‘Casa: London’ is an ongoing collaborative performance between Ning Chou and Nurin Yusof, where a romance-less relationship is explored through domestic life and the idea of ‘home’. Through interactive performance, Ning and Nurin will host a house warming party where the audience are invited to build a cardboard house with the artists as means to negotiate shared vs. personal space, private vs. public life and performance vs. reality. The trajectory of the performance will remain unknown and improvised, allowing for the relationship to run a course of its own before, during and after the performance in both physical and digital landscapes, further blurring the realities of daily life and performance. This non-romantic relationship also extends to explore the difference and familiarity between a house and a home for Ning and Nurin and how their respective Taiwanese and Malaysian culture may affect their experience of establishing a shared home within the United Kingdom, evoking questions of personal security of a living space and co-dependency in the act of being together. Cardboard is also the material of choice due to its ephemeral quality that aids in questioning the durability of the house come home as well as the relationship’s reliability. Thus, its fragile and impermanent nature will also question the intimacy shared and/or achieved between both artist within the voyeuristic setting of a ‘new’ home occupied by the artists themselves and their attending house guests.
Guests are invited to bring a gift to be displayed in the new home. Gifts can be anything and nothing.
Diary Entries by N1 & N2
7 June 2022, Tuesday
My birthday is two weeks after, I am turning 24. Past twenty three years, I’m trying so hard to find a place really fit me. Some of them gave me the love which I don’t really think I need, some of them hurt me so much. I travel across the world to see where is my destination of the space called home.
I didn’t celebrate my birthday for more than five years, but I will still buy myself a meal which I was craving at that moment. Last year is a Japanese bento, built with yaki beef and shrimp tempura.
I didn’t expect that I’ll find another little person in the work which I can finally build my home. I had a steady job, a group of friends, and a person i can always have sweet conversation with.
We are going to build our house after my birthday, and we are going to hold a house warming party and share all my joy with all of you. I already have a image of our new house in my mind, where can I put my new painting and the plant i always carry with when I moved.
I hope you will have fun and all find a home in wherever you want to stay.
7 June 2022, Tuesday
Honestly, I am scared to go in circles, even if I am obsessed with circles.
I wonder if our house can be circular, but that scares me.
What about 4 flat walls? That scares me too.
There’s too much to prepare, I’m scared. I’m not used to living in a house for more than 5 years.
What I am used to is to pack up and leave.
We haven’t even moved it and I’m already thinking of our next home. Do you think we will be okay? We have to be, there’s no other way. The world must go round and round.
Nurin Niiiiiing nice
Ning Nuuuuuurin Need
No net, night, naughty
new needing vs. needy
n Ning 2
Our house won’t be perfect, but we’ll try out best to make it our home.
No running away Nurin.
This can be home and you are capable of love Nurin.
Ps. does this mean the house/home is my gift to Ning and Ning’s gift to me?
It’s our birthday and monthiversary anyway. I guess it should count…
As many of you will now know we at Sweet ‘Art will be celebrating our 10th birthday with a 3 month long program of art exhibitions and events taking place in our pop up space – the Art Bypass Gallery!
We have opened our very own gallery in London and will host exhibitions and events form May to July 2022 to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, engaging the public with diverse artistic practice, and promoting awareness and understanding of important social issues through the arts with a special emphasis on working with artists who are marginalised from the artworld.
The Art Bypass Gallery is open now and is an accessible and inclusive space for making, looking at, thinking about and debating art. So do come down and visit us soon!
Sweet ‘Art will host 4 curated exhibitions in the space. All will our usual open submission policy. The first, Retrespect: 10 years of Sweet ‘Art was a great success and was a retrospective response to Show #1, our launch exhibition that took place back in 2012 in aid of International Women’s Day. Since then we as an organisation have responded to the necessary and every shifting narratives and perspectives surrounding inclusive intersectional feminist thinking and action and have reflected on what this means and how we can respond meaningfully to successes and mistakes in our work, activism and politics as we always strive to do better.
Visitors and artists old and new enjoyed our usual vagina cakes (a giant vegan one this time around!) our logo birthday cake and our signature cocktails along with great art.
Our second exhibition is going to be a fun one too! Significant Other will be a creative celebration of difference and overcoming adversity. At Sweet ‘Art our mission and values have always responded to a desire to be inclusive and provide opportunity for those who face barriers in the art world and society and may feel ‘other’. Our ethos is prompted in part by the Sweet ‘Art teams’ own intersecting identity related challenges, artistically and personally. This exhibition will call on artists to respond to otherness and its richness and importance culturally, societally, personally and politically. In psychology the significant other is a person with a strong influence on an individual’s self-evaluation and reception of social norms. This exhibition will respond to the importance of those that challenge societal normativity and in doing so make space for change and innovative and important practice.
Sweet Art’s third exhibition will be a curated show for the winner and runner up of our Art Award. In honour of our mission and values we will be holding an open entry competition for any artist exploring any medium, theme or concept in their art practice. The first prize, with the winner selected by our panel which will be comprised of Sweet ‘Art team members old and new who will be given opportunity to score each submission against our chosen criteria.
Finally, we will be hosting ourFree for All an exhibition where anyone can bring their artwork along to the gallery, and this will be curated into an open exhibition by the Sweet ‘Art team. In order to democratize the gallery space, we will impose no restrictions on theme, medium or artist experience. We will invite anyone and everyone to bring along their artistic creations to be part of our exhibition celebrating a do-it-yourself inclusivity. This final exhibition in our programme will include a closing party for all involved.
So do come on down for a Mansplainer, Gender Fluid or a delicious Sex Positive on the Beach!
As well as our curated exhibitions we are all supporting other artists curators and groups who may not have opportunity to host their own events as part of our Cultural Program. Our program will comprise of 6 arts events hosted by partnering organizations, not for profits, charities, collectives and curators who share our values.
Please see our website for full listing and details of our Cultural Program and out Interact Week which will include a run up to Pride Pride through Making Workshop, Reflective Workshops for Art Therapists, Casa: London and interactive performance piece, Rethink Fashion Happening and workshop and coffee, chats and feminist crafting form the East End Womens Museum.
Do keep up to date will all the fun and disruption Sweet ‘Arts and join us for a drink, art and activism this summer!
Opening dates: 9 May- 29July 2022 Usually Weds – Sun 12.00-18.00 (please check individual exhibitions for opening times as they may vary)
Address: The Art Bypass Gallery, 261a City Road, EC 1V1AJ Find us on Google Maps
For those of you who follow the work we do at Sweet ‘Art and our annual Intersect Project, it will be of no surprise that we of course had to adapt the project this year. Our normal format of women sitters joining the Sweet team and 4 selected artist IRL, to collaborate on the creation of portraits that challenge the ‘male gaze’ in art by creating an intersectional ‘female gaze’, for obvious reasons needed adaptation in 2021. We did not host the project in 2020 either, as the Covid19 pandemic hit the UK and lockdowns began in March, when we would normally celebrate International Women’s Day.
This year, like many other events, including our exhibition The Great Leveller, we took Intersect online. We expected this necessity to be one that would need to be tolerated for safety, but would inevitably take from the usual impact and experience the project.
However, in retrospect the Intersect team have reflected on the way in which this necessary shift in thinking around the project has prompted interesting, welcome and insightful change to its practical and conceptual realisation.
