London-based Italian artist Salvatore Arancio presents a ground-breaking new outdoor ceramic sculptural installation at this year’s Venice Biennale curated by Christine Macel (on until 26th November 2017). Situated in the Giardino delle Vergini, at the end of what Macel calls the “Pavilion of Time and Infinity”, Arancio’s contribution to the 57th Venice Biennale takes the form of a sort of therapeutic sculpture garden, where visitors are confronted by these mysterious, primeval totemic formations inspired by the petrified trees that were formed in Hawaii when a lava flow swept through a forest in 1790. Arancio works across a range of media such as ceramic sculpture, collage, etching, animation and video. Inspired by nature, science, psychedelia and popular mythology, his practice is driven by curiosity and the potential of images. Departing from their literal meaning or original function, Arancio makes artworks that blur the liminal space between fantasy and reality, leaving the viewer with a growing sense of unease and ambiguity. In addition to this new installation in Venice, Arancio's work will be the subject of a new solo exhibition titled And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light at Federica Schiavo Gallery in Milan (19 May - 15 July 2017).
Congratulations on your inclusion in Viva Arte Viva, the curated section of the 2017 Venice Biennale! Please tell me a little bit more about your new sculptural installation in Venice. I understand that it takes its inspiration from an earlier performance commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery relating to hypnotherapy.
Thanks Marcelle! Yes, you are right, the new pieces take as a starting point a performance originally commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 entitled: “MIND AND BODY BODY AND MIND”. The performance, which coexists as a video that I am also presenting at this year’s Venice Biennale, was a live re-enactment of a hypnotherapy session that I found on the Internet. Its goal was to turn the listener into a better artist.
The idea that a hypnotherapy session could enhance somebody’s artistic skills immediately struck me as a rather humorous, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of what it means to be an artist and the function of art education, but also potentially a great and simple way to improve the world. I decided then to use the original script and to create a live re-enactment of the session, extrapolating the text and having an actor recite it against the background of very psychedelic, trance-inducing footage and sound. For this footage, I used images overlapped with continuous flashes of lights, the frequency of which is identical to the one reproduced by the Dream Machine created by Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs and Ian Sommerville in the late 50s, together with binaural beats, which are meant to stimulate Alpha brainwave levels. These brainwaves are connected with higher levels of creativity that typically are found in artists, musicians and creative thinkers, whilst the flashing lights of the Dream Machine are meant to induce a hypnagogic state.
So going back to the sculpture installation in Venice entitled It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, the pieces were produced under the influence of this hypnotherapy session and the results of this artistic enhancement, directly putting in practice its effects. Following the slightly tongue-in-cheek tone of the video, I see the space as a sort of therapeutic “healing area”, where visitors are confronted by enigmatic primordial or possibly science fictional totemic formations, whilst being able to absorb this artistic enhancing aura before leaving the Biennale.
The sculptural pieces are shaped by forms informed by the petrified trees of the Lava Trees State Park on Hawaii Island. This park preserves lava moulds of the tree trunks that were formed when a lava flow swept through a forested area in 1790.
How do you feel your work responds to Macel’s overall curatorial theme for Viva Arte Viva, an exhibition focusing on art and artists via a story told in nine chapters ending in the Pavilion of Time and Infinity where your work sits? I find the following statement by Macel especially poignant of your practice: “Art is the realm for dreams and utopias, a catalyst for human connections that roots us both to nature and the cosmos, that elevates us to a spiritual dimension.”
Christine mentions my work in the press release, whist talking about ideas and questions related to our relationship with time: ‘In face of the lagoon, the artist disappears or reinvents himself as “improved”, through the power of hypnosis.’ I suppose questions about time and the lapse of it in my work are always present; it is a time that is never defined, always having a diffused, temporal presence. As a viewer, you are always faced with that question, confronted with a present that could be a beginning or an end or even an obsolete future that is now almost nostalgic.
I also agree with your reading of the works; it is definitely something I suggest and especially with the pieces presented at this year’s Venice Biennale. Their strong relationship to nature is evident through the use of a natural material like clay manipulated in order to become nature again, but in this case nature has become fetishised as in the lava trees’ totemic presence. Also, by glazing the resulting shapes with impenetrable iridescent colours and giving this sculptural installation the title It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, I make a direct connection to my continuous obsession with the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I like the idea that the unwary “worshippers” are confronted with these sentinels, the idea that their gaze is somehow reciprocated but these impenetrable totems, spouting out of a magmatic matter coming from a distant future or past, have found a home in the Biennale’s ground staring at the unwary art crowd...
As with the rest of my works, these new pieces are connected to my ongoing fascination with nature as a theatre for rituals, worship and self-induced trance states, employed to make a connection with something above us.
