Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Becoming

Katie Ewles

Katie Ewles refers to her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork  Becoming  as “a collection of individual experiences”, describing it as “a catalyst for people to safely connect, to feel part of something; to interact with people beyond the boundaries of space, time and six feet”.

The installation, which has taken on new meaning in the context of the pandemic, looks at the relationship between our individual and collective actions by asking viewers to select a coloured tile, write an anonymous personal message on the reverse and place it within a block within the grid.  

Katie began exploring the physical properties of art making after graduating from John Hopkins’ Peabody Institute with a major in composition. Colour plays a key role in her mixed media work – a counter to the monochrome palette of music notation. 

Drawn to the impermanence of paper collage, Katie describes her art making process as “a constant state of exploration and discovery”. Working as a pianist and vocalist, she often juggles musical and artistic projects, and likens the “collective possibilities of creativity” to playing music in a group.  

We caught up with Katie to discuss the relationship between art and music, how the installation has evolved over the course of the exhibition and why, when the Biennial closes on the February 6, she plans to recycle the tiles in her installation into other collage works so that they “ultimately become the essential building blocks of the future, much like we as individuals continue to create a life for ourselves, secrets and all.”  

Becoming by Katie Ewles 2020 Bermuda Biennial
Top: 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Becoming by Katie Ewles, 2019. 8 x 20 ft.
Above: BNG members take part in the installation at the opening of the 2020 Bermuda Biennial. photograph by Maetog.

BNG: You trained as a musician and later turned to visual art. What made you make the transition?  

KE: I have always had an interest in the visual arts, though my primary focus was on music. While in university, I started experimenting with graphic notation, a form of composition where musical ideas are represented through the use of non-traditional visual syntax, either in combination with or aside from traditional means of notation. This phase was hugely significant in my understanding of how traditional notation is fundamentally visual, and how it might be expanded to communicate a wider range of musical concepts. 

I became increasingly interested in the relationship between art and music. One thing that really separates them is the inherent tangibility of art – while notated music is tangible, music itself is not. I was drawn to the physical properties of art and art making and started experimenting with different media. 

I was fascinated with collage early on. I would cut out pieces of musical scores and stick them back together in a different order. I enjoyed the impermanence of creating with collage: I could always shuffle things around and create something completely different. I liked working with materials and how my art projects took up literal space. I liked using color, it was a refreshing element in the world of black and white musical notation. 

Now, for me, creating visual art and using visual processes in my music-making has become a regular and valuable way to draw inspiration and communicate a wider range of expression. 

BNG: Is music still a big part of your life? In what ways? 

KE: Absolutely! Most obviously, it is a large part of my income – I regularly gig as well as teach and record/produce. Beyond that, music continues to play an important role in my self-expression. For me, music can be spontaneous. Of course, my creation of visual art can sometimes incorporate elements of spontaneity, there is most always some physical artifact. Comparatively, music is intangible and passing – it can exist almost in the same way that a thought or conversation might. 

In this same sense, I also love the collaborative qualities of shared music-making. I am primarily a pianist and vocalist and regularly play as part of a group. There is something beautifully spontaneous, trusting, and vulnerable about this kind of experience, particularly when improvising. I think this has had a huge influence on my interest to create interactive artworks that incorporate elements of spontaneity and ephemerality and has helped to compel my interest in exploring the connective possibilities of creativity. 

BNG: What is the relationship between art and music to you? 

KE: I think in many ways art and music are very similar: they are both a means of human expression and have the ability to communicate ideas and feelings beyond what can be described with traditional language. They fundamentally differ in the sense that art is a spatial medium and music is temporal.  

While artworks primarily exist spatially, they are observed and understood in time. This in itself doesn’t make art a form of music, but it does point to the essential component of the ‘observer’ that exists in both music and art – even if the observer is the creator themselves. 

In principle, the observer is subject to the same essential conditions as both art and music: space and time – you cannot see a painting if it does not get within your range of sight and you do not take or have the time to look at it.   

When I consider the significance of an observer in both of these forms, the role of choice and intention becomes critical: if one chooses to observe or create with intention, the creation is valid, whether spatial, temporal, somewhere in between, or even imagined. 

For me, understanding art and music in this way has opened my mind to the endless forms creative products might take, both of themselves and through interpretation. Beyond that, this understanding has, from my perspective, solidified the creative arts as an extension of the individual, both expressively and perceptively, with the potential to become a catalyst for understanding when shared. 

An examples of a graphic musical score written by Reed Maxson, which inspire Katie. Sourced from reedmaxson.com

BNG: Do you approach the two mediums in different ways? 

KE: In general, I think my music tends to express emotion and my visual artwork tends to favor expression of ideas and concepts. This is not always the case, but I have wondered if this tendency might be subconsciously influenced by each medium’s fundamental nature seeming more effective at conveying either emotion or ideas. 

Often, music comes to me spontaneously: a melody that reflects my mood at that time. Emotion itself is quite an instinctive and transitory human quality, so I think for me, music is often the ideal medium for communicating and embodying this restlessness: with a form that is inherently transient and can in itself resemble the quickly changing flow of emotion. 

