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Redbird is a UK based, artist run, not for profit, online art magazine and platform for beautiful artwork. 

We feature conversations with talented artists, both established and emerging, tackling the big philosophical questions and some of the nonsensical ones too.
 

The 15th episode of Bell Time is up!

THE MANY SOUNDS OF TWO CELL

by Eileen Budd

TwoCell was one of those amazing discoveries made while exploring Soundcloud, looking for new music.  TwoCell’s electronic synth nod to the eighties in Little Song I Wrote made our ears prick up straightaway and this track belongs at the top of any commuter's playlist.

One of his most recent pieces, freshly released on Soundcloud, is a collaboration with vocal artist Ruti Celli called Why.

TwoCell provides the heartbeat behind this piece, with a style of 80’s synth forming the tune’s backbone, hinting at influences of the likes of Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys and Kim Carnes.  This works beautifully with Ruti’s cello riff and vocals, which are reminiscent of a young Madonna.  Why is a gloriously chilled out Summer tune from a new wave of talent. 

A year ago, I left a note for TwoCell, asking if one day we could interview him and Yonii, his songwriting partner, about their work and now, a year later, we have the absolute pleasure of doing just that.

Please welcome, the creatives behind the creations.

 

Tell us a bit about how you started making music, what was it that set you off on this path?

TC: I used MC at London clubs and boat parties on the Thames when Drum n Bass first started. My style was a mix of singing & rapping making the tracks the DJ played sound like remixes. The crowds and DJs loved what I did so I knew I had to start making my own records and that's what I did. I reached out to my cousin who had his own recording studio and made my first track, took it to a club and convinced a DJ to play it. The track started the crowd went wild then the bass dropped and the crowd shouted "turn up the bass!" Only the DJ couldn't as our mix was rubbish and had no sub bass! Ha! That's when I decided to learn how to make music professionally and enrolled at Newham College on a Music Technology Diploma. 

Y: I've been writing songs as long as I can remember. I was lucky enough to get onto a music degree course with little formal training -  from there I moved to London and joined a band. I loved the creative buzz I got from writing and recording... and I haven't stopped since. I feel compelled to write. I've recently had one of my tracks signed to Audiophile XXL in the U.S. so I'm feeling more motivated than ever!


Since we first spoke, over a year ago, you’re music has gone from strength to strength.  You’re now a signed recording artist with Nub Country Records, with your first track Tick Tick Tick Boom! about to be released.  How are you feeling about your growing success?

TC: The honest answer is I haven't stopped to think about it. With me it's always what comes next! I've always considered myself a producer and turned down recording contracts in the past. I signed to Nub Country because not only did they believe in my work, they made me feel like part of the family. I feel like my music has a home with Nub. I was emailing with Guy Thompson last night finalising the promotion for "Tick Tick Tick Boom!" which is out now.

 

What are you working on right now?

TC: I've been working on a lot of projects with my talented songwriting partner Yonii.  She is amazing and I feel blessed to be working with her. Our first project will be with singer Jessie Walsh who again is amazingly talented. We all got together for a meal & a chat last month and will start recording songs soon. I've also been writing & producing for artist I Am Born, she is the real deal, a one off and the most creative artist I had the pleasure of working with. I can't wait for people to hear work!


Can you tell us a bit about working with Ruti Celli on Why.  Ruti’s melodic voice works really well alongside the strings in the track, did you have a strong sense of how you wanted the track to sound before you choose Ruti to work with, or was it more organic that?  How does your process of collaboration work?

TC: Why was originally an instrumental track I wrote a while ago but I always heard it as a vocal track, so I searched for a singer/songwriter to collaborate with and discovered Ruti on Soundcloud. As soon as I listened to her song "It's Just A Little Dream" I knew Ruti was the one. Skill, expression, emotion, talent, a classically trained cellist, Ruti has it all. I reached out and to my disbelief Ruti agreed to work with me! Ruti is based in L.A. I'm in London so we communicated via email and Whatsapp discussing how we heard the song, a working arrangement & timeline. Collaborations for me are really easy. If we are working together that means i respect and trust you, so I told Ruti to express herself and she should trust me as a producer, to make the track work. Ruti sent me the vocal and cello Stems and I put it all together.      

 

How do you deal with artistic differences?

TC: Never happened for me. Before I work with anyone I meet them first or communicate with emails, phone calls etc. If we don't click on personal level, we wont click on a creative level. Whenever I work with a songwriter or musician I tell them the same thing interpret the music as you hear it because if I didn't trust your creativity & ability we would not be working together!

Y: By maintaining a sense of detachment from your work, and by respecting the opinions of those you're working with. There's always a new song to around the corner if something doesn't quite work out!


Who would you most like to work with on a project?

TC: That's tough one! There are so many great artists I admire. If I had to pick one artist it would have to be Chrissie Hyndes. I love her work. She always writes from the heart, just like me. How can any musician hear "Don't Get Me Wrong" and not want to work with Chrissie.  

Y: I would love to write with one of the killer pop writers such as Max Martin or Cathy Dennis - just to see them in action! Mad skills. 


Some artists find it really hard looking back on old pieces of work, because it is so far away from where they end up, both in terms of quality and style.  How do you feel about your old work compared to what you’re making now and where you want to be taking your music to?

TC: Ha! You really do ask some penetrating questions! I look back on my work with fondness no matter how bad or good it sounds to me now! I guess it's all about perspective. That was me then and this is me now. It's a journey taking me where I want to be. I never stop learning and improving, both as a producer and as an artist. 


There's a definite a influence of 80’s synth pop in Why, can you share with us your top 5 artistic influences and their impact on your creative work?  

TC: That's so not fair I have so many influences! Ok, from memory a top 5 in no particular order. Human League, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, Kraftwerk, Tears For Fears. From these great artists I learnt that electronic music can be expressive, beautiful, fearless and mainstream while still remaining indie, original and creative - all in a 3 minute pop song!

 

What do you do outside of music to get inspiration / rejuvenate your creativity? 

TC: I used play lots of PES and Battlefield on the PS3 to relax but I've been too busy to play games for a while now. Instead I watch lots of TV shows like Preacher, Mr Robot, Penny Dreadful, Suits, How To Get Away With Murder, Empire. I get inspiration from the music in the shows and get to chillout! Ha!

Y: Getting out into nature, breaking the daily routine of life, travelling somewhere new... Going to see live shows is always really inspiring for me also. 

 

Can you tell us a bit about your equipment of choice for creating music?

TC: As with all music producers I am always adding gear to the studio.  Currently I work with Cubase on a laptop, KRK Rokit 6 monitors, DBX 231 graphic equaliser & M-Audio project mix, M-Audio 61es midi keyboard & Blue Spark microphone. I work out of the box when writing my go to VSTs are Spectrasonics Omnisphere, ReFx Nexus, Battery 4, XLN Audio Additive Drums & Fab Filter Twin. I master in Adobe Audition using a mix of my favourite plugins.


What do you wish you had known about the music industry before you got started?

TC: Talent is not a requisite for success…dedication is!

 

Damn straight.

Follow these links to listen to more music by Yonii, TwoCell, Ruti Celli, I Am Born and Jessie Walsh.

 

VAMALGAM 7 - Behind the Exhibition

(Title banner artwork: Lady, a by Antonio Di Benedetto, photography / 2015)

May Teixeira graduated in Fine Arts and holds a Master degree in the processes of engraving. Lithographs have always been her favourite artistic method, but she has spent a few years ranging between etchings and xylographs. Those were small format prints on which she would spend a great deal of time trying to perfect tiny details carved in a small piece of wood. Lately, May has been working in a much more spontaneous way. Usually with ink drawings mixed with oil pastels.

May also organised the staff exhibition of artworks at the V&A, VAMALGAM 7.  We're delighted to share with you now, her story about bringing this exhibition together in a blizzard of challenges.
 

VAMALGAM 7, photograph by Andrew Gomez

VAMALGAM 7, photograph by Andrew Gomez

The Victoria & Albert museum has over 50 departments and 700 staff members. When I started working in the Visitor Experience department in 2013. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it all; the old, secret basement tunnels, its vast number of galleries and the amount of staff circulating and emerging from every obscure door the galleries tend to hide. It was a lot to get to know and so much to be part of.

I started as a Gallery Assistant just after the last edition of the Staff Art Exhibition (VAMALGAM 6). The staff canteen wall was full of all these different and amazing artworks. Talents, hidden within the museum offices and locker rooms. 

I was annoyed that I had just missed the show submissions and was looking forward to the following year, when I could be part of it.

The New Year came but no new edition of the show was advertised.  I was really disappointed. I wanted to find out who was responsible for it, who I needed to speak to, who I had to convince the exhibition needed to happen again.

By then it was 2014 and a number of changes had occurred in my life that year. I was being promoted to a Visitor Experience Supervisor in time for the preparations for the opening of Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition. It was huge! Both events had such an impact in my life…

But, to understand how I came to be involved in the VAMALGAM 7 and why these two events had such a big impact on me, we first have to go back a little bit further and tell a brief story.

In 2006 I was finishing my Master degree in Uni, I was living in Rio de Janeiro, had a great job in one of the most prestigious contemporary art museums in Brazil and, I was very much in love. My girlfriend at the time dropped a small bombshell, saying she would have to go to New Zealand for 7 months. ‘Everything will be fine’ – she said. ‘Nothing will change’.  I believed her, partially because I was just super naïve, partially because that’s what people do when they’re in love, they believe in happy outcomes, in impossible things.

7 months later she was still there, and with little or no plans to come back. Regardless, we were still ‘together’.  I say together, but I must emphasise how long-distance relationships really just don’t work, then again… I was still in love with her so I was convinced we could make it happen.

So when she called me to say it was over, I found it hard to accept.  In fact, I didn’t accept it at all. Consequently, in the course of that same month, I had put all my little (but precious) belongings up for sale and bought a one-way ticket to Auckland, New Zealand. If she wanted to break up with me, she would have to do it in my face… (How mature).

I arrived in Auckland, settled in my 12 bunk-bed room, managed to mumble a few words in English with a few hostel soon-to-be-friends and waited.  The next day, my girlfriend, or ex, depends how you see it, came to see me.

No regrets and demonstrations of love, no now-that-I-see-you-I-know-that-I-really-love-you type situation.  She just, dumped me.

I was on the other side of the world, the money I had was pretty much the remains of all that I had in life, I spoke very little English… (Ok, to make clear, we are talking about: help, yes, no, where’s the toilet? – essential, emergency words only). I had left my family, my friends, the job that I thought would make my career and also had to deal with the natural effects of a not-so-typical heartbreak.

Just settling in for a hard time ahead, I decided to make myself slightly more ‘comfortable’ by changing from a 12 bunk bed to a reasonable 6 bunk bed room. In that new room, I met a person that would change my life forever (again). I fell in love and we got married in New Zealand roughly 2 years later.

There, now that you know this story, we can go back to 2015 when, most say inevitably, this same marriage, had started crumbling down.

VAMALGAM 7, being installed, photograph by May Teixeira

VAMALGAM 7, being installed, photograph by May Teixeira

We were super busy at the museum, Alexander McQueen took all the time and strength that we had, on top of all of it I was put in charge of all the Gallery Assistants roster, a job to be carried out on top of all the operational duties.  It was insanely stressful. Coming back home itself was a struggle after running around the museum all day long and trying to keep up with a week’s ahead of planning. Between all that madness, the gallery assistants started to stop me while I was running between tasks, asking when we would have a new edition of the staff show, constantly telling me about all these talents that urged to be expressed and displayed.

At this point, while struggling with the most painful heartbreak I’ve ever had to deal with and the lack of life that being at home entailed, I decided that maybe organizing the show myself would be a good idea if I wanted to move my life out of the apathy and tiresome cycle it had become.

The idea was growing and growing inside my head every day.  It was actually good to think about something else apart from the usual self-absorbing feelings that dumped people tend to be dominated by.  It was actually making me better, happy, just thinking about the exhibition.

I knew it was going to be a massive challenge, but definitely rewarding. I met with Phil Sopher, who had organised the previous editions of the show, just before he left the V&A.

Saying all the right things, he managed to make me even more excited about the whole experience. He passed on all the documents and files for the past VAMALGAM editions and off he went.  I promptly wrote a proposal and after a few weeks of begging, the Senior Management Team gave me the green light.

Brilliant team of technicians, photograph by May Teixeira

Brilliant team of technicians, photograph by May Teixeira

Phil was right.  Organising the exhibition balanced between having all the amazing response from the museum staff I never met; the reward of knowing first hand that the V&A had this cluster of hidden talents (which was a surprise every time I’d read through a submission) and trying to cope with the considerable extra duties.

Of course I would get home and still have to deal with the tiredness, the loneliness, the heartbreak, life, but now I would find myself looking forward to forgetting it all and just concentrating on processing submissions and on finding ways of making the show a success.

I was literally, buried in paperwork.  I would start my shift at the Visitor Experience Department one hour before I was actually meant to be there (keep in mind that I live 2 hours away). Rushing through making appointments, sending emails to try and get dates confirmed and dealing with all the enquiries about what can be displayed, what couldn’t and I-want-my-family-to-attend-the-opening requests. When the deadline for the submissions ended, I had 98 submissions at hand. The record of submissions in previous shows was 84, a clear indication that staff had been craving to take part in the event for a long time.

Install is complete, long before the working day begins... photograph by May Teixeira

Install is complete, long before the working day begins... photograph by May Teixeira

To actually get all of the artworks delivered was a whole new monster.  The logistics of transporting artworks from staff at the Museum of Childhood and Blythe House to the V&A in South Kensington were particularly challenging.  One entrant put her painting on the postal courier van, only to have it disappear for a week! When the painting was finally located again, she came straight to the office to deliver it in person and I, checking if all the specifications were met, slid my hand through the bubble wrap only to quickly remove it, blood pouring down my fingers… The glass in the frame had broken without her realising. First Aid room here I go, with a faint heart, for her and for me (I never could stand blood very much).

Once home I quickly slipped into my routine: have a long hot shower to wash the complaints, and occasional abuse, from the museum front of house away; pour a (generous) glass of wine, with my recently properly bandaged hand; start reviewing all the next day deliveries; and text messaging all of them with a kind reminder. I mean, that’s some serious organising!

When I finally managed to get all of the artworks delivered, I had to start thinking about carefully opening and photographing each one of them for the exhibition catalogue before the technician’s deadline of installation. I was cutting time extremely short, but it was actually one of the most fun parts of the whole process! I set up a (very) amateur photo studio in the basement of the museum and with an easel, improvised lighting and a tripod I started to visually record all artworks. There were technicians, curators, emergency response teams, gallery assistants, all of them passing through that scene probably thinking ‘who the hell is this mad person and what is she doing hiding in the basement taking pictures of paintings I’ve never seem in the museum?’ I laugh just remembering their faces.