The History of the Intersect Project
The Intersect project existed in its first incarnation as a live art portraiture project exploring and challenging the male gaze in art from an intersectional feminist perspective. We decided this would be the perfect way for us to celebrate women’ history month each year. The project was first hosted in collaboration withWOW London and felt like a meaningful and exciting start. Read more about that one here. The format of the event, taking place in the Market Place of the festival in the Royal Festival Hall, helped us to get immediate feedback from visitors, sitters and artists and set the scene for the projects ethos of support and solidarity.
Aims and Objectives
The Intersect Live Art Portraiture Project set out to explore:
The concept of the ‘female gaze’ in art.
A Subverting of the concept of the traditional ‘male gaze’ in art and society (that of women as objects, often sexual objects, in the passive role of the observed only)
The concept of intersectional feminist perspectives (the idea that even if we all call ourselves feminists we all come from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexualities and socio economic positions which effect the way we see feminism and what it needs to be for us.)
Women supporting women (we know from past projects and exhibitions the importance of women joining together, talking to each other and having fun with a common aim.
How Could Intersect do this?
In its first incarnations, four women artist were selected by Sweet ‘Art for the Intersect collaboration due to the exploration of feminist issues in their practice from very different social, personal and political perspectives. The artists each worked at one of four stations on a portrait of a women sitter for a set period of time. When the time was up, each artist moved to the next easel and continued work on the previous artist’s portrait until each artist had worked on each portrait. The resulting four portraits hoped to act as an unpredictable, collaborative representation of different feminist perspectives, exploring a ‘female gaze’.
This year the project responded to the current restrictions in our abilities to truly be together in solidarity and support on International Women’s Day by moving online. Many marginalised groups have been disproportionally affected in various ways by the pandemic and we wished to make a creative, collaborative and safe space in which women and non-binary people may be seen and heard in their unique experience, during this ongoing difficult time.
In practical terms the online format of the project allowed for greater opportunity and inclusivity as the Sweet ‘Art team selected this years intersect artists. With artist and sitters being able to join from anywhere in the world (and yes we did a have a few time zone calculations to do!) it was an exciting and rich experience to be joined by artists in the UK, Israel and the US and sitters from a far as Texas and Korea!
As always the importance of the evolution of language and understanding of identity related experience, must be embraced and meaningfully held, and at Sweet ‘Art we are dedicated to this in the updating and reevaluating of mission and ethos.
The inclusion of nb artists and sitters in the project came from a desire to extend our interpretation of the concept of a ‘male gaze’ informed by contemporary thinking and increased understanding of the experiencing of gender and gender binaries, by gender queer and nb people.
Part of the Sweet ‘Art teams exploration and debate of this issue included the decision to expand definition and use the term ‘patriarchal gaze’ and ‘male gaze’ interchangeably. Rather than a desire to just perform inclusivity, this decision felt to greater encapture that which we seek to subvert and challenge with the project. Our reevaluating of terminology led to increased understanding of what the male gaze may really be in its complexity, and also to our desire to adapt language to more accurately respond to understandings that the male gaze is not one that is necessarily held only by men. Nor is it a product of sex or biology but one of social construction much like gender.
We decided that each of our 4 selected artists would use a 15 minute slot to create portraits of a woman/nb sitter, via an online meeting platform.
As part of this year’s unique take on the project, sitters were also invited prior to their sitting, to contribute a piece of writing to us in response to the question “How would I like to be seen and heard?”
Responses could take any form including poetry, prose, a letter, statement or diary entry and would be read out by one of the Sweet ‘Art team within the drawing time slot. Artists would be invited to create a visual representation of the sitters as they reflected on the sitters’ words. We can truly say we were blown away by the beautifully human, honest and important thoughts our sitters shared with us before the day.
I was so struck by how important it felt to get it right for the sitter when reading their contributed text, and how this gave me some insight into the feelings of the Intersect artist each year, as they often share feelings of anxiety and responsibility but also joy and pride, in there attempts to truly see those they are drawing, while embodying feminist solidarity.
Following the sittings, one of the artists would then be commissioned to use a combination of all 4 portraits to create one final composite portrait for the sitter to keep. All final portraits hoped to represent differing intersectional feminist perspectives that challenge a patriarchal gaze, creating space for women and non-binary people to be seen and heard in their experience in relation to this gaze. This artwork would then be sent to the sitter to keep at the end of the project, as a gift in honor of support and solidarity this IWD.
“I am a Brooklyn-born, London-based artist specialising in drawing and needlework. My art is informed by my interest in issues of identity and internal worlds and by my work as a psychotherapist. I have a particular focus on working collaboratively and have been engaged in a long term mixed media project, entitled ‘Sour-Puss: The Opera’, with the artist Diogo Duarte.
It is my own need to get my feelings out that has driven me to make art. I want to set down on paper and fabric how I see the world and how I feel. As a therapist, I work with words that are spilled out of bodies so that they can then be considered for their meaning. I love stories but sometimes words are not enough to do stories justice.”
“I live and work in Israel. I’m a figurative-expressive painter, and work with oil, charcoal and pastels. My subjects include portraits, life drawings as well as large scale narrative paintings. I think of art as a form of dialogue, and portraiture for me is a substitute for verbal communication, which I’m not very good at. It dissolves barriers and allows us to see through the painter’s eyes. It’s a triple relationship – the artist, the subject and the viewer.”
“I am a non-binary, femme presenting, interdisciplinary artist based in Glasgow, graduating from Glasgow School of Art in 2019. My practice is based in expanded painting, combining traditional notions of painting and printmaking with performance and film making. I focus primarily on the female form, both as subject matter and as a conceptual tool to explore womxn’s place within the arts and society, inclusivity, sexuality and object-hood within a digital era, with themes stemming from gender theory, philosophical thought and current affairs. Most of my work features the nude body, however I began my time at art school focusing on portraits, and still regularly complete self-portraits.”
Cassandra is a video artist and illustrator. She is already familiar with thinking about herself in the third person, performing as alter egos in drag, music and comedy. She is a draglesque performer named Rusty Bucket and a self absorbed piece of art work, Kay – T Critiques. She’s queer and kind and swears a lot. In the pastiche of Cassandras artists practice, there are two main pillars holding it aloft: camp and fashion. If her audience isn’t laughing or at least being bewildered, she is not fulfilled.
Reflection on the project.
Despite reservations about taking the project online, this did raise interesting questions surrounding both the intimacy of portraiture drawing and the use of online platforms such as zoon where you often ‘meet’ others in the context of there own, potentially private spaces.
In our preparation meetings for the project, Thyme raised the issue of voyeurism and the possible intrusion of the format. For me this felt to potentially add to the sense of intimacy that can be lost over platforms like zoom. But Thymes thoughts did however make me question the important archiving of the project on this blog, in the context of the new format, and how this may impact that which we share here of a process made paradoxically more and less personal and intimate by the adapted format.
In response to this and following the project, Thyme fed back that their expectations had been challenged.
“Contrary to this, it could further the sitter’s agency, allowing them to set up in a space they feel safe, comfortable, and further reflects themselves. In a physical setting this element of control is removed. The organisers and artists dictate the surroundings, angles, and subsequent presentation”
Many of the sitters did indeed set the scene in their own space and choose a specific pose that felt significant and reflective of the words that they had provided to be read.