You created these new materially stunning sculptures at the highly respected Ceramica Gatti, founded in Faenza in 1928, joining a coterie of art and design world stars who have created their own ceramic masterpieces there (including Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Marc Camille Chaimowicz and Ettore Sottsass among others). Placing large glazed ceramic sculptures outdoors is a very brave proposition given the conservation issues and risk of cracking. What was this production process like?
Well to begin with, I decided that I did not want to sit down and show something I had already done; instead, I treated this invitation to the Biennale as a reason to push further my practice and to take some chances. Probably a bit crazy, but I felt it was the right attitude.
Ceramica Gatti has been a place of excellence since 1928 and they are in some ways unique... It was very special to be working in such an amazing place full of history! To start with, I suppose there would not be so many places that would have agreed to collaborate on such an adventurous project, especially with such a short production window. Imagine that we started these monumental pieces at the beginning of January…. And if you consider the nature of the material, drying times and possible failures, it has been complete lunacy! Among all of this frantic work, we had to consider their positioning outdoors for several months and several changes of weather, so we had to research some new protective materials, some of them so new in the market and advanced that these new works almost felt like they were arriving from the future. The research part of the work also took a lot of our energies. But deep down, I quite like the idea that some changes might occur; it somehow makes sense working with a material that originally comes from nature itself.
Your work is very much inspired by forms found in nature and science but why the obsession with the totem or phallic form? What does this shape or symbol represent to you?
I suppose it pertains to the presence of phallic forms in nature, but this shape, in several cultures, religions and mythology, often expresses connections to spiritual realms. I see it as a shape that in itself symbolizes a peak... an ascension to something above us.
In your artist video for the Venice Biennale, you state that you like to think about your work “functioning like the pages of an Atlas of confusion, a kind of hallucinated, meaningful nonsense.” Is the viewer’s emotional response to your work important to the success of each artwork you create?
Oh totally! I always aim to create a relation with the viewer to somehow create an experience for them. This is why my exhibitions always use a myriad of different mediums. I would like my works to engage with the viewer in different layers, initially through seduction and then slowly to entice the viewer into a territory that somehow might become unfamiliar or difficult to comprehend, whilst playing with symbols and meanings.
How important is the staging of your ceramic installations? You have created a myriad of different modes of display for your ceramic sculptures – traditional plinths of different shapes and sizes, floor-based displays and purpose-built tables, each of them responding to their architectural surroundings and producing a different texture and atmosphere to the exhibition.
I suppose I like to be playful with traditional modes of display. I somehow enjoy subverting them but also using them as a device in order to create or add to possible narratives, which the sculptures might suggest initially. I also like to be challenged by the architecture of where my work is displayed and to play with it. I remember once I had to explain to a curator, how excited I was about the space he proposed as he kept apologizing because it was far from a white cube... who needs a white cube!
Viva Arte Viva, 57th Venice Biennale, Venice (13th May – 26th November 2017): http://www.labiennale.org/en/art/exhibition/macel/index.html
Artist video for 57th Venice Biennale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWNnxoZ8g6c
Artist’s website: http://www.salvatorearancio.com/index.html
Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan: http://www.federicaschiavo.com/Artists/Salvatore-Arancio
All images courtesy of the artist and Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan unless otherwise stated
Images 1, 3 and 4: Salvatore Arancio, It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, 2017, glazed and unglazed ceramic, epoxy resin, 160 x 90 x 270 cm, Photo: Andrea Rossetti.
Image 2: Salvatore Arancio, MIND AND BODY BODY AND MIND, 2015, video still, looped video with sound, 16 min 37 sec.
Image 5: Salvatore Arancio, (from left) Ai-Laau; Pele; Pii, 2013, glazed ceramic, installation view at Centre d’Art Contemporain La Halle des Bouchers, Vienne, France.
Image 6: Salvatore Arancio, installation view at The London Open exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery Archive, the artist and Federica Schiavo Gallery. Photo: Stephen White
Image 7: Salvatore Arancio, And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light, glazed ceramic, dimensions variable, installation view at Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland.
Image 8: Salvatore Arancio, Fashioned to a Device behind a Tree, 2015, glazed ceramic, dimensions variable, installation view of performance at Camden Arts Center, London.