Comparatively, when I am making art, my process is often more calculated; I have an idea I want to express and develop a concept to present it visually. Emotion often has a place within this structure, for example with use of color, however, for me, color is often a device with which to support conveyance of the idea. In some ways, I think the physicality and relative permanence of tangible art can make it a more accessible medium for communicating ideas – one has the opportunity to consider the artwork from different perspectives in their own time. 

BNG: Are there any synergies between the two? In what ways? 

KE: The most obvious synergy between these two mediums in my practice is the effect of listening to music while creating art. For example, I often listen to dance music when I am in the process of creating a collage that involves hundreds, sometimes thousands of square tiles. I think the precise, rhythmic characteristics of dance music translates into the calculated nature of the artwork. Comparatively, I might listen to jazz improvisation when creating something abstract. The spontaneity captured in the music often propels me to follow my instinct and explore unusual shapes, colors, and forms.  

BNG: Do you work on musical and artistic projects concurrently or are the two very separate discipline for you? 

KE: I am almost always juggling multiple musical and artistic projects – I like to think it keeps things fresh! I’m also always on the lookout for ways to combine these disciplines into singular projects, whether through blending the boundaries of each medium into a synthesized, synergetic hybrid or utilizing them separately in the same project, for example, with film. 

BNG: You describe your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork as “an exploration of the human condition through paper collage.” What do you mean by this? 

KE: The exhibit is titled Becoming because the installation is principally about evolution – the artwork is continually in the process of becoming. This feature is at the center of how the artwork might reflect the human condition and experience. 

Our experience as a human is constantly in flux, both within ourselves and with our surroundings. Existing in a temporal and spatial world forces us to make choices within our finite lifetime. Our choices, whether big or small, passive or active, are influenced and determined by our personal experience and ultimately compound into our greater whole; our sense of self; our reality. 

In ‘Becoming’, participants directly confront these principles – they are forced to make a choice, and their choice changes their perception of the work, and by extension, their reality in that moment. Moreover, their choice changes the artwork itself. 

Consequently, participants are confronted with the choices and realities of others – both before them and those to come. What results is a beautifully complex transcendance of what is; we know ourselves and our reality, but we sense how much we do not know. 

The constant and collective evolution within the artwork, propelled by individual participation, and in combination with hidden written elements aims to explore these ineffable human truths. 

Autumn, from Refractions of Mankind by Katie Ewles, 2019. Mixed medium. 30×30″

BNG: Your first solo show Refractions of Mankind, held at the Bermuda Society Of Arts in 2019, also focused on paper collage. What is it about this medium that intrigues you? 

KE: I think what fascinates me most about collage is that it is fundamentally about the process: assembling various materials and forms into a new whole. I like that it feels spontaneous but at the same time methodical, like I am in a constant state of exploration and discovery.  

I think collage is unique in the way that it can reflect our daily processes: one might think of arranging their schedule, cooking their meal, or decorating a room as a form of collage. Although the process of collage can at times become repetitive and somewhat mechanical, I like how this also mimics aspects of our daily lives: wake up, eat, sleep, etc. Though the process might feel mechanical, each day and each piece of material are ultimately unique. 

I also am drawn to how collage, in itself confronts the dynamic between parts vs. whole; the individual vs. the collective. Materials are given context by what is placed around them, much like we are contextualized by the environment that we are in or the experiences we have over time. I like the tension that exists here, a constant push and pull between internal and external forces. These concepts are central to much of my work in collage. 

I think the process-based nature of collage is also what makes it an appropriate medium for Becoming, an artwork that is characterized by the process of becoming: change and evolution. 

BNG: Your Biennial artwork allows the viewer to take part in the art making process, by selecting a colored tile and choosing where to place it within the room. This takes the control of the finished artwork away from you and puts it into the hands of the viewers. Why did you choose this approach? 

KE: This choice had a lot to do with exploring the fluidity between the individual and collective experience. When we look at a piece of art, hear a piece of music, engage with anything, we have an individual understanding of what that subject might be or represent based on our personal experience. In a sense, the subject becomes and is what we perceive it to be, but in the process, we project ourselves onto the subject – it becomes an extension of us. 

When the subject is experienced by a collection of people what results is an array of different realities. Though each reality differs, they are all equally true. I wanted to find a way to visually portray this exchange: that ultimately art becomes what it is perceived to be – we as creators cannot control what people take from our work; we cannot control its final form. 

This idea is explored through allowing participants to leave their mark as they interact with the work. For every observer the installation is not only introspectively unique, but also tangibly. The artwork ultimately becomes a collection of individual experiences, both physically and symbolically.   

BNG: Before placing the square of their choice,  participants  are asked to write a secret on the reverse which shall remain private and known only to you. Why is this? 

KE: There are a couple different motives behind this component of the installation. With the theme of the Biennial being Let Me Tell Youl Something I thought it would be interesting to invite viewers to literally tell me something. 

More symbolically, this secretive component is intended to embody the experiences of other observers that we will never fully know – both within the immediacy of the artwork and beyond. 

