 'What is this?' and I said lets put it in the boiler; lets put it in the main space. It looked amazing. There's something about that building.
Holly Hay: It's kind of never saying no to something isn't it? I mean the things that you have done in that space, the fact that you filled it with water it's about never saying, 'that's not possible'.
JW: It is that sense of possibility and transformation that makes it something very special.
AF: Can you explain the difference between the Wapping Project and the space here at Bankside?
JW: It's very simple, the Wapping Project does not belong to me, even though I created it all. It's a foundation which I set up, therefore it's not for profit, although we have no public funding, it is an institution in that sense. Bankside is mine; it's a commercial gallery, so in that sense it's completely different. Aesthetically, I think they both express me, but this is, hopefully, for profit at some point! I represent a number of photographers, so I run it in a different way.
AF: You have worked with a lot of high-profile photographers; do you think fashion photography in particular has changed over the last decade?
JW: I think it has got more limited, because I think that the freedom to create is limited by branding, and the brands really hold down photographers. I think also the speed with which one has to deliver is a really tough call for photographers. I think it also enforces digital work a lot. Very few photographers are trusted anymore because stylists, art directors and fashion directors don't know how to wait for an image, and they don't trust sufficiently their own faith in the photographer. I mean I love that feeling, 'I hope we got it', but that just doesn't happen, they want to see it now.
HH: It's all about trusting the photographer, you're asking for their work...
JW: You have to remember that it is also true that people like David Sims, all of that generation had immense freedom to make their work and then to deliver it. And that's going back 15 or 20 years, but that is no longer something that is accorded to photographers. We do a lot of fashion shoots in Wapping and I watch them entirely being restricted by a whole load of people standing round a screen not using their eyes and looking at what's in front of them, making a judgement and actually constructing the photographers photograph for them. Well, don't employ a photographer then.
AF: You provided a platform for many young creatives since opening The Wapping Project. What do you look for before offering your support?
JW: I have a very simple process actually. Because I come from a background where I always commission plays, it's almost the same process. I see work and think that's interesting and I think maybe that person could take on that space - it's a big and demanding space. Sometimes I give them a smaller project because that's a stepping-stone to a bigger project.
But then I'll say, look around my building, tell me what your ideas are, what are your responses, what would you do? And then they come back eventually and some don't come back, but most do, with a notion of what they will do. I suppose I commission those pieces that I think can take on the building. On the whole it has been pretty accurate. Once I make that decision I back it completely. Once you make that leap of faith with someone, your task is to enable them to make the best work they can do. They need to be better than they are.
AF: Your professional achievements are vast and immense. Is there anything you feel like you would still like to experience?
JW: I need to do another film, and I need to direct two plays next year. I miss being in the rehearsal room, deeply. I miss the danger of the rehearsal room. In a way directing in that situation or shooting on film is like me giving the answer to photography, it's a real danger you know, 'I hope I can pull this all together' and I need that kind of edge again.
I want to make Bankside a really good financial success. That sounds a very strange objective, but I have always worked for poor theatres, i.e. The Royal Court, who are great and important and proud, but poor. And I have always made it work in a way. The image you have of Wapping is one thing, but behind the scenes it's like 'Oh my god, how am I going to pay for this?’ So what you present is very often not the reality.
AF: Who do you feel you have had the best connection with throughout all your collaborations?
JW: That's a difficult question. The natures of all collaborations are so different. I have worked with Thomas Zanon-Larcher for six years. And they are very tough collaborations because we know each other so well but we also argue. But I think we work through difficult circumstances and often produce some very fine pieces.
HH: You getting involved with Eudon Choi's show, did he ask you?
JW: He asked me. I'm asked to do things, but they don't know why they're asking me to do things. I think that's using my theatre skills rather than my curatorial skills. It's no different than staging a play.
AF: The thing about running spaces like this is you're always learning I suppose. Have their been personal sacrifices during your career?
JW: You are, but also I think I find that there are not more than 24 hours in a day. And there has been a lot of personal cost, like; my marriage broke up for example. It was a huge personal cost. That's the thing, I think I find it hard to say no. I have kind of said to myself that I mustn't do any freelance work for the rest of the year. I would like to have a holiday, I’d like to go to Burma. I know that part of the world quite well, but I have never been there.
AF: The internet has allowed a huge amount of inspiring artists, designers and photographers to infiltrate the industry; what are your thoughts on this and do you think it's had a large affect on the industry?
JW: Funnily enough, the area I think it's had an impact on is people who are interested in sound, which is funny because it's a visual medium. But I think iTunes is really powerful. People actually putting sound installations up on iTunes and really extending themselves and developing what they do, so that's exciting. There's just not that kind of opportunity in other contexts. And the other thing is film making, a complete burgeoning of moderate fashion films. So I suppose in some ways the internet is largely marketing driven and it's cheap advertising and marketing for an awful lot of brands. The impact on magazines, very few photographers are going to have a major budget to shoot in print, but they might get quite a decent budget to do a moving image piece that goes out there. So I think it is having an impact there. I guess it's giving a lot of opportunities for people to be discovered.
AF: We are very fond of your work with the photographer Thomas Zanon-Larcher. How did you meet him?
JW: Interestingly, through a designer, through Robert Carey-Williams. You should at some point have a look back at the early work of Robert Carey-Williams. He was the big talent that just blew out. I did a big show called 'Fashion, Film and Fiction' and all the clothes were going up and down, and that's how I met Thomas. I said to Robert, “You don't know any interesting photographers do you? Because I really need to find someone to work on the show.” and he said, “Funnily enough, I have been working with a German-Italian photographer called Thomas Zanon-Larcher”. Robert went through a really tricky time, which is sad, because there was no question that of his generation, he was the Galliano. He was a dangerous, wild man who had been in the army. Then what happened was, Thomas documented 'Fashion, Film and Fiction' for me in a very straightforward way. It's not really what he did, photographing still things... and that's how I met him. The thing that was interesting to me about that was because he was doing all this backstage work, but always very mobile, I wanted people who could get scenes that were mobile, and that's how that came about.
AF: Did you ever imagine you would be where you are now?
JW: I did imagine is that I'd be running major theatres. I don't think I have ever told anybody this, I imagined that I would direct something in Greece, in Epidaurus (the theatre) and that the Rolling Stones would be playing. The Rolling Stones would be doing the music to whatever I was directing-some Greek tragedy and I would arrive as the director slightly late but before the show started and I would walk down the stairs of Epidaurus and it's this most amazing beautiful outdoor Greek theatre, and everyone would say 'That's Jules there'.
It's rare that you come across someone with such extensive knowledge in so many creative industries. Because of Jules, we have been exposed to so many talented individuals and inspired by the many experiences she has provided since The Wapping Project began. We must live by her mantra and exceed expectations... 'Anything is possible.'
Click here for our previous interview with Eudon Choi.
Further information on The Wapping Project and The Wapping Project Bankside:
Words by Abi Fincham
Photography by Holly Hay