About the Artist
Salvatore Arancio (b.1974, Catania, Italy) lives and works in London. He received his MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art, London in 2005. Selected exhibitions include: Synthetic Landscape, Weston Park, Ludlow, UK (2017); And These Crystals Are Just like Globes of Light, Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milano, Italy (2017); In the EarthTime. Our generations of Italian ceramics and the Faenza Prize, Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, Icheon, Korea (2017); Viva Arte Viva, 57th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (2017); Tropical Hangover, Tenderpixel, London, UK (2017); Evolutionary Travels, Foundación Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2016); Travelling Circular Labyrinths, Museo Civico di Castelbuono, Castelbuono, Palermo, Italy (2016); Oh Mexico! Kunsthalle Winterthur, Winterthur, Switzerland (2016); Fashioned to a Device Behind a Tree, Camden Arts Centre, London, UK (2015); Drawing Biennial, Drawing Room, London (2015); Cathedral, AV Festival, NGCA, Sunderland, UK (2013); PROJECT, Maureen Paley Gallery, London, UK, (2013); Curiosity: Art & the Pleasure of Knowing, Hayward Touring UK (2013); Alternating Layers of Contrasting Resistance, Rowing, London, UK (2013), Solo Presentation, Art Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2013), The Little Man of the Forest With the Big Hat, Federica Schiavo Gallery, Rome, Italy (2013); Cyclorama, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico (2013); Relatively Absolute, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge; The Little Man of the Forest With the Big Hat, MCZ-Museo Carlo Zauli, Faenza, Italy (2012); An Arrangement of the Materials Ejected, Spacex, Exeter (2011); To See an Object to See a Light, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Guarene d’Alba, Italy, (2011);Vedere un oggetto, vedere la luce, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Guarene d’Alba, Italy (2011); Sentinel -PPS//Meetings#4, Palazzo Riso - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea della Sicilia, Palermo, Italy (2011); SI-Sindrome Italiana, Le MagasinCentre National d’Art contemporain de Grenoble, France (2010); Catastrophe? Quelle Catastrophe!, Manif d’Art 5, The Quebec City Biennial, Engramme, Quebec City, Canada (2010); Prague Biennale 4, Karlin Hall, Prague, Czech Republic, (2009); and I giovani che visitano le nostre rovine non vi vedono che uno stile, GAM-Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Turin, Italy (2009). Selected residencies include: Camden Arts Centre, Ceramics Fellowship, London, UK, 2014/15; Résidences Internationales aux Recollets, Paris, France, 2013; European Ceramic WorkCentre, SG ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands; Wysing Arts Center, Cambridge, UK; ISCP, New York, 2009; Art Omi, New York, 2011. Arancio is represented by Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan, Italy.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/05/18/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-salvatore-arancio/
Digital artist Kate Cooper presents a new body of work as part of her first solo exhibition in the UK at VITRINE in London entitled Ways to scale. Cooper’s artistic practice, consisting largely of computer-generated (CG) imagery in both video and digital print form, critiques the ubiquity of the flawless CG female in our consumer capitalist society and the labour used to create these glossy digital bodies that are almost obligatory in today’s mass-advertising campaigns.
Since winning the Ernst Schering Foundation Art Award in 2014, which granted her a solo show at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin that same year, her work has been exhibited extensively across Europe and the US. This Liverpool native now divides her time between London and Amsterdam where she is currently undertaking an artist residency at the Rijksakademie. In addition to her own practice, Cooper is also the director and co-founder of the London-based artist-run organisation, Auto Italia South East, that commissions and produces new work in direct collaboration with emerging artists.
On the occasion of her solo project at VITRINE (28 April – 18 June 2017), Marcelle Joseph talks to Cooper about hypercapitalism, feminism and the digital body.
Congratulations on your latest solo project in London! I assume that it is a unique and trying experience for an artist to make work for a space enclosed entirely behind glass windows that can only be viewed from the surrounding external public space. Saying that, it seems like the perfect locus for your work. When I approached Bermondsey Square, I was confused – am I looking at an off-site avant-garde window display for Harvey Nichols? Is this slippage important to this new work?
My work over the past few years has been focused on interrogating my relationship to these hyper-commercialised images, my desire for them but also their inherent violence - through the presentation of perfect bodies that perhaps exist beyond the realms of reality for human capacity. I’m interested in exploring how these CGI models can function and what new forms of agency these images might provide: can they create new possibilities or politics for our physical bodies? I’m interested in how they create their own realities through the production of this fictional space and what possibilities these might offer. Sometimes, I feel that the aesthetics related to these images are misread; we are all pretty tuned into these languages and what they can do, and I’m interested in how we might ‘read’ these images - and the embedded infrastructure they might contain - through their production and distribution.
