“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…” Suddenly, images flash through your mind of a baby blue gingham-bedecked Dorothy clicking the heels of her red sequined shoes. The artwork of British artist Jonathan Baldock is equally transportative. Baldock blurs the line between art and theatre with his cast of enigmatic characters – typically meticulously crafted, soft, pastel pink sculptural assemblages that focus on the human form with an unsettling sense of humour. Employing crafts traditionally associated with the domestic sphere, such as home felting, basket weaving, candle making, appliqué, ceramics and stitching, Baldock’s multidisciplinary practice incorporates painting, sculpture, performance and playful installations, finding inspiration in the enchanted realms of mythology, masks, tribal rituals and folkloristic traditions. Like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Baldock’s work has a performative element that encourages its audience to engage with it. For There’s No Place Like Home at CGP London (on until 30 July 2017), Baldock’s largest and first solo exhibition in a public institution in London, the artist, referencing the 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz, creates a symphony of surreal sculptures that play with scale, horror and marvel bordering on the grotesque. Baldock’s work can also be seen in Hull (at the Hull Maritime Museum until 2nd July 2017 as part of its UK City of Culture programme throughout 2017) and in Blackpool (at the Grundy Art Gallery as part of a collaborative touring exhibition in three parts with fellow artist Emma Hart until 12th July).
On the occasion of Baldock’s solo show spread over the two spaces of CGP London in Southwark Park, including Dilston Grove, the cavernous historic church that was one of the first concrete buildings of its size in Britain, Marcelle Joseph talks to Baldock about his theatrical sculptural practice and the new cast of characters he was commissioned to make for There’s No Place Like Home.
Congratulations on your latest solo exhibition at CGP! Working in such an iconic and monumental building as Dilston Grove and covering two separate locales, how did you approach this show? What came first? The form or scale of the sculptures? The materials? The reference to The Wizard of Oz?
CGP commissioned me to make new works for their Dilston Grove (church) space. As you say, it is such an iconic space and could be viewed as an artwork in its own right! It is long, narrow and very high and so not an easy space to show in. I felt the work had to be made in response to these factors so I always knew that I wanted the work to utilise the height. From here, the idea of hanging works from the beams above evolved. This adds to the already very theatrical nature of the space – not just a church but a stage.
For me, showing in a church made it impossible not to think of mortality. The exhibition came about during a time when I was thinking a lot about the vulnerability and weakness of the human body. Of the shortness of life... I felt the need to oppose this and to make monuments to celebrate its strength and wonder. I started thinking about the church as a body and the sculptures within as fragmented body parts - kind of votives made monstrous. The Wizard of Oz connection quickly succeeded these ideas, and – firstly the idea of the homemade within the works, the significance of home to people today, but also that Oz is the home of all the unusual characters. Ozma is more interested in the unusual ones than the ordinary ones.
Your work is fascinated with the human body and its many orifices. For this show, the viewer encounters a human-scale votive candle adorned with waxen ears, a wicker chain that morphs into a human spine, chandeliers shaped like breasts hung from the ceiling and a sandy table in the form of an eye. Is your use of the body and its many parts a way of demanding that your sculptures perform for their audience?
Absolutely – I see these sculptures as very performative. Not just in their references to the body and their energy but also in the fact that they are often activated in performance by live performers. These interactions often leave the performer heavily costumed and seem less alive than the sculptures, and I love that!
Carrying on with the corporeal theme, do the bodily orifices depicted in your work have a sinister, sexual or violent side to them as well?
I enjoy the fact that orifices (particularly the word) often have sexual connotations, which in turn could be sexual or violent. For me, however, the orifice becomes a metaphorical portal to pass from one space to another. The doorway from the outer world to the internal world, the physical to spiritual. Orifices on the body are mouths, ears, noses and eyes and not just the anus, urinary meatus, vagina and nipples – which I guess carry more sexual connotations. I think these two aspects can easily run parallel as they do in life. It is the dark and light aspect of the world we live in… or does that make it sound too much like some life coach/guru??