Everything and everyone comes together for the private view of VAMALGAM 7, photograph by May Teixeira

Everything and everyone comes together for the private view of VAMALGAM 7, photograph by May Teixeira

The date of the exhibition opening was set, I managed to raise enough money to offer a morning tea breakfast for all staff. I was nervous, after all that work, it was like having a mini panic attack just thinking about it.

Beth McKillop, the museum Deputy Director came to the show to officially open and address the artists. I was there biting my fingers silently, just thinking: ‘I am so exhausted’, but so incredibly proud.

It was a success. More than a success…it was an achievement, a concrete statement that behind all the work that a museum team does to deliver amazing exhibitions for members of the public, they can also get together to show their own talent, their own shouts of expression, their own ways of being artists.

It not only made being a part of the exhibition a reality for me, but it dragged me out of a stupor of personal sadness; it put me in contact with wonderful people just a few doors away from my office, people I’d never exchanged a simple ‘good morning’ with before. It taught me how rewarding it can be to create something from scratch and fight for it to become a reality, but most of all, it gave me encouragement to carry on organising new editions and to make possible for V&A staff to show what amazing things they can do.

by May Teixeira, Visitor Experience Supervisor and Artist


We would like to thank May for telling us her story and showing us just some of the amazing things she can do. 

2010, xylograph in a top wood, 'three guitars' by May Teixeira.  Photograph shows both the final print as well as the matrix.

2010, xylograph in a top wood, 'three guitars' by May Teixeira. 
Photograph shows both the final print as well as the matrix.

 

If you have a story you'd like to share with Redbird, get in touch.

 

 

Kasper Pincis - Appropriate to Create

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that is all.’
                                                                                                                                     Alice in Wonderland

Kasper Pincis creates works of art that cross the borders between appropriation, drawing and graphic design, using old typewriters to type into existence new landscapes and imagery.  The letter A becomes a mountain, roman numerals become geometric patterns, sentences weave off into a snowy mountain trail.  His work re-appropriates the typewriter into an artist’s brush and the English Language into a palette. 

It is a great example of art can be made of anything, but not by anyone.  The typed words in Kasper’s artwork, mean exactly what he chooses them to mean.

And the question is…
 

What led you to becoming an artist?  You studied in London but is that where you grew up too?  Are your family creative?

I grew up in South West London, so I always feel a bit guilty for not having left, or at least gone further afield to study.  I was raised by my mother who never really pushed me towards art, probably preferring me to become a lawyer or doctor, but once I chose my path she was very supportive.  I actually have very little family in the UK as my mum is Polish, and my biological father, who used to be a photographer and graphic designer, has lived in Kuwait for over twenty five years.  He was also an only son of an only son so it’s not the widest family tree, but it is quite diverse as my paternal grandfather was Latvian, my grandmother is Welsh, my stepdad is from New Zealand and stepmother is Egyptian.

I can’t really pinpoint what led me to being an artist, but I can remember my paternal grandparents taking me to museums such as the Wallace Collection and National Gallery from an early age.  Both my grandparents’ houses were full of books and I always feel like I’m more influenced in my art by literature, rather than by other visual art.  I think I just enjoy the internal logic of art, and being able to solve problems creatively.

  

A-Z, Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery

A-Z, Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery

You studied at the Royal Academy Schools and graduated from Goldsmiths College, and you started off as a painter, which is a bit removed from the work that you’re creating now.  Can you tell us a bit about your creative journey from painting to typeface art and what kind of influence the RA and Goldsmiths have had on your work?

I think it just took me a while to work out my real interests, and what my real artistic project was as opposed to what I just felt was expected of me.  I could always execute a painting so I felt like that was what I should do at first, but I couldn’t really ‘think’ in the medium like the best painters whose work I really admire.

There was actually a moment, or at least a period of a few months, of revelation that came to mark a watershed in my work and to which I can trace back most of my key artistic beliefs.  It was while I was in my second year at the RA, and in the space of four months one of my lungs collapsed twice.  In between these two incidents, I spent three weeks at an art seminar in Hungary, in a very beautiful, remote village by Lake Balaton.  As there was no art shop in this village, I ended up making my first text piece by making a potato print with the things I could find.  After my lung collapsed for the second time, I spent longer convalescing at home and watching the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.  This was not only very relaxing but quite inspirational.  I loved the ‘zen’ nature of the process, and how it could only really be used to create a new landscape rather than depict a real one, as it relied on the accidents of paint breaking up under a palette knife to describe the side of a mountain, or brush bristles bouncing in a certain way to create fir trees. 

Once I returned from my convalescence, a visiting tutor recommended that I read the Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, which offers a lot of existential meditation set over a long period of time in a sanatorium in Switzerland.  This text, along with Walden by Henry David Thoreau, which is about living alone in the woods, combined with my experience in Hungary and everything else to contribute to my ideas about art being an expression of economy.
 

 

Charles Eames said once, during an interview ‘I have never been forced to accept compromises but I have willingly accepted constraints.’  This quote sprang to mind looking at your work because, typeface / typefaces are designed to perform a function.  They are letters, they are used for signs, to give us information and what you are doing is drawing with them and using them outside of their function.  Can you tell us a bit about your experience with constraints and compromises in relation to the materials you choose to work with and the images you want to make?

I think constraints are very necessary, forcing you to think creatively to solve problems, which is probably why I’ve ended up mainly working with typewriters and photocopiers and their apparent limitations.  One example of this is a piece from a couple of years ago, a book called ‘LXVI’.  Based on the roman numerals, I made one page using the letter I, five using V, ten with X and fifty Ls.  The early pages aren’t too radically creative but when I had to force myself to find fifty different ways of using the letter L, it really pushed me to think of new ideas.  I had forgotten that I used to use tone, by hitting the keys harder or softer, so that was a great rediscovery.  I also like trying to think of the inherent qualities of particular letters, so L makes great chevrons as it goes down and across, and it’s nice to use that.

To Fill A Void, Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery

To Fill A Void, Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery



Tell us about your favourite typewriter, font and your ink and paper of choice.

I have actually seen a typewriter with an italic font of which I’m very jealous.  I don’t know if I have a particularly favourite machine, but there are two or three that I mainly use as they’re so reliable, and the ones with extra wide carriages are useful as there’s room to put paper in at different angles and play around a bit.  For smaller pieces I like to use paperback paper from Falkiner’s, I think people relate to the work slightly differently if it shares the scale and look of a book page.  For larger pieces I’ve used a lot of newsprint, though it’s not the most archive friendly material, but it does have a nice ‘pulpy’ quality.  It’s also thin enough to go through the machine folded.  I need to experiment a bit more with bible paper as it’s similarly thin and comes in large sheets, but it looks a bit too white and perfect to work on.

 

Layering seems to play an important role in your work, the most extreme example being the piece which is so saturated with typeface at one end that the paper looked like it’s been dipped in ink.  Like when you repeat a word or a phrase over and over again, until it loses all meaning and that sort of ties in with what we mentioned before about using something outside of how it is designed to function.  In one of your pieces you’ve stripped back a capital A to stand out on its own to form a mountain range and then, going the other way in another piece, you’ve layered up to obscure it completely.  Can you tell us a bit about these different approaches in your work?

Originally I quite enjoyed the pictographic qualities of the different letters, so a capital A is a ready-made mountain and a V, satisfyingly, is a valley, and I started out with figurative pieces.  Lately though, I’ve really just enjoyed exploring the process of making, and trying to achieve density and blackness economically.  Or economically in one sense, as I’m just using the alphabet, typing each letter once in alphabetical order; but in another sense quite laboriously as I’m then just stuck at the typewriter typing the same letter over and over.  I quite enjoy these contradictions, such as heroism undercut by a kind of stupidity.
 

To Fill A Void (detail), Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery

To Fill A Void (detail), Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery

 

Extreme layering could be like an active meditation.  What kind of different levels of satisfaction did you get from them when you were working / finished working on them?

Good question.  When I used to make more figurative work there was a different level of concentration required that precluded too much meditation, but my recent work on both the typewriter and photocopier has been very repetitive, becoming more of an exploration of time as productivity, and there have been times where I’ve worried that it’s driving me slightly mad.  But it does also lead to a meditative state that brings about some eureka moments.



Do you find that the process of creating or making, has any similarities to problem solving, that you’re able to work something out within yourself by the time you finish a piece?

Yes, I think that it’s all about problem solving.  Or rather, each piece sets out to answer a question, what would happen if I tried to do such-and-such, and by the end of it new questions or problems are raised which can be tackled in a new piece.  And as I’ve said before, art is expressed through an economy of means; so the challenge to achieve something in the simplest or most economic way asks for problems to be solved.

LXVII, Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery

LXVII, Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery



When we met we had a chat about measuring the difference between mastery and success, in relation to how we / other people view our artwork.  The idea of mastery being that you are creating artwork to make yourself a better artist, to be able to achieve a standard you’ve set yourself, to master something.  The idea of success, being a singular event, such as an exhibition or a sale.  Tell us a bit about your thoughts on this, who you do make art for and what effect does this have on the outcome.

The question of whom the work is for is an interesting one.  It is definitely for someone else, I make the work to be seen by somebody and it’s not just a solitary practice, but this imaginary ‘other’ sitting on my shoulder does seem to be someone with similar likes and interests to my own.  I guess my imagined audience enjoys the same aesthetic qualities as me, but with the nature of the work I want them to be ignorant of the process, so that they can try to work out what has gone on. It’s a bit like writing a crime drama.  With recent pieces that try to achieve a deep blackness, by typing the whole alphabet over itself or photocopying all the pages of the dictionary over each other, I still want there to be a way in, some clues to entice the viewer, so you can see the individual letters at the edge of the page and work out the subsequent process. Also, some things are easy to work out, like the piece from last year where I typed the letter o on the typewriter until it filled in with ink and dust and became a black dot.  It is just the letter o almost two million times over ten metres of paper, but I think the idea of me typing it is more compelling than the actual fact of it, so that is something that the viewer brings to the piece.

 

 

Bob Ross is a wonderful soothing memory for many artists, everyone should watch the episode with Peapod the squirrel, it is a delight.  With this in mind, who are your top 5 artistic influences and why?

Difficult to say…  I’ve been taken to galleries and museums since I was really little so I know I was struck very early on by the monumental nature of Zurbaran’s paintings of St Francis, as well as other Spanish and Flemish paintings in the National Gallery, but I think most of my artistic influences come from literature rather than other visual art.  So I would have to say Georges Perec for his love of wordplay and playful habitation of the page.  Henry David Thoreau for his ideas on economy and self-reliance.  Herman Melville for his humour and humanism.  Thomas Mann for writing the Magic Mountain, and Raymond Chandler for spinning a good detective yarn.

Dictionary (detail), Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery

Dictionary (detail), Kasper Pincis, photograph taken by Philip Jones of dalla Rosa Gallery



I feel like more and more people look to art for a simplistic representation of complex ideas, that as artists we have the opportunity to act as interpreters.  I would like to be able to make a piece of art that would reflect our political situation, but I am not a political artist, these are dots I can’t join.  Is there a subject you would like to try to interpret through your artwork that you’ve thought about but haven’t achieved yet?

I do worry that my work isn’t politically engaged enough, or how I would describe it to people without making it sound meaningless, but I think it’s fine just to make art for the most part as an exploration of ‘truth’.  As long as we are honing our craft and playing and thinking with materials, we are ready to be called upon when the time comes.  There is a great museum in Gdansk in Poland about the Solidarity movement, in the shipyard where it started, and the ingenuity of various artists and designers to publish and print banners, membership cards, posters and newsletters underground is very inspirational.  Shamefully, I only went to my first political protest a couple of years ago in Hyde Park Corner, in sympathy with the protesters in Gezi Park in Istanbul, but as an artist, I knew where the nearest art shop was and could make placards for people.


What are you working on at the moment, or, what are you planning on working on next?

I’m currently mainly working on the dictionary series, photocopying all the pages of the dictionary on top of one another.  So far I’ve completed this with an English dictionary but would like it to be recognizable for different audiences, so will make it with a German dictionary for a gallery in Berlin and a Catalan dictionary for an exhibition near Barcelona.

 

You can find out more about Kasper’s work on his website: http://www.kasperpincis.com/kasper-pincis or by checking out his work at the dalla Rosa Gallery: http://www.dallarosagallery.com/

 

 

Eric Cruikshank - Simple Complexity

What attracts you to a piece a of art?  Do you like a painting because it offers you something that is different to your experience of life, or because it demonstrates another way of seeing the world?  Do people in cities prefer pastoral scenes to concrete sculptures? 

 Abstract paintings are enjoyable because of their simplicity. We can like them for their colours and shapes and patterns without embarking on an in depth analysis.  There may be symbolism with a painting that we can also enjoy, of course, but its immediate impression on us is almost always going to be, entirely visual.  This is perhaps the main reason why people who live complicated busy lives like abstract art.  If you live in a big city and are constantly negotiating yourself through traffic and people and lights and noise, having art on the walls with clean lines and bold colours can reflect a level of simplicity and peace that you are unable to get outside.

Eric Cruikshank's paintings have a huge amount of thought and process behind them.  The process Eric uses to produce the finished pieces with their perfect colour gradients, is quite zen like.  His painting technique is like an active meditation, concentrating on the look and feel of the medium, taking hours and hours of careful mixing and layering to achieve the flawless result.  We really enjoyed learning more about him.

Untitled, 2013, Oil on Two Boards, 37.5cm x 63cm (with split)

Untitled, 2013, Oil on Two Boards, 37.5cm x 63cm (with split)

You grew up in the Inverness area, can you tell us a bit about what this was like and how much of an influence this had on you becoming an artist, for example, do you come from a creative family?

My family has a farm about 30 miles from Inverness, in the Spey-valley region of the Highlands.

My childhood memories are very positive, where there was always encouragement for fostering an active imagination; either inside creatively, or exploring the freedom the farm offered outside.

My dad painted when he was young, and my mum was very musical, so they were such a big help in forming early self-belief in terms of pursuing art, supporting me through college and immediately after.

Working on the farm, both then and now, is incredibly challenging, as your day begins and ends being so directly affected by the weather. This brought an acute awareness of the shifting of the seasons, and also the beauty that surrounded me in the Highlands, which has been the primary influence on my own work, and in turn, how I have tried to channel this influence in pushing for a unique position within the field of art I am trying to find my place in.

 

Who are your top 5 creative influences and what was it that led you to becoming a painter as opposed to exploring other artistic mediums?

Top 5, in alphabetical order - Anne Appleby, Rudolf de Crignis, Callum Innes, Brice Marden, and Agnes Martin.

It has always been painting for me, as very early on I fell in love with the process, even down to the smell of the oil, and the finished result, when it goes right, struck a chord that I couldn’t match with any other medium.