What was interesting with this installation was this combination of the work and where it is situated within such a public space. This space like many others is a marker of gentrification within London and has a particular aesthetic. VITRINE Gallery is next door to a supermarket, cinema and luxury apartments, which means these CG figures I’m working with perform this double function, being at once totally readable as models of selling ideas, products even but also as faceless and unreadable. This slipperiness is interesting to me - to want a possibility to exist with a particular coded space but also want to integrate that. I think the complete removal of people from lower socially economic backgrounds in this area really speaks to the state of the city at the moment. I was thinking of my work within this highly gentrified space and how it is coded; what this form of presentation does and can do here and how it might be read or misread.
Your new show consists of one work - a billboard of sorts, depicting various jellyfish, a seated woman garbed all in white with her head cropped out of the picture plane and another disembodied flayed figure holding a vacuum cleaner. All rendered using hyperreal CGI technology. Could you talk me through the different pictorial elements and what they represent?
I’m kind of uninterested in the traditional ways we ‘read’ work. This whole part of my practice is looking at how things have shifted and how this material actually works in the world, which includes considering how my work can be misread.
I’m more concerned with the mechanics of how the image comes to be – how it works and what it does. For me, the process of ‘reading’ becomes redundant when we think about how machines read and communicate through images and code– it’s beyond how we relate to things and creates new ways for these to develop a language and go beyond our symbolic, basic understanding. I’m interested in considering more radical reproaches to reading images and how they might perform. I always think about the approach to my work as a hacking and how to tackle these things in new ways – how to work with the material that surrounds you. I want to find a freedom in exploiting that. The speed in which images are distributed means we need to shift from reading them symbolically or attempting to discern inherent meaning to thinking more about what they do and the speed by which this happens. This might not all be taking place in my work here but it’s definitely how I’m influenced.
Having said that, of course, I’m working with particular material and a decision process happens in which I’m using it – in this piece, the material being a faceless female body, a sick, half-dead body. I wanted a way in which these CG bodies could refuse their own image – this inherent idea of perfection within these rendered digital bodies - and how there might be ways to sabotage that. I wanted to work with images that always perform work through the image itself, leaving space to create new connections and positions with our real bodies and the labour they perform. The jellyfish is part of a family of creatures that can mutate, even change the structure of their DNA. I liked this as a speculation for rethinking our own images and our own bodies. The jellyfish here becomes a prototype of how to be.
Flawless skin, hairless bodies and perfectly honed limbs… all objects of physical attraction and aesthetic beauty. And all co-opted by our hypercapitalist society in the name of commerce. As a female artist, how do you relate to these images of the virtual female body that you create? Are you further objectifying the female in order to make an over-arching feminist statement? Or is it a commodification of the female body itself?
As I already touched on, I’m uninterested in these outdated ‘readings’ of female forms of representation. I think we all realise that we live in a world where both images and the infrastructure in which we act as a political subject and how we situate itself go hand in hand. There aren’t these binary readings, I feel that as artists or political subjects we need to be agile, especially in our current climate. I’m interested in how these CGI objects of women might be able to form different and speculative ideas towards our own bodies and create new relationships to labour, particularly female forms of labour and how we might perform as workers. I feel we are in a moment where we need to re-think traditional ideas towards representation and propose structural changes. Of course, there are moments when a clear, forward-facing representation is necessary and vital, but I think fundamentally this isn’t a stable, solid, unmoveable thing. Things are changing so rapidly at the moment; coming up with new languages and ways to approach a position is important, and something I’m constantly thinking through in the work.
We haven’t really touched on the elephant in the room: the dominance of the white patriarchal hegemony. Who demands, creates and pays for these idealised representations of the female body? Besuited white guys pulling the strings at the world’s largest multinational corporations… Are the bodies you create attempting to create a new kind of “capital”?
Yeah for sure. I mean, of course, the world is dominated by white rich men but sometimes there is a level of tokenism. Of course, most marginalised people want structural change, with new ideas, new bodies that collectivise. Through my solo work, I’m concerned with experimentation and forming new relationships to representation to consider what agency our own political bodies might have within these highly coded spaces of hyper-capitalistic forms of representation. How these CG bodies in turn have a relationship with our physical bodies and how the infrastructure of these spaces need to be re-thought and remade. I feel like, for the past few years, working with this material seemed the most important way to think through these ideas.
Prior to your solo show in Berlin in 2014, you were working largely on collaborative projects as part of Auto Italia South East’s commissioning programme. Was it a difficult transition to start working alone on your own artworks? Do you collaborate with other people in the creation of your CG prints and videos?
I think there is always a misunderstanding with how work is made, and the creative labour involved in making and producing. I love collaborating and I’m currently the Director at Auto Italia along with Marianne Forrest and Edward Gillman. It’s important that there are spaces for younger artists to be supported and work through ideas, find forms of alliance in such difficult times. I mean there is a huge crisis in London at the moment within the artistic community and supporting each other is completely fundamental to creating forms of care and empathy and also just making space to particulate and be able to experience incredibly interesting and exciting work.