I like how this can be understood as illustrative of the complexities of knowing – we see things on the surface, but often do not understand the subject in its entirety, whether living or inanimate, in part due to the basic limitations of our own perception and individuality, but also due to the limitations of our communicative mediums. 

I think even when I do read the reverse of the tiles, I will be subject to the same limitations that participants were: I will create my own understanding based on my experience, but I know while my understanding of what is written is valid, it is only one reality, and I have no way of knowing the author’s true, individual intention in their message. 

becoming by Katie Ewles 2020 Bermuda Biennial Bermuda National Gallery
A visitor adds a tile to the installation which has grown organically over the course of the exhibition.

BNG: Has the piece evolved over the run of the exhibition as you imagined it would? 

KE: Yes and no. Yes, in that many of the expectations I had for how it would develop visually have materialized: groups of tiles creating larger formations, particularly on the far wall upon entrance; a concentration of tiles around eye-level; rogue tiles that frame the extremes of the grid. 

No, in the sense that participation was hindered by the effects of the pandemic and so the visual is more disseminated than originally anticipated. It will be really interesting to read what people have written on their tiles as I imagine the events of 2020 will have influenced the content and it will trend towards something different than initially expected. 

BNG: The work centers on how our individual choices affect the collective. This is a notion that has taken on renewed significance over the past year amidst the pandemic which has reminded us of both our individual responsibilities and how our actions impact the health of the wider community. Do you think that is something people are more aware of than before? Has it changed your approach to the work in any way? 

KE: I think certainly, in general, people have become more aware of how their actions impact the wider community – I know I certainly have. What once felt like an individual choice, for example, going out to lunch with friends, now feels like a choice you are making not only for yourself, but for those you interact with. I think maybe it has always been this way, there are consequences of every action we take, however, with the pandemic these consequences have become more obvious and associated with greater risk. 

In terms of Becoming, there are obvious ways in which the pandemic has added new context to the installation: a participant choosing whether to install their tile as part of one of the growing formations or to isolate it away from the other tiles might now feel the experience is strangely analogous to the choices and challenges we currently face as individuals in our society. Becoming is fundamentally about change and evolution – the artwork develops with the choice of every participant, and with the added context of the pandemic, each participant’s choice suddenly feels much more critical. 

At the same time, aside from this pandemic-infused analogy, I have started to view ‘Becoming’ more and more as a catalyst for people to safely connect; to feel part of something; to interact with people beyond the boundaries of space, time, and six feet.  

BNG: When the exhibition closes the artwork (in its current form) will effectively be destroyed when it is de-installed. This was a conscious decision. Why is this? 

KE: Beyond logistics, I think this comes down to the artwork being fundamentally about the process of becoming. The work is subject to the same conditions and limitations that we are as people: a finite lifetime; the restrictions of our own physical being. I chose to embrace these conditions, rather than resist. These conditions have the potential to drive change and evolution. They don’t necessarily destroy what is, but rather, transform. 

While I will be sad to see the installation deconstructed, I also know the components of this piece will go on to become other works, and even reveal their full form: the writing hidden underneath. In some ways, I think this isn’t so much destruction as it is liberation. 

BNG: You explain in your artist statement that the squares will later be reused in other projects. Do you have a specific project in mind? 

KE: My plan is to methodically uninstall the tiles and analyze the written material alongside information I collect about their relative placement. It will be interesting to see if there are any trends that arise. For example, are there words that consistently pop-up? Is there any correlation between the written content, the color of the tile, and where it was placed on the wall? 

Though much of this analysis will be objective (i.e. the word family appears eighty-four times), when it comes to analyzing subjective material I will be at the mercy of my own individuality. I like this – it is a reminder that even as the creator I am answerable to the same limitations as the work I create and the people I share it with. 

Ultimately, following analysis, fragments of the tiles will be reconstructed into new, double-sided collages: one side color, the other writing. My hope is that there will be clear trends in the written content so that the artworks might explore these subjects (e.g. the word ‘care’ written in many people’s handwriting collaged together). 

This continuation of the installation is really about embracing the spirit of ‘becoming’ and giving new life to what was, and what will be.

Let Me Tell You Something, the 2020 Bermuda Biennial, closes on February 6. Click here to tour the exhibition.   

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Biennial in Retrospect

Let Me Tell You Something

The doors to the gallery have reopened, providing a four-week window to see Let Me Tell You Something the 2020 Bermuda Biennial before it closes on the 6th February. The exhibition opened in early March when the coronavirus pandemic had yet to reach our shores. The artworks were all made before anyone had heard of Covid-19 and yet so many of them speak to the tumultuous events that were to unfurl in the year ahead.  

Looking at the Biennial artworks today in light of 2020, many have been imbued with a new, almost prescient relevance. From the notion of home, transformed in ways we could never have foreseen, explored by Antoine Hunt;  to the underlying  anxiety so humorously captured by Bryan Ritchie, the works in Let Me Tell You Something remind us that the best of contemporary art reflects the moment in which it exists.  

To celebrate final run of the exhibition, we caught up with several of the artists to look back at their work and discuss what it means in the context of twelve months which we will never forget.  


becoming by Katie Ewles 2020 Bermuda Biennial Bermuda National Gallery
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Becoming by Katie Ewles, 2019. Mixed media installation. 8 x 20 ft.

