Art at a Distance by Sian Matthews

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.

Admittedly it was much busier than I anticipated with a lot of people at that time returning to their offices, so I didn’s stay around too long and only saw 4-5 out of 21 artworks. Favourites being “Botanic” by Jennifer Steinkamp and “The Source” by Patrick Tuttofuoco.

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!

The Art Prize

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

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.

The Art Prize

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!

‘Safe Haven’ – Grace Su

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?

Pippa El-Khadi Brown – ‘Takeaway?’

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.

‘The Sitting Room in Summer’ – Rachel Rodrigues

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.

‘Development of Nonconformity’ – please excuse the reflection in my photo – see Shannon’s website for better images!

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!

The Art Prize is on now until the 25th September at Ashurst London and you can also see content about the artworks and artists online.

Lockdown Art, part 3 – by Sian Matthews

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.

Main gallery wall.

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.

Another artwork hanging on my wall and created by a friend is this print by Jess Nash, who you can read more about in my previous blog “An Interview with Jess Nash

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!

An Interview with Suzie Pindar, by Charlotte Elliston

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.

A piece by Suzie Pindar currently showing in #43 Artists

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.

Bookcover, 2018, Suzie Pindar

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.

Time, 2005, Suzie Pindar

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.

Recovery, 2020, Suzie Pindar

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.

I did, 2017, Suzie Pindar

Suzie has recently had her work published in What is Art, A5 Art, and Average Art magazines, has exhibited in Femmedaemonium exhibition, and currently has work in (Far From The) Turmoil exhibition online.

You can also see some examples of her work online https://www.thenakedartist.co.uk/ and follow her on twitter @suziepindar and Instagram @suziepindar

Lockdown Art, Part 2 – by Corrina Eastwood

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…..

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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. 

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…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.  

 

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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.

 

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This is Binary Forms No 76 by the talented Jess Clauser which is part of my landing art wall!

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Also on the art wall this beautiful Molly Parkin limited addition. 

 

 

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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! 

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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’. 

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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!

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On the other side to my art wall and hanging with a monkey friend is a print by Polly Nor… because.. POLLY NOR!! 

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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??

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This piece was bought by my partner and is by painter Jessie Dodington.  

 

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…and I couldn’t end before sharing this one. By the talented Shannon Lane the queen of casting! 

 

 

An Interview with Justine Winter by Sian Matthews

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…..

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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.

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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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!

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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!

 

Instagram – @Justinedianeart

https://justine-dianeart.weebly.com/

YouTube

“Living with” and Transformation: A Studio Visit with Artist Carolina Khouri by Corrina Eastwood

We continue with our studio visits of up and coming and established talented artist now, with a visit to the live/work space of painter Carolina Khouri.

Carolina is based in the Tottenham warehouse district very near to Sweet HQ. It was a pleasure for me to visit Overbury Rd this week, all in a completely sober state! Over the past ten plus years I have hung out at many of the warehouses in the district at parties and arty gatherings. There has been a turn over in my time of friends and art acquaintances that have lived and worked, and then moved on from the interestingly eclectic and ramshackle spaces of the warehouses that line one side of the road.

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I have lived near by for long enough to see walls built, kitchens added, spaces reconfigured and re realised for next generations, and of course the cross over and departure of old friends, new friends and then friends of friends! My warehouse living days were done in Dalston, long before it became too expensive to even rent a flat, let alone a space to work and live too.

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Carolina and I swap notes on the pros and cons of communal living with other creative’s as she welcomes me into the most amazing of living spaces. Half Lebanese half Polish, Carolina has lived in the UK for 15 years, and in the warehouses of Overbury for ten of those years. She recollects the building of the space to create what it is now, and the difficulties of keeping industrial properties warm! The communal living and kitchen space feels very warm to me, as is the welcome. I’m immediately feeling at home, understood and inspired. “I didn’t move to Britain, I moved to London” Carolina comments, and it feels to me she represents that which is so great about our city and the pockets of creative communities that hide out here. To me she feels to have not only found her London but also been very pro active in creating it. We agree to avoid talking about the “B word” (Brexit) too much. But of course even the avoiding of politics leaves us with the unavoidable issue of values. 