Thyme also reflected on the timely nature of the project, taking place in the week following the discovery of the body of Sarah Everard here in London, with a serving met police officer being held in custody on suspicion of her murder, committed as she just tried to walk home safely.
“After the events of this week the project seems even more pertinent. Voices of women, non-binary, and other queer people need to be amplified. Conversations around our safety are brought to the forefront of our society here across the UK. We discuss how we walk with keys in our hands, call our partners, wear “suitable” or “appropriate” attire and prioritise routes with cctv or street lights. We know these things can only keep us so safe. We know that however we dress or present ourselves it does not really matter.
The male gaze cannot be excluded from this dialogue. It is intrinsically linked to the patriarchy, and thus toxic masculinity and male violence. As soon as our gender is confirmed, perceived, or assumed, we become targets.”
Indeed on the very day we held the project, a vigil in London to honor Sarah ended with women being violently attacked by police, handcuffed and restrained in what were claimed to be attempts to disperse the crowds. Crowds of grieving women, laying flowers for yet another dead sister and as a way of processing and marking all the trauma experienced as a result of misogyny and associated hate crimes.
“Furthermore, in a week where the voices of women, non-binary and queer people are fuelled with fear, hatred, and mourning, hearing the sitter’s words read out has been much needed. These words of strength, celebration and honesty has reminded me that we are amazing and powerful beings beyond the trauma we have gone through.”
Many of our sitters were able to feedback at the time of their sit, how the process had felt and themes seemed to emerge surrounding the surprising level of compassion, intimacy and connection that could be achieved and felt through this unusual process.
Some used social media to share the experience and feedback how it had been important to them.
“…from writing and crafting my note about how I wanted to be seen and heard, and sharing these strange 15 min with compassionate strangers….again thanks for this out of body experience!”
I personally really enjoyed packaging up the final composite images and creating arty presents to be opened. I really channeled my younger Riot Grrrl zine making self with the stickers and glitter, but when has there been a better time for a bit of retro crafty fun? The pandemic and constant online interactions and digital content (the doom scroll is real!) has made receiving actual objects in the post a real treat, and this is what we wanted to embrace, with all of our sitters choosing a present in the post rather than digital versions of their portraits. For me there felt to be something of the sincere and fun that Sweet ‘Art likes to embody, captured in this process.
Following the day of the project and on completion of the composite portraits, the Sweet ‘Art team and our Intersect artists enjoyed a lively post project meeting, where all fed back to each other how the day had felt and what important questions it may have raised for us surrounding the patriarchal or male gaze.
We explored again our use and adaptation of language to find ever greater and meaningful ways in which to challenge such social and political complexities, along with reflecting on how each artist utilized the collaborative process to inform their own interpretation of the sitters and their identity.
We were able to further support each other in sisterly and feminist solidarity and acknowledge the ways in which feminism may not be inclusive and how to best challenge this. We were also able to share more about the harm and resulting grief and trauma that a patriarchal gaze wholly contributes too in society and the experience of less socially dominant groups. This felt important to consider in relation to art and activism and the artists were able to feed back how valued they felt in being paid to be part of the project, when so often artists and their labour is not valued in many societies.
For me Intersect: Seen and Heard 2021 embodied something of the importance and power of art to reflect society and shared and personal experience, to comfort and support, and to subsequently subvert, challenge and make change.
Back in July I started chatting with artist Joanna Goddard via email about her latest works ‘The Kubb series’. Still unable to meet in person because of that virus you may have heard about, and because of a few major life events on both sides, including, sadly, a family bereavement, it has taken us quite a while to get to a point where we can write this blog. But! we got there eventually, and I am excited to share with you an inside look at Jo’s work and inspirations for this, the 6th instalment of our featured artists interviews here on the Sweet Blog.
Predominantly working with Ceramics, specifically paperclay, and inspired by artists such as Grayson Perry and Louise Bourgeois, as well as author Rosette Gault and poet Christina Rossetti. Jo uses bold colour pallets, suggestive forms and an interest in exploring the juxtapositions between materials and the viewers sensory experience to create sculpture which is both stimulating and surreal.
If you have been following Sweet ‘Art for a while you may also recognise Jo from a previous Sweet ‘Art exhibition back in 2016 called Hand Maid in which she showed her piece ‘Swarm Of Desire, The Nymphs Headrest’. Inspired by ‘L’après-midi d’un faune’ a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé which describes the erotic desires of a faun after he encounters several nymphs in a forest.
Hand Maid was a little bit before my time working with Sweet ‘Art, so although I was aware of the exhibition I wasn’t very familiar with the works or the artists involved. You can imagine my delight when I found these photos of Jo’s works in the show, with that bright shock of orange and blue sitting proudly right in the centre. The energy and feeling that comes from Jo’s work, even just in photos, is so much fun and so vibrant that it captures all your attention, draws you in and makes you want to ask for more. So I started by asking Jo about her background. Where do these ideas come from? Why ceramics? And what’s next?
Jo’s love affair with ceramics started back in the late 80’s/early 90’s while she was studying for her foundation in Hastings, speaking on this early inspiration Jo says…
“I started using clay after my Foundation at Hastings in 1989, we had an amazing teacher called Tony Bennett who created the most incredible ceramic works, they were really amazing. He exhibited in Garth Clarke gallery in New York, and of course we were all v. impressed. It made me realise what could be done with ceramics, that it could be a prestigious material despite its basic origins. I also followed Grayson Perry’s work at this time.”
“I always admired his [Grayson Perry’s] work, ever since I saw him in a magazine and realised that it was possible to put pictures on pots. That literally fired me up and I was into monochrome for many years – although there were many times I could have used more colour, I was strangely scared of it.”
She carried this motivation and her ideas over when she started studying 3D Design, Ceramics at Surry Institute for Art and Design, and later, while working with a mould making studio in London to get larger works made and fired. Jo would even transport works to London from Brighton by train as local studios were not keen on sharing firings!
Eventually Jo received some grant money which enabled her to buy her own kiln, this in turn meant that she could create more ambitious, larger scale sculpture and for the first time, start trialling colour in her works.
“Once I got some grants and a kiln, I was able to start experimenting, and finally colour came along! I did many group shows and even took my work to Holland to exhibit. I had loads of outdoor shows, and really enjoyed it. Slowly my work got larger and brighter – the Population series was the heaviest and I realised that I needed to find a new material. I corresponded with Rosette Gault whose investigations into Paperclay were just beginning. She inspired me to use it – and it gave me so much freedom, work could be made/stopped/restarted and it was really liberating. I really loved the Breakfast in Fur, the cup by Méret Oppenheim – that confusion between touch and texture – really excited me. Inspired by this many of my pieces looked like they were made of foam”
Jo’s work morphed yet again in 2006 when she became a mother. From a mix of sleep deprivation, working around her baby’s needs and drawing inspiration from the poetry of Christina Rosetti and The Dolls of Hans Bellmer, the Nymphs Headrests were born, as well as a series of other works in orange.
“With motherhood arriving in 2006 my work did change – any mother will know that enough sleep & successful breastfeeding is a holy grail concocted by the devil!! Out of this time I made the Nymphs Headrests and a set of other orange works. The poetry of Christina Rosetti and dolls of Hans Bellmer were big inspirations – no coincidence that I visited the Bellmer exhibit at the Whitechapel with my baby – some raised eyebrows there but he slept through it all! The first 10 years of motherhood were good for my work – but as the kids got into the pre-teens, I found my work getting darker – blue came in, along with metal tones and harder surfaces.”