Katie Ewles on how our individual responses affect the community: 

“There are obvious ways in which the pandemic has added new context to the installation: a participant choosing whether to install their tile as part of one of the growing formations or to isolate it away from the other tiles might now feel the experience is strangely analogous to the choices and challenges we are currently facing as individuals with our society.   

Becoming is fundamentally about change and evolution – the artwork develops with the choice of every participant, and with the added context of the pandemic, each participant’s choice suddenly feels much more critical. Many tiles are crowded together, creating dynamic areas of dense color, texture, and contrast. Other tiles are boldly isolated from the growing formations.

While at first the larger formations might appear paramount to the peripheral tiles, now, within the added context of the pandemic, these structures feel unexpectedly vulnerable: susceptible to our human tendency to want to contribute to something larger, creating structures in constant flux – unpredictable; undefined. In contrast, the outlying tiles have gained a silent power: quietly filling space, removed from the focal point, but nonetheless carrying great impact in creating a network that reaches across the entire space.  

What I suppose has most circumstantially changed my understanding of the artwork in terms of the pandemic is my perception of the areas that have not been filled in. What before I thought of as empty squares, waiting to be filled, now feel like they stand for something much more: they represent a year of restriction; a year of choices to abstain; a year of creating alternatives. They in themselves represent unpredictability and potential.

In terms of what Becoming has become, these empty squares illustrate what may have been lost, but also hope that there is more to come. In the same way that the outlying tiles could be understood to represent a new beginning, these empty tiles are filled with the power of what can be.”


Christina Hutchings Fast Talk 2020 Bermuda Biennial
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork FAST TALK by Christinas Hutchings, 2019. Ink on paper and plexiglass. 17 x 13 in.

Christina Hutchings on digital communications: 

“The historic events of 2020 have shifted the way I look at digital communications and my 2020 Biennial artwork. FAST TALK was made before the 2020 pandemic. It is a linear drawing and a collage combination. The ink lines and metal rods are representations of the crisscrossing paths of undersea communication cables and the orbiting overhead communication satellites which transmit our day-to-day information.   

My view about the artwork has shifted from imagining our words and day to day information as a scrambled digital code transmitted by undersea cables stretching across the sea floor, or orbiting satellites above; to an appreciation for a greater capacity to connect face to face

The digital communications of the 2020  pandemic permit a higher level of human connection among family and friends by conveying visual information, in fixed images as well as in real time. Because of this, we can better share, our emotional connections, even in the absence of physical proximity. 

There is second adjustment in the way I view FAST TALK.  In the artwork, the ink lines and metal rods represent the communication cables; I imagine them to be ropes or mooring lines which secure our island to the mainland continents.  This image of the small island of Bermuda being affixed to large landmasses – the rest of the world – alleviates the feelings of remoteness on the island.  Which is an added comfort during this time of isolation.”


Jayde Gibbons All The Kings Men 2020 Bermuda Biennial
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork All The Kings Men by Jayde Gibbons, 2019. Photography and mixed media. 72 x 96 in.

Jayde Gibbons on the Black Lives Matter movement: 

The Black Lives Matter movement has simply amplified what I and countless others have been saying for decades. It is exciting to see that the Black Lives Matter Movement has had an impact on the local art scene, and I believe that it’s because of this, that black Bermudian artists have recently been allowed to occupy space in spaces that haven’t been so welcoming to us in the past.  

The purpose of Queendom Heights has, and will always be, to instill a sense of pride in my Bermudian people, specifically Black Bermudians. Queendom Heights is a direct manifestation of what we’ve known since the beginning of time, that Black Lives Matter, and that we are real people whose stories and traditions deserve to be documented and celebrated, not exploited because we’re trending.” 


Arie Haziza Wild Randomness 2020 Bermuda Biennial Bermuda National Gallery
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Wild Randomness (Triptych) by Arié Haziza, 2020.
Mixed media on canvas. 48 x36 x 2 in.

Arié Haziza on the impact of Black Swan events: 

“To me, the ongoing pandemic has certainly brought home this idea that the future is what’s left after our complex and hyper-connected world is disrupted. This was introduced in my previous artworks but not fully developed. Along those lines, I have started exploring various ways to represent and experience what is ultimately a smaller and smaller physical world we are living in.”


Catherine White Figment 2020 Bermuda Biennial
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Figment by Catherine White, 2020.
UV print on aluminium. 12 x 36 in.

Catherine White on loss

This period of time truly sharpens the point that moments are fleeting. How many people are now thinking back to the last moment they saw their loved ones?  So many untimely passings

As someone who was sheltering alone during the pandemic, there is the connection between people that was also keenly lost.  I remember heading out on early morning walks during the first lockdown, and the simple pleasure of bidding a stranger “good morning”.  Isolation from family and friends, can create a void where you lose who you are.  Connection grounds you. 

Loosening these links between people over last year will have a lasting impact and those moments together that we do have should be cherished.” 