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Art and creative living appears to have been the language she has used to find and also manifest what she has needed, and we talk about her use of and fascination with colour in her practice, and of her ongoing process of trying to “learn the language of colour”. She explores with me the individuality of meaning found and expressed through different colours, both personally and culturally and I am then struck by wanting to consider her relationships to others and audience as an impact on her practice further. She goes on to explain that her studio space is on the path through the warehouses shared workspace, into the living space.

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She says she enjoys this and invites feedback on her paintings from her housemates and guests as they pass through. She speaks of the easy way in which this interaction influences her creations yet not explicitly or definitively. This seems to parallel her explanations concerning the way she uses the altering space and light to “live with” her paintings for a long time in between her process of direct making. This “living with” feels to directly link to Carolinas relationship to ideas of transformation in her work, which I can feel embodied in her painting, when we move into her studio to view them.

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From the Landscape of My Mind Series

This “transformation of feelings” that she describes as an aim in her practice and as being an antidote to the very idea that anyone would want to “buy her problems”, is very present in the aesthetic of her current work and her striking, bold and unapologetic use of colour. There is something of the somatic in viewing her large scale paintings and I find myself thinking again of this relationship of self and others as I fall into the rich depth of her resin pieces, while also being brought back by the feedback of the viewer that they create in their reflective surfaces.

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From the Landscape of My Mind Series

Carolina and I spend effortless time together looking at her current and then past creations. We do this while talking about life and art and how one responds to the other. We both speak of our privilege in being able to do what we do. Of the struggles we have faced but the “blessings” that we have been granted.

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From The Landscape of My Mind Series

Carolina speaks of the generous amounts of money sales of her works have raised for auctions for charities close to her heart. This all feels to be ‘held lightly’ by her in relation to her practice but for me feels so relevant and embodied in the pieces that I am very privileged to view.

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Street Archeology Series

 

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Street Archeology Series

I end my visit feeling energised and inspired but in a way that is unusual for me. In an instagramable world of endless lattes and side hustles, Carolina seems to really embody the idea that creativity does not always benefit from existing so demandingly closely to productivity. That we could all benefit more from exploring a greater sense of “living with”, to create depth and richness of both our art and experiences.

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Sweet ‘Arts Intersect Project 2019 in celebration of International Women’s Day by Corrina Eastwood.

What is 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’s history month each year and its debut at WOW London felt like the perfect place to start and join with other women to develop this collaboration to continue in the future, while also archiving the project. As many of you know, at Sweet ‘Art we have a passion for the importance of archiving artists projects carried out by marginalized groups in accessible ways such as the SHE book, our responsive zine publication T’ART and this blog!

 

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Sweet ‘Art at WOW 2019 with Intersect!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aims and Objectives

The Intersect Portraiture Project set out to explore the following:

  • The concept of the ‘female gaze’ in art.
  • Subverting 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 affect the way we see feminism and what it needs to be for us.)
  • Female solidarity (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?

Four female identifying artists are 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 work at one of four easels on a portrait of a woman sitter for a set period of time. When the time is up, each artist moves to the next easel and continues work on the previous artist’s portrait until each artist has worked on each portrait. The resulting four portraits act as an unpredictable, collaborative representation of different feminist and female perspectives exploring a female gaze.

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Intersect 2019

Our artists

This year we held an open submission for the four spaces on the project and had varied and enthusiastic responses.  The successful artists were selected based on a combination of their artistic abilities and style, their exploration of feminist issues personally and through their art practice and their varying identities.

Leena McCall

Leena identifies as a white, British/Finnish artist who is married and a mother to three boys. She is studying for an MA in Fine Art.

“Through my studio practice and now as part of my MA in Fine Art studies at UCA, I am continuing to investigate the female gaze in portraiture. Previous work has explored how women choose to represent their erotic identity, in such paintings as a ‘Portrait of Ms Ruby May, standing’, which was censored by the Mall Galleries for being ‘too pornographic and disgusting’. I am currently developing a new form of portraiture I refer to as ‘rhizomatic portraiture’. I want to examine what a portrait is beyond a single representation of a person at one moment in time. How do I, as an artist represent the multifaceted nature of a person, their memory, their connections to places, spaces, people, habitat, their rhizomatic being in a visual image? And how does my connection with the sitter reflect in the artwork? This is an ongoing portrait project I am investigating through a series of self-portraits and portraits of my mother, who has cancer. The Intersect Portrait Project offers a unique opportunity to explore this rhizome theory with other artists and sitters – the end result will be a ‘map’ of lines, a ‘becoming’ of a shared experience of four artists and sitters.”