Your work, idolising design, pattern and decoration and often imbued with a hint of the ‘dressing up box’, is laboriously made by the human body, using craft techniques associated with feminised labour. How did your interest in these domestic skills initially come about and how much of it is bound up in your own autobiography?
I learnt to sew from my nan. She sometimes looked after me when my mum was at work and being an older nan meant that she took care of me in front of the TV and showed me how to knit and sew – I loved it! Later it was my mum who passed on her sewing skills – the basic blanket stitch which is a bit of a staple within my work was taught by her. I’ve always said my childhood role models were three women: my nan, my mum and my sister. And I see them entwined in the work that I make. I believe these mediums have an honesty and integrity to them and are incredibly empowering. Being able to make work and construct work by hand – especially in the early days was incredibly important to me. Today, I am lucky enough to incorporate elements that I do make myself and I think the work is all the stronger for it.
Let’s talk about your palette. Is it pastel pink, sickly pink, candy-coloured pink or flesh pink? Is colour integral to your work and on the flip side, is colour an important tool for the viewer to translate or decode your work?
Firstly, it is flesh pink but I like that it is also all of those other pinks. I love that it is one colour that has so many associations. Pink also has associations with childlike innocence so it becomes another tool with which I bring together opposing forces and I subvert and distort its reading with uncanny or darker elements.
For this show, you will animate your new work with performances by Vancouver’s Kokoro Dance Company who will interact with your new commissions in Dilston Grove in bespoke, sculptural costumes. This is not the first time you have worked with performance artists and have made costumes for them. How did this collaboration come about with this Japanese butoh dance company and why the fascination with adorning the live human body in relation to your sculptural installations?
I was first introduced to Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget of Kokoro Dance through the curator of a show I had in Vancouver – Tobin Gibson in 2014. Tobin had organised for them to perform within my show, wear some sculptural costumes I had on display and activate some of the objects. We hit it off immediately and both expressed a keen interest in working together in the future. In 2015, they invited me to design the set and costumes for their piece ‘The Book of Love’. Inviting them to come to the UK has long been a dream of mine and I’m very happy they have agreed to it. I had no prior experience of Butoh dance before working with them but I think what they do is incredibly powerful and a wonderful antidote to a lot of performance at the moment in contemporary art which seems to be focused on the young, bodies, complacency and posing.
Images 1-3 and 6: Jonathan Baldock, installation shot of “There’s No Place Like Home” at CGP London (Dilston Grove), 2017, Photo: Damian Griffiths
Images 4-5: Jonathan Baldock, installation shot of “There’s No Place Like Home” at CGP London (The Gallery), 2017, Photo: Damian Griffiths.
Image 7: Jonathan Baldock, installation shot of “Love Life: Act II” at The Grundy, Blackpool (collaborative exhibition by Jonathan Baldock and Emma Hart), 2017, Photo: Ian Brown.
Image 8: Jonathan Baldock, installation shot of “Toilers of the Sea” at Hull Maritime Museum, Hull (collaborative exhibition by Jonathan Baldock and Ian J Brown), 2017, Photo: Ian Brown.