Click here for a virtual tour of the 2020 Bermuda Biennial exhibition,  sponsored by Bacardi Limited.  

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Peaceful Art Protest Mural Project

Dennis Joaquin

The City of Hamilton’s mayor, Charles Gosling, together with Bermuda National Gallery director Peter Lapsley last week unveiled two murals produced as part of the Peaceful Art Protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The public artworks mark a collaboration between the BNG and VIVID – the City of Hamilton’s Public Art Initiative as part of the programming for Let Me Tell You Something, 2020 Bermuda Biennial.

The artworks were submitted to the Peaceful Art Protest, a project conceived by former Bermuda Biennial artist Rachel Swinburne and were translated into murals by Dennis Joaquin. The Peaceful Art Protest, an open call for work by artists of all ages, was set up as a way for people to express their solidarity through art ahead of the historic Black Lives Matter march which took place in Hamilton in June 2020.

Mural artist Dennis Joaquin worked for BELCO for 25 years before retiring in 2010 and embarking on what he describes as “a creative journey of self-discovery.” The self-taught artist meticulously translated both a photograph taken by Meredith Andrews and three drawings made by primary school children into larger-than-life murals. 

We caught up with Dennis, who credits the Peaceful Art Protest with reminding him of why he loves to create, to discuss his process and how for him the murals felt like “an historical event of energetic change.” 

Mayor of Hamilton Charles Gosling, Peaceful Art Protest founder Rachel Swinburne, mural artist Dennis Joaquin and BNG Executive Director Peter Lapsley at the launch.

BNG: Have you always been creative? 

DJ: I come from a very creative family with a history of mechanics, masons, and seamstress, so I was surrounded by creativity at a young age. My biggest influence has been my mother, as she has shown me there is no limit to what one can create, which is displayed through her handy works all around the house.  

I have always been creative. I started by copying comic book illustrations using pencils, brought my first airbrush at 16 years old and started to paint portraits and decorated anything I could find. I started studying master artists and different techniques until I found my own style.  

I learned how to sew and started designing and performing puppetry. l learned how to play the conga drums and wrote poetry. Before the lock-down in March, I had for the past five years been working with an Alzheimer’s and dementia charity, and was able to use these skills to entertain and teach art basics to our seniors at various homes.  

This was all thanks to the positive creative surroundings that influenced me as a youth. 

BNG: What was the first mural you painted? Have you painted many others across the island? 

JD: The first mural that I was a part of creating along with Kendra Earls, is located on the front of the public restrooms at No1 Car Park on Front Street.  

From there, I have created and or have been a part of the creation of ten murals on the island, most of which are on private estates. 

Bermuda National Gallery Peaceful Art Protest Mural Project
The first mural, based on a photograph taken by Meredith Andrews, is located at No1 Car Park on Front Street. The location was chosen to mark the start of the route of the BLM march, the largest gathering of its kind in Bermuda.

BNG: How do you approach a mural project? 

JD: Most murals I can approach free handed, as with the first art work that I painted with Kendra Earls. We had an idea of what we wanted, found illustrations on the subject matter and then painted it.  

For the translation of photographs and illustrations that need be precise or to scale to a mural, like the Peaceful Art Protest murals, I use Photoshop. There I can design a stencil that will help me get all the right markers in place to create a good representation of the image I am to transfer. This is a technique that I learned as an air brush artist and graphic t-shirt designer. 

BNG: What were the challenges of working on the Peaceful Art Protest murals? 

JD: Probably the only challenge I had was the weather, hoping that the rain wouldn’t ruin the work, but the weather was great for the four days I worked on the Front Street Mural. 

Again, weather was an issue for the primary school exhibit on Queen Street, but gratefully it held until I was able to complete all three images. 

The energy and responses from the passers-by were most encouraging and inspirational. I had great positive conversations that uplifted my spirit and spurred me onward to paint more. It reminded me why I love to create. 

Bermuda National Gallery peaceful Art Protest murals
A second mural, based on three drawings submitted by primary school children, can be seen at the top of Queen Street, along the route of the march which passed in front of this location as it moved through the City.

BNG: What has the overall experience of completing the Peaceful Art Protest murals been like for you? 

JD: I feel honored to be a part of what I consider to be an historical event of energetic change. I almost feel like the scribes of old, recording today’s events for historical reflection. 

BNG: Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in pursuing the arts? 

JD: I think the most amazing gift that humans have, but take for granted, is the imagination. It is the greatest tool one has to express one’s inner being outwardly, the place where we make the invisible visible and create the world as one chooses it to be.  

My advice would be to train your imagination daily. Like an athlete trains for strength, we train for visions of new ideas and progress for future goals. An imagination is a terrible thing to waste. So use it wisely. 

The full selection of artworks submitted to the Peaceful Art Protest can viewed at www.peacefulartprotest.bm

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Sketching with Objects

Flurina Sokoll

Like many of us, Flurina Sokoll has always been drawn to collecting things. As a child growing up in Switzerland, the Slade graduate would walk across meadows on her way to school and back, picking flowers as she went – carefully looking and selecting, honing her observational skills and intuition. This meticulous approach to collecting has stayed with her and informs her fine art practice today.

