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 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

A belated Frieze week review by Sian Matthews

Well over a month after the big event I still have a lot I want to say and discuss, good and bad, about all things Frieze 2019.

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This year’s fair had a focus on the climate crisis and demonstrated this by including artworks such as Patrick Goddard’s ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ which uses hundreds of dead parakeets to ram the message home.

However, I haven’t seen much in the way of the fair itself addressing its carbon footprint, the only steps it seems to have taken this year is to switch to using biofuel.

One of the interactive projects this year was by the organisation Arto LIFEWTR who thought it was a brilliant idea to use PLASTIC bottles to display artworks by emerging artists and hand them out to visitors, along with pins by artist John Booth in exchange for posting about them on social media. I feel like I must have missed something on this because it just seems too tone deaf to be a real thing? I literally saw these bottles discarded everywhere all week.

Including at TOAF and Tate modern.

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I can’t understand why a fair with a focus on the climate crisis included an interactive installation which was centred around plastic bottles, something which as a society we should be using less of. Also, as I am writing this I am sat with a stack of handouts, newspapers, maps, all the paper that gets thrown at you while visiting the fair.

For a fair talking about climate change and carbon footprints there was a huge amount of waste. Something to think about.

Moving on to something more positive, One of the live artworks which I particularly enjoyed was an interactive artwork in which the participant becomes part of the piece after being asked to hold a feather duster perfectly still and to concentrate on not moving the feathers. Of course, this is impossible as the more you try the harder it gets. The feathers pick up the participants heartbeat and breathing so that you physically cannot hold it still. After the frustration subsides and you concentrate more on the movement of the feathers in time with your own heart beat it becomes quite relaxing, almost meditative.

 

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Woven: a curated set of stands at the far end of the fair focused on artists who work with fabrics, sewing, embroidery and other textile mediums was, I thought, one of the most thought provoking parts of the fair, and was pleased to see a less mainstream medium being celebrated. Included were Chitra Ganesh, Monika Correa and Cian Dayrit as well as many others. Working with themes and ideas such as Gender, Power, myth and reality, and historical narratives.

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Included in Woven was artist Angela Su who I completely adored and who’s work investigates perception and imagery of the body through metamorphosis and transformation. The works on display were almost like scientific drawings, delicate and beautiful, yet so real they were a little uncomfortable to look at. Looking closer at these drawings you realise they are incredibly intricate embroidery and honestly, I could have starred at them all day.

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Last year I mentioned that I was concerned that the representation of women at the fair was more of a fashion statement and less about real change. Although I stand by my concern, I was pleased to see that a lot of galleries embraced diversity this year, this was mainly the smaller galleries and stands but it was there, nonetheless. I noticed a lot of attention being given to artists from African nations which was fantastic to see, and I appreciated the introduction to some new an exciting artists.

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I also attended The Other Art Fair for the private view and at the risk of upsetting some people, I don’t have much to say about it. I always enjoy going, catching up with artists and friends but recently I feel like it is getting repetitive. I’m not saying it’s a bad fair, I would just like to see something new.

Finally, I visited the new Hyundai Commission at Tate modern which this year features ‘Fons Americanus’, a 13 meter tall fountain by artist Kara Walker. Inspired by the Victoria memorial outside Buckingham palace but exploring ideas and themes resulting from the transatlantic slave trade. I have long been a fan of Kara Walker and to see her work in the setting of the turbine hall was something quite special. Its open until April so I recommend a visit!

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The problem with Frieze Week ’18 by Sian Matthews

 

That title is a little misleading because I did actually have a really great time at Frieze London. It has been over a month now since the fair and I have had plenty of time to contemplate it all, although there is one thing that has been playing on my mind that I would like to discuss. But let’s start on a good note! This year was my first time attending the art fair itself, although I have explored the sculpture park in previous years, and thanks to Sweet ‘Art I had a press pass!

This year Frieze week had a huge focus on women in the arts. Frieze itself commissioned some large-scale artworks, installations and performances such as Tatiana Trouvé’s ‘The Shaman’ (pictured below) a 1.2 tonne bronze tree and water pump. It was one of the first things I saw as I went into the fair and it definitely commanded the attention it was receiving.