Jonathan Baldock: There’s No Place Like Home, CGP London (15 June – 30 July 2017): http://cgplondon.org/jonathan-baldock/
Artist’s website: http://jonathan-baldock.com
Offshore: artists explore the sea, Hull Maritime Museum, Hull (1 April – 2 July 2017): http://invisibledust.com/project/offshore-artists-explore-the-sea/
Love Life: Act 2 (two person touring show with Emma Hart), The Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool (17 June – 12 August 2017): https://www.grundyartgallery.com/programme/forthcoming/
Belmacz Gallery, London: http://www.belmacz.com/artists/baldock_jonathan
Nicelle Beauchene, New York: http://nicellebeauchene.com/artists/jonathan-baldock/
About the Artist
Jonathan Baldock (b. 1980, Pembury, UK) graduated from The Royal College of Art in 2005. He has exhibited internationally, recent shows include: Offshore: Artists Explore the Sea, Hull Maritime Museum; SPACE Gallery, London; Love Life: Acts 1,2 & 3 (touring show with Emma Hart), Peer Gallery, London, The Grundy, Blackpool and De La Warr Pavilion (forthcoming); Conversation Piece/ Part 3, Fondazione Memmo, Rome; Baldock, Pope, Zahle, Northern Gallery of Contemporary Arts (NGCA), Sunderland; Notes from the Orifice, VITRINE Gallery, London (UK); The Soft Machine, Chapter Gallery, Cardiff; Hot Spots, The Apartment, Vancouver; A Strange Mix Between a Butcher’s Shop and a Nightclub, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge. He has received international awards and residencies, including: Kunstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral Residency (2015), Abbey Fellowship, British School in Rome, Italy (2013); Residency – The Forest, Wysing Art Centre Cambridge, UK (2012); and Skowhegan, School of Painting and Sculpture Residency, Maine, USA (2007). Jonathan Baldock is represented by Belmacz, London and Nicelle Beauchene, New York.
British artist Hannah Perry took over Manhattan during Frieze New York this year, with a solo show that opened on 3rd May at Arsenal Contemporary entitled Viruses Worth Spreading (on until 2nd July 2017). That same week, she did a killer performance in collaboration with composer and musician Adam Bainbridge, performance curator Shazam Khan and clothing designer HYDRA. Combining, video, sculpture, installation, music and performance, Perry makes artworks with an urban tongue that jolt, stir and jump-cut their way through a collision course with class, gender, sex, power and youth lifestyle. Employing lo-fi technologies, Perry layers and loops, samples and processes pieces of video footage, text and sound to create erratic, rhythmic artworks with non-linear narratives that give clues to the artist’s own lived experience. Hailing from Chester in the North West of England, Perry lives the life of a nomadic artist, having lived for brief periods in Los Angeles, Montreal, Istanbul, Las Vegas and London over the last few years; however, her work (in particular, the sculptures) pays homage to the working class aesthetic of northern England, using aluminium and crushed car parts from an auto body shop to reimagine a world of adolescent joyriding in pimped-out speedsters. For her New York solo show, Perry transformed the main gallery into a post-club crash pad with moody, purple lighting, a split monitor hanging from the ceiling playing a new 20-minute single channel video and various duvets and foam mattresses for viewer seating.
Congrats on your solo exhibition at Arsenal Contemporary in New York! Let’s start with the title – Viruses Worth Spreading. For me, it brings up promiscuity and feminine sexual desire, themes often considered taboo in our phallocentric society. Could you talk about the overriding themes in your new show and how you overlay “gender” onto your work?
Within our phallus obsessed society, I guess this is the equivalent of my dick shaped art. Promiscuous is a term that is almost always used when speaking about a woman and it is pejorative. Although promiscuity is no longer viewed quite as negatively as it used to be, I would say mental health is much more out of bounds.
The themes swayed interchangeably between trauma, lust, heartache and anxiety. Imagined in a realm where relationships share equal footing in the virtual and real world—somewhere between online stalking, love letters, sexts and selfies.
The title came from a line of a script that I wrote, conjuring the clichéd image of 'the hysterical woman' who has lost control. The text was written whilst researching and combined a mixture of that research with memes, public posts online and personal emails that I will never send.
The whole undercurrent of the show was an attempt to inhabit and take control of negative stereotypes attached to genders, playing up to something whilst at the same time ridiculing it and then linking female sexuality to a technological virus - which is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect, such as corrupting the system or destroying data.
Please tell me about your multi-sensorial installation at Viruses Worth Spreading featuring your new video Cry Daggers. Is it important for you that the video sits within this darkened womb-like room? How do the various elements – warped walls, duvets covered in expanding foam and hair extensions, strapped-up foam mattresses, purple lighting, footage of LA car rides and GIF-like selfies, and a script describing tales of revenge and sexual desire – fit together?