Which I guess leads us to now! Quite recently Jo has been working on a new series of work; The Kubb Series. (A quick google of the term Kubb reveals that it is in fact a lawn game, similar to bowling or Horseshoes, which has its origins with the Vikings.) These works are much larger, supersized versions of ancient gaming pieces, “Something you can really get your hand on!”
When Jo showed me these works and explained what they were I got quite excited! I love anything linked to Viking history so I was keen to learn more. I asked Jo about her recent changes in inspiration and her move to a darker colour pallet, as well as her hopes for exhibiting in the future.
Q – At the very beginning of our chat you mentioned that with your most recent work you have had a change of inspiration, working with darker colours and tones, as well as changing the materials you work with to better fit around your commitments. Can you elaborate on that a little?
“For the past 10 years, I have been making different work, working with scale, proportions and deeper colours. This started when I read the poem Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. I got excited about darkness again, a good darkness of velvet shadows and a deep blue twilight feeling. It’s also about the tactile and being inspired by things that people touch, like the Boli figures (from Mali) or viking games. I am excited by the intimacy of those original things that people handled. I also used to work in a castle and sometimes was allowed into the cellar archives to look into boxes of old skulls and pottery, memories of that came back to me. I have also been inspired by my late mother Sandra’s collection of folk songs. Growing up hearing her sing these dark and sometimes brutal storylines has given me much inspiration over the years.”
Q – It’s clear from the descriptions on your website that you have been inspired by all sorts of things over the years but have there been any subjects or themes which you find yourself coming back to often? or which seem to run through your work by themselves without intention?
“I have always enjoyed the juxtaposition of materials and sensory experiences. Mainly where you look at something and imagine it feels like one thing but in fact and when you actually touch it it feels like another.
The artwork which started this off for me was Méret Oppenheim’s cup called Object, I may have already mentioned it. It’s a very strange piece because the more you look at it the more it confuses your mind, I spent a long time looking at it in the Tate.
I also was very drawn to Jeff Koon’s Rabbit which hypnotised me in a gallery in LA. So for the ’90’s I was making brightly coloured ceramic work that looked like soft fabric toys or foam, to play with that type of sensory perception/confusion. There was also a sensual element at play, like in the Nymphs Headrests which I made while my children were infants. Motherhood definitely changed me!”
“I often end up making some quite phallic objects but I dont think of this while making them. Mind you I do fancy having my picture taken like this one of Louise Bourgeois with one of my works tucked under my arm!”
Q – Looking at the images you have sent of your most recent green works, they feel like very organic forms, almost like they created themselves. But I’m interested to know if you have an interest in or have been researching ancient monuments/structures or cultures? they remind me a lot of the upright stones at Stonehenge or the stones at Avebury, all be it on a smaller scale.
“On a visit to the British Museum I was looking at some Viking gaming pieces – small, bronze and worn by the passage of time and hands.
Studying them, I thought that they were like the most perfect of sculptures – if only they were larger….
Then on a family trip to Lindisfarne the exhibits there also drew me into the story of the Viking incursions into England, and how they would have carried these type of gaming pieces about their person.
The objects use – to bide their time when they weren’t rowing boats or fighting, made me realise how little of this side of their society I knew about. There was something very intense about the intimacy of the objects, and that excited me to make these three green works”
“Also As a child I visited Stonehenge and remember touching and laying on the stones, and I also, as a teenager I slept one night in West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire. Being up close and personal with these ancient stones has definitely influenced me, I love the combination between something that looks monumental from a distance but still draws your touch. Modern monuments are always up on a plinth, but these older ones seem to grow from the earth and like a tree you just want to get your hands on it.
Q – Is this new work site specific? And how does the environment the work is placed in influence it? For example would you like one of these pieces installed on a certain hill because of the light interactions, or because of the way it would disrupt the landscape, maybe?
“I would love to exhibit in a forest again – I really like the way the light changes through the trees and that the view of the work changes as you move through the forest.”
Q – Going back to the materials you use, do they impact or manipulate the shape and texture of the piece at all?
“The clay I use is paperclay and it does make me create more solid work, in the way that I construct it all in sections over time. The joy of the paperclay is you can work for a bit, pause then resume, which works well around my kids, job, life. It also means I don’t have to rush. You can make fragile works but I have chosen not to, so the work is much more robust to handle and fire.”
Q – If these pieces were placed in the landscape what reactions do they have from people walking by? (or what reactions would you like them to have?)
“People are often saying that my work looks very pleasing in the landscape – the intimate (less than 60cm) size gives them an intimacy that draws people in – and the material, clay, always draws a comment that they are very “natural””
Q – Do you have any plans to exhibit them outside? And how do you think showing them in a more “traditional” white cube space would change the works and the way people interact with them? (for better or worse)
“I am currently approaching some outdoor venues / cafes and also rural business centres to see if they are interested. Its early days, with C-19 concerns holding things up, but I am keeping up my work on this idea.”
Q – Where do you want to take the work next? Do you have any ideas or plans for new sculptures?
“I am keen to continue working to 60cms, and beyond. I am dreaming of sleek monoliths, moonlit sculpture trails, creating a wooden dome and erecting it in a forest, to exhibit in. Family commitments are a constant draw on my focus but I will continue to make and show my work – who knows, I might sell some pieces if I’m lucky!”
Like most artists Jo also has a few other creative projects on the go! And naturally I had to ask about these ventures and how they fit into her wider body of work…
Q – I remember you also mentioned that you have a few other side projects going on including prop making and sewing. Both of those things seem very different from your ceramic works! How do they fit into your creative bubble? I have been experimenting with sewing and embroidery myself during lockdown and have found it a really good way to relax and “zone out” from all that is going on in the world for a while. Is that similar for you?
“Sewing – specifically quilting, has drawn me as I have only a few decisions to make, then the rest is just work. It’s very different to making a sculpture. You can recut, revisit, resew. With clay there is a finite point, there is no unpicking. So, I found that by doing sewing in the much colder months, I could rest my clay/art making brain a bit. I use a 1930s manual and 60’s electric machine then I hand tie (sew the sides of the quilt together). This involves having a 6” frame in the front room for months, while I work on it every evening. Each triangle gets three stiches in the centre then I move through to the next triangle/space, it’s quite time consuming.
The prop making was done from around 1997 to 2006 for Vavavavoom! a burlesque event lead by my friend Stella Starr. It was really inspiring and great fun, as well as hard work. Again, it was different from making sculptures and great to work to a brief, we had a great understanding of the visual impression of the costumes and props and hope to showcase them again in the future.”
And Finally, I couldn’t finish this feature without mentioning Jo’s dad Lawrence, who sadly passed away during preparations for this blog.
Lawrence helped advise Jo with technical challenges, drove artworks to exhibitions and was a sounding board for her ideas, even if he was slightly bemused by what she was making!
Over the last few weeks, I have seen more and more galleries and museums opening, and in turn lots more people venturing out of their homes after lockdown to visit them. I would love to be one of those people. Some of the exhibitions I have seen opening look amazing! But I am just not ready to get back out there yet. Here is why…
If you have seen or met me at a Sweet ‘Art exhibition or event you may have noticed my skin condition. It’s called Atopic Dermatitis and is an autoimmune disease. To treat this, I take some extraordinarily strong immunosuppressive medication which switches off the parts of my immune system which are over reactive, therefore lessening my symptoms and pain. Unfortunately, this means that I have a compromised immune system and am at higher risk of contracting an infection or virus and have less to fight with if I do catch something.