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Odette Farrell

 “My abstract paintings deal with my story as an immigrant: I was born in Mexico City but three of my grandparents immigrated to Mexico from countries such as Cuba, Spain and Ireland. My parents were both migrants. My husband too as he came to study in Mexico from South America and now we are migrants in the UK, making our children migrants as well. I realise that identity is fluid and subject to social construction, as I played with the emotions and expressions of the model to shape my own interpretation of the human body in my painting.Recently I am immersed in portraying, which helped me in my attempt to answer the enigma of identity. Therefore I am very interested in participating in this year ‘s Intersect Portraiture Project.Due to my history of displacement, I explore the politics of identity and its intersections. I address issues such as identity, migration, femininity, memory, repression, desire, absence and loss.”

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Shadi Mahsa

“I am an Iranian independent woman living in exile for the past thirty years. After the revolution I witnessed dramatic changes in my country. My identity was always in a question as I have a strong cultural background which was influenced by Islamic government and the roles which must be obeyed. My choice to leave my country and my experience living in a Western world with all the freedom and choices to live was challenging and was very difficult. I always dig into my emotions to find out who I really am and where I belong. Lost in the middle of Western world and Eastern world.”

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Susan Bryan

“I have a life long passion for art and experienced challenges in managing the process with full-time work commitments. Anecdotal evidence has proven that this is the story of many people within the descriptor BAME. Currently, I am an Advice and Outreach Officer for an arts organization, the project supports economically inactive BAME women to access the arts. An attempt, to even the balance of opportunity for the work of marginalised minorities creativity and exposure. Old enough to remember the Feminist movement in the late 70s/80s, when I was completing a degree in Fashion; I feel that wave of revolution feminism is so much more about inclusivity. So, I whole-heartedly embrace the concept of an intersectional feminist perspective. My female gaze has absorbed thousands of images but in my art practice I have chosen to focus on men and women, who would regard themselves as being ‘other’.”

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Intersect at Crabtree & Evelyn

This year we were asked by the awesome team at Crabtree & Evelyn if we would like to host something to celebrate sisterly solidarity, creativity and self care at their new concept store and event space in Islington, London.  The store is a pilot in the organisation, reaching out to communities and offering opportunities for community activity in their stores.

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We jumped at the chance to host the project in such beautiful surroundings in such a great location but also to explore the concept of the project in a new way. We felt hosting the project in a commercial space in which skin care products are sold appealing to women was an interesting way to subvert and explore the ideas central to Intersect.

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Those ideas are about exploring a female gaze, the way in which those who identify as women view and look at each other and themselves from differing social and political perspectives. We also hope to challenge the traditional male gaze with Intersect and we focus on the male gaze in art specifically with this project. However art does reflect society, and general societal attitudes towards women are reflected in art practice and the approach toward women as subject.

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Dejuner Sur L’Herbe

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Duchamp Playing Chess with a Nude

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Tom Ford Ad

The media, capitalism and the way in which women’s bodies become commodities in the striving for a very specific type of western beauty standard, feels important to consider while also negotiating the fact that most of us do enjoy a nice body butter!

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I was struck by the consideration of this as sitters arrived for their booked time slots to be drawn by our artists, but also waited in the beautiful surroundings of the store and browsed the products. It made me think about how as feminists we often walk this line. As I bought the truly dreamy Crabtree & Evelyn Lavender & Espresso Body Lotion (Im going back for more !!) I wondered “Am I treating myself to a bit of pampering and self care because I am worth it and deserve to feel good. Or am I socialised to feel the only way I can care for myself is to buy products to help me achieve an unattainable and narrow standard of beauty, where my skin should be as smooth as a babies bum and soft as…well…. a babies bum?” You know that old chestnut! It’s a pretty standard thought process for me when out shopping. Did I mention I also bought a Lavender & Espresso linen mist?! Well we all got 50% off!