Driven by an emotional response to leftover objects, Flurina collects and arranges found objects that she is drawn to in order to create compositions imbued with new meaning. The artist, who has two artworks currently on display in the 2020 Bermuda Biennial, likens the process to a two-dimensional approach to drawing.

We caught up with Flurina, who completed an MFA in Fine Art at the Slade School in 2018 and won the Art Association Graubünden’s Art Award shortly before moving to Bermuda in 2019, to discuss her unique approach and how the move from London to Bermuda is influencing her art.

Flurina Sokoll, untitled (rearrangement), Artist’s Studio, Bermuda 2020
Top: 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Round About Through Flowers by Flurina Sokoll, shown here in her artist’s studio, Bermuda, 2020. Image by F. Sokoll
Above: Flurina Sokoll, untitled (rearrangement), Artist’s Studio, Bermuda 2020. Image by F. Sokoll

BNG: How do you approach your practice? What does the process look like?

FS: Hard to say where my process really starts. I guess with collecting. It is an act which needs a conscious decision to want to carry something with me. This is accompanied by all sorts of feelings and it can be by all sort of things – images, readings, nature, environment, people, stories, music…but mostly leftover objects and materials. Unused, cleared out, thrown away.

I collect such remnants in my daily life and then they accumulate in my house and studio. There is a clear order to it. I never want to just accumulate. I have to be able to find time for every single piece and make a conscious decision about how to use or handle it. I have to arrange with these findings. I directly sketch out in the space with objects by arranging and rearranging. Through these actions, my emotional response to the objects broadens as I break things up into smaller details, into its elements, which I then use to walk into even more precise arrangements.

Take a mug as an example: you can think of its use, its story, its cracks, its traces of use, but then it is also just ceramic, it has a particular feel, its colours, shapes, how the light shines into it, etc. There is a lot to discover just in a simple mug. I’m able to enhance particular aspects differently through movement; often emotional and intuitive.

Later, arrangements may need some kind of binding. That’s when drawing in 2D comes into place with more of a design-led approach. Think of a flower arrangement which needs a vase to be positioned in a particular spot. Then in another step there is the positioning of the arrangements inside the vase. There are several aspects to it.

BNG: You have exhibited in very diverse spaces – from the Crypt Gallery, based in the crypt of St Pancreas Church in London, to contemporary galleries which have a very clean, industrial feel to them. In what ways does the environment in which the artworks are placed tell part of their story? Does this influence the work when you are making it?

FS: I am very intrigued by spaces and environments and I often need to focus my energy in order to avoid being distracted by a space. In sketching out my arrangements in the studio, I use objects as tools that allow me to discover the space. Equally, the space itself can influence the sculptural arrangements.

I may move my arrangements into other spaces within the making process, although I have stopped referring to my art as environmental because it is first and foremost about the sculptural arrangements and how they find their position in the space.

When it comes to exhibitions, there are often other factors:  a short time frame, other artworks in the same space or curatorial decisions that can affect me. It helps to focus on the sculptural arrangements primarily and knowing from them how they best connect with the surrounding space. Then, if time allows, I can open it up again and let the environment of a particular space influence more again.

Flurina Sokoll, untitled (rearrangement), Artist’s Studio, Bermuda 2020.
Image by F. Sokoll

BNG: You have said that your practice is deeply rooted in your childhood memory of flower collecting. In what ways?

FS:  My childhood memories of flower collecting serve as a metaphor for aspects of my fine art practice. I will explain with an extract from ‘Florets’ which I wrote in 2018:

‘In the small village where I grew up, I had about a forty-five-minute walk back home from school, up the mountain and over the meadows. This led me to collect flowers almost every day in almost every season. It feels as if I would still like to walk over these very fields, collecting flowers and making a bouquet out of them to bring home. Everything about this action fascinates me: the resolute choice to pick one particular flower out of the plenty, the act of picking itself, the colours, the textures. The season, the whole ambiance, the path and the walk, the time. Holding the flowers together in my hand and eventually putting them in an appropriate vase. Filling the vase with water, putting the object in the right spot, nursing the flowers over the following days, maybe relocating them and accepting that they fade quickly, maybe drying a few single flowers out of the bunch and then stowing away the vase.’ 

BNG: Is collecting objects something that you have always done?

FS: Yes, always. Well, we all do to a certain degree. Don’t we?

Flurina Sokoll, untitled (rearrangement), Artist’s Studio, Bermuda 2020.
Image by F. Sokoll

BNG: You recently moved from London to Bermuda. As an artist, how have you found the transition?

FS: It has given me the opportunity to show my work here in Bermuda at the Biennal – which is a great honour. Bermuda is much quieter and it has been good for me to not be too distracted by the noise around me, which happens quickly in the vanguard of London. But I also miss London and would love to live and work there again at some point. 

BNG: Has the move to Bermuda impacted your practice? In what ways?

FS: Yes, 100%. I’ve been on island since February 2019. At first there was a lot to organize on many different levels and I needed to take my time. I’m now at a point where I’m able to open myself up more to all kinds of new inspirations and I am sure this will manifest itself in my practice in more depth.