 

You’ve described your colour palette as being ‘tied to the Scottish landscape’ but your paintings rely on the interpretation of the viewer and their perceptions of colour and place.  Tell us a bit more about this and how different colours have different meanings to you.

The Scottish landscape is used as an initial starting point with my work, but my paintings are not about the literal presentation of this landscape, instead colour alone acts as the means to reveal the pictures underlying point of reference.

The works are deeply personnel interpretations of a time and place, so I am aware they reflect how I have responded to this landscape, my memories of a time and a place.

But with the base design and colour harmony being grounded in the everyday, the works are in turn left open to interpretation, where the viewer is encouraged to readdress notions of their surroundings.

I am very interested in the effects colour can have on the viewer, and how it can be reinterpreted and re-appropriated; where the panels have the potential to resonate with, and relate to, each viewer. The memories and emotions I convey, over time looking at my work, can shift and be replaced to become the viewers own memories and emotions, as the colour becomes their own point of reference. I see my paintings as time based works, as they require prolonged viewing, to allow the surface to truly reveal itself, so hopefully the work can then touch each person on a personnel level.

In terms of the meaning each individual colour has on me, they do hold different meanings, but this is constantly changing. When I am starting a piece, my main objective is to find a balance and energy in the tone, so my choice comes down to what works for the pictures design or the relationship I can build from a specific colour combination.

I am constantly trying to vary my methods of mixing and applying the paints, pushing myself to be able to use different colours, as each colour holds unique properties that lend themselves to the layering process. This has fed into a recent focus on the underlying colours of paint, varying the initial layers by building up fields of different hues, and how these can vary the final effect on the picture plane.

Untitled (detail), 2013, Mixed Media on Paper, 87cm x 70cm(paper size)

Untitled (detail), 2013, Mixed Media on Paper, 87cm x 70cm(paper size)

When it comes to ideas of perceptions of colour a couple of things spring to mind:  synaesthesia, a condition some people have where colours are mingled with other senses such as sounds or tastes.  Also; the ultraviolet sensitive cone cells that some birds have in their eyes, allowing them to see different colours to us.  Are there any paints (such as UV paint) or filters you would like to experiment with in your work?  How much do you want to experiment with perception of colour and place in terms of painting?

This is something that friends have spoken to me about before, and they have brought up cone cells; the different levels within the eyes of males and females in humans, and the effects it can potentially have on the senses, and the extreme sensitivity within some animals eyes, but this has not filtered back to or had a bearing on my art so far.

There are some artists I greatly admire, and their art has a big influence on what I do, whose work primarily deals with these sensations, or who experiment with the different results they can achieve using different kinds of paint, pushing the sensory effects they can then stimulate in a viewer, but again it has not affected my paint box as yet, as I like the flat matt nature of the finish with standard oils.

Creating a perfect colour gradient is exceptionally challenging and requires not just a high degree of skill but also patience.  Can you talk a bit about the technique you use and your preferred tools?  Are you tempted to use airbrushing or is the long process of building colour with brushes just as important as the result?

My painting process is a long one, and defined as much by the removal as it is by the addition of paint.

Firstly I measure and mix enough colour required for one complete layer, then marking out the shapes on the panel where the different tones will be applied, quickly block them in. This initial application of paint is fast and quite rough, and I work like this until the surface has a complete uniform layer. Then scraping and wiping as much of the paint out of the brush as possible, removing the paint, I methodically and systematically work the surface in alternating horizontal then vertical sweeps with the now almost dry brush. The paint begins to lift off the surface, blending the tonal blocks at the same time.

After each directional sweep, the brush is wiped, and the process begins again.

This can take many hours of continually working the surface and then wiping the brush, until the plane has a delicate thin skim of paint remaining, a veil of paint, that allows light to penetrate, hinting at something underneath.

I stop when the tonal shifts are just on the edge of disappearing into one another, where the surface holds the gentlest luminosity and movement, as the colour vibrates with a sense of inner light and rhythm.

The panel is then left for two weeks so the oil has time to dry, then the entire process is repeated, building up a uniform surface of many layers of ultra-thin paint. This needs to be done anywhere between 6-10 times, meaning the paintings can take anywhere between 4-7 months to complete, factoring in all the different stages.

Despite the time involved, and actually pushing to remove any evidence of my hand or imprint of technique, the possibility of using a machine instead of a brush has never really crossed my mind, as I really enjoy producing the work and seeing the surface evolve. Registering the colour shifts, and the effects the layers can have, is very rewarding, and I like challenging and pushing myself using standard painting tools to see the different effects and levels of control I can achieve.


There is a lot of control and restraint in your work, do you ever feel the impulse, while you’re painting, to lose that control and restraint and just let the paint fly?

All the time.

Untitled, 2010, Pencil and Oil on Paper, 42cm x 30cm   (paper size)

Untitled, 2010, Pencil and Oil on Paper, 42cm x 30cm   (paper size)


Your layering aesthetic is particularly effective in your pencil drawings, which are quite different to your paintings in so much that it feels as though the textures produced from these drawings are more important than the colours.  Can you tell us a bit about your drawings and how rewarding they are to make in contrast to painting?

The works on paper are such an important part of my practise, not only the works in their own right, but also the freedom they offer. With the control you asked about previously, these pieces allow a release from this, as they are immediate. Due to the speed of completion I can achieve (hours or days compared with months), when things go well, I can instantly react and push the process, or alternatively, any mistake or misdirection can be quickly changed and altered.

As the paper hasn’t gone through the initial priming and sanding stages compared with the panels, the drawing process affects the physical nature of the paper as a support, as the pressure over time of drawing and then erasing can mean the pigment (of the pencil for example) begins to almost bind with the fibre of the paper.

The process relates strongly to the panels, with the layering you mentioned, and then removal. But with the paper works it is in the removal that sets them apart, as the paper holds and keeps a more direct mark, as regardless of how hard I work back from the initial stroke, something still remains, making it easier to explore shape and form within a set design before moving to the panels. The panels look to capture a moment in time from the landscape, but the paper works try to capture a moment in time in their completion, an immediate direct energy.

Untitled, 2015, Oil on Two Boards, 30cm x 70cm (withsplit)

Untitled, 2015, Oil on Two Boards, 30cm x 70cm (withsplit)


You have exhibited your artwork all over the world.  Can you share with us one of the most challenging experiences you have had travelling with your artwork?

Aside from budget restraints, my painted plane is so delicate, that packaging the work is a real challenge, and the worries between waving the paintings off here to unpacking them in a Gallery abroad are large and constant.


Do you feel there is a noticeable difference between how your work is received in the different places?

The biggest difference is the shift in the conversation, as the audience that I have experienced abroad seem more comfortable around work like mine - but it really does make a difference that in so many European countries there is a large network of established galleries and collections that specialise is minimal abstract art, so work of this nature is well promoted and understood.

The response here still surprises me at times though, as Britain has such a strong history of abstraction - but it is understandable as well - as work that asks questions of the viewer can mean you won’t always like the answers.

Untitled, 2014, Coloured Pencil on Paper, 28cm x 19.5cm(paper size)

Untitled, 2014, Coloured Pencil on Paper, 28cm x 19.5cm(paper size)


Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now and next?  Your solo exhibition in Shibukawa, Japan in 2016, for example, sounds like quite an exciting prospect!

I have two solo shows planned for 2016; Japan in May, then Germany towards the end of the year.

The former will be an exhibition of a new series of coloured pencil on paper works, the latter will be an exhibition of new painted diptychs.

Both are artist run spaces, and both are run by really talented, enthusiastic, generous, encouraging artists; making the planning easy, and the prospect very exciting.

For it being such a solitary pursuit, you meet a lot of people being an artist, and a lot of times, these people share your biggest passion in life - art - making it easy to start a conversation, and so inspiring with where that conversation can go and the new things you can learn.


Bonus Question: If you could choose any other profession and instantly be brilliant at it, what would you choose and why?

Tennis pro.

I have played, on and off, since I was 9 years old. Just love the game, and watching the matches now, with the level that the players have pushed each other to, I find it such an exciting sport regardless of my own level, so I wish I could be so much better at it.

 

Eric will be exhibiting his work in Bonn, Germany and Shibukawa, Japan next next year.  You can read more about Eric's work on his website here: http://www.ericcruikshank.com/

Two.5 - Collaboration Adventure Postcards

"Cultural exchange is a radical act. It can create paradigms for the reverential sharing and preservation of the earth's water, soil, forests, plants and animals. The ethereal networker aesthetic calls for guiding that dream through action. Cooperation and participation, and the celebration of art as a birthing of life, vision, and spirit are first steps. The artists who meet each other in the Eternal Network have taken these steps. Their shared enterprise is a contribution to our common future."
Chuck Welch,  Mail Artist


The mail artists of the 1970’s and 80’s were a collaborative group of artists, albeit working separately, corresponding back and forth by sending artwork through the postal service.  The movement lasted in this form until the internet supplanted the postal service as a means for creative exchange.  The internet is much more cost effective than paying for postage.  It allows for faster participation and a broader audience.  Artists can showcase their work without the need for a gallery, musicians can compose, record and stream it all online, and the internet provides innumerable ways for a writer to present their work.  If you are looking to collaborate with another artist from another discipline, there are hundreds and thousands of eager creatives to choose from.

But, a lot of artists live in their own head, their own vision of the world rarely blends seamlessly with that of another artist’s.  So, for many, the idea of collaboration is highly unappealing because it’s associated with compromise and conflict.  As an artist it is important to be sociable, to be able to bounce ideas around with other creative people.  We learn from each other and can pick up different angles to explore ideas this way.  But, after much creative mingling, we might then retreat to develop an idea into an artwork alone.

What helps to make digital collaborations successful is the same thing that made the mail art movement successful; the artists are working with each other but at a distance.  Retaining their personal space to develop their individual ideas, coming together online to share them when they are ready. 

Two.5 is one such digital collaboration.  Viccy is a writer based in the UK and Samantha is a photographer based in the USA.  They have combined their talents to produce two digital books about their travelling experiences together, such as their residency in China.  Their collaboration is not just limited to the web and not just a collaboration between themselves.  On their travels they have interviewed and worked with a broad spectrum of people and used other collaborative, idea exploring techniques such as workshops, to shape their creations.  Two.5 have chosen a path of collaboration, which many of us would fear to tread and we got a chance to follow them on it, for just a little while.

Viccy and Samantha Learning about calligraphy paper with Peace

Viccy and Samantha Learning about calligraphy paper with Peace

There are a few similarities between your work the Mail Art movement, particularly in terms of inclusiveness, collaboration and correspondence, not to mention the main formats used of writing and photography.  Do you see your work as being a type of mail art and are there any artists from this movement that have acted as inspiration for you?

Samantha: The processes underpinning Dirty Laundry, our first digital art book, or our newest project Snap, which is in the work-shopping phase certainly have a mail art aspect to them. Due to our great distance geographically Viccy and I had to find a way to develop projects, build up ideas and create content while living our lives totally separately. The internet has allowed us to work in tandem, and using platforms like Cargo Collective, WordPress, and Tumblr we have something that equates to a shared sketch book online. Ultimately though, I feel that we work hard to bring all our different sketches together into a highly organized form. For Dirty Laundry, and the recently released Recollections we labored over not just the content but the experience of interacting with the digital book. I think we both are naturally interested in the form and function and one of the most satisfying elements of our creative partnership is delving into all the levels of a piece so that the final product reflects all our interests- intellectual, artistic, abstract and concrete.

Viccy: Our first major project together, Dirty Laundry, could definitely fall into that category as it had a time-lapse exchange structure that both held Samantha and my work apart and brought it together in a similar way. Samantha would post a selection of three images (from a staged photo-shoot) and I’d have a couple of weeks to respond with a story based on those images. One of the rules that grew up around it was that we couldn’t discuss the work with each other until we’d not only posted both sides of the work, but also written a blog post about the process behind creating it. Reading back over those posts is odd; I don’t remember writing most of them. It’s quite special to have that side of the work preserved, especially as it was the first year of our collaboration together so we were testing out and learning so many different things. I do remember the vivid excitement of when I’d finally get to ask Samantha questions about the photos, making the rules a kind of positive frustration.   

However, our latest project, Recollections, has been very different as the main work was done when we were in the same physical space, first on the residency in China and then editing and work-shopping our pieces during Samantha’s visit to the UK earlier this year. Because we’re normally living in different time zones, on different continents, our communication with each other (usually through a variety of different digital correspondences) is a really intrinsic element of our joint process. We don’t usually have the luxury of sharing time in person, so we have to work hard to find ways to connect with each other. There’s still a lot of correspondence around the project but it’s mainly hidden and certainly not collected: administrative stuff rather than creative sharing.
 

One of the best things about being a creative right now, is that, with the benefit of digital media and computers, it is much easier for artists and writers to produce their own work online.  The problem with this is, that often people don’t know where to go to look for good artwork, or even where to begin to look for it online.  Having good work noticed is still a challenge.  How do you tackle this?

Samantha: We are often discussing this very conundrum. Personally I spend a lot of time trying to let go of the anxiety around finding an audience for my art. If I find myself getting too caught up in worrying about who will see my work it diminishes my overall happiness and motivation. With that said, Viccy and I made a very conscious decision to self-publish a digital art book. Digital precludes us from many typical book fairs or book awards but it has made our work very portable which allows us to use our social networks to promote and share our digital art book. As with all business ventures I suppose artists must take calculated risks, utilize their networks and strive to capitalize on their strengths.

In my own practice, when looking for inspiration I find it very useful to aimlessly click around the art communities I’ve become a part of.  Virtually wandering around the artist pages on Cargo Collective or Saatchi is very satisfying. I also dip into popular art websites BOOOOOOOM! and Juxtapose to see what trends are circulating. It’s not so much the quality of the art that matters as the excitement that comes from discovering something that catches your eye or imagination.

Viccy: We have a mailing list so people can sign up to be kept informed of our work, and interviews like this help spread the word. Two.5 has a Facebook Page and a Twitter account, but as with all these things they tend only to reach people who already know about us. I have a much larger following on my personal Twitter account and blog, so there’s some cross-pollination there. And because we work from separate countries and in different art forms, we’re introducing each others work to new audiences by sharing those networks.

In terms of how I find out about things myself, I read a bunch of different online literary magazines, and I try to support local real-life events. Most of those I’ve come to via Twitter.  Earlier this year I did a live broadcast of a literary tour of Edinburgh via Google Hangouts for the Digital Writer’s Festival in Melbourne, which was fun: all their events were broadcast, I believe, which means they were accessible for people who couldn’t get there in person and I liked that idea. I also dip in and out of the new work that goes up on The Space, and I’m on what feels like a million e-newsletters that conglomerate things, like Arts Admin, Mslexia’s Little Ms, British Council, Arts Council, Creative Scotland, Scottish Book Trust, New Writing North, Unthank Books.  If it comes into my inbox and I have a spare five minutes I read it, if I don’t then I delete it without reading it.