In my practice, I do collaborate with my partner Theo Cook, who is primarily a camera operator on feature films and also has a background in photography. We discuss the role of image making a lot and work together to produce work. I also always talk about my work to other friends and artists, and sometimes work with friends on the sound design. I’m currently developing some new collaborations with friends this year which I’m particularly excited about.
As one of 45 artists in residence at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, has this year been a time of research and experimentation for you? What has been the highlight of your time there?
I honestly think the other artists who I have met have been the most rewarding part of the residency. London is unfortunately very white and very privileged, and though there are many artists there who are exceptions to the rule, in my own experience of living and working in London, I have never met so many peers from so many different countries as here at the Rijksakademie, including Indonesia, Pakistan, Israel or Turkey amongst many others. Of course, through Auto Italia, I had worked a lot internationally before, but here you have to spend a huge amount of time with each other, forming really strong friendships; it does make you question your process, the role of art within your own cultural heritage and what politics affect you. Even if it is engineered, it feels like a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by so many different nationalities, especially as we see the rise in support towards fascism across the West.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/05/15/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-kate-cooper/
- (lead image) Kate Cooper, We Need Sanctuary, 2016. Video still. Courtesy of the artist.
- Kate Cooper, Ways to Scale, Installation View, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and VITRINE.
- Kate Cooper, Ways to Scale, Installation View, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and VITRINE.
- Kate Cooper, Rigged, 2014. Video still. Courtesy of the artist and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin.
- Kate Cooper, Rigged, 2016.Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.
- Kate Cooper, On Coping, 2015. Digital Still. Courtesy of the artist and Auto Italia.
- Kate Cooper, Experiments in Absorption, 2016. Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.
VITRINE exhibition: http://www.vitrinegallery.com/exhibitions/kate-cooper/
Auto Italia South East: http://autoitaliasoutheast.org
Rijksakademie Artist Residency: http://www.rijksakademie.nl/ENG/residency/
About the Artist
Kate Cooper (b.1984, Liverpool, UK) lives and works in London and Amsterdam. She is the Director and co-founder of the London based, artist-led organisation Auto Italia and is currently a resident at the Rijksakademie Amsterdam. Solo exhibitions include: Piece Unique, Cologne, Germany (2016); Care Work, Der Würfel, Neumeister Bar-Am, Berlin (2015); Experiments in Absorption, ABC, Berlin (2015); and Rigged, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2014). Group exhibitions include Commercial Break, The Public Art Fund, (2017); Insomnia, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2016); Spending Quality Time With My Quantified Self, TENT, Rotterdam (2016); The elegance of an empty room (Film Screening), Kunstverein Hamburg (2016); Public, Private, Secret , International Centre of Photography, New York (2016); Glamour, CAG, Connecticut (2016); Secret Surface, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (with Auto Italia) (2016); The Long Progress Bar, Lighthouse, Brighton (film screening) (2016); How to live? Future images yesterday and today, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Mannheim (2015); Body Me: The Body in the Age of Digital Technology, Frankfurter Kunstverein (2015); Cookie Gate, Ellis King, Dublin (2015); Egress (with Colleen Asper) K,P!, New York (2015); Under the Clouds: From Paranoia to the Digital Sublime, Serralves Museum, Porto (2015); Liebe Deine Maschine, Kunstverein Hildesheim (2015); Humain Trop Humain, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (film screening) (2015); Jerwood/FVU Awards, What Will They See of Me? What will they see of me?, Jerwood Gallery London, CCA Glasgow (2014); and Total Body Conditioning (Film Screening), Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2014). Forthcoming projects include Art in the Age of the Internet at ICA Boston in 2018. Cooper was the recipient of the BEN Prize for Emerging Talent, B3 Biennial of the Moving Images, Frankfurt (2015) and the Schering Stiftung Art Award, Berlin (2014).
For her first solo show, Welsh artist Sarah Roberts travels to the Costa del Sol, creating an all-enveloping five-dimensional monochromatic installation at BLOCK 336 in London entitled Torremolinos-Tableaux-Tongue-Twister (After Sun) (on until 6th May 2017). This site-specific immersive exhibition is the second act to a 2016 day-time version of the beach in Torremolinos that was exhibited at HaHa Gallery in Southampton. As day moves into night, colours change. The pink flesh of bodies on the beach mutates into red – suggesting sun-burnt skin, red neon outside a nightclub or a spectacular sunset. In this exhibition, the viewers’ senses are completely overwhelmed with dozens of different surface textures they want to touch, atomisers spewing out the scent of sun cream, a sound piece of waves crashing on the beach and the ruddy pigmentation of the entire space. Red LED lights from above illuminate hundreds of objects that are either laying on the floor, leaning up against the wall or reclining on plinths, all of which are scarlet-tinged (including two tons of rubescent gravel poured onto the floor in the shape of a tongue). The objects include hand-cast plaster pieces, found objects, hand-printed textile pieces, glass, rubber and glitter. Living between London and Wales, Roberts writes poetry as well as makes sculptural installations that are obsessed with their surfaces and how they mirror the everyday world, recalling architecture, landscape and body in form and colour.
