‘It’s a reference to the fact that I was adopted. You don’t know if the mother’s arm is coming in – or moving away’
Five years ago, I was invited to Donetsk in Ukraine for a month-long residency, overseen by my all-time hero Boris Mikhailov. Mother and child is a classic artistic subject, and I wanted to do my own interpretation of it. In Donetsk, there were a lot of young families who’d married in their early 20s. The husband would go out to work and the wife would look after the children. I was given an assistant, Ulya, who introduced me to her friends. We’d go to their houses and just start experimenting. They were so open – I could explore anything.
I’d just come out of a 12-year relationship and was having a nervous breakdown. But Ukraine welcomed me in. Even though I’m a guest in someone’s house, I do tend to take over. I rearrange things and add things and invite them back in to what I’ve created. And then they’re insecure. I think I’ve taken the best photographs of my career that way. You get this immediate, rather human response to not being respected, which is really fun.