The best way I know of to get noticed is perseverance: if you’re still doing your thing – whatever it is –  five years down the line, then you’re starting to gain the kind of experience (and hard shell) that means more opportunities will come up for you. That and being nice to other people; share opportunities, share knowledge and be generous if anyone asks for advice or help. That kind of attitude pays itself back with other people being generous in return. Stay in the game and stay grateful. That’s true both on and offline.

Interview with Rabbit and his wife

Interview with Rabbit and his wife

Tell us a bit about your experiences workshopping each of your digital books and if there were any real noticeable differences in responses you had from people in different cities.  What was the most unexpected / surprising thing that you learned from these?

Samantha: I'd like to highlight how different our two books are. The first one Dirty Laundry is a collection of short fiction inspired by carefully composed narrative photographs while our second book Recollections is documentary style portraiture and landscape photography accompanied by a collection of creative non fiction vignettes. Generally people seem to take Dirty Laundry at face value while for Recollections we encountered a lot more questions about the methodology. Dirty Laundry evolved over a period of years during which time we were finding our direction as a collaboration and hammering out the concept for our digital art book platform. Recollections, on the other hand, was our response to a month long residency in rural South West China. I think that when people encounter the book they themselves are faced with the challenge of understanding a strange world full of unfamiliar characters, and thus are filled with questions about how we experienced the place and time we are reflecting on. For Recollections, the specifics of the questions may vary, but at the heart of it people are curious about our experience and how that translated into the book.

Viccy: We workshopped very different material in each of the three cities, so it’s hard to do a fair comparison. From the perspective of the writing, at our first workshop, in Edinburgh, I got given direct inspiration to go on to write the piece from the camel’s perspective (thanks Alison)! In Newcastle we had a really good discussion on brevity and that led to several of the pieces being strongly cut and I think I got the necessary sense of ‘permission’ to let pieces be very short, which I already knew was easier to read on a screen but was struggling to cut back on my natural tendency to over-analyse and over explain. By the time we hit London, for our final workshop, we had a full draft of all twelve sections so a lot of the workshop was taken up by people reading the whole thing (printed out and spread round the basement space of the Canvas Café) and the feedback was more about the concept of the book and how we would introduce and describe it rather than an in-depth critique of works-in-progress.

Something that was unexpected for me was how much people loved our anecdotes about the residency. I don’t know if it was the content or the delivery (Samantha and I have been friends for over a decade so we make a good team for storytelling), but we got strong feedback to put ourselves in the work more. While that wasn’t what we wanted for Recollections – we didn’t want it to be a travelogue – it did lead me to write a greatly extended version that is going to be distributed as an e-book by Cargo Press in late August.

I also found it interesting that if a piece didn’t quite work, it was universally hated: people have different connections with different sections based on personal taste, but the weaker written pieces were instantly picked out by the people at the first two workshops. Which was great, because that showed me why the other ones were working and we had a really open space to try different approaches and techniques to bring the collection together.


Unfortunately, none of us at Redbird have an iPad so we haven’t been able to check out your digital books as fully as we'd like.  Did you have a reason for choosing iPad only and are you planning on making them available on other systems / formats?

Samantha: When we received our first grant we discussed making a traditional printed and bound art book, but we jettisoned this idea fearing that our moms would be the only people to buy them. One of the advantages of the ipad is that we are able to make our books available all over the world for free. We were also driven by curatorial motivations- as a collaboration, we were working entirely digitally and once we decided to stay in the digital format we realized that much like a traditional book, the ipad allowed us to curate the experience of the viewer. Content on the internet is subject to all sorts of distortions, a screen can dramatically alter the colors, size and shape of a picture, compress the images to the wrong aspect ratio, and break the text up in a way which was never intended. With the ipad we can be sure that the viewer is seeing the piece as we intended. In the long term, we would love to make the app available on other tablets.

Viccy: We spent a lot of time debating it. In fact, our original intention was to produce Dirty Laundry as a limited-run artist’s book in print. Which led to a lot of debate over the relationship between the images and the stories and how they needed to be together, so that you couldn’t turn a page and not have the images anymore. We made loads of mock-ups and then ended up back at digital again: at the time, it existed as a draft version on Cargo. We chose digital because that’s how the creative work was produced and shared, so it was authentic for the pieces. It also made it easier to share from different countries, which better reflected our situation.

But it was important for us that it had the same kind of curated experience that you get with, for example, a physical exhibition. Which is how we came to design the template both Dirty Laundry and Recollections are published in – On The Same Page. It publishes the creative work in a curated environment – a free to download web app optimised for iPad. We raised funds to cover the production costs via Indiegogo, and our excellent technical collaborators Mel Ashby and Asier de Quadra built it for us. We were limited in our formats because neither of us has the coding skills to do the build ourselves, which meant we needed to buy technical help. And as neither of us is independently wealthy that meant raising money, so we set ourselves an achievable goal by making a web app rather than a native app and by limiting it to iPad. There was also a creative control element there too: we felt the size of the iPad screen was better for displaying the images rather than, for example, an iPhone.

We’d love to make them available in different formats, so if anyone is interested in funding that or publishing a different version then please do get in touch. We actually have an exhibition of some of the pieces from Recollections in New York soon – as part of a group show by artists who have been in residency at Lijiang studio in China. So you can buy prints of some of the photos with a shaped text-extract overlay at that.

Recollections Index screen app

Recollections Index screen app

Can you tell us a bit about your residency in China, the struggles you had with language and with getting around the country?

Samantha: We talk a lot about the struggles we had with translation in the introduction to our book. Ultimately we faced a multilevel translation issue. We were trying to translate a foreign culture into an understandable framework. We interviewed many people trying to understand what life was like through the eyes of the people around us. However, interviews posed their own problems since we relied on an interpreter as an intermediary. This was further complicated by the fact that the locals primarily spoke Naxi while our interpreter spoke only Han Chinese. We traversed the countryside around our farm, took shuttle buses into the nearby city, and spent a week in the mountains all looking for people to talk to and yet everywhere we went we found ourselves trying to pick apart the levels of translation so that we could figure out what everything meant. Maintaining authenticity while knowing all our information was filtered through the lens of 3 sometimes 4 levels of language and culture translation became the greatest challenge. Throughout the project we contemplated the best way to convey what we were encountering in a way that would feel meaningful not just to our viewers in the US or the UK but to the people we were getting to know. We have always wanted to send our work back to Lijiang so authenticity in translation was of utmost importance and our greatest struggle.

Viccy: Samantha had studied Mandarin for a year a long time ago and had visited China once before but I’d never been and didn’t know a single character of the language, written or spoken. It wasn’t something we’d discussed in depth before going out to the residency, but I suppose I’d assumed the majority of our work would be observational and descriptive, and that Frog would be able to help answer some of our questions and be available to help us with logistical translation. Then when we arrived she was really enthusiastic about the work and offered to introduce us to people in the community and translate interviews with them. Which was an amazing chance to delve further into working with the community but raised different issues of fidelity as her Mandarin was, as she described it, at about the level of a 12yr old. And most of the older members of the community only spoke Naxi, and even those who did speak Mandarin did so with a thick Naxi accent. So sometimes parts of the conversation were incomprehensible to our translator, plus we were all working at speed- I was hand transcribing rather than audio-recording. And there was the level of cultural translation: certain concepts translate with pre-conceptions. Kind of amusingly, Samantha also acted as a translator between Frog and I to keep us clear on American and British vocabulary issues, which also extends into cultural assumptions.

As a writer, I was surprised how hard I found it not to be ‘in control’ of the language: the exact words people were using were important to me, and I worried about only capturing Frog’s voice and not those of the people we were talking to. However when I started transcribing my notebooks back in the UK I was really amazed at how much of the spirit and character of the people we’d talked to and the situations we’d been in came through in my notes. I usually work with fiction, so working with creative non-fiction meant Samantha and I had some long talks when we were editing the work on what level of truth we were able to represent, and chose the wording of our introduction carefully so that it’s clear it is a creative piece of work: we haven’t made anything up, but the way we’ve put together some incidents or images creates certain connections for our audiences that aren’t explained with, for example, captions on the photographs. It was important for us that the work was given the chance to stand by itself and that some aspects were left unexplained, so the audience has to work to find their own explanation.

           

Can you tell us about the worst and best part of your time spent in China and if there is one moment in that whole experience, which still resonates with you as individuals or, as a shared experience?

Viccy: Rice. As soon as I got back to the UK I bought a rice cooker, which I adore like a pet. I really enjoyed eating rice for lunch and dinner every day. That’s up there in the good resonant memories. The rubbish spilling out of the ditches and the plastics being burnt was a negative experience – the countryside round where we were was breathtakingly gorgeous, and the influx of modern packaging is starting to literally choke areas of the countryside. The characters of the people we met will stay with me too – working with Frog meant we got to have conversations and connections with individuals that simply wouldn’t have been possible if we’d gone with Plan A of observing and describing rather than interviewing.

Samantha: One of my favorite things about the residency was early morning in the kitchen with Grandma. Grandma was the matriarch of the Hé family and she was a tough old woman who had seen many hard times but was always quick to smile or make a joke. Grandma was typically the first person up in the morning. She would feed the pigs and the chickens and often she'd make the baba- a steamed bun that was served every day for breakfast. When I first arrived at the studio I was adjusting to a 12 hour time difference and serious jet lag. As a result I was frequently up with the sun. I would put on warm clothes and head to the kitchen, a room with one side open to the courtyard. There was a small hearth in a metal dish in which grandpa would light a corncob fire first thing in the morning. Grandpa would fill a giant kettle which perched on a three legged riser in the tiny hearth and heat the water for the tea flasks while grandma got to work preparing the pig feed, cleaning the woks and lighting the fire in the stove. Once the water boiled Grandpa would make a giant cup of tea and wander off. Alone in the kitchen, Grandma and I would talk to each other in a combination of terrible Chinese- our two accents skewing our words- and extensive hand gestures. Most mornings we went through this ridiculous routine together, flailing our arms, pointing aggressively, sounding our words out endlessly and laughing at each other and ourselves. Despite our lack of language we were able to share a lot and fundamentally there was a clear understanding that we shared a gregarious nature and a mutual fondness.

The hardest part of the residency was the lack of indoors as we know it at home. The lake valley sits in a mountain range high above sea level. The sun was very strong and air was very dry. The temperatures would swing dramatically, raising to near sweltering at midday and comparatively freezing at night. The kitchen was room with three walls, our living quarters lacked any insulating, and rarely did we encounter rooms with heat. The lifestyle of the people we stayed with existed mostly outside, and while they seemed unfazed by the weather, I found myself constantly battling back sunburn, dust, burrs, and cold. At one point I bought a woolly hat and started sleeping in it to keep myself warm at night. The lack of walls also meant a serious lack of privacy. It was only when we left China all together that could Viccy and I talk to each other about our personal challenges while working in such a foreign environment.

Fortune Telling with the Shaman and friends

Fortune Telling with the Shaman and friends

Was there anything you didn’t manage to capture in your 4,000 photographs and 40,000 words?

Samantha: We only scratched the surface. Even with a year at Lijiang Studio I suspect we would feel as if we were still only scratching the surface.

Viccy: It was my first time being in China and also my first time working in non-fiction and working through a translator so there was loads going on that was very new to me. I think we captured an essence of our time there in our mad data-gathering rush, and I’m really proud of how we’ve distilled that down into Recollections. We had some really poignant experiences that I didn’t even try to write down, because I was only writing down things I thought would go into the artwork: if people told me a story they wouldn’t want shared, then I respected that. And sometimes you need to spend time looking at the world around you rather than down at the page in front of you.

 

You based your compilation style in Reflections on the common place book, which was a popular way of recording material in early modern Europe around the 1600s.  The most interesting thing about these kind of books is what they tell you about the creators of them.  When you were creating Reflections together, what did you discover about yourselves and how you view the world?

Samantha: I was amazed at how differently Viccy and I could interpret the same situation and yet in the next moment we would have exactly the same take on something. I also found being in a third space – home to neither of us – really highlighted the British qualities of Viccy against my American habits.

Viccy: I was fascinated with how different I found attitudes towards family, duty and individual choice while we were in China. It made me more aware of how I take contemporary Western attitudes for granted and apply those ways of thinking when reading historical accounts or accounts of other cultures. Seeing other forms of family structure taken for granted, and the assumption that you will put family before self – through every aspect of life – was really interesting. It also made me more interested in the assumptions we bring to what other people want from their lives and how that affects how we interact with them.

Being in an environment that was so completely different from everything I knew and having my normal ways of interpreting the world taken away from me – words, spoken and written – gave me a much higher level of sympathy with, for example, Chinese students studying in the UK. I also laughed a lot when some of our sign language turned out to be really different, for example Grandma Moon’s sign language for knitting was one-handed, more like crocheting.

 

Viccy, you read a lot of young adult speculative fiction, can you tell us a bit more about what it is that you gain from these books and if you’ve found that you prefer certain stories and archetypes as opposed to others within this genre?  Are there similarities between what you like to read and what you like to write?

Viccy: A series I read as a pre-teen – the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce – has stuck with me my whole life: a strong female protagonist who is working out what it means to succeed in a man’s world when you’re a woman. And it included growing boobs and getting your first period and having crushes so it was an amazing instruction manual for those aspects of life as well as on how to improve swordsmanship and battle wizards in the desert. I’m in love with metaphor, and as a genre speculative fiction allows us to address real issues from a different angle. YA fiction has to be very heavy on plot, something which adult literary fiction doesn’t always master. One thing that irks me though is the prevalence of the idea that a girl has to chose between two men, must find love young and be pure, must doubt herself continually, and must be appreciated for her beauty and melt when men compliment her. A lot of the series which follow the same plot lines as high profile, commercially successful series fail to appreciate how damaging the stereotypes they’re putting out there are. I love writers like Ursula Le Guin, Tamora Pierce, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett who can world-build without reducing characters to nothing more than their identifying traits.

I think my writing sits somewhere between those kind of books and my other readings joys, which are books by people such as Ali Smith, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, David Mitchell. I’m a short story fan too – mainly by contemporary writers, and I think that’s a big influence on my work (pun intended), almost a counterbalance to the heavy plotting of a YA series.

 

The Bone Doctor's House

The Bone Doctor's House

Samantha, you studied Social Anthropology, which is really interesting given you’re a photographer.  We've met with a number of artists recently who studied philosophy and there is definitely a link between making art and indulging in philosophical, sociological problem solving.  What is it that fascinates you most about the people you photograph?   What makes you push the button on your camera?