Congrats on your first solo show at BLOCK 336 in Brixton! As a viewer, it was a mesmerising experience for me, playfully engaging all of my senses. Instead of looking at each of the individual objects, the monochromatic aspect of the show forces you to dwell on the entirety of the installation. As the artist, how do you intend the viewer to interact with this all-consuming installation? Do you attempt to curate the viewer’s experience through the employment of excess?
Thank you! This has been my first opportunity to create something on this scale, and something that is in turn a fully encapsulated immersive experience so its nice to hear that your senses were aware of being catered for in the journey through it.
In terms of leading the viewer – I’d like to think I’m not directing their journey through the installation beyond the physical pathways that are created; maybe I’m more researcher and set designer. I want to lead the viewer to a space that’s akin to a [very present] stage set of the everyday made anew, somewhat credible and entirely real, part unfinished and very much made for a viewer to discover themselves, and in that act of discovery, to activate it.
When I’m researching for new palettes, I seek out places that show me their edges, their constructedness, facades, or ideas of underneaths. I don’t see these faces as veneers or fakes but as very real material surfaces, the actuality of things. The plastic paradise of a truly blue hotel spa, furred up purple carpet tiles, pinks plastered on walls as dripping renders, wet sand furrowed and grained, pressed into with bony fleshed out toes - all up for grabs. I’ve loved Vegas casinos, desert landscapes, Welsh hinterlands, and now here – the sun-down-lit strip of the Costa del Sol that is Torremolinos.
And about the excess, well yes, maybe if left alone with less, the viewer may have time to start making sense of things, to covet the object, to attribute the value of artwork to things; whereas here in the conversant and non-hierarchical material repeats, I hope viewers will focus on looking at the materiality of things or at best wanting to touch.
Personally, I was very drawn toward the hand-crafted objects in the installation – the screen-printed textiles and wall vinyls and the cast plaster pieces. Do you see these as able to exist on their own as individual artworks outside of the installation context? Or does your practice only allow for an installation type of presentation?
No, not at the moment. I actually find words or collage easier ways of representing ideas in smaller utterances. I use collage a lot in the preparation for a piece; it’s key in my research process.
Once I start making, the connectivity between the excess seems essential. It’s like the pieces all form an alphabet, and trying to exist alone, they are just the beginning or end of some sentence, never the core of it - they really are surfaces. Maybe this can change as my vocabulary strengthens, but for now, once things become 3D matter, it gets trickier; things gain this unwarranted value, trying to make sense and coming back senseless.
My practice as a maker has a focus on labour and production. I produce multiple repeats in a day, all different takes on a sensation, all chatting, and all growing into some overall sense of a new place. I am my own factory, and I access others who operate out there in the ‘real world’ of manufacturing to create things as well, and these are of equal stature, getting something absurd made to spec - where you can hardly notice it’s bespoke without closer inspection - is something I adopt a lot.
I have a special and fleeting relationship with each piece I make, and then each piece slips a little into the next and into the whole. I want that thing I have hand-cast to sit, with a sense of purposeful slippery belonging, alongside found plastic objects or those bespoke manufactured absurdities - all equals, all matter. I think this is what throws us into an experience of looking - me out there on the promenade in Torremolinos, and the viewer here in its Tongue-Twister counterpart at Block 336.
For this show, you wrote a free verse poem that was included in the press release. When planning an exhibition, what comes first for you – the poetry or the visual components of the show?
I use words at all stages of the process - to record places and their sensations. I write emails to myself, like material memoirs, hashtag haikus. Much like the materials of the installation, they get sculpted, become a collection of collisions, and seek to perform a function but slide into phonic performance kept together by proximity of placement and somehow making sense even at points of disjuncture. I began writing this poem in a café in Torremolinos and finished it on the tube after a site visit to Block 336.
In this poem, the opening line is “Her tongue twisted around names and melting ice pops as the dark closed in on the pinks and the sky clouded into sticky reds”. It is an incredible introduction to the show, giving the reader many clues to what they are about to encounter visually as well as aurally and olfactorily. Is it essential for the viewer to engage with your writing before or after viewing your work?