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But let’s go back a bit. I feel it is important to mention the exciting build up to our event but also the unwanted attention that our policy to be inclusive gained prior. Our feminism is intersectional and trans inclusive. It is important for us that our women-only events include all women and we will not entertain trans exclusionary ‘feminist’ ideas. We can not speak from a trans experience as currently there are no trans members of the Sweet ‘Art team but we wish to continue to be good allies and are always welcoming of guidance as to how to best support our trans sisters.

 

Once set up on the day with input for our artists and the Sweet team we were ready for our first sitter. This year we ran the project as a ticketed event but built in long breaks for our artists. Despite this some did still say they felt very tired and achy at the end of the day and this is something we hope to consider further for next time.

Despite this the day did feel relaxed and welcoming for sitters and shoppers who may want to watch, grab a vagina cake (from under the modesty box in case some shoppers were less vag enthused!) and read some of a selection of our feminist, lgbtq+ self published zines and books.

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The team at Crabtree & Evelyn welcomed our sitters warmly offering drinks and chatting about the shop and the project. There was lots of opportunity for the Sweet team to engage with sitters about the project and the concept.

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The focus of the project did evoke wider conversations about feminism that felt important. One conversation was even prompted by a sitter noting how sitting on standard sized chairs often feels uncomfortable for women. This led to conversations around the data gap and how research that determines the shape which the world around us takes, including the ergonomics of seating is all based on the average man as a data set. These kinds of discussions remimded me of consciousness raising groups and the importance of women only spaces to reflect on experience and support each other through validation and confirmation of shared oppressions.

 

The Intersect project does provide a very specific type of setting and focus for this kind of women only shared experience. This focus of course raises many questions in sitters and artists around the female gaze and the way in which we view each other as women, specifically as we are all immersed in patriarchal norms and are all susceptible to societal pressures around what is considered ‘flattering’ or ‘attractive’. We questioned the degree to which we adopt a male gaze in general and in art.

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Feedback from artists often mentions a fear of “upsetting” sitters by not making them “attractive” enough in their portraits. This often is followed by questions of what this means exactly and where this standard or type of attractiveness comes from.

One sitter on looking at her completed portraits commented on her nose, saying she normally doesn’t like her nose but felt differently about it, seeing her portraits. I commented that maybe she just hadn’t seen it properly before. I feel this touched on a potential male gaze and the unrealistic body standards we are socialised to hold.

Maybe the artists were able to hand back to the sitter a truer likeness than she is conditioned to allow herself to see alone. My sense looking at the portraits was that her nose was quite accurately represented and that something about the portraiture process allowed her to see a different perspective.

When I trained as an art psychotherapist a tutor once said to me “you can’t lie in your art”. I thought of this comment as this young woman re-examined her perfectly lovely nose through the gaze of our four talented artists. She left seeming affirmed and happy and emailed that evening to thank us again for the experience.

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Sitter feedback forms

 

The experience of our sitters is a different one to that of our artists in this project. It is increasingly apparent that the project is hard work and draining for our artists who draw for many hours in the day. This is physically tiring despite our breaks and refreshments! However I sense that the less passive involvement in sisterly collaboration for our artists is also an emotional challenge.

Our artists have little time to get to know each other before the project and I feel with more funding it would be beneficial to be able to give more time to this and an in-person debriefing of the project after.

Artists often start positive and excited about the prospect of supporting each other and sharing an artistic experience but I am reminded of feminism and activism as I see the often unsaid struggles and negotiations that play out as artists work together.

Difference is glorious and should be celebrated but our differing experiences of the world and our varying feminist ethos, makes the need for empathy and understanding ever more vital in all we do. I feel the project’s highlighting and exploration of this is its most important aspect in some ways. It begs the answer to important questions.

In asking for feedback from artists, Leena comments..

“The lack of control in this collaborative process left me questioning my own artistic judgements and abilities. Even ten days later, I still do not enjoy looking at the photos I took of the various portraits. I feel uncomfortable about the end result.

What fascinates me, is why I feel this way? The Intersect Portrait Project has made me question some fundamental assumptions and beliefs I hold. What has informed my sense of aesthetics? My white, middle-class European upbringing? Has the traditionally male western canon of art been the key influencer in my own artistic training?

How does the female gaze, or specifically, my gaze differ to the gaze of the other female artists? Why do I feel a sense of frustration when viewing someone else’s interpretation of the sitter? What is the underlying cause of my need for control over the output? Is it the deep-seated desire to create a self-portrait in every portrait? The need to recognise oneself in the work?”

