Featured Artist interview with Meg Brain & Mia Cathcart of MUESLI

NAWKI (Not As We Know It) at MUESLI
NAWKI (Not As We Know It) at MUESLI

MUESLI – Featured Artist interview with Meg Brain & Mia Cathcart

by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith

MUESLI, if you’ve not heard, are the new residents in Vauxhall Road’s busy Royal Standard. The gallery and studios is in the middle of a monumental year, its tenth in fact, and these recent graduates occupying its second floor are making sure it stays big.

With exhibitions from groups, who already have names for themselves around the country, popping up every month in this newly polished gallery space, it’s a curatorial project worth keeping up to date with. The artists who run it, Meg Brain, Mia Cathcart and Zoë Coogan, all have their own individual practices outside of this, but have formed a bond that is always apparent when talking to groups that mean what they say. And now they’re MUESLI, whether they like it or not. When a group works, it works.

There’s a strength behind their ideas and their drive for making good things happen, so when I caught up with Meg and Mia in the gallery to see their latest offering with 12ø collective I was mostly shocked with how laid back they were about it all. Working with SEIZE, and with 12ø, are not small achievements for recent graduates, let alone being able to coax them to Liverpool.

The latest exhibition NAWKI (Not As We Know It) runs until 6 March 2016 and offers some brilliant publications and research materials from COLLAR and Ladette Space, amongst others, as well as three ambitious installation pieces. What follows is a brilliantly open interview with two of the group’s founders, Meg and Mia.


So what led to MUESLI? What made this happen?

Mia: It stemmed from working together at uni.

Meg: In our final year at uni, preparing for the degree show, we just fell together naturally. It wasn’t really a conscious decision of “Oh! Shall we do this?” All of our studios were in the same area [at LJMU] and we started putting together shows; I think because we were in quite a lot, and we were keen. It just made sense.

So it wasn’t SEIZE that was the first show then?

Mia: Well we won this through John Moores, and it’s a six month residency with the Royal Standard that is running from January to June, and SEIZE is the first show we’ve done in this space.

Meg: Yeah, we’ve designed this particular programme, which is all about curatorial control and swapping knowledge and spaces, and labour exchange. But before we were doing pop up shows in uni.

We all swapped our practices and paired up (the group was a bit bigger before) when it wasn’t as clear then that we were working under the name MUESLI. We knew that we were this thing, but we weren’t sure what yet. I was working with Zoë, and we got to know each other’s practices as individuals using different mediums, which we might not have explored otherwise. It was really interesting and evolved and developed from there really.

When you were working with SEIZE in the space, did it change how you were working as MUESLI?

Mia: The first show with SEIZE, it was very much like we wanted to showcase them as individual artists.

Meg: Quite straight forward in a way wasn’t it?

Mia: Yeah, at first it was pretty simple. They don’t get the chance to exhibit all together that often. So we wanted to give them that platform in Liverpool and it gave us an opportunity to curate the show. Whereas for this one it’s been different. It changes from show to show.

Meg: For SEIZE, some of them had brought in work that they’d exhibited before and wanted to show again. Some of them ended up making work in the space, which was really good. We got to see how they work together, and I think we went out to work with them mainly because we admired the variety of projects they’d done in Leeds and elsewhere, and because they’ve been together quite a while. Although their members have come and gone, what they are is quite set in stone and it’s different to our vulnerability.

With Not as We Know It, what is it that we don’t know? Do we know that?

Meg:  What I’ve got from this is future. We don’t even know what we’re doing. We do make plans obviously as MUESLI, as individuals, and generally, as young recent graduates, but, I think the point of this show for them is what our general product is about. It’s about showcasing people that deserve a chance in a different city. Collar, for instance, they haven’t even launched their first project and they’re already involved in this, which is great and has got people interested, because they’re big on research.

Mia: Yeah, Sam’s from their Instagram research and Phoebe’s from degree show research, and that all showcases individual artists and showcases what they’re about.

Meg: And I think that’s what 12ø wanted to show.

Mia: The whole idea for the show is the typical London art fair, like Frieze.

Meg: It’s given the people a voice that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and shows what the individual people have chosen to do with that voice.

The description for the exhibition says there were multiple exhibitions in one space. Do you think that’s apparent now, or is that going to become more apparent through the events this weekend?

Mia: I think that’s apparent now. The weekend’ll have more things happening in the space, but I think you can feel the different sections.

Meg: It’s weird though because I’m still really impressed with the curation of things. I think it’s so hard to curate an art fair. It’s an art fair really, not an exhibition. So I think to curate something anyway I think you just have to let go of “Does this really matter?” They all happen to be really cool colours as well, and the angular surfaces still work together. I’m really impressed. They’ve been a pleasure to work with.

Outside of this show, and outside of MUESLI completely, what are your individual practices?

Meg: Mine is most easily described as installation. I’m interested in projection and how light can transform a space. Not just architecture but it can give suggestion of time or make the viewer feel like they’re part of an experience rather than them just looking at something on a wall.

Mia: I’m doing the Masters at John Moores, which is how I know Joe [Cotgrave, a previous featured artist and one of the studio holders at The Royal Standard]. I do portrait paintings and I’m interested in the clichés and connotations of portraiture and this idea of giving an image a heightened sense of importance when I use secondary images of people I don’t know.

Meg: Zoë’s got quite a physical practice. She’s really interested in material.

Mia: She’s interested in like making unnoticed everyday things noticed.

Meg: We should tell her that! We should let her know. She’ll get little bits of writing and keep little bits of paper and stuff and do something with it and transform it into something. Which plays with the idea of scale, and “Ooh! You wouldn’t have noticed this – But!” Yeah.

Mia: It’s hard to explain someone else’s work, I think it’s easier to explain someone else’s than your own work.

Mia: We should have done each other’s work! Yeah!

Have your practices at any point seemed like they’ve meshed in with what MUESLI are doing with the other groups as well?

Mia: Well it’s funny because actually even though I think there were similarities in the way we were working, our practices themselves are really quite different between us and I think that’s what’s been so different.

Meg: I think that was what was highlighted to us by a visiting lecturer, and that was where we got our name from really. He was like “Oh! You’re like a bag of muesli”. And then we were like, “That’s good yeah. Put that on Twitter.”

But there’s definitely things I’ve seen going up in the space and thought, “I’d like to use that material, but that’s not something I’d do currently.” So I’ve been inspired definitely.

Mia: I think it’s made me realise how important curation is. How the work is displayed massively effects the work.

Meg: That’s so unavoidable. And I just love getting my hands on other people’s work and being like “Oh, why don’t you do this with it?” Lily, one of the artists from SEIZE, had a couple of pieces, and said to you “I would never have put it there up that high, ever!”? “So she was like, yeah you’ve opened my eyes”. So yeah that was nice.

So what’s next?

Meg: Quite a few things, we’re refining stuff for our next show [opening 1st April]. It might have a television theme. We’re going with ‘fun’ again. We’re going to change the space again too, because they’ve [The Royal Standard] been like, “Oh, I bloody love that”. I think we were so attached to the space, but we like how it’s changed each time. We’re working with TPA – Trans Pennine Arts – which is Joe Cotgrave and Pippa Eason. They’ve invited us to work with them in the space as a part of Threshold Festival, which is interesting. It’s an opportunity for us to collaborate with another collective, but in a different way to what we’re doing here. We’ll be able to show our own work.

Mia: Which isn’t something we’ve got to do in the space, so it’ll be good to do as MUESLI.

Meg: We haven’t done that since the degree show, really have we? That’s immediately next, and then we’ve got the 12ø show.

Mia: And then whatever else finds us. Future.