The poems are gobbets, non-narrative descriptions of the material encounters rather than a map of this new space. So no, they are not essential; they are not a precursor nor an afterthought. They are simply another thing.
In the past, your artworks had a strong tie to your own Welsh heritage, possessing titles in both Welsh and English and exploring the chroma of the Mid Wales countryside. How important is your own autobiography to your practice?
I believe Welshness runs through me and my practice like a granite seam. The older I get, the more I experience a sense of hiraeth [which translates as homesickness but more as a sense of longing for the land] when I spend too long away from Wales. The landscape back home is as tactile as it is visual. I grew up in a small town, a strip village nestled between rock and sea right in the middle, right on the coast. In the face of epic variegated terrain, tiny terraced dwellings become impotent teeth in crumbling pinks and blue hues against a backdrop of grey and green. We didn’t have iPhones in the early nineties, just skinny legs, mountain bikes and a sense of owning the rock from our bunk-beds whilst waiting for the summer season.
I now live and work between Wales and London. It’s perfect. Each place is as intense and revelatory as the other, and they keep each other blindingly visible. I think this has an undeniable effect on my practice. I will never get bored of working with Wales.
Given that words are part of your artistic metier, is the Welsh language something you wish to preserve in this world of disappearing languages?
Welsh was my first language; as a child, I barely spoke English, and now I lose words daily. My accent is unrecognisable. It’s an upsetting sensation of loss, both of belonging and of the fragility of our ability to communicate. It’s also fascinating; my words have become more material than ever as they trip and tumble from my mouth. I’m obsessed with the awkwardness of Google Translate and its limitations. I think being bilingual as a kid helped me to articulate. I chose words for their meaning, but also their phonics, their performativity. I circumnavigated them from the other tongue like one might a sculpture. I do this when I write, often using translations in texts or titles. In fact, I seem to love the imagery of tongues too!
I’m definitely interested in preserving language, and not for nostalgic reasons. I genuinely believe that multiple languages can add to our ability to perform proper attempts at articulation. I’m relearning my mother tongue to an adult grade now. It’s like my vocabulary was fixed when I left Wales at 18.
For your installations included in The London Open at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 and Saatchi Art New Sensations in 2014, a single colour was not the focal point; instead, a panoply of surfaces, faux and real, barraged the viewer. From a white plastic electrical fan to a scattering of hand-cast plaster bowls in a rainbow of colours and from a roll of LED strip lights to wallpaper and swatches of silk printed with a photographic image of polystyrene, texture seems like a key driver in your practice. Do you agree? Could you talk further on this point?
‘Barraged’ is a nice way to put it. That’s how I feel when I find these places in the first place. Buffered by winds, accosted by colour. Dribbling internally at the sheer deliciousness of the surface textures.
My practice centres around this collection of the actuality of the surfaces of the world; when researching, I collect images of walls, floors, sand - all texture, colour or form. The distilling of these textures starts here. I don’t see it as a reduction to colour, texture and form – its more like a making visible of it. The images are repeated into forms, poured into plasters, smoothed into ceramics and printed on various substrates with sliding scales, sound, scents and more. For each place, the representation I create is led by the overall sensation of that place as I record it - sometimes places seep into a hue, other times their apparent colour blocks stick out shouting, and sometimes the air smells like sun cream.
AMPERSANDS (Fairbourne a& Margate a&) (2015), shown at Whitechapel, is a piece centered around excess, additions and the power of visually driven connections. This piece collides two palettes through a forced additive connection and is slightly more frenetic and unnerving as a result. It’s full of of peeled-off textures of Margate’s visible arcadia and a bleak palette from a Welsh strip village that is slowly returning to the sea. This insinuated theme park of edges and collisions of made matter, in multicolour hues with washed out rocky accents, hopefully makes us consider these created visual contexts.
ETO O Borth – Again from Borth (2014), shown at New Sensations, is from a hinterland in Mid Wales, a more direct presentation of one palette, a strip of terraced houses exposed to the land and the sea. Its flimsy curtained ‘walls’ pull at the edges, suggesting Borth’s precarious positioning on the coastline and observing our belief in those tiny multi-coloured terraced invaders of the landscape.
Here in the reds at Block 336, this heavy lidded half light is an integral part of the encasing shell of the work. I’m fascinated with the idea of our experience of colour being waves reflected off the surfaces. That we are making it red, SEEING RED. I’ve included light in many previous works as a material, a light, a bulb, a colour. This is the first time I have really considered its impact on our ways of seeing colour, its ability to shift the palette of a place depending on the time of day.