You can read more about Leena’s experience of the project on her blog

In her feedback Susan comments on her identity and the expectations or isolation it may bring in feeling ‘other’ or ‘minority’ while also expressing the importance of “stepping out of one’s comfort zone”.

“As a Caribbean artist it would have been interesting to draw a black sitter. Both to practice using bright colour pastels and share the challenge of drawing an ’other’ we might not have had the previous opportunity to draw. In terms of identity, I felt a responsibility to demonstrate to minority shoppers access to art practice…..”Yes, I can do that!”. Feminism…….I feel that the ‘intersect’ route is the one I pin my heart to; for its inclusivity. Art practice…..I am relieved that the Sweet Art idea of sharing canvasses pulled me into stepping out of comfort zone.”

Susan also commented in her feedback on feeling “unsettled” by her drawing being worked over and noted that it felt “painful” but also that “there was a bigger issue at hand”. These words feel so powerful to me. I wonder in retrospect about the greater need for a facilitation of open dialogue to voice these unsettling and painful feelings and explore them in relation to personal and political issues and feminist and identity politics. Again important questions asked and issues raised.

This felt really important in regard to feminism and the need for understanding of different positions and an intersectional approach. How being “erased” can maybe feel different from different personal, social or racial perspectives. I’m aware of how damaging the narrative of women always needing to appear harmonious in feminist discourse can be. The idea that feminism has no conflicts or can do no harm. Of course this isn’t true or helpful and the ways in which some brands of feminism do not serve all women, needs to be acknowledged. This starts with women feeling safe to speak up when they feel erased. We will continue to strive to create those spaces and safe opportunities.

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As with many of our sitters, Shadi spoke of feeling safe in a women only space that explored these issues and this did feel to be a commonly held thought..

“Being in a group of women, was very comfortable to me. I am sure if it was a man in our circle, it would feel as safe as I felt.”

Many of our sitters mentioned in their feedback and spoke on the day that allowing themselves to be looked at was an empowering goal that they felt proud they could be supported in achieving. As I listened to jokey comments of “can you make me look thinner” or “Please add a filter!” I was struck by how far we still have to come as feminists and activists in challenging the damaging ways in which women are socialised to self criticise and self loathe.

Despite the struggles and challenges and all that the project emotes we did overall have a fun and affirming day! I really feel the project can address important issues while also being light, fun and empowering.

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My favorite moment this year was the involvement of a mother and daughter who booked two slots to sit, to celebrate International Women’s Day together. They were greeted with hot chocolate and tea by the lovely team at the store and together they discussed with me if they should sit together or separately for their portraits.

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I eventually asked the daughter who I will call A. what she would like to do. She seemed shy to respond but eventually asked her mother if she would be sad if she chose to have her portrait on her own. He mother laughed and assured her of course not and it felt like a very touching, empathic example of how as women we must care for each other’s feelings and an example of how, if we are not sure how our actions are making the other feel, than we can always ask, so we can get it right.

In her feedback A. also said how she enjoyed the project because she liked the way that “..the 4 different artists were helping each other make an art piece..”

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We will be following A’s example this year as we celebrate the Intersect project’s achievements, learn from its mistakes and look forward to next time!

 

The curious, moving and brilliant new work of the 2018 graduates, by Sian Matthews

I started this year’s degree show season by making my yearly pilgrimage back to the University of Hertfordshire. I have been going to see the Headlines show since I first started my Foundation degree at UH in 2012, and having been a part of Headlines ’16 after completing my BA I always find it a lot of fun to go back and see what the students have achieved with the same space, resources and amazing tutors I had. I am never disappointed. Headlines includes the whole school of art, from Fine Art, Photography and Fashion to Model making, Design and everything in between. It’s a diverse celebration of a lot of hard work and that’s what makes it such an awesome show.

Obviously, every year I make a beeline for the Fine Art studios, my old stomping ground, to explore the work on display and support my fellow artists. It is also a chance to see old friends and tutors. I can admit I miss them and my studio.