The script was written from producing a large collage of images, text print-outs and handwriting - all set out like a mind map spanning the length of a wall in my studio. It came to life in three parts. Firstly, in a collection of wall-based works that consisted of rephotographed, distilled close-ups from its original form (which I violently destroyed) on aluminium and plexi and combined with screen printing. Secondly, as a running commentary through the video ‘Cry Daggers’, and finally as the narration to a live performance set three days after the opening.
For the installation, I brought the walls inward to create a curvy, body-like, glowing space. The collection of beds and duvets were made out of marshmallowy like material which had blond hair extensions and distorted foam mattresses upholstered in PVC, bound up with industrial metal strapping. It was about creating an intimacy within the space to experience and watch the film, inviting people into bed like sculptures and duvets to get wrapped up in.
The image of the auto body reoccurs time and time again within my work, the relics of some power play or car crash sex scene. Ruptured body parts were bound between sheets of plexi and hung in windows on scaffolding pipes. The impact imaged as a site of brute force, conjuring the clichéd image of both trauma and, this time lathered in a drippy gooey latex liquid, episodes of retaliation and lust.
The possible relationships between femininity and hysteria, machismo and industrialism are left to drift somewhere in between contingency and essence, threaded through the intimate and the shared.
For this show, you also presented a performance during the opening week, working with several dancers, a choreographer, a composer and a clothing designer – all with an unmistakable youth culture/club vibe. How do you approach this process with its multitude of different human elements? How did this particular performance activate the installation space?
When I was writing the text I sat with four girls, and together we had a think tank discussion on the themes around the work. So when it came to bringing that to life, it made sense to approach the performance collaboratively. Richie Shazam curated a group of performers, and we all lay together in the installation and watched ‘Cry Daggers’. I then sent everyone in the group a recording of the script that they each went home and listened to. Each performer interpreted it in a different way, with a different intensity and hooked onto a specific element which resonated with them. There were moments where I choreographed sections or directed parts but at the core each performer had their own specific interpretation of the emotions and tone of the piece. This for me was the aspect that resonated the most.
I also sent the script recording to an incredibly talented musician producer called Adam Bainbridge who scored an amazing soundtrack for the piece, and lastly l I worked with Hydra SARTORIAL LATEX, a fashion designer who shares a similar sensibility to materials I was engaging with in my work.
You famously quipped about five years ago, “I didn’t step into an art gallery until I was 18. It’s reflected in my work. It is more about society than art history.” What parts of “society” do you portray in your work?
I suppose I am talking about being from labouring class sensibilities as I come from a family of metal fabricators or service industry work and I have a sense of pride in that.
When in NY, I watched the John Akomfrah art documentary at MOMA about Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born cultural theorist and leader of the British New Left. It was incredible. I have been reading Stuart Halls’ essay - In low life and high theory - where he talks about the connection between the life which working class people made for themselves in industrial society and the body of socialist theory which came out of it: ‘the interpretation of theory and experience’ focus on the ‘spirit of collectiveness’ which is too often scooped up, aestheticised, appropriated and fetishised.
Having had the opportunity to work with many young people on projects, particularly in South East London, I realised that a lot of the misaligned youths that I was working with were artists of some kind, but were born into the wrong class, without certain resources. The mechanisms of social mobility, that existed when I was younger and enabled me to be situated in a privileged cultural space now, don't exist anymore unfortunately.
In the same way I work with gender in my work, being working class means having an understanding of what it means to experience an unjust socio-economic system. The reality of both of these concerns is things like loan sharks praying on family members when they are broke and vulnerable or fighting for acknowledgement of your credibility and hard work when undermined with sexist comments. There is a difference between a genuine sense of community and a false identification with a group
So not going to an art gallery until i was 18 was referring to social class and accessibility.
Congrats again on being part of the first group of artists to be in residence for the next two years in the neoclassical Somerset House overlooking the Thames in Central London! How will you use this new workspace? What are your plans for this residency?