As with most things, I try to achieve this not in too searched a way but more subtly. It happens in daily life and in its reflection upon it: through Bermudian houses and buildings I enter, people and their stories, objects I find on my way, colours, nature…and maybe also new dreams that I start to dream.

I have a studio here and I’m continuously making work. I have a certain vague idea of my “Bermuda series”  It’s starting to take on some form but it’s in in the early stages and I’m not sure yet where it will lead me to.

BNG: You have won several awards and grants. How have these helped you to develop as an artist? What advice do you have for emerging artists in terms of both funding and furthering their practice?

FS: They helped me a lot, certainly financially but also and perhaps even more importantly with recognition. Especially the Art Association Graubünden’s Art Award which I won a year ago in Switzerland with which I won my own book publication and a solo show.

I have also put a lot of energy into preparations and interviews for prizes that I didn’t win. Never be shy to apply. There is nothing to lose in applying and with every application my portfolio and texts improve, new curators get to see your applications and new opportunities will grow out of it.

Find out more about Flurina Sokoll here and follow her instagram here.

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

A Universal Conversation

Cynthia Kirkwood

As a child, Cynthia Kirkwood would draw and paint with whatever materials she had to hand, looking on with wonder as the pen moved across the paper, observing the marks as they revealed themselves.  

The three-time Bermuda Biennial artist begins her fine art practice in much the same way today. After a period of figurative work, Cynthia has returned in recent years to a more organic method in which a meditative approach allows the art to unfurl freely.  

The Mystery Writing series, currently on display in the 2020 Bermuda Biennial, is the result of this unique approach in which one mark leads to another and one medium flows into the next. For the artist, the results – at once familiar and unexpected – bear witness to a moment of connection with the wider world; a reminder of her “thread in the universal conversation”.  

We caught up with Cynthia to explore her process, discuss how for her art making is “a way of witnessing the moment of being alive” and why now, more than ever, we all need to connect with the universal conversation.  

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Cynthia Kirkwood Mystery Writing  December 12 2019
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork: Mystery Writing December 12 by Cynthia Kirkwood, 2019. India ink on paper, 7.5 X 11.
Cynthia Kirkwood Two Reds and Pale Blue Bermuda National Gallery
Two Reds and Pale Blue by Cynthia Kirkwood, 2019.
Oil on canvas, 20 X 30.5. Collection of the artist.

BNG: Your current art making process is a combination of drawing, writing and painting. Could you please talk us through your approach? 

CK: I’d say it’s organic. Those three mediums – drawing, writing, painting (also sometimes collage and printing) – they all go together. Once I’m in my studio, with the materials around me, I’ll know where to begin. The actual materials help me know where to begin. Then one thing leads to another. 

BNG: The two pieces selected for the 2020 Bermuda Biennial are both examples of Mystery Writing, dated January 5th 2020 and December 12th 2019. Does the Mystery Writing come to you often? How does it manifest itself? 

CK: The Mystery Writing often comes to me. Or I go to it. I’m not sure which way that works. Anyway, I love it. The pen moving with such freedom. The sound of the pen on the paper. And then the paper with the writing on it is the result, the slightly unexpected result – it’s familiar but still somehow unexpected. It’s a confirmation of what just happened. And also a mystery. Something like that. 

BNG: You have said that “the paintings expand from drawings into colour. Could you please explain the process? 

CK: Did I say that? I made it sound neat but there’s a lot of meandering. I do a large number of drawings and what’s revealed and made visible in the drawings can be a reference, like an alphabet, for future work.  

It might go the other way too – paintings can take shape on their own and some quality of a painting may show up in a drawing. It’s reciprocal. 

Cynthia Kirkwood Bermuda National Gallery Inner Unity Oblong April 5 no3 2019
Inner Unity Oblong April 5 No. 3, by Cynthia Kirkwood, 2019.
Gouache on paper, 8 X 11. Collection of the artist.
Inner Unity Monument: No. 1, by Cynthia Kirkwood, 2020.
Oil on canvas, 42 X 52. Collection of the artist.

BNG: In your artist statement for the 2020 Bermuda Biennial you describe your work as “My gesture of witness. My offering. My thread in the universal conversation.” Could you please expand on this and describe your process? 

CK: A pen mark is a kind of gesture. A brushstroke. A communication. The marks add up into drawings and paintings and years of working and together it feels like a way of witnessing the moment of being alive. Of just being alive in a body.

Remembering: Yes. This is now. Here I am. Here we are. All of nature. Underground. Above ground. All the continents. Ancestors gone before us. Children of the future. All of us together. And such gratitude. Honouring this holy mystery of life. Gratitude for my own small path.  

I don’t go around all day experiencing this but there are glimpses of it. When I’m alone at work I can find that awareness in the continuous motion of moments. Through the physical work. It’s not linear time on the clock anymore.  

Finding this way of being in sync, of belonging and finding an awareness of the eternal, of the wholeness and of being a part – has to do with our future, the movement of humanity beyond the arguments and beyond the archaic ‘us and them’ way of life. In this spirit, I offer my trust in the future, in the brightness of our collective future through my work.  