On top of this I am also asthmatic and talk weekly with a psychiatrist because of PTSD symptoms stemming from a hospital stay several years ago in which I almost died after contracting a virus.
Because of all this I was put on the shielding list at the start of lockdown and have spent most of the year avoiding literally everyone but my cat. Its been a rough year all round hasn’t it?
So why am I telling you this? Because although I am still not ready and am honestly a little frightened to go back out into the world of galleries as of right now, I have been finding ways to view art outside of my house and I want to share what I have been doing to experience art at a distance.
Firstly, at the start of August I booked tickets for the latest exhibition at Houghton Hall featuring Anish Kapoor. I had previously visited this stately home in Norfolk back in 2018 for the Damien Hirst exhibition and so I felt safe attending knowing that 90% of the artworks are outside in the grounds. For this exhibition, the house itself was closed, with the exception of the main hall which housed several smaller mirrored works.
Houghton hall is a fair distance from home, but I really felt the need to just get out and go somewhere other than the park behind my house and I did enjoy the day!
The exhibition itself was ok, I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of Kapoor, not much of his work excites me but the work which was on display was a great contrast to the grounds of the house and included everything from large scale installations and marble sculptures to smaller works and drawings. The house is also home to an impressive permanent collection of works by artists such as Rachel Whiteread (a personal favourite), Richard Long, and a SkySpace by James Turrell, who had an ambitious exhibition of his light works at Houghton hall back in 2015.
The main attraction for this latest exhibition is the piece “Sky Mirror” which as the name suggests is a huge circular mirror angled towards the sky on the front lawn. We probably picked the worst day to go and see this work because it was grey and overcast the entire day. No beautiful reflections of blue skies and clouds for us!
Moving on, as a chronically ill person I have a lot of hospital appointments to attend and not all of them can be moved online or turned into a simple phone call. Since Lockdown began, I have had 4 in person appointments to attend at both Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals. These appointments give me a valid and essential reason to travel into central London and so I have been using them as an excuse to explore the many public artworks on display around our city.
I am also truly fortunate to be a patient at a hospital with an extensive art collection and a rich history which it is proud to show off in the countless displays and cabinets dotted throughout its maze of corridors.
My personal favourite from St Thomas’s is this stained-glass window “The Window of Life” situated on the ground floor of the hospitals South Wing.
Outside the main entrance to St Thomas’s hospital is “Cross the Divide” by Rick Kirby which was commissioned for the hospital by the Guy’s and St Thomas’s charitable foundation in 2000. I’ve walked past this sculpture hundreds of times over the last few years and I haven’t really paid it much attention but one of the side effects from the current pandemic and lockdown is that we have more time to notice things which would normally blend into the background.
After my appointment that day I walked across Westminster bridge and up to Trafalgar square to see the latest installation on the Fourth Plinth. A giant swirl of whipped cream with a cherry, a fly and a drone on top, which transmits a live feed of the square, titled “THE END” is the latest work by Heather Phillipson and is a comment on the use of Trafalgar square as both a place of celebration and of protest. Which was quite apt really because the day I visited it was full of police waiting for one of the Extinction Rebellion protests to pass through on its way to parliament square.
The week after this I found myself back in central at another appointment, this time at Guy’s hospital which for those unfamiliar is right next door to The Shard and London bridge station. I again used this opportunity to walk across London bridge into the city proper to see a few of the artworks currently on display as part of Sculpture in the City.
This edition of Sculpture in the city has been extended to the spring of 2021 so if you’re like me and aren’t ready to get back into galleries just yet, there is still plenty of time to discover the works in this installation.
For now, this is all I have managed to get out and see since the start of lockdown. But I can’t finish this blog without mentioning Sweet ‘Art’s own contribution to viewing art at a distance.
The Art Hunt is now up and available for all your socially distant art needs. It includes over 30 of our favourite artists and is a self-led art trail around Shoreditch in East London. You can search for all the stops by yourself, as a socially distant activity with a friend, all in one go or in small chunks. Totally up to you!
For more information on The Art Hunt and to book tickets (pay what you can) click here! Download your map, stay safe and enjoy!
Although much of London seems to be opening up now, including many of the large gallery and museum spaces (Tate just reopened this week), many of us are still choosing to (or having to) stay away from potentially crowded areas or indoor public spaces at the moment.
For this reason, I’m grateful for some smaller exhibitions in galleries and spaces where it’s possible to socially distance. The first real-life exhibition I’ve been to since March was The Art Prize, which is being held at the offices of Ashurst law firm in Spitalfields. Thanks to the fact that this is held in the entrance and lobby of a workplace, there are safety measures in place to ensure social distancing and there were only a few people passing through. If you go on a weekend day, there is also much less likelihood of many other people being there at the same time.
The Art Prize is held annually and is open to emerging artists working in any medium. I was initially unsure how much I would enjoy seeing art in such a corporate space. I’ve seen art in office spaces before and the décor and atmosphere can often strip artworks of their meaning, making them flat and lifeless. This may be more down to the choice of art shown in these spaces, than the spaces themselves as work shown for The Art Prize was lively and felt more as if it was in dialogue with the space, than being suppressed by it.
One of the first pieces we saw and loved was Grace Su’s large painting in the first area. The painting was in muted tones and at a first glance, not looking with any real concentration, I thought that this was a figurative painting of a woman in a bed and someone sitting at a table -so far, so Lucian Freud. Looking again, I noticed the odd split panes and framing of the images. Looking closer still, my eye was drawn to what was happening at the very top of the piece – a woman, drowning in spaghetti! Was this the figure who was sitting at the table? It was clear that there was all sorts of hidden narrative in this work. Reading the text about Grace, I also discovered that “Her representation of women often acts as a re-appropriation of historical paintings – produced by men. In re-appropriating female images from a perspective of art history, her work resonates with the context of the ‘personal and historical’” which of course makes me love her work even more!
I particularly enjoyed the second area in the exhibition. Here, a very colourful and exuberant selection of work transformed a waiting area. A large work by artist Donal Sturt (you can read an interview with him here) was an eye catching piece, for its use of childlike drawing and lettering. It looks as though a bunch of small children had been let loose on the canvas with paint – the kind of art that would produce the (literal) comment “my 2 year old could have done that” – although Donal’s tool being retro computer program MS Paint adds another dimension to the piece, and again, an interesting piece to see in a modern office space.
Another work which I think interacted particularly well with its unusual setting was Stefan J Schaffield’s piece ‘Sculptural Skin’. This was placed in a nook with a wire mesh backing (I’m guessing this is an interior design feature to let more light into the space). Seen from one side, the piece looked framed by the nook, from the other side, it was imprisoned. Reading later about Stefan’s practice exploring ideas of vulnerability and fragmentation, I think the ‘cage’ element added by the placing of this work really works and adds to his intention.
I really enjoyed so many of the works in this great exhibition, and loved the fact that colour was key in many of the works I saw. In the final room, I loved Pippa El-Khadi Brown’s piece Takeaway? – a huge, expressive painting, where I have no idea what’s going on, but with such attention to detail like the chessboard and pot plant. What’s not to love?
