This July, Doug Aitken will be taking over the Barbican, curating a series of over 100 events, spanning 30 days all under the banner of Station To Station. An ambitious and intriguing proposition, it brings together a dazzling collection of artists from around the world presenting pieces in art, music, design and tech that's sure to offer a little of something for everyone. One artist whose involvement caught our attention was EMA, whose recent use of live virtual reality and focus on non-traditional performance has brought her music out of the club and into the halls of MoMA in New York.

EMA will be taking up residency in the Barbican from the 5th to 7th July, presenting an entirely new work - part installation, part performance - called Sacred Objects from Suburban Homes. We managed to get some free time from Anderson to talk through the project and its intentions.

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Sacred Objects from Suburban Homes is part of a larger series being run by the Barbican this Summer, how did you get involved in that?

We did a VR show [I Wanna Destroy] at PS1 MoMa, earlier in the year and then were just kind of thinking of other places to take it. We'd been talking to the Barbican about things and [they suggested] we could try for a couple of things. One thing was to try and do a standalone piece - kind of like the concert thing - or see if it would work to have us in Station To Station. I'm like, "yes, put me in a gallery with some other artists. I would love that." It's not something I've been able to do much of in the past like five years or so, so I'm pretty excited.

So that's something you've wanted to do for a while, work with other artists on something that isn't a live performance, but more of an installation?

I mean this one is still definitely going to have a performance aspect to it, but it's not going to be the same type of club show. In some ways that's what I was doing before I put out Past Life Martyred Saints or doing solo stuff. I would do more kind of one-off performances or things that were maybe more multimedia focused or involved some spoken word. So in some ways it's like coming back to something I've been interested in doing for a while but just haven't had a chance to.

Could you tell me a little bit about the ideas behind Sacred Objects from Suburban Homes?

We [Anderson and her VR collaborator Zach Krausnick] picked this theme Sacred Objects from Suburban Homes and it kind of comes from the idea - I don't know if this is happening so much in the UK - but in America, there's a lot of debate around gentrification of city areas and the inner city. So the economically marginalised are getting pushed out of these cities that they've helped bring culture into in the first place. I don't know exactly what to do about that - there's a lot of debate about it - but one thing I'm kind of saying is well you know, I wonder if we're all gonna end up back in the suburbs? Like all the freaks and weirdos that can't afford to be in the city. We came from the suburbs and maybe we'll have to go back!

One thing I want to think about is the fact there could be this kind of magic in the banal things of the suburbs. So Sacred Objects from Suburban Homes is kind of like - ok, people act as if there's no culture in these places, but actually it could be the future of our culture. So let's go back and see. It's also just amazing to hear different people's stories about what really resonated for them.

When I was 19, and living out of the house, my childhood home got struck by lightning and burned down. Whatever wasn't destroyed by fire was destroyed by the water they were using to put it out. I went back a few weeks after. They had taken all the items that they could out of the house to some place out of town, in this warehouse type of thing and gone through them to see what's salvageable, what's not. So my last look at some of these items that I'd grown up with, my childhood things, was they were just laid out on tables and someone else was going through them trying to ascribe a very different hierarchy. Like, well this thing's not that damaged so this is still good. I'm like, I don't give a fuck about that. I don't care about that toy, I want this toy, you know? So that was kind of a surreal experience - having someone else go through your childhood items and rank them for you, in a way that they have no clue about.

Just thinking about that and how no-one can know, if they go into your house, what these things that just look like a toy you got in a cereal box, how precious that was to you for whatever reason. So kind of a combination of that personal experience and then just this idea of trying to reclaim these really banal objects as being things that can hold magic and power for people.

You've been asking for members of the public to submit their own sacred objects. How do you plan to present these?

So there's a number of things. I would love it if people brought in real objects, but we'll see how that goes. I'd love to get the word out for London - because we're travelling there I can't really bring as many things as I would like as I'm going to have a tonne of gear. But then I think there's going to be multiple ways to share these things. It's possible that I'll end up making a multimedia zine through New Hive of these different things - I think that would be really amazing, just because of the stories. I also have to start writing as I want to base some of the performance on that. So being able to either read some of these stories or incorporate them into things that happen for the performance. Then also put some of them in VR so that people go through a trip and see some of the objects there.

It sounds like you'll still be working out the final details of the performance right up until the last minute.

Pretty much. I mean, I'm working right now - Zach is in town, so we're going through the virtual reality aspect and jamming on some ideas in our little West Coast way. And yeah, there's going to be an aspect of improvisation and there's an aspect of the open call that's going to be in there. So I guess it is kind of [being done by the] skin of the teeth, but that can be good. It can give it a good energy!

It's like the background that I kind of came from, or did for a while, learning how to do these kind of multimedia performances and keeping that really fresh and live. It's a really exciting time because a lot of people haven't seen [VR] yet, but then also, it doesn't really have a definition of experience. So I feel like we can tell stories in these very non-linear, non-narrative ways - and just to be able to have two people, kind of like DIY punk VR, is really exciting as well. I don't know how much in a year from now - I'm sure the playing field will have changed immensely and people will have had more experiences with it, but I also hope to stake a claim on what the alternate vision of it can be, or just add to that conversation.

Are there any particular stories or objects that you've received so far that you think will present really interesting moments for people?

I think there's just a really basic one that I put on New Hive that I love. This woman, Kate, sent me this picture of this kind of goofy toy - like a lizard - and she's just like "ok, these were really awesome when we were in grade school and my friend loaned me this toy, but she said I could only have it for two days and had to take really good care of it." Then the next day her friend died in a horse riding accident. So she was like, "I've just been taking really good care of it ever since, for like 25 years". And I just got goosebumps when I read it. It's just this tiny, little toy that you wouldn't think anything about, if you saw it on the side of the road in a rubbish bin, you'd just go, ok, who cares, you wouldn't think about this sentimental meaning.

How do you approach these projects, I imagine it's quite different to the way you approach music?

First of all I'm writing a tonne of music for this, but it's kind of nice doing it less like "here's this single" and more like "here's this idea that I'm going to play with". The work that I do, whatever comes across on a record and a couple of press shots, usually has a lot more depth and I usually have a lot more ideas behind it than I'm able to portray.

I feel like it's much more holistic. I'm doing things right now which involve me having to write about stuff, having to do multimedia, and I'm hoping that by the time that this is all done it will kind of come together, to converge into something that I can take on the road or be part of the next record. I don't want to totally go into a complete installation world, because the one thing I've always loved about music is that it's very populist - it's accessible to everybody. I'd like to take these great opportunities and experiences that I'm having in these major cultural centres - like London and New York - and work to develop things. But as with the suburban theme that I'm working on I know that not everyone has an Oculus Rift, I know that not everyone can go to London to see this performance. So my dream is to be able to take it back to Springfield, Missouri.


You can submit your own Sacred Object on NewHive with the tag #sacredobjects or via email. Sacred Objects from Suburban Homes is at the Barbican 5th - 7th July.