Samantha: Behind most of my work – documentary and narrative – is the exploration of awareness and consciousness. I've always been interested in these subjects and anthropology gave me the tools to think about the human experience critically. Art gives me the chance to approach existential questions on an abstract plane. Instead of working toward an explanation the goal becomes a feeling, and instead of focusing on the answer the emphasis shifts to the experience. Found or created, a portrait is a powerful tool for connecting us to the matrix of human experience. Often the urge to take the picture is reflexive, and the most exciting part is going back and looking at the pictures to see if that spark you saw in the moment is translated through the picture itself.


Some creative projects take a seriously long time to finish.  How do you keep going on a project, what helps you to stay focussed and driven?

Samantha: Working with Viccy as a collaborative unit means that I'm expected to show up. The commitment to the work as part of our partnership helps keep things going when life becomes complicated or motivation wanes.

Viccy: Working with someone I don’t want to let down is a great motivator. Even if I don’t feel like doing something, I know I have an obligation to Samantha and fulfilling that is a way of paying respect. Having said that, Dirty Laundry took a lot longer than we expected, then we realised we needed to edit and share it in a different way and so what started out as a bit of focussed creative fun turned into a four year leviathan that saw us through the progress of getting grants from ACE and the British Council, designing a new digital platform, and raising £3K on Indiegogo. And we were both working full time on (paying) jobs throughout that. I think we’ve done really well at staying focussed and driven, in fact I’d say what we need to work on – and what we’re trying to do with our new project, Snap, is take a step back from our intimidating focus and allow space for creativity to breath and develop without the stress that builds up through the admin associated with getting grants and sharing work outside of the collaboration.


Can you tell us a bit about your latest project?

Viccy: We’re doing a (more or less) daily creative exchange on Tumblr called ‘Snap’: it’s snapshots from our daily life that we’re going to accumulate and then see where we want to go from there. The last couple of years have been exceptionally busy with crowdfunding and publishing two digital books so we wanted to take a different approach for a while.
 

Viccy, what are your preferred writing tools and what does your working desk look like?

Viccy: Moleskine notebook, pens stolen from hotels. My Macbook Air (bought with my first professional commission, so it’s very dear to me). I prefer a thin lined A5 page, nothing too heavy to carry around. I hate using my phone to make notes- it has to be handwritten or full-sized keyboard typing even if I’m on the go.

My working desk has a fringe of decorative junk – maybe it’s better to call them totems—but I’ll end up making camp in different zones around my flat depending on when I start writing a piece. I now share my study with my partner as I was using all the surfaces available in our flat and he had nowhere to work (he’s also a writer).  I also love working in coffee shops: the background buzz helps me switch off and getting out of a domestic sphere helps kick writer’s block away.

 

Sitting by the Lake with Upright Courage

Sitting by the Lake with Upright Courage

Samantha, what are your photographic tools of choice and do you have a digital editing suite you prefer to work in?

Samantha: I have a Canon 5d mark II digital SLR that I use with a variety of lenses. Canon cameras and lenses are very sharp and most of the time I prefer the quality and color of the old Nikon and Nikkor lenses I’ve had since I was a teenager. When I moved to digital I bought adaptors that allowed me to combine the two different eras of technology. For color correction, cropping, re-sizing and those sorts of things I might use Lightroom or Photoshop. However, I work very hard to get what I want when I'm shooting. In most cases there is little to no cropping, or color correction.

 

Bonus Question: If you could travel back in time and visit anywhere as a tourist (photography is permitted) where and when in time would you go?

Viccy:  Ancient Greece, when the oracle at Delphi was at its height.

Samantha: After all this art talk I would have to say Paris amongst the pioneers of Surrealism. Man Ray was my first great photographer hero, and the philosophical, and psychological underpinnings of the movement appeal to own worldview. I think artists often pine for a movement to be a part of and it would be amazing to see artists of various disciplines coming together with such gusto and verve.

 

You can find out more about Two.5 and download their art books from their website and peripatetic studio.

Vera’s Wilde West Web

Traveling, especially traveling alone, gives us an opportunity to be an undefined version of ourselves.  Job titles, family connections, personal problems or Facebook updates are meaningless to the stranger in town.  While you are traveling, you can step outside of your own expectations of yourself.  You’re not the person who is afraid of heights, you’re the person who climbs to the top of the Eiffel Tower and takes a picture of the view.  Traveling allows you to own your anonymity.

Home should be the place where we are truly ourselves, but it's also where who we are is in the context of; the relationships we have, the objects we own and the things we enjoy.  It’s what we escape from, or miss, while we travel, that context, being known to the people you care about.  Home is being known, being understood without having to explain.

We are still building our home on the internet.  We use terms like 'communities' alongside 'anonymity', creating a battleground between traveling and being at home.  A struggle between being recognized and understood; and remaining anonymous, being free.

The Dark Web is part of the Deep Web, which are parts of the internet not indexed by search engines and contain everything from porn and drugs to whistle-blowing and political discussions.  The Dark Web is just one network where there is no struggle between ideas of anonymity and home.  Everyone there wants to be the stranger in town.

Alabama born writer, artist, traveler and academic, Vera K Wilde, has just published a book of her poetry, Push Coasts, which explores themes of home, traveling and expression.  Vera also recently completed a residency at Hack42 in Arnham, Netherlands.  Her project there was to re-brand the so called Dark Web.   We had a chance to talk to Vera about her work and her views on home, traveling and cyber freedom and it was a really interesting talk.

“Trust Dandelions,” oils on 16” x 20” stretched canvas

“Trust Dandelions,” oils on 16” x 20” stretched canvas

Tell us a bit about your book Push Coasts and, as a traveler, how your sense of place has influenced your artwork, where do you feel is home?

The book is about redefining the concept of home and feeling at home. It presents a cycle of journey poems in four sections: Home Shore, New Coasts, Back and Gone, and Home in the World. So the progression is the universal one from a place of origin and conflict, to a place of experimentation, back to the place of origin, changed, and then away again in an orthogonal way. A launch rather than a leaving, a creative departure.

What that launch in the fourth section requires that’s similar to the experimentation effort in the second is a spirit of “show up and play.” Scientists talk about this in terms of decentralized information systems, like democracies in politics and markets in economics. Artists talk about it in terms of improv, just saying yes, being present, synchronicity, serendipity.

What’s different about that section and the orthogonal response it expresses is the freedom within it finds and grows from a seed of trust. Philosophers from Epictetus to Sartre have talked about how important it is to have freedom in your own mind without regard to external conditions. One of the things modern empirical insights from network analysis adds to how we can understand freedom, in this potentially atomistic way, is the idea that information and emotion bloom along social networks like viruses.

Trust is at that intersection between information and emotion.  We intuitively make decisions about trustworthiness all the time based on information cues from lots of sources, and we feel trusting (or distrusting) at that automatic, or gut, cognitive process level. We’re constantly learning more about how trust is a deeply historically rooted network phenomenon.  That matters for all sorts of outcomes, from individual well-being to country-level economic development.

So all it takes is that seed of trust, and freedom within can spread in a way that actually creates security in reality.  Trust, like mistrust, spirals at lots of levels. People need trust to feel safe to flourish, to find home in the world that is our house.


Do you come from a creative family, what do your parents do? 

My father and mother are good people who have done a lot to help others. I haven’t seen my dad in over 20 years, but he’s saved some lives as a surgeon. My mum uses her counseling and teaching skills in a range of volunteer work with good folks like the Make A Wish Foundation. As a single mum, she lost a few jobs when I was growing up for whistle-blowing, so I’m very interested in how communities can improve helping people who get hurt doing the right thing. For example, we have needed better national security whistle-blower protections in the U.S. for quite some time.

“To Be Given the World”

“To Be Given the World”

You have a very varied, impressive academic track record, what is it that compels you to make art and music and how do you balance the academic work with the creative work? 

Thank you. I just keep doing what’s next. It is not an analytical choice, but in analytical terms, it’s Adorno versus Orwell. Adorno said “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (“Cultural Criticism and Society,” Prisms, 34, 1949). He was talking about how reproducing culture when that culture has been deeply destructive of humanity is an inhumane act.

Orwell said, in “Politics and the English Language” that culture is always going to be heterogeneous and fluid and it’s up to you as a person, artist, scientist, voter, to say what you mean and narrate reality, the human experience, in a way that tells the truth while holding yourself responsible for the fact that the narrative shapes the reality.

Orwell’s point was that this is actually very hard, it’s revolutionary in times of trouble, and it’s core political work that we do as artists and intellectuals. Expression is how we get perspective on the cultural ocean we’re swimming in, shape it and learn.


Tell us a bit about your artist residency in Arnhem, Netherlands, and as you travel, have you noticed any differences in the art scene in Europe as opposed to the UK or the USA?

'The Sociality of Dreams,” oils on 16” x 20” stretched canvas This is a poem-painting about flashes of insight, mutual recognition, trust-building, the way a bunch of people often seem to have the same idea at the same time, and how making art or doing any kind of flow state work is like channeling; very social, very Gestalt, and necessarily social in ways that checks some biases and can magnify others when it’s all in group, all the time so you have to travel, be with different groups, diversify, to constantly question and learn.

'The Sociality of Dreams,” oils on 16” x 20” stretched canvas

This is a poem-painting about flashes of insight, mutual recognition, trust-building, the way a bunch of people often seem to have the same idea at the same time, and how making art or doing any kind of flow state work is like channeling; very social, very Gestalt, and necessarily social in ways that checks some biases and can magnify others when it’s all in group, all the time so you have to travel, be with different groups, diversify, to constantly question and learn.

Now I’m in Lisbon! I’m having a great time and learning a lot exploring the arts scenes in different countries. When I was busking in Mexico City in April, people were incredibly warm, the street performing culture was totally surreal and vibrant, and the police were super professional and nice enough to let me experiment.

In London, it was immediately obvious that the Anglo cultural norms about personal and emotional space change the norms that influence what artists feel ok doing. There is still a really vibrant and beautiful arts scene there, London was the first place that felt like coming home, but it’s a bit more subdued and expensive!

Versus Arnhem, coming to the Continent led me to Amsterdam and Berlin, which feel safer to me because there’s less barbed wire and weapons, more bicyclists and overall a slower pace. Amsterdam is really a place of peace. Berlin is like London but for people on an artist’s budget. I think Berlin probably is now again what it was for Western artists in the late 80s; cheap enough to show up and play, fast enough to network with other up-and-coming artists.

“Man in Prayer,” oils on 9” x 12” paper

“Man in Prayer,” oils on 9” x 12” paper

The residency you did at Hack42, re-branding the Dark Web, sounds really interesting.  Can you tell us a bit about your experience of exploring the Dark Web, what form did your research take and what was your most surprising discovery?

My artist residency at Hack42 was incredibly inspiring. It gave me a chance to talk with leading hacktivists about Internet freedom, what it means, and how we can help the world feel safe to flourish by giving people access to and a better understanding of freedom on the web. I never would have written a lightning talk for the upcoming Chaos Computing Camp in Berlin on re-branding the so-called Dark Web, which we should be calling the EDTR web, without awesome Friday night conversations and way too much Flora Power in the hackerspace.


The residency was also a great opportunity for you to combine your academic work with some many of your creative talents, including song writing.  Can you tell us a bit about how you re-interpreted the EDTR web through creative means?  How did you feel about the artwork born of this project and did you find one art form to be stronger or better in defining / describing the EDTR?

I need a soundproof room under the ocean for songwriting. I have a really good ear, which is sometimes an asset but also a problem when I can’t stand to hear myself making the necessary mistakes - and God forbid anybody else should. So one of my next projects is to learn Protools and work on translating my poetry into song forms that are good enough to put out on the web and perform, but I have to do a lot of work to get the 30ish songs or song drafts I have honed to the best 10-13, rewritten with tighter structure, accompanied as simply as possible. I have no music production experience beyond crawling into my shower with an M-Track, so this is a big project. But I keep randomly meeting music producers and learning how to go about it better.

The EDTR net has a song structured around a refrain that comes from the acronym—Express (feel what you feel), Dissent (say what you think), Teach (share what you know), Resist (fight to the brink). It will take music to re-brand the Dark Web in a way that makes it safer and more sustainable as the crucial resource it is for people who do important work like resisting oppressive governments, helping people out of abusive relationships or gangs, or simply expressing their sexuality in places where it’s still illegal to be who you are.

And it’s fine if EDTR net never catches on, you know? The Dark Web can be a good thing too. I love Ursula K. LeGuin’s description of darkness in “A Left-Handed Commencement Address”, “darkness is your country... where the future is... live there not as prisoners... but as natives... Do your work there... in the earth we have looked down upon... in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls. ”

“The Box Under the Bed,” objects on flatbed scanner

“The Box Under the Bed,” objects on flatbed scanner

It’s a very timely project you worked on, in so much that there are huge questions about how big data and personal information is handled / will be handled in the future. Every Google search is logged and recorded and more people are concerned about their private information being used for things they did not intend.  Anonymity online is becoming more desirable and the use of VPNs (virtual private networks) is on a steady rise. How do you think big data should be handled, especially in light of the work being done to develop artificial intelligence? 

On big data, I’m a big fan of evidence-based work, but more data doesn’t always mean more evidence. So on one hand, studying big data right now is like studying football as a recently arrived Martian.  We have to watch and learn as we go rather than making rigid rules too early on in the process, or we’ll never figure out how this thing works. But on the other hand, it would always be good to see more field experiments where, for example, researchers help local and state law enforcement agencies try different ways of engaging with communities online to combat hate group recruitment and build community trust, rather than approaching big data and the privacy problems it creates as an adversarial process.

In this vein, some of my research, writing, and painting has explored the forgotten Constitutional history of privacy as a Fifth Amendment right.  I think it’s important for America and the world to remember and reaffirm that we don’t cross the sacred line of bodily space in interrogations, that’s what the Fifth Amendment was really about, was recognizing that you owe your confessions to God and not the state, and that no Star Chamber or homegrown analogue could compel such confessions by physically or otherwise invading your sacred internal sanctuary, this place inside you Maya Angelou has talked about. A sacred space that you keep absolutely pristine and where you can meet God, and a space that lets you say no when it’s no.

On artificial intelligence—machine computing lets us automate forms of analysis and calculation people are generally not that good at, like Bayesian updating. Doing that right in medical diagnosis and security decisions can help save lives. Doing it wrong can institutionalize bias in invisible ways. So there are huge positive potentials here, but like with any tool, we want to be thoughtful and keep growing our understanding of how best to use AI, especially in institutional settings like hospitals and governments.