Another artist whose use of colour is what drew me in, but in a very different way, is Rachel Rodrigues. In her work, the subject was very clear – ‘The Sitting Room in Summer’ showed a family group posed for a portrait. But, the colour is slightly ‘odd’ – everything seems a bit red. Reading about her work, I find that she sees colour as a psychological tool to offer greater depth of meaning. Looking at more of her work online, these wonderful, lush, odd, jarring colours are a staple element in her painting.
Finally, I want to mention Shannon Alonzo’s work which “embodies the exploration of Caribbean diaspora identity, specifically, the tension created through historical omission and the desire to re-imagine a collective sense of self.” Her piece ‘Development of Nonconformity’ drew me in as it is a contemporary take on historical scientific drawings. A close up geological cross-section reveals tools/weapons and skulls and bones. For me, it asks me to consider who I may be walking over, ignoring violence to, or ignoring the deaths of in my history or geography, and therefore my present existence.
I really look forward to seeing more from these artists – crossing fingers for lots of positive feedback for all of them on this great exhibition!
Following on from Charlotte and Corrina, and a couple of months into lockdown I’m here to share the artworks I see every day in my own home. Like many people right now I am missing visiting galleries and museums. As much as I am enjoying seeing everyone share their work via social media and think it is brilliant that galleries are making their collections available online (including our own online show!), there is nothing like experiencing great art in person (and lets not forget the social aspect of gallery visits!).
I am definitely very fortunate to own and be able to display art in my home and the extra time I have found myself with as of late has meant that I have been able to appreciate it more than I would have under “normal” circumstances. A large amount of the art I own also means something to me on a personal level, most of it created by friends or linked to past experiences and memories, it has helped me feel connected to the world beyond my own four walls in these trying times.
First up are two of the four portraits created of myself at our second ‘Intersect portraiture project’ on IWD 2019. These were drawn as the practice round by our artists before guest sitters arrived, to get acquainted with the process and with each other. The other two drawings from this sitting are safely tucked away in storage, not just for space reasons but also because its probably a little narcissistic to have a whole wall full of images of myself above my bed, right?
Next up is a print by artist and illustrator Steven Rhodes which is actually a birthday card from a friend which I framed on account of it looking a little like me and my cat Phoebe.
Two of the artworks I own were made by friends while at University and were destined for the skip after being exhibited at Free Range in 2016 due to a lack of storage opportunities. Obviously I felt awful that my friends were having to bin the work they had poured all their efforts into the last few months and which had earned them their degrees so I saved what I could. This ended up being ‘Red painting on wood’ by Kinga Pilarska and 1 of the hundreds of random Gnome heads created by and scattered around by Robin Gosselin-Monasevic.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a ‘thing’ for print making, especially etchings, woodblocks, lino, and cyanotype. I always appreciate the processes of making the art work, sometimes more than the final outcome and the piece itself! which is why printing in all it’s forms, watching artists carve and mark blocks, as well as exploring these processes myself in my own work appeals to me. So, you could imagine my excitement when I discovered printmaker and tattoo artist Lacey Law on Instagram. Her work is often much more figurative than I would usually be drawn in by, most of her woodblock prints are tattoo flash in a different medium to the typical drawings on paper but I adore them.
Back in 2018 I was lucky enough to receive an edition print of ‘Comfort’ for my birthday from my partner and it has held pride of place on my wall ever since. I have been watching her carefully on Instagram throughout lockdown, (watching her carve blocks is oddly satisfying) and have been dying to get my hands on one of her smaller prints she has been making on paper scraps, but her work sells out in minuets and I have just not been quick enough…. Yet!
Do you know of the Stoned Fox meme? Chances are you have seen it somewhere even if you don’t know what it is first-hand, this taxidermy fox is a viral hit and has literally travelled the world. His creator Adele Morse is an artist working in London who specialises in sculpture and taxidermy. Since the original fox went viral Adele has made many more anthropomorphic critters including a raccoon, a hedgehog, some rats, many more foxes and a little goat named Billy, who also recently became a viral sensation in Morocco for being the spawn of Satan/witchcraft/a summoned demon of some sort (You couldn’t make it up!).
Last year Adele tried to get her original fox back from some people who had broken him and generally treated him quite badly, the catch was that to get her own artwork back she was going to have to buy him back. To raise the funds for this a friend of Adele’s set up a GoFundMe to bring the fox home! For a small donation you would be sent a print of the fox and the knowledge that you helped an artist regain some control of her own work.
At one of the 2018 TOAF fairs two illustration students turned their stall into a participatory project, inviting visitors to have their animal portrait drawn. I still have my cat portrait framed on the wall.
Because of recent development work in the town, last year a group of artists and designers in Harlow found themselves having to say goodbye to their studios at Gatehouse Arts. The decision was made by Abbie and Harry at SnootieStudios to put on one last goodbye show in their gallery in which they celebrated the work created in the studios as well as works by artists who have had a past connection to the studios and gallery or who just live and work in Harlow. Having grown up in the town and previously working on an exhibition in the gallery with a group of friends back in 2015 I was able to submit and exhibit my own etchings in the exhibition along side many others.
For the Private view Abbie and Harry made their own home brew beer in the bathrooms of the studios and bottled it in vintage (unused) medicine bottles and printed up their own labels, naming their creation ‘good booze’.
I’ve known Abbie and Harry for many years and this eccentric idea and design is so typically them, I had to keep a bottle! It now sits proudly in my kitchen with Audrey, my Venus fly trap… because why not?
And lastly, for this blog anyway, sat on my bookshelf is a memento from the first exhibition I was involved in with Sweet ‘Art. I created these 3D representations of the Femfest posters by casting a real Femfresh bottle in plaster and then painting. Originally created as special press invitations we also had a few on display at the exhibition itself, do any of you remember them?
There are other artworks scattered around the house, including some of my own work so maybe if this lockdown carries on much longer I’ll do a Lockdown Art part 3.5 and show off a few more examples but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed snooping around my collection!
Hopefully you’ve been enjoying our lockdown blog so far. This is the second in our series of our artist interviews and ‘studio visits’ via video conferencing software (check out Sian’s interview with Justine Winter for the first).
A few weeks ago I got to meet artist Suzie Pindar, who also creates under the name The Naked Artist, to talk about her artistic practice and current work. As Suzie’s home doubles up as her studio, she had plenty of material to show me and discuss. We begin by talking about some of the pieces I had seen in the online exhibition #43 Artists . I particularly enjoy her collage pieces. As a keen reader of mysteries, I find I am presented with a puzzle where I have to piece together the story from fragments. I am eager in this interview to find out whether the stories I am reading are the ones Suzie is trying to tell.
All 4 pieces in the online exhibition, and much of her work in general uses the written word, and language seems integral to her practice. Her method for creating these collaged pieces is to select an old, used book and highlight the words and passages which have a personal resonance. The books are chosen for their material, aesthetic and intellectual properties; although the words they contain are important, drawing Suzie to select the book, a bibliophile would also recognise the attention she pays to smell, colours and the texture of the paper. Once the highlighting is finished, the pieces are carefully torn from the book (another reason that the correct texture of paper is vital). Suzie then separates them into different bowls, which she picks from to create the collages. She said of the process “My thoughts become trapped in the leaves until they can be made into art” which is a very poetic thought and makes me think of my bookshelf as a cacophony of trapped thoughts, waiting to be heard.
