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In Conversation with The Cambridge Cult

This year, change was in the air at The Cambridge Cult. The exceptionally talented Berlin-based visual artist and photographer Greta Markurt joined Tilda Butterworth as the zine’s co-Editor; Tilda, who also edited the zine last year, embarked on her Year Abroad to St. Petersburg, rural France and Tbilisi. With both Editors based outside of Cambridge, Cult’s digital presence massively expanded. Rather than producing a termly print zine, the team showcased responses to the themes Confessions and The Elements on their elegantly designed website. Here’s what Greta and Tilda had to tell me about the unexpected directions that Cult’s whirlwind of a year has taken them in.

Photo of Greta Markurt, taken by Tilda Butterworth

Set the scene. Where are you writing these responses?

It’s a heatwave day in the South of France, and we’ve just reunited for the first time since January 2020. We’re sitting at a huge wooden table in an old farmhouse, nursing both grapefruit tonics and iced coffees. There are flies absolutely everywhere, and a new puppy trying to run away with the laptop cable. We’re about to go and rake leaves.

How do you reconcile the Cult’s relationship with Cambridge as a place and its international aspects?

Tilda: The zine has its roots in Cambridge, and all of its original Editors and contributors were Cambridge-based. We still receive a lot of submissions from Cambridge students, but almost equally as many from international contributors. The zine is grounded in a physical place, but at the same time it is a broad, outward-looking platform for exchanging ideas and forming creative connections.

What have you found to be the limitations and advantages of having a predominately digital rather than print presence this year?

Greta: The decision to go online was mostly a practical one. However, I think it was a great occasion for us to finally expand Cult’s online presence. Before, we rarely published content online, and now we have our website and social media flourishing with original content. The turnaround is way faster and we are reaching a broader audience. Still, we will forever love print – the physical qualities of it, a stack of collective energy.

Tilda: Distributing print zines is always hugely time-consuming, but it also provides an opportunity to meet contributors, and for people to be able to hold their work in their hands – a big incentive to contribute in the first place. Because of Covid, we’ve never had a launch party or a physical event during our times as Editors, but it’s a dream of ours to get as many people together in one place as possible in order to make the zine feel more tangible and consequential.

Greta: We just want a Cult party!!!

Photo of Tilda Butterworth, taken by Greta Markurt

Would you like to continue to have an expanded digital presence after this year or is this simply a temporary measure?

Tilda: Running a website is a financial commitment, and we’ve committed to it, so we’ll definitely continue to host original content there in the future!

Greta: A dead website is not a good look…

Did contributors’ interpretations of the prompt of Confessions and The Elements align with your visions of what these themes might evoke?

Tilda: We try not to guide people or expect anything specific aesthetically or in terms of content. We are basically just trying to encourage people to be experimental, and to see the theme from as many different angles as possible.

On your social media, you post many moodboards of artistic inspiration linked to your themes on social media. Do these prompts just spring to mind or do they require a lot of research on your part?

Greta: Often they’re associations we have with the themes instantly which we then do research on. This is a beautiful process of discovery for us. Another thing that often happens with a theme, which I love, is that, as soon as the theme is there, I start noticing connections to it wherever I go. And it’s beautiful to share these with each other. This can be a text passage from a book one of us is currently reading or inspired by people we meet or me sending Tilda a photo of writing on a club bathroom stall saying “this is so confessions” with 5 “!” because it’s 3am and I’m drunk.

If you had to choose just one, which artist which you have used in the past year would you recommend to someone reading this article and why?

Tilda: We both love Patti Smith, which is pretty much universally relatable to people our age. I was reading a lot of Patti last summer in London, especially on the tube, and there was something transformative about reading her confessional writing while surrounded by strangers – I felt like I could suddenly read their thoughts. I wanted to have a theme which would elicit this kind of writing and art from our contributors.

Greta suggested Ana Mendieta as the patron saint of the theme The Elements. She had already stumbled upon her, and that’s where the theme kind of emerged from.

Greta: Ana was a Cuban-American multidisciplinary artist. All of her works carry an enormous energy and sensibility, which crystallises in her Siluetas series. It consists of performances, photographs and films of silhouettes in different natural spaces. The series was our first The Elements prompt and I think everyone should know about it. It’s all about forces of nature, and the force of humanity; about desires, especially female desires. All of these blend together. The borders of the human and the natural world are washed away. It reminds me everything around me is alive and that I am small, or object to larger powers, in a beautiful way.

What directions would you like to see Cult grow in in the future?

Greta: I want Cult to become as challenging and wild as possible. I want it to be ugly and maybe sometimes scary, and an experimentation ground in which failure is part of the process. Maybe I want us to fail a bit in order to learn. I want us to surprise ourselves.

Tilda: Over the past year, I have started to see Cult increasingly as a platform, and a space, rather than simply a zine. I think that making clear that we don’t only accept the typical zine content, which tends towards poetry and photography, could lead to some very diverse content. We’d both love short film submissions.

And, finally, what would you say to someone considering submitting to Cult?

Tilda: I would say “Please submit! And submit intentionally.”

Greta: Meaning, curate or create works that link the theme to you. This link can be abstract or coincidental – we don’t operate by logic. We’ll ask you to give us and the Cult audience an insight, but it has to make sense to you.

Tilda: You can think of The Cambridge Cult as the equivalent of a bathroom stall wall. The thing that you really, desperately want to say right now – here’s your platform for it, in whatever form that might take.

Interview by Rosa Phelps

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