I tried to fix that moment of light into an experience of colour, and I love how its unfixable and slips away from your eyes. I’m fascinated by this idea that the objects in a place can be different visible versions of themselves at different points in the day. The red is all-encompassing when you first encounter it and then fades as your retinas adjust to the light into salmon and oranges. The lights were the first things I installed so I could get a real sense of this new space – I had to keep going back out to the white light so I could see the reds again. You are very aware of your place within it and your experience of the colours changing whilst you are in it - this apparent colour cover-up that is in fact a revelation of textures.
BLOCK 336, London: http://block336.com
Artist’s website: http://www.sarahrobertsfa.com
About the Artist
Sarah Roberts is a Welsh artist currently living and working in London and Wales. She studied Sociology at the University of Leeds (BA 2001) before finishing a second BA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London in 2014. Recent group exhibitions include SellYourSelf, East Street Arts, Leeds (2017); I’M Feeling So Virtual I’m Violent, HaHa Gallery, Southampton (2016); P A N D I C U L A T E : The Joy of Stretching, The Koppel Project, London (2016); The London Open 2015, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2015) and Saatchi Art New Sensations, Victoria House, Londn (2014). Roberts was selected for the Into The Wild Residency Programme, Chisenhale, London (2015-16) and the ACAVA/ArtQuest Lifeboat Residency (2014-15), and was awarded the Parasol Unit Exposure Award in 2014.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/04/13/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-sarah-roberts/
Carla Busuttil’s third solo show at Josh Lilley in London entitled The Super-Suburb Defence Authority touches on all of the ills that have infected South Africa since its colonial era. As a South African artist growing up under apartheid but living and working outside her home country since moving to London to attend the Royal Academy Schools in 2005, Busuttil is able to look back on her native land with a dispassionate and impartial lens, picking up on all of the developments and setbacks of a country struggling to cleanse itself of its apartheid history.
Consisting of painting, sculpture, video and bespoke artist wallpaper, this exhibition actively engages the viewer, whether interested in the politics or not, as the installation is a master class in exhibition making and the politically and culturally-charged subject matter is understated, drawing the viewers in instead of slapping them on the face. In the first room of the exhibition, there is a large seemingly innocent painting of six school boys in their uniforms painted in a lurid yellow colour, with their school’s motto printed on the top left corner of the canvas: “Our motto is achieve. And success we will achieve.” Inspired by a school photo of the artist’s husband’s secondary school class in South Africa where he was forced to learn the Afrikaans language that only 13% of the South African population understands, this painting is quintessential Busuttil – revolving around the human form, painted in an abstract contemporary style, using a painterly brushstroke, and touching on the political landscape of a vibrantly coloured South Africa. In the same room, the viewer is confronted with four thickly-impastoed primitive faces reminiscent of African masks but painted on vintage cricket pads found in thrift shops in England, subtly pointing to South Africa’s colonial past. Presented on traditional gallery plinths, these sculptures are all titled Nightwatchman, alluding to the overall theme of this exhibition exploring the South African private security industry that employs more people than the police force and army combined.
In the downstairs gallery spaces, another thought-provoking painting of a car park guard intrigues the viewer as the man’s face is painted blue, matching the painting’s ground and hinting at racial tension, social unrest and the giant chasm between the rich and the poor. Continuing this leitmotif, Busuttil presents for the first time in the UK the video she produced after extensive research in Johannesburg called Mosquito Lightning, a parody advertisement of the private security firm the artist founded while on a residency there earlier this year. Presented on top of bespoke artist wallpaper, this video work is equal parts humour and terror as the entire private security industry profits from fear and its amplification in order to fulfil its corporate promise to eradicate it. This emphasis on the fear of the “other” in society has universal applications at the present moment, whether it be president-elect Trump promising to ban all Muslims from entering the United States or the British majority who voted for Brexit this summer in order to stop immigration into the UK. So through Busuttil’s window with a view of suburban South Africa, the viewer has a glimpse of its own political realities in present-day London.
All in all, this exhibition is definitely worth a visit (on until 23 December 2016) for Busuttil’s tantalising painting technique as well as for its transporting qualities – from a grey wintry day in Fitzrovia to a colour-saturated, bright day in a privileged Johannesburg suburb.
About the Artist
Carla Busuttil (b.1982, Johannesburg, South Africa, lives and works in Oxford) studied at the Royal Academy, London, and University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Solo exhibitions include Choice. Click.Bait, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2016; A Change of Tongue, Space K, Seoul, 2014; and Generation V, Josh Lilley, London, 2013. Group exhibitions include We see (in) the Dark, Museum of Africa Design, Johannesburg, 2015; Creative London, Space K, Seoul, Gwacheon & Gwangju, 2012; and Newspeak: British Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2010.