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At the other end of the fair there was a curated section of stands showcasing the work of 9 female artists who had used their work as a form of political activism in the 80s and 90s called ‘Social Work’ I quite enjoyed Social Work as it was diverse on all levels, including race, age, backgrounds and even mediums and subject matter. The section included artists such as Nancy Spero, Helen Chadwick, Berni Searle and Ipek Duben; artists who use the female experience and themes of sexuality, gender, alienation and identity to challenge both aesthetic and political conventions. It worked really well and was an insightful look into the practice of some very influential artists. I was also lucky enough to wander past just as Sonia Boyce was giving an interview about her work! (I won’t lie, I felt a little starstruck!) It was fascinating to listen in and hear what she had to say about the motives and messages behind her work and what she thought of Social Work itself.

The stand I connected with most in Social Work was the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery who were showcasing the work of Mary Kelly. ‘Interim Part 1: Corpus’ is the culmination of 3 years of documentation by Kelly of conversations she had with women of her generation and displays their words in first-person text panels alongside screen printed images of fashion ads and medical photography of ‘hysterical women’. It feels personal and almost candid in its delivery, you get the feeling you’re reading something like a diary entry, something you shouldn’t be reading, and I appreciated the fact I was being told something so intimate.

The one thing that really disappointed me about Social Work is that it was hyped up quite a lot beforehand, but then felt like it was squished into a corner at the actual event. I would have preferred it to have had a more prominent spot in the fair.

Another nice touch to the fair this year was a fund-raising event hosted by Tracey Emin in the form of a postcard auction, with the proceeds going to women’s charities. Although unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch any of it!

Elsewhere in the city, galleries such as White Cube, Victoria Miro, the Parasol Unit and even the RA celebrated women by opening exhibitions and installations of works by artists such as Yayoi Kusama (who I love but sadly missed out on tickets for!), Cornelia Parker brought her PsychoBarn installation to the courtyard of the RA, Heidi Bucher and her beautifully haunting latex skinnings, and Doris Salcedo (pictured below) at White Cube. Women really did take over London for Frieze week!

 

On the Friday night I attended The Other Art Fair which also had a whole section dedicated to female artists. They had their own building across the road from Victoria House which was designed to be a statement called ‘not 30%’ to draw attention to the fact women typically get only 30% representation in art fairs. I thought it was a great idea (although I wasn’t sure about segregating them in another building away from the main event), and there was a diverse selection of work, from painting and sculpture to taxidermy and even tattooing. I so badly wanted to get a tattoo by artist Emily Malice but I missed her by a couple of hours as Friday night was the only time she wasn’t there! (maybe next time!)

Whilst we were there we also met two recent graduates who had turned their stall into a fun and inviting participatory project.  As Illustrators, they were drawing visitors to the art fair as any animal of their choosing for a small donation, so obviously we had to take part! See us below as a cat, a leopard and a jellyfish!

 

Overall I think The Other Art Fair may have been more enjoyable on a social level. More interactive, more inviting, it was more appealing to a wider spectrum of people. Dare I say more inclusive?

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Women finally getting the recognition they so badly deserve. So going back to my clickbait title, where is the problem?

What has been playing on my mind is the idea that all of this new attention from large institutions, galleries and companies is just a form of box ticking, it felt like they were just ticking women off their inclusion list. I am not really sure of the exact thing that made me feel like this, maybe it’s the fact that both art fairs felt the need to over-publicise their inclusion of women and make a song and dance about it as if for attention; to be seen to be doing the right thing instead of recognising the issues faced by female artists, educating themselves and making the necessary changes. Obviously, I’m not saying we shouldn’t shout about the needs and rights of women in this industry, its massively important to talk about it! There was just something about Frieze week that made me feel like the motives behind it were off.  As you all must know by now, 2018 marks 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote. This means that women’s rights are very much the theme of the year. It means that right now equality and women’s rights seem to be a bit of a fashion statement unfortunately and these companies need to be seen to be doing the right thing or they face huge backlash.

While I think its amazing what happened at this year’s Frieze week, and I certainly do not want to belittle the success of the artists featured. I can’t shake the feeling that we should all be a little wary of the motives and the intentions behind this sudden push for women. I am worried that next year this will all go away and no real progress will have been made. I hope I am wrong.

I have taken a photo of an article written in the free art news paper given out at the Frieze art fair itself which I feel sums up my feelings well and highlighted certain points for you. I feel it quite clearly explains why the focus of this years Frieze week only felt skin deep.

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Let me know what you think, am I just being pessimistic? Did you visit Frieze or any of the other events going on that week and what was your experience? I’d really like to know.