Well, at the moment, I am doing a bunch of inductions in the Somerset House workshops. It's an incredibly beautiful setting to be in and feels very Dickensian to be there every day. It’s a two-year studio residency but also feels like being back at art school: firstly, because of the sense of community amongst all of the artists and secondly, because of the amazing resources. When you finish art school, you look back and think of all the things you didn't quite get round to learning, such as new processes and new materials, so it's a chance to go back to that in a way. I am very lucky.
One last question… As a female artist whose work makes public your own private relationships and experiences, how do you navigate this space where issues of voyeurism and power relationships come to the fore?
A lot of my work is mediated and fragmented through the process. Reprocessing, degrading, altering and defusing the images, video and sounds.
Conceptually, in the NY show, there are a lot of expressions of anger, trauma and grief through the posture of a relationship breaking down last year and the emotions that spiralled out of that - such as anger, a sense of loss, hopelessness, injustice and grief. Looking back now, it was all a cloak or mask to coincide with the loss of my best friend and long term collaborator, Pete Morrow, who sadly took this life in January of last year. I worked with Pete on various performances, like at Boiler Room and V22 and countless other video and music projects. It was easier to reconcile with a breakup than it was to process death. So there are many layers of public and many layers of private. Working with personal content can be a vulnerable position but the vulnerability is the strength.
Voyeurism and power plays are unfortunately something that women have to grapple with within every area. Being unapologetic about those experiences is exactly what that show was all about.
Hannah Perry: Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York (3 May – 2 July 2017): http://www.arsenalmontreal.com/en/exhibitions/?t=now&w=new_york
Artist’s website: http://www.hannahperry.com
Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin website: http://www.cfa-berlin.de/artists/hannah_perry
All images courtesy of the artist and Arsenal Contemporary, New York.
Image 1: Hannah Perry, installation view of Cry Daggers (HD video, 2017) in Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York, 2017.
Image 2: Hannah Perry, Your Ass is Grass (And I’m Gonna Mow It) (2017), silkscreen on aluminium, digital perplex print on plexiglass, silkscreen on plexiglass, 152.4 x 182.88 cm.
Image 3: Hannah Perry, Cock Blocking (2017), foam, vinyl, steel strapping, 134.6 x 76.2 x 73.6 cm.
Image 4: Hannah Perry, Cucci Copey (detail) (2017), expanding foam, synthetic hair extensions, duvet vinyl, 139.7 x 205.7 x 35.5 cm.
Image 5: Hannah Perry, installation view of Pretty and Trauma Junky (both 2017, plexiglass, crushed car parts, foam, latex) in Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York, 2017.
Image 6: Hannah Perry, exhibition view of Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York, 2017.
Image 7: Hannah Perry, exhibition view of Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York, 2017.
About the Artist
Born in Chester in 1984, Hannah Perry lives and works in London. She graduated from Goldsmiths College in 2009 and from the Royal Academy Schools in 2014. Her solo shows include Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York (2017); 100 Problems, Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin (2016); Mercury Retrograde, Seventeen, London (2015); You’re gonna be great, Jeanine Hofland, Amsterdam (2015); Always, Steve Turner, Los Angeles (2015); and Hannah Perry, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2012). Recent institutional group-exhibitions include: If we think bad, Arsenal Montreal (2016); Private Settings: Art After the Internet, MOMA Warsaw; New Order II, Saatchi Gallery, London (2014); A sense of things, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2014); Alternative Space from London: Arcadia Missa Off-Site, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo (2014); Stedelijk at Trouw: Contemporary Art Club – DATA, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2013); OPEN HEART SURGERY, Moving Museum, London (2013); and Dropbox, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford (2013). Performances by the artist have been hosted at Boiler Room, London (2015); Serpentine Gallery, London (2014); David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2014); Barbican Gallery, London (2013); V22, London (2012) and Zabludowicz Collection, London (2012).
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/