More broadly, Herbert Simon has written on how satisficing works better for human decision-making in general than optimizing, and Hubert Dreyfus has written on how it’s really hard to model high-level human intelligence that comes from unconscious or automatic cognitive processes, intuition, Gestalt insights, and the like. Both of their work might bear on the limited use value of AI in situations where having good people make discretionary rather than rule-bound decisions works better than making people act like automatons. It’s a really simple example, but police in Nevada gave out more traffic tickets when they were required to document more about their stops in an effort to combat perceived bias. Police who were free to exercise discretion did so kindly on average, and the increase in paper work made them more likely to ticket. Sometimes bureaucracy and technology protect civilization, and sometimes they need to get out of the way so people can have tea.


There are a few questions about power when it comes to data, especially given that data sharing tends to be a one way street, where the general public are encouraged to share all information while those in power share very little, some even choosing to pay private companies to remove information on them from the internet.  As an artist, collectors are just as interested in the person behind the art as they are in the artworks they buy, so knowing how much of yourself to share online can be tricky.  Can you tell us some of your thoughts on this?

You put your finger on a difficult tension here. The creative process can be intensely private and deeply social, and the market side of an artist’s job is even tougher in that regard. You have to be on message and have good boundaries, but your role is to tell the truth. So this is something that I think I’ll be working on as an artist for a long time.

More broadly, knowledge is power. That’s why it’s so important for citizens to take care of our political societies by advancing transparency through legal means like FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act) in the U.S., translating information for a broad audience through art and otherwise promoting truth and justice for all.

Sometimes it might seem like governments and organizations disagree about the importance of that core mission, but we all basically share that common vision.

Open mic performance of “Company in Green Ridge State Forest, Maryland”

I think one of the hardest problems about democratizing power through knowledge is choosing what to focus on. Because attention is a limited cognitive resource, and we the people have a political obligation to use it in a way that promotes freedom and peace. When prejudice and violence infringe, we must recognize and denounce them, but we must do so without losing faith in the human goodness that makes mutual recognition possible, that makes hope credible, and that makes us who we are. We must seek justice not as opponents of authority or victims of power, but justice in the form of lifeblood for our positive potentials, justice as forgiveness.


There are some interesting developments happening in America right now, in terms of surveillance, the signing of the USA Freedom Act and the purging of phone records.  Can you tell us a bit about how you view what’s happening in America from an ‘outside the country’ perspective?

I’ve been busy with other things, but am glad to hear about some sensible reforms. The system is supposed to work like a market, with different organizations lobbying for prioritization of different interests, security agencies for security first, civil liberty groups for liberty, Congress juggling their demands. Looks like it’s probably working. When we decentralize counter-terrorism and re-conceptualize it as community trust-building that is when we’ll really know the process is working, because that’s what it would mean to apply procedural justice research, showing that trust makes security and everything we know about chaotic systems - Lorenz, or butterfly, systems in game theory - like messy human societies. Trust, in this information system context, is like a pattern you want the brain to hone in on and have confirmation bias in favour of so that people will be more likely to recognize and act on evidence of trust, creating a spiral of positive interactions.

I’m so on the outside of all this though.

Very humbly and very cautiously, I would want to suggest that we are still at the beginning of a new arms race that will go on for a long time. It’s a surveillance arms race. It’s analogous to the Cold War because it’s a soft power game with hard power implications. Connecting with other activists online to work for freedom was essential for Egyptians at the beginning of the Arab Spring, until the government figured out how to use surveillance to track down those online networks. The same thing happened in Syria, where supposedly the Assad regime was slowing down the Internet in the early days of the uprising to keep activists from networking effectively. And then they figured out they could put out malware and hunt down networks of opponents that way, so they sped it up.

The heart of freedom is too big to surveil, and that is what anonymous spaces for decentralized networks to communicate protect. You do not get to decide what people do with freedom. That is why liberal democracies are hard to protect and serve, but that one of the challenges law enforcement have to grapple with, within the bounds we give them under the law. What opponents of Internet freedom sometimes fail to understand is that people are basically good, and we will do good work, innovate in art and science, help people in need, share what we learn, when we feel safe to flourish. What proponents of Internet freedom sometimes fail to understand is that the web itself, and contemporary telecommunications as a whole, are already too big to surveil, and that’s what can conceivably justify bulk metadata collection and retention programs.

Law enforcement who are risking their lives to uphold the law deserve every tool we can give them to do that, without subverting the very liberty they protect. 
 

In your opinion, what is the best contribution artists can make to an increasingly digital future?  

People like Amanda Palmer and Tim Ferriss, vibrant artist-entrepreneurs, do a great service to other artists and entrepreneurs by doing what they do and telling other people about it.

 

Bonus question: If you could star in any remake of any movie, which one would it be and why?

Casablanca. Something about beautiful beginnings.


 

You can find out more about Vera and her work by visiting her website, where you can read her thoughts on the forgotten Constitutional history of privacy.  Vera’s book of poetry is available here: Push Coasts.

And her lightning talk for the upcoming Chaos Computing Camp in Berlin can be found here.

If you'd like to know more about Hack42, take some time to explore their website.

Have a look and a read of these two artists work and what they are doing in the midst of our digital revolution: Amanda Palmer and Tim Ferriss
 

 

Charlotte Duffy, the Art of Storytelling
and the Magic of Cardboard

‘If history were told in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten’,
Rudyard Kipling.

Goldfish

Goldfish

Tell me a story. One of the greatest requests anyone can ever make of another human being.

Tell me a story. 

The storyteller opens their mouth, starts talking, starts weaving a new reality around you, a parallel universe to explore through someone else’s eyes.  Stories connect us with someone or something, we didn’t know before.

How many friendships have been founded on a shared love of the same books, or the same plays, or the same characters in a TV series? Whether it’s a TV series or a book trilogy, when we meet other people who have heard the same stories as us, we feel like we have shared something, an experience, a moral dilemma, a history. 

Narratives are important to the visual arts.  You can create a piece of art which is technically brilliant, but if it doesn’t have a narrative, it might as well be wallpaper.  A piece of art should speak to you, ignite a something inside you, share something with you.  It should tell you a story.

Charlotte Duffy is not just an artist, she is a storyteller.  Perhaps it’s because Charlotte uses discarded cardboard to create pieces that just by looking at them you can tell they have a history, a story to tell.  She describes her aesthetic as rough, naïve, honest and handmade, but it is also beautiful and engaging. Charlotte’s creations are full of character and it was great to learn more about them and about her.


Tell us a bit about growing up in Fife, do you come from a creative family, where would you go to for inspiration in your home town? 

My mother was a ballerina, my father was an actor / puppeteer and my brother is a filmmaker and photographer. To me that’s just what work looked like, especially with my Dad. I saw him, working as a freelance artist from a very young age and I just thought that’s what everyone’s parents did. Then I realized that’s not what everyone’s parent’s did, not everyone’s Dad made puppets with them at the weekend, or not everyone’s Mums were choreographing community dance pieces. That was the way they chose to interact with the world, to put stories into it, to create things. 

There aren’t many places to go in Auchtermuchty (where I grew up), so it was quiet and it was easy to get lost in worlds of imaginative things, stories and making. The house used to be an abattoir so there are a few outhouses in the garden that were set up as workshops for my Dad to make puppets in. There were tools and materials, I could always make things if I wanted to.  


Do you have a studio or do you work from home?  What does your work space look like?

I have a little studio in my home where I spend most of my time but when working on bigger pieces I tend to share my partners studio space.  Everything is covered in glue and there is always a layer of scraps of cardboard on the floor. I’m not a very tidy worker. 

 

What do you listen to while you work?

I listen to podcasts a lot; the Moth, Mystery Show, This American life. With music, it has to match the pace of what I’m doing. Instrumental stuff like soundtracks to films, or Ryuchi Sakamoto if I’m working at an average pace, but if I’m up against a deadline it’s either Amanda Palmer or terrible metal. Most of the time I have bad television on in the background, so I don’t over analyse what I’m doing as I’m doing it. It has to be crap though, not something I want to watch. It’s just background noise, background visuals.  

Treehouse

Treehouse

Your philosophy studies in aesthetics led you to question the value of art and in challenging these concepts you started working with cardboard. Where the true value of art does lie, as you see it, what value does creating art have for you?

I can’t remember which philosopher it was but I remember really vividly studying this piece that argued that the value of art is rendered somewhat by artistic figureheads in society. If a gallery owner or collector decides that a final piece is of worth then that is what makes it valuable to the masses. I just thought that this was such a horrible argument, but actually there was quite a lot of evidence to suggest that this was a trope that existed in the art world, historically and also currently.

I sort of decided that even if that system of belief was in play I didn’t want pander to it. If the value is added once a piece is finished and sold, or exhibited, then I think that can have really negative effects on two things. Firstly, it can really inhibit the production process, the physical act of making is where the value lies. Purely because that process is why I do it in the first place. It’s cathartic, it’s my way of connecting to everything that surrounds me. I feel like you can tell when an artist is really engaged in the productions process. It is really sad when where a work is going in the end overshadows the initial point of creation,  focusing on something being more valuable because it is going in a respected gallery.

Secondly, I think that if we look at value as being something that only comes with widely regarded and conventional success then the next generations of artists will be effected. Just by stressing making and creativity and by opening up conversations around the topic, young people will feel as though they can be artists without it being dependant on someone else gracing them with that title.

Everyone connects with the world around them in different ways, they process that information differently and what they choose to do with it is really important. If someone finds it natural to go about life by making things in response to their environment then they should feel empowered to do so and, most importantly, valued for doing so. 


We have spoken to a few other artists recently who studied philosophy rather than art.  Perhaps part of the attraction to this subject is getting to explore ideas and the downside is, it doesn’t culminate in you making a piece of artwork.  What was it about philosophy that pulled you in? 

I had an image in my head of being at art school, sitting in front of a blank canvas and realising that, at the age of 18 I didn’t have enough to say about the world. I hadn’t seen enough, or done enough. I didn’t want to make things that didn’t speak true of anything. I don’t think I entirely understood what philosophy entailed either. They never tell you that there are no answers, only questions. And then more questions. I wasn’t really very suited to it.

It is undeniable I got a huge amount out of it, and even just from being in St Andrews, but I underestimated how word based and academic it was going to be. I could only connect to arguments when they were referencing visual images, which is what led me to aesthetics. I could hold onto visual representations of the concepts and I think then I realised that maybe that’s all art is, taking concepts and exploring and expressing them visually, viscerally, audibly, tangibly. I know that sounds like a really rudimentary thing to have realised, but it took me struggling through really interesting but dense concepts in a really, personally, difficult medium to realise it fully.  
 

Cat portrait, commissioned piece, photo courtesy of Mark Liddell - http://www.markliddell.co.uk/  

Cat portrait, commissioned piece, photo courtesy of Mark Liddell - http://www.markliddell.co.uk/
 

There is so much life and character in your work, reminiscent of Doug Tennappel’s comic Cardboard, about a young boy making living things from enchanted cardboard.  One of the many pieces of yours that demonstrates your ability to breathe life into your work, is the portrait you did of a cat. Was this fun to make?  How much has your work in theatre and particularly puppetry, influenced your work?

It was such a lovely project to work on. I was at the fringe selling my work out of a little shack in the West End and Mark (who it was for) approached me to discuss the commission. I got to first hand be told the stories of his cat and his career as a photographer and how he’d documented the cat from being a kitten. That’s why it was so lovely, I didn’t just have to replicate his pet I was trying to translate everything he’d relayed to me. Telling the story of his stories. 

Theatre and puppetry has influenced me a huge amount.  It’s always been about trying to tell an original story. When I first started making theatre at university, it was because I was so frustrated with seeing things that were rehashings or retellings of stories that already existed. My work might not have been polished at the time, but there was an undeniable originality in it and in it’s making.

It was a platform to experiment with the most effective, or satisfying way for me to communicate stories. It also helped me form an aesthetic, one that I have stuck to; the handmade, rough, naïve, honest. It was unavoidable, I guess, you couldn’t see these pieces and props and not almost visualize the hands that made it. So I don’t know if I would have come to that aesthetic, and been confident in it, if I hadn’t had the chance to establish it within the framing of theatre production.

The thing about puppetry that fascinates me to this day, is the concept of an object being brought to life and artists asking a room full of people to believe that it is not object but in fact something that is alive. But that belief can be suspended further if you tell that story in the realest way you can, not literally but figuratively. My adult piece of puppetry involved a puppet being rather violently murdered and disemboweled on stage, everything was very obviously made entirely from recycled materials, I didn’t try to hide that, but people who saw the show said that it was all the more disturbing and upsetting than if it had been an actor playing the part with fancy stage effects and blood and make up. Because they had bought in to the story, bought into these objects being alive that were being killed in front of them. That sort of confirmed for me that I would never need to hide the fact that I was making things from cardboard as long as I made sure that the stories I was telling with it were things that could people could believe in.  

The biggest effect though, was quite early on I knew I wanted to work with children, or make art for children. Making art that wasn’t patronizing and helped them to form an idea of what an artist is. Theatre gave me the chance to work with children, but also to get feedback from them. Children are to the point, they tell you what wasn’t understandable. They know what they like, and they know why they like it. I wanted to always be doing workshops in my own practice, which I still do. I’ve always got a child critic in the back of my head. They just don’t tolerate bullshit like adults do.   
 

I Am The Passenger

I Am The Passenger

This time last year you won the Sculptural Storytelling, Maker of the Month.  This idea of sculptural storytelling is very fitting for your work as there is so much character and life in the things you make.  They are like sculptural illustrations.  Do you find yourself thinking about the narrative of piece when you’re working on it?  Can you tell us about a time when finding a narrative or a way of approaching a piece was particularly challenging?

Sometimes I do think about the narrative while making, especially with commissioned pieces or work that fits into a pre-existing collection. But there is certain amount of just switching off, and allowing my hands make a thing. The narrative must be there.  I’m always constructing narratives in my head, whether it’s somebody at a bus stop, or walking down the street. It’s more about subconsciously accessing that, at times, mindless reaction. I think I only find it challenging when it is forced. 

I find ‘happy’ narratives, things that are intentionally ‘joyful’ really difficult. Maybe cardboard has a sombre quality to it, it feels quite jarring any other way.  There is so much more depth to tiny moments of sadness, or insecurity, or something in the negative spectrum of emotion. There are so many different things to access and work with and to portray that can help to make a piece’s narrative overall more believable, understandable, relatable.

I find it challenging, in human representation, when people just want to find someone that it looks like, or is meant to be, everything is fabrications and imaginings from my head. True things that are seen, but none of them are based, visually, on someone directly. I find that hard that an audience want a point of reference based in fact, in reality. 


On your website you mention the title of your business, Waste of Paint, comes from the Bright Eyes song and you quote a lyric from it.  That quote has a resonance with most artists because, creating can be as much about trying to find meaning as it can be avoiding things!  Can you share with us any ideologies that you have either taken on or been able to dismiss through the process of making art?

I think I decided quite early on that making art has a huge amount of responsibility involved in it.

