Joe Scotland & Marvin Gaye Chetwynd: How we met

We walked 107 miles together dressed as street urchins, camping along the way. It was emotional
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The Independent Online

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, 41

The performance artist (right in picture), born Alalia Chetwynd, studied social anthropology and fine art at UCL's Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal College of Art before becoming renowned for her live-show reworkings of iconic cultural and historical moments. In 2012, she became the first performance artist to be nominated for the Turner Prize. She lives in London with her husband and two-year-old son

I first remember seeing Joe in a pub in London's East End. He was on the dance floor, manoeuvring another person by holding on to the belt loop on their jeans, and it got my attention, so I went to dance with them. We had a lot of fun and at the end I asked Joe if he'd like to join in with a re-working I was doing of Michael Jackson's Thriller video at a squat in Peckham, and he excitedly said yes. He brought a lot of fun to it and he was a brilliant zombie, taking it extremely seriously.

I always ask someone I've had fun with to do other projects, so when I planned a re-enactment of a walk from Dickens' David Copperfield, from London to Dover, I asked him if he'd come and walk the 107 miles with me. He took a camera and we camped along the way. It was a magical experience, watching the mist rising each morning, rabbits bounding about – except for his snoring. We slept in a tent and he was such a loud, persistent snorer it became unbearable… there was one moment when I had a rock in my hand and I remember wanting to crack his head open like a coconut.

I didn't want the project to have an end product, but Joe was much more driven towards curating and making it into a communicable package. He pressured me to hold a screening of it by publishing a screening date; I felt upset as I didn't think it was art, it was just a holiday. But the screening was a success, and it made money for [Joe's arts organisation] Studio Voltaire.

A few years ago we went to Corsica together. I was 35 and my body clock was going crazy; I had this desperation to have a family and it was making me depressed. I talked to him about it and he said, "There's sperm at this table!" I've felt close to gay politics and liberation and it felt like this was an amazing solution, having a baby together, though we didn't do it. I've since met my husband and had a baby boy; Joe's the godfather – he's very protective towards him.

Joe has strangely morphed with Studio Voltaire. It feels now that I am a useful player, a pawn, for him. I don't mind being an asset, though. I had a studio in there for three years, and we had fun times, but when I moved out he took it very personally; I wanted to be friends with him rather than his company.

When we argue now it's often over how artists should be treated. I don't think they should be infantilised by curators; having said that, I did have nits recently, and it was Joe I went to, to get my hair shampooed and have the nits picked out.

Joe Scotland, 35

Scotland is director of the contemporary-arts organisation Studio Voltaire, having originally joined the studio as an artist 10 years ago. He has worked with Marvin Gaye Chetwynd for more than a decade, filming and directing several of her shows, including her latest, 'Hermitos Children 2'. He lives in London

I first saw Lali perform in 2004. She had just graduated and she was re-enacting Born Free. It was somewhat impoverished and amateur, with her friends dressed up as animals, but there was something beautiful about it.

I wanted to get to know her, and a few months later we met on the dance floor of a pub in Hoxton; we bonded over outrageous drunk dancing, and she invited me to be in her next performance – a few weeks later I was a dancing zombie in a Peckham squat, re-enacting Thriller. I'm talentless in terms of performing, but I was delighted to be involved.

At around the same time I started working at Studio Voltaire, and I wanted do a project with her. I asked if there was something she'd always wanted to do. She was reluctant at first but then she told me about this short passage in David Copperfield, where a character loses all his money and has to walk from London to Dover to find sanctuary with his aunt, which she'd always wanted to re-enact.

So we walked 107 miles over 10 days, dressed as street urchins, camping along the way. It was an incredible experience. Each day one of us would have an emotional moment. On the first day I broke down and cried in front of her; I was in love with someone who didn't love me back. She hugged me and we talked it through; it felt cathartic. I documented the walk with still photography and video and it became a key work for her.

After that we became close friends, and I started helping with the administration of her projects and imagery. We've been on loads of good trips together; after one performance at an art fair in Miami we went to the closing party in a fancy hotel and jumped into the pool naked. We got chucked out.

Having a nom de guerre – first Spartacus, now Marvin Gaye – is about Lali having a professional persona as protection from the outside world. I remember her saying to me one day, "No more Lali." It took a while to get used to calling her Spartacus, and then she changed it again. She can be quite contrary, so it's also about winding people up.

I grew up not having a family interested in art or culture, while her family is more bohemian, so I'm a bit more shy and reserved. I want the confidence to be more punk; I'm a bit too respectful. But she's helped me come out of myself and be more confident.

Chetwynd's experimental crime drama, 'Hermitos Children 2', is at Studio Voltaire, London SW4 (, from 12 October to 14 December