As well as the 2d collages, she creates what she calls ‘art heads’, 3d representations of the human head built from the collaged word strips. These heads are made “as if talking to someone”. They are often created for a specific person, created from words Suzie relates to them; in effect they are a portrait of, and dialogue between both the recipient and the artist herself. Some of these include a dark humour, for example the piece ‘Dead Head’ is so named because the head fell off the neck.
Suzie has been using text in her work since 2009. One of her early pieces involved cutting words and letters from magazines and using these to completely cover her body. She has also created a collaged bed frame, with echoes of Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’.
Like Tracy Emin, Suzie Pindar’s work is generated from internally. She looks towards herself in order to create work, and she says that her work is not created with an audience or viewer in mind but only “for myself”. She also says that often her making is “triggered by memories”, the feeling that there is an emotional state which needs to be expressed creatively. Her work feels organic, free-flowing, raw and often painful to look at, possibly due to this direct emotional creative process.
Another key strand in her work is her self-portraiture. She tells me that she sees her body as a canvas in her art; as an extension of the self. She uses her body to express herself when she feels unable to get her feelings down on paper. She sometimes then digitally manipulates the resulting images, using her instinct to create the final desired image. The self-portraits also deal with Suzie’s interest and fear of the aging process. She is interested in the physical changes ageing brings, but is also finding this scary as she has reached her 40’s. This fear is something artists have been examining in their practice forever, but can be seen as even more apposite from a female artist due to the pressures enforced on women by society and the media to remain looking young. This concern for the importance of self-image can also be seen in her dislike of social media, which she feels negatively impacts on mental health due to its reliance on surface and obsession with perfection.
Suzie’s nom-de-plume, The Naked Artist, represents an emotional nakedness and artistic vulnerability. The theme of mental health is recurring in much of her work. A trauma at a young age, along with family illness, leading to a severe depression is what spurred Suzie on to begin creating art. She found that creativity gave her release from her depression. Since then she has had other spells of mental illness and has always found that making and creating was helpful to her healing process. One of her aims is to “do one thing that scares you every day”, as if your life and mental health can be rebuilt after a breakdown, then anything is possible. She says that she wants her work and practice as an artist to offer hope to others that depression can be overcome.
So we are still here…..on lockdown. Anyone else forgetting what day it is? Sick of making banana bread? Cant remember what prompted you to make it in the first place? Filled with a gnawing feeling of existential anxiety but still working and walking (once a day) toward an uncertain future? Same.
But as we still cant go out and get our art fix or meet up with each other at openings to feel the important support we get from our arty community, here at Sweet ‘Art we plough on finding other ways to connect! We have created and shared all the online cultural resources we can find you, we have published Issue 2 of our T’Art zine for free for you to check out online! We will soon be hosting our first ever online exhibition The Great Leveller? complete with boozy zoom (keep an eye on our site and platforms for deets on how to join in!) and we are also continuing our dedication to the Sweet Blog.
Its my turn to share with you some of the art I have in my home….and do I ever have A LOT of art at home. This isn’t counting the amount of art that has been abandoned with me by artists post exhibitions. You know who your are!
It was hard to choose what to share of what I have around the house, hung and propped, in amongst souvenirs, books and random shells and stones Ive picked up from places and cant remember where!
…but I had to choose and here are a few bits I love….some in part because of the people who made them, and if there was ever a time to miss special people its now…..
Starting in my garden office/studio I have this beautiful drawing by my friend Jerome Beresford of Malala Yousafzai. I bought this piece myself from our Have a H’Art fundraiser.
…also in my studio I have a gift from my dear friend Oli Spleen, the original art from the cover of his album Flowers for Foot Foot.
Inside my house now and I have this little piece by So-Ha Au who has exhibited with Sweet ‘Art and creates ambiguous ‘maps’ or ‘spatial landscapes’ as a way of locating and placing.
This is Binary Forms No 76 by the talented Jess Clauser which is part of my landing art wall!
Also on the art wall this beautiful Molly Parkin limited addition.
Moving up the stairs we have one of the many works I own by Diane Murphy. This one is called Uberfrau ‘From the Beginning’. There is something in medieval imagery of a pelican pecking its own breast and feeding the resultant blood flow to its starving chicks. Diane felt she had created a likeness of me in the Uberfrau! I think so too! What a gift!
Not sure who the artist is but I found this framed book page in a charity shop and loved this illustration ‘Alligator attacks a Bear’.
Ive been in my house 2 years now and still haven’t quite managed to fill my art wall. Im doing pretty well though! You can spot some of my own art on this wall and works by Lisa Mitchell, Alice Dyba, Robbie O’keeffe and a drawing of a rather beautiful unidentified women top right (lol) by the awesome Laura New!
On the other side to my art wall and hanging with a monkey friend is a print by Polly Nor… because.. POLLY NOR!!
My favourite place, my bed. This one is by me as it goes very well with my purple wall. Its called Con Put His Hand Through the Window. Its an abstracted paining of the resultant cut and scarring from a time that my Dad accidentally put his hand through a window! He did stuff like that.
Still in my bedroom Ive got a lovely little Nike wearing Walrus drawing by Laura New and a framed postcard by Klaus is Koming. The shell is from Mexico if anyones wondering. I can actually remember where that one came from.
Moving into my new house, one of the things I thought about straight away was finding the perfect place to hang this Alexandra Linfoot embroidered silk piece. The embroidery says ‘Cunt’ so I call the piece ‘Cunt’ but I fear it may have had another name originally. Time to double check I think!
Back downstairs now! Now I love this piece by the awesome Alice Steffen. I love Alice more than words can say and have know her so many years watching her practice develop and grow. This piece is a bloody bugger to dust though and I have a slight phobia of glitter that is not helped by it! I reckon the glitter and dust suffering is the greatest testament to how much I love her art though.
One gift and one theft here! On the right I just love this knitted piece by artist Jane Fairhurst. The little wax doll head is part of an gorgeous installation by Susan Fletcher that we exhibited many years ago in Hoxton arches for Hand Maid. The head was a spare and wasn’t needed and was left behind in the gallery so I stole it! I needed to be in my living room! I did confess to Susan who kindly gave a her blessing for its relocation. Perks of the job??
Continuing our series of featured artists from behind the lockdown wall, a meeting which would have included a gallery visit, coffee and cake in an actual coffee shop (remember those!?) and of course a conversation with artist Justine Winter about her practice and creative motivations has instead turned into a string of emails, sent from the safety of our homes! We are not letting this virus stop us from staying connected and having important discussions about art and the things that matter to us most. Hopefully once this crisis is over we can resume our original plans and update this blog, but for now…..
Artist – Justine Winter
Primarily working with performance, video and installation, Justine explores themes of femininity to comment on and question the taboos surrounding women’s bodies as well as the importance of women and their voices within a patriarchal society.
My first encounter with Justine’s work was back in 2018 when I attended the private view of Free Range at The Old Truman Brewery. (if you have been reading our blog for some time you may recognise Justine from our previous post The curious, moving and brilliant new work of the 2018 graduates) Exhibited with Hereford College of Arts was Justine’s piece ‘Beauty is Pain’, and installation featuring wilted flowers pinned to the walls and entwined with vine like ropes woven from human hair, kindly donated by friends, family and in donation boxes dotted around her university. Embedded within, a video (linked below) showed the dry shaving and plucking of hairs from a friend’s body. The intent being to question the implied beauty standards for women in our society and to confront the taboo of women being seen having (or removing) body hair.