I just want to be working towards getting the next generation of artists making. People talk about sustainable art, and I think that’s the only way to make art truly sustainable, keep interacting with people about your work and the processes you use in the hope that it encourages them to feel as though they can do the same. 

On my 18th Birthday I got the lyrics ‘ideal ideology’ (misspelt) from Waste of Paint tattooed on my arm. A few years ago I had a cardboard box added next to it. It resonated with me as a teenager but I don’t think I knew why. Maybe I hoped that the future would bring clarity to it.

I think people get very lost in what they are making, and things they are creating, but ultimately, you still need to be outward looking. It is very easy to get caught up in these things, and it is important that you give it a kind of balance. You need to believe in what you’re doing and believe it has worth and importance, but at the same time, be able to keep it in perspective and be able to laugh at yourself. I know that it is a bit ridiculous that I make a living from a material people throw away.


Marcel Duchamp once said that the artist is unaware of the significance of their work and the spectator should always participate in supplementing the creation by interpreting it, which is a comment on how it’s not just making the art that’s important but also, having it seen.  Which proffers the question, who do we make art for?  Who do you make art for and how much do you think about your audience when you’re making a piece?

Now and again with bigger works, when I’m working for an organisation, and a brief, there is an aim for what they want the piece to do. I enjoy that working to purpose. In those situations, I think a huge amount about the audience, because it is for a group of people, and I want to do that well. Like Saltcoats library for instance.

I’ve tried thinking about audiences a great deal in my own practice and I’ve found it quite stifling. It makes me second-guess myself, and edit myself, so I try not to.

In a way, that can lead you to a vulnerable place. I’ve made a lot of stuff people don’t like, but I enjoyed the process regardless. I don’t think it’s always honest when I’m tailoring those stories to an audience in the hopes that it is more likeable, or palatable, or more accessible to the greatest amount of people. I’d rather speak quietly and truthfully to one person, than loudly and pointlessly to a crowd.    

 

High Brow

High Brow

Your work is also reminiscent of Chris Gilmore, for use of cardboard and sculpture, Bill Woodrow, for the cut our aspects as well as re-purposing / recycling waste materials. There is also a similarity to the mysterious book sculptures gifted to various educational establishments in Edinburgh.  Can you tell us about an artist that you find particularly inspiring, and what your 3 biggest creative influences have been up to this point? 

I think all the artists I find inspiring sometimes are not ‘artists’ in the most often used sense of the word. Their work isn’t in galleries for example.

My dad, because he made things with his hands, and if he didn’t know quite how to make what he wanted to make he would learn. He made his work from what we had leftover, tin cans, bits of wood. But also he introduced me to the concept that objects have capacity to tell story. Everything can tell a story. Any object can translate a history, or a story. If they don’t, then you can make one up for them and that is just as brilliant. 

A show called ‘Lilly Through the Dark’ by the River People. It was one of the first times that I saw a very dark story, being told in a beautiful way, but with a tone that was child-like. It was a show for adults, but it recognised that there is a beauty to scaling back, and to naivety. I still think about it now a huge amount. It was a show about a girl killing herself to try and find her father in the afterlife. There was a room full of people applauding a thing that was so dark and it told me it was ok to tell hard stories, or tell that side of life and represent things that are not necessarily ‘nice’ because you can still do it in a way that is beautiful.

Bread and Puppet as well. I visited their premises in northern Vermont. I’ve never seen a performance by them other than videos. It was off season, but I think that had a lovely effect on my work. I saw the theatre objects they use to tell the stories. For the first time I saw the props, and a community of artists that for years have been working to the same mission. They have the same cause and purpose; to tell difficult stories about political injustice, and the atrocities of war. Although those are not things that I want to explore, it’s amazing to see something that though the years has dedicated itself to something, from small recognition, to large recognition, but the recognition isn’t what effects it.

The biggest part of their work that really struck a chord with me though was their ‘cheap art manifesto’. They lay down these rules for themselves, where art is everything, and art is cheap. It doesn’t need to be made from something of value, or something expensive. There is art in making a loaf of bread. Art isn’t a luxury it’s nourishment. I guess that is what I see now, what you have at your disposal should never stop you. If you have something to say, you can. In workshops I kind of try not to teach practical skills, but it’s more about building belief in your imagination.  Stories are from everywhere. I keep seeing gaping holes in children’s confidence today, they want to make things in a shiny packaged way and really, they can tell those stories in a much rougher way. In the same way Bread and Puppet showed that to me, I want to pass it on. 


Do you have a favourite type of cardboard to work with?

It changes. It changes a lot. My first favourite cardboard to work with was the packaging for beer bottles. Co-op French beer, because it was thin 1 ply. It was good for small objects, but it creased in a way I grew tired of. Now I really love amazon packaging. It is single corrugated with a really fine fluting. But really, I like working with any material as long as I has been thrown away. New cardboard feels wrong.  I’m also fascinated by the typography, and the images that are printed onto cardboard. I’m trying to collect pieces from as many countries in the world as possible. Friends bring me back samples from their travels and people have passed the word along and some strangers post me little bits of cardboard. It’s really lovely.

Formal events made him wish the earth would swallow him whole

Formal events made him wish the earth would swallow him whole

How would you like to develop your work, is there another material you would like to experiment with?

I’d like to make large-scale pieces more often. I’d also love to spend time developing perhaps full-scale cardboard environments. I don’t think I will feel done with cardboard until I have done that. I have kind of always had an image of an immersive installation. 

With other materials it would have to be reclaimed, or re-purposed. I’d love to do woodworking. I think that’s the thing, I have to be physically making the thing. I want to be able to use my hands to make things so any change of material will have to facilitate that.  

 

Bonus Question: If you were able to bring to life one of your creations, but it kept all of its cardboard qualities, what would it be and why?

I had tried to capture that social anxiety in pieces before and hadn’t hit it on the head quite like I did with him [Formal events... pictured above]. I’d like to bring him to life, because quite selfishly, I think I would like him in the corner with me at formal events, dry mouthed and sweaty palmed together. But also, he is mid-motion, just tweaking the bow-tie. At times, it also feels mean to have left him in this moment of static, it would be nice to free him of that. 



You can see more of Charlotte's work on her website, Waste of Paint Productions and on her Facebook page.

 

 

The Powerfully Delicate Structures of Deirdre Macleod

Echelman's sculpture installed over the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston, May 2015. Videography by Melissa Henry

The internet is amazing.  The amount of information and knowledge we have easy access to is astounding.  For an artist, having access to all this information means that we have so much more scope for researching an idea or developing a concept.  Access to different ways of thinking and different disciplines like Science, Electronics, Gardening, Sculpture, Photography, is important to creativity.  It is important to explore different ways of understanding the world to allow your artistic work to develop.

Developments in understanding can lead to new art forms and these different art forms and fields of study influence each other.  For example, when designing the Munich Stadium Frei Otto looked to biology and the cell structures of plants.  Janet Echelman’s colourful moving sculptures were influenced by fishing. 

Deirdre Macleod is an artist who has studied a variety of disciplines including; painting, geography and politics.  These seemingly differing subjects find their way into the interlaced structures of her work, creating pieces which are delicate and layered, offering the solid industrial look of scaffolding with the delicate crystalline feel of a snowflake.

After seeing her work glowing on the walls of the Hidden Door Art Festival, we had to know more.  It was a real pleasure talking to Deirdre, who's work is a reflection of her own complexity and depth of thought.

Freep: isometric (2014) pencil on paper, 148cm x 194cm

Freep: isometric (2014)
pencil on paper, 148cm x 194cm

Tell us a bit about your background, you studied in Edinburgh but is that where you grew up too?  Do you come from a creative family? 

I was born in Fife and grew up in central Scotland. I came to Edinburgh in 1991 for post-graduate study and, apart from a few years living and working in the West Midlands and Warwickshire, I’ve lived in Edinburgh since then. There aren’t any artists in my family, but I suspect there is unrealised creative ability there!

 

You didn’t just study painting at Edinburgh, I noticed you also have an MSc in Politics and a BA in Geography, which are quite different subjects from painting.   Tell us a bit about what led you to being an artist and how these other subjects have had an influence on your work.

I chose to study Geography because I was, and still am, interested in how humans relate to, and make use of, the space in which they live, particularly urban space.   But, I’m sure I was also drawn to Geography because it is such a visual discipline. I love maps, field sketches, geological cross-sections and diagrams and, when I was at secondary school, I think it was as much the chance to make line drawings with Rotring mapping pens that appealed as much as the subject matter!  Technical drawing equipment, propelling pencils and diagrammatic  imagery are still really important to my approach to drawing.

Part of the reason that I turned to drawing and painting was because it seemed to offer a more personal way of understanding and expressing my relationship to space and place than the more detached approaches of social science – whether Geography or Politics. Drawing, in its different forms, using a range of materials and supports, provides me with a more personal way of observing and investigating my response to the city. Politics, as an academic discipline, is about aspects of relationships of power. I am aware of spatial power relationships within cities, particularly that between humans on the ground and our built environment, over which we often have very little direct control. This is a theme that influences the work that I am currently making.

After working for about 10 years in public policy analysis and development, I came back to drawing and painting via the summer school programme at Edinburgh College of Art. I was encouraged by summer school tutors to think about studying more seriously and took evening and summer school classes over the next few years to build up a portfolio for my application. I studied part-time, while working and having children, through the College’s part-time degree programme, before transferring into full-time honours study. It was a fantastic chance to get an art education and I’m so glad I did it.

Freep (2014) acrylic rods and acrylic filament, 70cm x 80cm x 90cm

Freep (2014)
acrylic rods and acrylic filament, 70cm x 80cm x 90cm

You mention one of your influences as Piranesi Carceri d’Invenzione etchings.  The influence of these can be seen, particularly in the density of some of your drawings and the perspectives and view points you use.  There is also a likeness to the sculptures of Ben Long.  Can you tell us a bit about what it is about these industrial structural forms that you find most compelling to explore through your drawings?

That’s a good question!  I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit over the past few months. The structures that I’m drawn to are invariably open and delicate, rather than solid. I’m not really interested in completed buildings; I tend to seek out scaffolding towers, steel construction frames and structures that are in the early stages of being built or the final stages of being taken down. These structures have skeletal appearance and are often the bones of a building under construction or deconstruction, or, in the case of scaffolding, a kind of metal exoskeleton for the construction process. What these structures have in common is their openness. With their grid-like and geometric qualities, they seem to draw attention to the urban sky-space, measuring it and enclosing it. As the construction process develops, the open steel frames become solid and the empty space of the air and sky disappears. I find myself re-visiting these sites repeatedly, watching the processes of enclosure and disappearance, almost mourning that  loss.

Looking up from the ground into the city is a key part of what interests me. It’s such an everyday, but universal, urban experience to walk and look up at multistory structures and to feel quite small as a result. I use perspective and viewpoint to try to give a sense of how it feels to look up at these large structures which are under construction and out of reach. I use an oblique perspective in my large-scale drawings, and hang the drawings higher than is conventionally expected, to encourage the viewer to look up at them.

 

Guerrilla Tactics (2013) Acrylic on balsa, 20cm x 28cm x 30cm

Guerrilla Tactics (2013)
Acrylic on balsa, 20cm x 28cm x 30cm

The choices you make on materials to draw on, are very interesting.  Your use of Perspex for example, offers a transparency and layered effect, different to the drawings you do with pencil.  Can you tell us a bit about your preferred mediums, right now, to paint and draw with?

At the moment, I’m using technical drawing propelling pencils, rulers, plastic erasers and smooth, large-scale cartridge paper to create heavily worked graphite surfaces that still retain the definition of individual pencil lines. I’ve also been investigating the possibilities for making smaller drawings on Perspex sheet, both by etching lines and by making graphic line drawings on the Perspex using acrylic paint.

Whilst these sets of materials might seem very different, I find that they have much in common for my work. Both enable me to use a delicate and precise visual language. My drawings are made up of many layers of ruled parallel lines through which I aim to create spatial depth; something that I also seek to achieve through using layers of Perspex in painted 3D constructions.

Importantly, both sets of materials enable me to capture a sense of movement in space and my embodied sense of the city, by which I mean, the way that I experience it through the physical act of walking, climbing, sometimes squeezing past other people, or even occasionally tripping over a step. My drawings aren’t just about what I can see, but what I feel as I encounter the city. With the Perspex pieces as viewers walk around them, the spatial relations between layered component images change; with my pencil drawings, physical movement is expressed in changes in the direction of the ruled lines, which occur as part of the making process as I move around making these large drawings.

 

Skeletal Drawing: sodium vapour (2015) phosphorescent acrylic on masonry, approx. 4m x 9.5m   photo credit: Anneleen Lindsay    www.anneleenphotography.com

Skeletal Drawing: sodium vapour (2015)
phosphorescent acrylic on masonry, approx. 4m x 9.5m  
photo credit: Anneleen Lindsay    www.anneleenphotography.com

We first saw your work at the Hidden Door festival in Edinburgh, given your use of perspex and your interest in structural layering, it was interesting to see you had used light very differently in the Hidden Door space.  The Skeletal Drawings were almost light glowing blueprints on the wall.  Did you deliberately set out to explore structure and light differently, or was this how you reacted to the space you were allocated?  Tell us a bit about your work at Hidden Door.

This year’s Hidden Door Festival in Edinburgh was held in the city’s former street lighting depot, which had lain unused and semi-derelict for a number of years. I love making work that is a response to the site in which the work will be shown, so Hidden Door seemed like an ideal opportunity to experiment with ideas and materials. On the basis of seeing photos and descriptions of the site only, I proposed to make a wall drawing that was pretty much a (very) scaled-up version of the small, Perspex Skeletal Drawings, with the idea that the drawing might be seen from a distance.

However, when I spent time in my allocated space – an  atmospheric, but pretty dingy, barrel-vaulted cellar – I decided to make a semi-abstract drawing that I thought would be more sympathetic to the space and more appropriate to its scale and dimensions. The drawing is, as you suggest, a bit like a blueprint for something that might be under construction, which might replace the existing building, or, which might instead be in the process of being demolished. I wanted the drawing to have an orange glow, partly as a nod to the site’s former role as a street lighting depot, but also to acknowledge the growing obsolescence of sodium vapour street lighting. This year, Edinburgh City Council will replace the current street lights with white LED bulbs, so the orange glow that we’re all so familiar with will soon become a thing of the past. I also like the idea of using a non-fine art material. Phosphorescent paint is sometimes treated as a bit of a pariah medium by artists, but I am convinced that it has a place!

It was a fantastic opportunity to make work for Hidden Door and it tested my physical capabilities and technical knowledge to the full. But, that’s the way I prefer things to be - it’s the way I develop and extend my practice.

 

In 2013 you won the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival prize for your Idiographic Paintings, which were a part of a Neuroscience residency at Edinburgh University and your work can be seen on the walls of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh.  Can you tell me a bit about your residency and how your Idiographic Paintings came about?