One of the things I always enjoy and am proud of is the distinct visual similarities and connections all UH students seem to share no matter what year you go, like one huge collective. There always seems to be a huge focus on 3D work, accumulations and collections of found objects, plaster casts and video work; mediums which I view as more tactile and interactive for the viewer. Objects which you can form a connection to always seem to do more for me than a drawing (personal preference). I am sure that this connection we all share comes from the environment created at UH; there is a lot of space, meaning you have more freedom to create large scale, ambitious works, as well as some very hands on and inspiring tutors and it’s encouraged to bounce ideas off each other and collaborate.

There was a lot of that this year, as well as some fantastic performance and painting. A few favourites of mine, working with themes such as the everyday, the human condition, balance and absence, included (pictures below) Lucy Alexandra, Lucy Matthews, Elizabeth Leonard, Lizzie Cardoza and Seda Kalayci.

Moving forward a month to Free Range, “the largest creative graduate showcase in Europe” at The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. From the 2nd of June to the 16th of July, each week there is a new exhibition exploring a different creative medium combining the work of many universities. Again, I like to go every year, it’s always a great show and different to any degree show; the main difference being that it’s a curated exhibition. Degree shows tend to have all the artists clearly separated for obvious reasons (the work needs to be graded so it needs to be clear who did what). Free Range gives the artists the space and freedom to pick works and curate a show that illustrates their achievements as a collective (I am also aware that some universities use Free Range as their degree show).

My first Free Range visit this year was to Photography week 1. I’ll be honest here, this is a controversial opinion! I am sometimes cautious of going to large photography exhibitions because I feel they can get repetitive. Not to say the work included is awful or boring, because it is not, but I am not someone who gets a great deal from photography. It is just not a medium I connect with easily- it’s personal preference. So I was pleasantly surprised to find some really fantastic work on display. These included works by Molly Snell, Katariina Leinonen, Hannah Detnon, Elena Cenedese and Jessica Nash. (pictured below)

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Jessica Nash

Free Range Art Week I was excited for, so excited that I went to the private view. I was looking forward to seeing how the UH show would differ from the degree show and seeing what other crazy things I would discover from universities such as Northampton, Leeds, Hereford, Colchester and Norwich.

Every year since I took part in Free Range, Herts has used the T3 space, it is bright, open and right in the middle of everything which makes it a great space for those big ambitious 3D works I mentioned earlier, its also great for performance because of the footfall it gets. This year was no different, it was packed. I know I am biased, but it looked amazing.

 

Next to UH was Hereford College of Arts. My eye was drawn straight to the work of Justine-Diane Winter whose installation, focusing on themes of feminism, attraction, repultion and decay included wilting flowers nailed to the walls accompanied by a video. It demanded my attention straight away, it was bold and obviously meant something to the artist.

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Also from Hereford was Tara Love and her panel of coloured ear casts. As someone who loves a repetitive process and casting objects this piece jumped out at me. It was quirky and fun to look at as well as a thought-provoking comment on our sense of hearing and the connections it provides us with.

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‘The Unnameables’ by Hannah Moulds were uncanny as they creeped around the entrance way to the T1 space. These faux fur forms almost seemed alive in the way they trailed around the space they were given. Reading what the artist wrote about them gave them a whole new context and conjured all kinds of weird imagery and stories. It would be great to see them again in some different spaces.

 

Back downstairs I found a couple of gems. A whole collection of small studies of nipples by Olivia Fenwick arranged in a pattern on the wall, reminiscent of a mandala. These accompanied a pile of sculptural nipples which were spreading their way across the floor upstairs as if they were multiplying. Always fun to see an invasion of nipples, right?

 

The second gem I found downstairs was the work of Alex Dixie Tobias. A small key hole in the wall led to a burlesque peep show, one designed to be a comment on feeling used, and performing for other people’s pleasure and entertainment. Some of Alex’s other works focus on identity and the struggles of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

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Art can be therapeutic for some, it can also be a way to document and make sense of a difficult situation or condition and I must applaud any artists who lay it all out in such a revealing way for the whole world to see.  I’ve done it and I know how hard it is to confront a demon everyday in the quest to create something great and regain some control of something uncontrollable.

These are just a few things which stood out to me at Free Range 18. I could go on for a while yet, I honestly thought it was an incredibly strong show this year. I even went back on the Monday before it ended to see a few art works without the massive crowds from the PV and to make sure I hadn’t missed anything special. I am already looking forward to the degree shows of 2019!

Did anyone go to any great degree shows? What stood out and excited you? Share in the comments below.