I remember seeing this piece as I walked into the room, the video playing in the corner with the flowers and vines creeping across the walls either side. It was bold yet graceful in its delivery and I was drawn in straight away. I knew this work had something to say to the world and I found myself wanting to hear it.
Photo taken at Free Range 2018
Eager to learn more about Justine and her practice I asked her about her time at university, how she came to work with themes of femininity and why she works with the materials she does. I was surprised to learn that she originally moved to Hereford to study BA Textile Design, but later transferred to Fine Art after discovering a need for more freedom and fluidity in her creative process as well as a shift in interests away from the more commercial ideas of textile design. On this move Justine said, “At first this course unpicked my previous ideas of what art was, and provided me with a new, fresh way of thinking about ideas and themes within my work.”
And when I asked if she still works with textiles, or any of the techniques that go along with it she said “I started the fine art course in a bit of a rut material wise, I had used all different mediums such as clay, drawing from reference, woodwork, video etc on various subjects. But these just didn’t feel as though they expressed what I was passionate about. I started to go back to my roots of using textiles as this felt the most comfortable. I decided on machine knitting where I started to incorporate my hair into the piece, this turned into three large hangings and they felt as though I had finally found my ‘thing’.”
Justine admits that her biggest influences are observing, learning from, and developing ideas around everyday life and experiences. She is also inspired by Carolee Schneemann, an American artist best known for her experimental multimedia works which explore sexuality, the body and gender.
Stemming from her interests in the everyday Justine uses ‘live materials’. These are things which she describes as living, dying, and decaying; for example, using pomegranates to represent the female body, and then letting them decay over time. She also includes her own body in performance work, along with hair and nails. On working with these materials Justine said “I enjoy using materials that will decay and change over time, which for me causes the work to be alive. I feel as though by adding these elements of myself into the work, it creates a connection to the piece. There is an element of beauty that is added to the work through using materials that can live within it as their lives are being observed and admired.”
More recently during her MA Justine was given the opportunity to complete a residency which would in turn contribute to her course. Originally from the Rhondda Valleys in South Wales Justine chose The Big Pit National Coal Museum as both a link to her heritage and to explore the themes of her work within a predominantly ‘male’ environment.
While at the museum Justine had the chance to hear stories of what it would have been like to live and work there from ex miner and mentor Ceri Thompson. As well as take tours of the pits themselves, explore a boneyard for old machinery and equipment, she learnt about the women who would have spent time and worked at the mine, who’s voices have now sadly been forgotten. These stories, conversations and tours are what influenced her final creative outcomes as well as the works she created at the mine itself.
In total Justine made six works which were in direct reference to the mine itself and the time she spent there. Created both at the mine and back in her studio at university these works reflect upon not only the lives touched by the mine and the history of the place but also I am sure mimic the stories and connect the lives of people from mines up and down the UK. They seem to be a way for Justine to link who she is as a woman and a feminist artist now to her heritage and the broader histories of South Wales. Admittedly, when Justine first told me that she had participated in a residency at the coal mine, and knowing only of the work she had made previously I was a little sceptical of the connections between the two but was fascinated none the less. Now having heard what she has to say about the work produced during this time and the reasons why she chose to make work in such an environment I think it’s truly unique and find myself wanting to experience the work in person and learn more!
At this point in the blog I should probably show the work and explain it to you, but I think it is better to let Justine explain each piece in her own words.
“The piece ‘That’s the Price of Coal, See’, was created in the space at my MA exhibition. I was given a large room with breeze block walls and metal beams. I wanted to show the work produced from a performance to camera in this room because of its industrial aesthetic, and because it resembled a place of work to me.
This work wasn’t created at the pit purely because of the size of it, being around 14ft in length and width, I also wanted the work to be created within that room, as I felt the materials that I was using such as the pomegranate, could live their life cycle in the space.”
“Along with this work, I created five other pieces. The first, ‘Bread of Heaven’, was a film that I recorded at the colliery and shows an original decaying lift shaft with a sheet tied to it. This sheet represents the domestic life of the women behind the miners, it has spilt pomegranate juice over it which is a reference to the suffering that both men and women would have endured.
With the film, was the song Bread of Heaven sung by a male choir. A traditional Welsh song that was sung by the working men.”
“The second piece, ‘Cradling’, was an image taken following the performance piece ‘That’s the Price of Coal, See’. This image was projected on the wall opposite the work and depicted me cradling a segment of the crushed pomegranate, a nod to the women who were raising the children and protecting the home.”
“For the third piece, I referenced the song Bread of Heaven again and before I started displaying the works in the space, I sat alone at night in the room and sang the hymn into a recorder. The recorder was then set with some headphones onto the wall. This singular, female voice contrasted with the drama of the male choir and created a feeling of empowerment and a tribute to those working women hidden behind the working men.”
“The fourth piece in this room consisted of a table with a mechanical part from a machine found at the pit, surrounding this were a selection of dried wipes I had used to clean the coal off my body after the performance.”
“The last piece displayed two pieces of fabric splayed using nails to the wall. One piece was the clothing that I wore during the performative piece, now covered in old fruit and coal dust.
The other was a piece of fabric covered in coal, dust and rust I found on some machinery at the top of the colliery, where the old machines were left to decay.”
Which leads us to now. I was keen to find out what Justine had been up to creatively after finishing university. Like a lot of people, she admitted to struggling to keep up with her practice after finding herself out of education for the first time ever and without a studio or dedicated space for making. So, for now Justine is taking a break from making artwork and is instead focusing on working and saving money for her future.
I asked if there were any projects which she had been dreaming of realising soon or if she had any plans to exhibit her work in the future (After Covid obviously!), and was pleased to learn that at some point Justine would like to take the work she created during her residency at the coal pit and drag it through the mines as a performative piece! Which sounds amazing and I would love to see!
At the start of next year Justine has planned a solo exhibition back in her hometown of her mining work, saying “It is so important to me to be able to show the work in the valleys where mining was so huge.”
This exhibition is due to take place in the attic of The Factory in Porth (where Dandelion and Burdock was created!) between the 15th of February until the 5th of March 2021, with the private view being the 1st of March (St David’s day). Obviously it’s a long way off yet but I’m sure if you follow Justine on Instagram and keep an eye on her website you can keep up to date with the exhibition plans (if you’re interested in seeing it) as well as everything else Justine gets up to!
And finally (I had to ask because what else is everyone talking about right now?), I asked Justine if she had been doing anything creative while in lockdown. Embroidering feminist slogans onto a t-shirt was exactly the answer I was looking for! As well as finally getting around to painting her attic and transforming it into a studio!
I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Justine over the last couple of weeks, it has been fascinating learning about feminist art in a coal mine and on a more personal level I have appreciated having someone to chat to during these strange times. I hope the same is true for Justine and I hope our blog provides you with something thoughtful to experience and to break up your day during lockdown.
This will soon pass Sweet ‘Arts and when it does and we’re allowed out of the house, we will update this blog with our meeting and maybe some new art!
But for now, if you want to see more from Justine, I have linked her social media, website, and YouTube below!