Former Hacienda legend DJ Paulette talks to Frankly My Dear UK about her new art installation HOMEBIRD
Former Hacienda legend DJ Paulette swaps the turntables for art in a new installation titled HOMEBIRD which opens at The Lowry this weekend.
Following the success of Paddy Hartley and THREAD, HOMEBIRD is the third in The Lowry’s Edit series of gallery projects and collaborations. Described as an” immersive mood board of her life”, visitors will journey through a specially constructed maze of ideas, experiences, memories and influences that have helped shaped DJ Paulette as a person and a performer.
The interactive exhibition will also address race, sexuality and gender, from the “Sheroes” who have inspired her, to the obstacles she has had to overcome, with music taking centre stage in the piece.
Ahead of its opening on 22 September, Donna Kelly from Frankly My Dear UK talks to DJ Paulette about her inspiration for the project and the process of translating her initial ideas into art.
Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): Can you start by telling us a little bit about HOMEBIRD and how the project came about?
DJ Paulette: I was approached by Michael Simpson at The Lowry who is the Director of Visual Arts. He’d read my poem I AM THE ONE and sent me an email through my website asking if I’d like to come in and have a chat with them about doing one of their gallery edits. On the first meeting, we just talked about the kind of things that interest me and the kind of art that I like. We talked about literature and art and life experiences. I told them that I didn’t want to tell a straight DJ story because I see that as only a very small part of my story. I had an idea about life being like a kaleidoscope, no matter how many times you turn it, the pieces will change but it’s still the same person. You can tell lots of different stories but it’s still the same person telling it. So we started from there. I also wanted to tell a story about my family as well because we are first generation Black British. My mother came over post-Windrush and six of my family have been born in the UK. There were just lots of different aspects of the story that I wanted to tell.
FMD: The piece has been described as an immersive mood board of your life. How do you translate that into something people can understand or relate to?
DJ Paulette: There are 15 walls and the production itself is a maze which represents the experience of going inside the mind. Walking into the exhibition, there are two things you need to be aware of. Firstly you need to look up, then you need to look in front of you. There is a wall facing you which represents a wall I saw all the time when I was little, it was at the end of our road and it had graffiti on it. What we’ve created on that wall is a statement about identity and gender through the eyes of a child in 1973. That’s how we’ve kind of translated the experiences. We’ve taken all these experiences and put them on a wall, or I’ve written a poem about it, or we’ve made a film about it.
FMD: The project also addresses issues of race, sexuality and gender. Why was that important to you and has it been a challenge to bring across?
DJ Paulette: When I was growing up, there were three channels on TV and there were no black people. Today, that story is very different but I wanted to talk about that. Half of the programmes I watched when I was growing up wouldn’t even get past the censors now. The only black people on TV were the ones that are getting arrested or living next door to a family and getting called “nig-nog” and we were expected to laugh at that.
FMD: Music also plays a part in the installation, can you tell us a little more about the bespoke playlist you’ve put together for the project?
DJ Paulette: I’ve been listening to music literally since I was born. My mum was a jazz singer and my family have all collected records. There was always music playing in our house and I was very aware of music going through my life. I set up the playlist to represent each decade of my life, so 1966 to 1976, 1976 to 1986 etc. and you see this picture building up. Through 66 to 76, you’ve got David Bowie, Roxy Music, Don McLean and Simon and Garfunkel, then the music changes quite radically from 76 to 86 when you’ve got Human League and Depeche Mode. It’s not just a personal thing, it’s to do with how you are aware and how you absorb the music that is all around. To me, the radio was a massive part of my life. The radio was a way I constructed my own personal music tastes. It tells its story on so many different levels. In its own way, those playlists themselves tell historical stories, not just a personal story. There is also a reaction point on the music where people are asked to offer their thoughts so if they were to make a playlist, what would they include.
FMD: You’re best known as a DJ, has it been a challenge swapping turntables for art?
DJ Paulette: The team at The Lowry have been absolutely awesome. I don’t think in any way shape or form that I’m an artist, I’m not Damien Hirst or Banksy, but I have ideas. The collaborative experience of putting the exhibition together has been so awesome that I want to name check everybody. Laura Biddle who came over to my house and looked through all of the pictures and all of the fashion, its Laura who took everything away and filtered it in a way so the designers could then take the raw materials and do pure alchemy. They’ve created some artworks that are just stunning. Sean, the two Hannahs and Nicky who made the film ON THE HAIR, are all incredible designers and have done such a phenomenal job. They have worked really hard with thousands of pictures and they managed to boil it down to its quintessence and a spectacular exhibition.
FMD: You’re obviously from Manchester, how important is it to you to be showcasing your work in your hometown?
DJ Paulette: Just having the opportunity to talk about my home and my personal experience in my hometown is massive. Any artist, whether you’re a DJ, a painter or a dress designer, where you come from is part of you. For me, it’s just the biggest honour to be asked to do this in my hometown. It’s just the biggest stamp of approval. It’s like almost being given keys to your city.
FMD: What’s next for you? Has the project inspired you to branch out into new avenues?
DJ Paulette: I would like to. I have some ideas that I’d like to speak to Michael Simpson about, he’s doesn’t know yet but I’ve got a list. We’ll see. It would be nice. I’ve got dreams. We’ll just have to see how this develops but it’s just been an amazing experience.
HOMEBIRD runs at The Lowry from 22 September – 14 October 2018.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.