During our penultimate year of study, students were encouraged to work with organisations and individuals outside art college through a series of external projects. I took up the chance to work with the Neuroscience laboratories at Edinburgh University, one of which is within the Department of Psychiatry.  I think I thought I might get my hands on some interesting diagrams! Over the course of six weeks, I had the chance to find out about brain imaging which is central to contemporary approaches to understanding psychiatric conditions, to observe research meetings and, with their permission, to observe consultations between patients and their clinicians.

I chose to try to represent the spirit and individuality of some of the patients that I met, through a series of abstract paintings based on overlapping forms that I had been working with in my studio. It was a privilege to work with the patients and I really enjoyed the challenge of working out how best to express something of the patient’s experiences and the Department’s work through my own visual language.

One of the clinicians suggested that I enter the paintings for the brochure artwork competition run by the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. To my surprise, they won and were used as the basis for the brochure and the visual identity for the 2013 Festival. The Department of Psychiatry asked to purchase the paintings that I’d made and they are now on permanent exhibition there.

 

Skeletal Drawings (2015) acrylic on Perspex, multiple pieces in various sizes, each approx. 25cm x 30cm

Skeletal Drawings (2015)
acrylic on Perspex, multiple pieces in various sizes, each approx. 25cm x 30cm

Do you find that the process of creating or making, has any similarities to problem solving, that you’re able to work something out within yourself by the time you finish a piece?

There certainly can be an element of practical problem-solving when I work.  My current interest in sanded Perspex came from trying to find a more robust support for pieces of work that had been mounted unsuccessfully on tracing paper, but I think problem-solving might be too closed a term for what happens when I’m working. 

Often the pieces that I make just don’t work because the image of the piece that I have in my mind, the plan as it were, just isn’t that interesting when I make it. But, if I let myself stay open to possibility as I work, and let my hands lead, rather than my mind, things can begin to happen.  Art is an intellectual pursuit, but it is also a haptic one. Hands can feel and sense things that the eye cannot and I think it’s so important to trust the intelligence embedded in the making process. When I do, often what happens is that I end up somewhere that I didn’t expect, somewhere that is quite surprising, having made something that is often far more visually and intellectually satisfying.

 

What leads you to starting the next piece of work?

Usually it’s an opportunity to make and exhibit new work. I rarely make work without knowing where it’s going to be shown. Site-responsiveness is very important to me. I like the intellectual challenge of working in this way, thinking about the site, its connection to the themes that I work with and working out how best to respond through materials, scale and installation strategies.

Having said that, I’m trying increasingly to make space to experiment with materials, without the pressure of a particular outcome. The Perspex pieces developed from a ‘what if?’ moment when I tried sanding and painting an off-cut of Perspex that had been lying about in my studio. Making space and time to play matters, but, it’s sometimes quite difficult to find.

 

What are you working on at the moment, or, what are you planning on working on next?

Next month, I’ll be showing some work as part of a show of a group of Edinburgh and Border’s-based contemporary artists at Traquair House in the Scottish Borders. Traquair House is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland and has long connections with Jacobite History. Each of the artists involved has been asked to respond to an aspect of the House of their choosing. I am working with a small technical drawing of Traquair House made by Polish soldiers stationed in Scotland during the Second World War.  I’m using this historical drawing to make some small, contemporary 3D constructions which will be placed in different parts of the House.   I’m also working towards a solo show at Gayfield Creative Spaces in Edinburgh which opens on 5 November 2015.

 

Bonus Question: Name 3 books you wouldn’t be without and why.

My three books are all about cities, and how we imagine and experience them. They’re well-worn studio companions:

Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. This is a wonderful fictional conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo in which Marco Polo describes the cities (or is it simply one city?) that he encounters. The imagery is just so vivid.

Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life. This book encourages me to see the cities as a artistic resource – even the simple choice of one particular walking route over another can be a creative act.

George Perec’s Species of Spaces and other Pieces. I love Perec’s interest in what he calls the ‘infra-ordinary’. He deftly shows that the everyday stuff of urban life is fascinating if we look closely and repeatedly. It’s a very moving book.

 

You can see more of Deirdre's work, including her Neuroscience paintings on her website: http://www.deirdre-macleod.com/  

You can also see her work in person at the Curved Stream exhibition, opening on 6 September and running until 30 October 2015 at Traquair House, Innerleithen, Peebleshire. Information on opening times and directions to Traquair House can be found at  http://www.traquair.co.uk/ and  https://www.facebook.com/curvedstreamtraquair

 

 

Alana Brown, City Drifts

'Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods.  Every time you do, you will be certain to find something you have never seen before.'  - Alexander Graham Bell.

One of set of three framed paintings from London psychogeographical dérive. All oil on cardboard, 2015, Alana Brown.

One of set of three framed paintings from London psychogeographical dérive. All oil on cardboard, 2015, Alana Brown.

There's a lot to be said for a good walk.  There are many stories about famous writers and artists who relied on walking as a means of assisting them in their creative process.  For example, Charles Dickens's diaries record how he would develop the plots for his novels during 20 mile walks and Mozart is said to have taken pencil and paper with him on his regular, after lunch constitutionals. Baudelaire called it flaneur, walking through urban spaces, being inspired by the people and the architecture around you, but also remaining a detached observer, alone in a busy environment, free to develop your thoughts. 

The Situationalists of the 1950's believed that through exploring urban areas on our terms, we could unite the two different factors of hard physical surroundings with the human ideals and expression of the individual.  The term psychogeograhy was defined by Situationalist, Guy Debord but, it's arguable that it's truest roots are sunk deep into our unconscious, in the primeval part of our brain.  We need to wander and explore, it is part of what makes us human.  Allowing yourself to drift through a city, choosing your route by how a space makes you feel, or the curiosity inspired by your surroundings can be creatively liberating. 

One contemporary artist who is applying these principles of psychogeography to her paintings is photorealist, Alana Brown.  Alana works in oil, on pieces of cardboard found from the areas she explores psychogeographically.  The lighting and colours used in her paintings, helps to provide a strong sense of atmosphere.  That they are painted on rough edged pieces of waste cardboard affirms to the viewer, that what you are looking at is a fragment of urban living, a piece of human experience torn out of a bigger story. 

We talked to Alana about her work and the art of leaving the beaten track.
 

Tell us a bit about where you come from.  Your dad is an airbrush artist, was he keen for you to become an artist too?

I was born in Scotland and grew up in Blairgowrie, a country town 16 miles north of Perth. It’s quiet and there is a sense of community, but I moved to Dundee during my 2nd year at Duncan of Jordanstone so that I was closer to the college. My parents still live in Blair, and after moving back I’m finding that I oddly missed the place! My dad has been custom painting motorbikes for over 20 years, and comes from a large family of artists and musicians. He always encouraged me to choose my own path, so was very proud that I wanted to follow in his footsteps and pursue art as a career.
 


Does he freely offer you advice on your work and have you experimented much with airbrushing?

Oh, all the time! Ever since I was small he always encouraged me to draw and paint, and was always there to offer constructive criticism on whatever I was working on. Although I did have very little confidence in myself, so he’d very rarely get to see anything I’d drawn or made. Even now he always suggests ways which I can improve my work and develop my ideas, but I still have that lack of faith in myself and my work. I have to admit I occasionally get grumpy at him but I know he’s just trying to help. Its clichéd but my dad is probably my biggest inspiration, especially in regards to my interest in art. We’re so similar that it sickens my mum a little bit!

Sadly I haven’t experimented properly with airbrushing yet, to my dad’s disapproval. He’s always tried to get me to start working with him but, with uni and work commitments, I’ve never had a lot of time to immerse myself in it properly. I first tried it when I was in my 2nd year of art school, but I wasn’t happy with the results so I was a little disheartened about trying again.
 

Tower Blocks, installation made from layers of laser cut cardboard and MDF. Features small holes which the viewer can peer through, illuminating a dimly lit photograph from a dérive.

Tower Blocks, installation made from layers of laser cut cardboard and MDF. Features small holes which the viewer can peer through, illuminating a dimly lit photograph from a dérive.

Your recent work was influenced by your studies of the Situationists and psychogeography in particular.  Can you tell us a bit about your explorations in the cities of the UK?

Psychogeography is a term which emphasises the act of wandering through an urban environment without fully knowing where you are going. This act, known as the dérive, allows the drifter to be lured by aspects of their topography, which in turn leads the wanderer to adopt a new awareness of their surroundings. My most recent project has involved me carrying out my own psychogeographical drifts around not only the four major cities in Scotland but also on a solo excursion to London. I recorded my journeys primarily through taking photographs, however also used sketches and sound recordings to map my trips.

 

Photograph taken from Glasgow dérive, taken on 12th February 2015

Photograph taken from Glasgow dérive, taken on 12th February 2015

The paintings that came out of these drifts through the cities are primarily focused on the city at night and it’s interesting that you explored all of these cities in the UK at night, including London.  Did you go alone on these journeys?  Can you tell us about any unexpected discoveries you had?

All my ‘drifts’ were executed at night, as I like to explore the atmospheric nature of the city after dark. It is much quieter then, even in the city, so the lack of external distractions such as traffic and pedestrians really allowed me to immerse myself in my surroundings. It can be quite dangerous at night, especially since 90% of the time I was completely unfamiliar with where I was heading, so I had to be careful too. Maybe part of the attraction was the element of danger!

I was alone on all the journeys bar one, as I have a friend from Aberdeen who I was staying with who accompanied me on that particular walk. Although it was fun, I did get a different picture of the city purely because I wasn’t on my own. I felt I was only directing the walk to an extent, as she would suggest a way and she knew where we were most of the time, so fully losing myself proved difficult.

I wouldn’t say I had any unexpected discoveries as such, but in London I was approached by a guy who was interested in what I was taking photographs of. Turned out he was an economics student in one of the nearby universities, but had a secret passion for photography! To cut a long story short, he ended up taking me on a wee jaunt around the Barbican area, to show me all this amazing architecture and a place where he dreamed of exhibiting some of his own work. That 20 minutes with him was probably the most excitement I had on that whole trip! I gave him my email, but I haven't heard from him yet. I still have hope!

 

Set of 3 framed paintings of London psychogeographical dérive. All oil on cardboard, 2015. Map printed onto wall underneath to show route of walk.

Set of 3 framed paintings of London psychogeographical dérive. All oil on cardboard, 2015. Map printed onto wall underneath to show route of walk.

Static, oil on cardboard, 2014

Static, oil on cardboard, 2014

The Situationists were also interested in ideas of alienation, and the separation of our psyche from our physical place.  Everyone’s relationship with place is different, whether we view a place as having personality, for example, or as having an influence on our internal state.  Could you describe how you relate to place?

My experiences wandering the cities (mostly) alone at night really did allow me to adopt my own understanding and relationship with my surroundings. It was strange, but I found each city to emit a different atmosphere, or personality as you so rightly describe it, which proved very important for my art practice. As a painter I want a little bit of variety in my work, so I was able to portray the different relationships obtained from my walks through colour. Each group of paintings has its own sort of aura or hue, for example, I found Glasgow to be quite homely. In turn I used a lot of orange and red, so the paintings all became very warm.



Is there a place that is of particular importance to you and is one you can still explore?

As I lived in Dundee for a few years, I guess I have more of a connection to it. Even though I know a lot of the area now, so it is harder to become lost, so to speak, there are still areas I’ve never seen, never ventured to, or have never heard of. I hope in the future I can explore these places even though I have moved back home.


There are a number of photorealist painters among your creative influences. What is it about this form of painting that you find most compelling and the most satisfying to create?

A lot of my inspiration has come from film noir and various different street artists, but a large chunk of it has also derived from American hyper-realism. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and even though I enjoy painting realistically, I can vouch for it being a curse! I tend to try and exploit my representational skills a bit, and I thrive on the viewer’s reaction. It is that moment of perplexity that I strive for, when they abandon themselves to the painting. This in turn only further enhances what realistic painting can do that no other form of visual art can.


How long do you spend on a painting and when do you know to stop, to not overcook it?

I think it depends! Some of my paintings can be done really quickly, others can take days and days. It really depends on the size and the complexity of the paintings. I find brickwork takes a long time for me, but things like reflections or smooth surfaces don’t. Another thing to consider is with using oils, you tend to need to wait for layers to dry before adding the next, so sometimes you need to leave the work alone for a few days. I also have to watch with the ‘canvas’ being cardboard, the paint sometimes sinks into it while its wet, but the primer helps avoid that.


What are your favourite materials and brushes?

I only really started using oil paints just over two years ago, and as I feel I’m still getting to grips with the medium, haven't tried many of the brands available! At the moment I mostly use Daler-Rowney’s Georgian oil colours, which have served me well so far! Main reason being that they were probably the most easy to acquire at the time. For the brushes, the same goes really. I haven't got any particular favourites as such, but I love using tiny brushes and doing really intricate details, whether its to add highlights or alter minor technicalities in the paintings. As well as painting I like to do a lot of drawings, and I use a lot of different types and sizes of fine liner pens. I also love using spray paint, and have a soft spot for Copic marker pens.
 

Underpass, oil on cardboard, 2014

Underpass, oil on cardboard, 2014

How would you like to further develop your work, do you know what the next area you want to explore artistically is?

My paintings on cardboard have all been fairly small in size, so I plan to challenge myself by working on a larger scale. I want to continue my research into psychogeography, so I’m hoping to maybe go even further afield and travel abroad to do some walks. Paris played a huge role in the setup of the Situationists, so I want to go back to where it all began and create my own drifts around the city.

I also really want to experiment properly with the airbrush, and hope to work alongside my dad, whether it be helping him or concentrating on my own projects. He has an unusual talent and it is a less common medium to use, so I would love him to teach me so I can try grasp it myself.


Bonus Question: Would you rather discover a new civilisation, or a new wilderness and why?

I have always loved ancient Egyptian history and mythology, so before going to university I was torn between studying art or archaeology. So because of that I think I would love to find a new civilisation, or at least find one that has been under the ground for thousands and thousands of years!

 

To find out more about Alana's psychogeographical paintings, or to purchase one while you still have the chance, visit her website: http://www.alanajanebrown.com/

 

Chemical Reaction, Hilary Grist and Change is Everything, Son Lux

We came across these videos while researching a spectacular artist who use everyday materials in their work.  Our interview with this mystery artist is coming soon, but in the meantime, enjoy these two animated music videos, which use chalk, blackboards and pins to achieve a wonderful effect. 

 

Directed & Produced by Mike Southworth for Collide Entertainment Drawing and Animation by Hilary Grist, Dana Irving, Adam Thomas and Sitji Chou Equipment provided by Wave Form Media and Alterna Films Additional photography consultation by Dan Jackson