Sometimes my work doesn’t seem like much to me, but more and more it’s beginning to feel like, Well, here it is. It’s my way of being alive. It’s all I have. And in this way it is my offering. 

I keep this quotation pinned up on the wall as a good reminder, when I feel tired and lost: 

“We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.” 

– Hildegard von Bingen 

Cynthia Kirkwood Mystery Writing Bermuda Biennial Bermuda National Gallery
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork: Mystery Writing January 5 by Cynthia Kirkwood, 2020. India ink on paper, 7.5 X 11.

BNG: Is this approach to creating artworks something that you have always done? 

CK: It is, yes. Always. Since I was a young girl. I’ve always spent lots of quiet time alone with whatever available materials, drawing, painting. I’ve explored other things, other directions, but this mysterious, automatic work is a continuous thread. 

I love to study the construction of flowers, for example. I’ve had periods of making paintings from observation. Still life paintings. Portraits. Self-portraits. I also did figures or sailboats from old family photos for a while. Last summer, I made a series of ink studies of iris in the garden. Line drawings on paper. The structure and geometry of an iris is really something.  

But originally, alone, outside of any classroom, I started with the shapes and lines that come in when I’m just watching the pen nib move on the paper. Or I watch the brush make certain shapes and later I look at them and wonder what they are. 

Back in the late 1980’s I had a show of these automatic paintings, shapes and symbols, out at the Art Center at Dockyard, when it first opened. In those days Dockyard was still completely abandoned. Everything windswept and raw. Just salty and rusty. No people anywhere. No shops. Nothing. Just that one place to eat right inside the gates, by Casemates, where you could get a fish sandwich. For a while I had a studio out there.  

Those paintings were of triangular shapes floating in space. Lots of texture. Years later I had some work in a show there again, twice, but those times I was painting trees. Portraits of solitary trees. Anyway, no matter what else I’m doing, I keep notebooks handy, sketchbooks, where I make the mystery writings and drawings. 

Cynthia Kirkwood Bermuda National Gallery Transception Network Aqua 2020
Transception Network: Aqua by Cynthia Kirkwood, 2020.
Oil and marble dust on linen, 36 X 48. Collection of the artist.

BNG: The ‘universal conversation’ is more important than ever as we navigate these uncertain times. How can we all connect with it? 

CK: We’re all connected to it already. That’s the Oneness. When we’re true to ourselves, we realize it. We’re doing our thing and that sense of alignment lights everything up. And when life pulls us off center, we feel disconnected and lost. But there’s always a way forward. Like that Rumi quotation: 

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.” 

There’s always another chance to find what makes us light up and to step into that. One small light changes everything. 

Find out more about Cynthia Kirkwood here and follow her on Instagram here 

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

2020 Bermuda Biennial

Let Me Tell You Something

The Bermuda National Gallery is open every Thursday and Friday from 10am to 4pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm. If you haven’t already seen the 2020 Bermuda Biennial in person, we urge you to do so.

The Biennial, now in its 14th iteration, is a critical platform for Bermuda’s contemporary art community. Organised by the Bermuda National Gallery and sponsored by Bacardi Limited, the exhibition showcases the dynamism of local and international artists living on the island and serves as both an educational resource and a platform for programmes on art, culture and dialogue.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork This Is Not A Home by Antoine Hunt, 2019.
Mixed media, wood, oil pastel. 12 x 9 x 1 in.

As a member of the International Biennial Association, this important exhibition continues to represent the excellence of local contemporary art and brings Bermudian artists the opportunity to engage in an internationally juried process overseen by established international curators, both independent and from prominent art institutions.

The 2020 Bermuda Biennial is co-curated by Melissa Messina, an Independent Curator and Curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate and formerly the Interim Executive Director and Senior Curator of The Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, Savannah, GA; and Kimberli Gant, the McKinnon Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at the Chrysler Museum, previously the Mellon Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Arts of Global Africa at the Newark Museum, in Newark, NJ.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork I-ANK-Forget by NOBODY, 2019.
Digital print. 48 x 48 in.

Qian Dickinson, co-founder of Bermemes, sat down with the curators when they were on island to discuss their vision for the show and why the exhibition plays such a pivotal role for Bermuda’s artists. 

Click here to watch the film on Stories, the BNG blog.

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Interview: Emma Steele

Strength In Vulnerability

Emma Steele uses textiles to challenge preconceived notions of craft based practices, drawing from a place of strength to express a feminist directive. Her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork, which explores sex from a woman’s point of view, roots the traditional medium firmly in a contemporary context.  

“Experiences leave impressions. The impressions are the aftermath.” explains Emma of Aftermath, which marks the second time that the artist has exhibited in the Bermuda Biennial. Her 2018 artwork Just One Word: Consent fused knit textiles with prose, drawing from personal experience to explore the trauma of sexual assault.  

We caught up with Emma, a former BNG student currently studying for an MFA in Textiles at the Royal College of Art in London, to discuss why textiles are both misunderstood and underestimated, how they have given her a platform from which she is able to make her voice heard and why the fourth wave of feminism has brought us to the cusp of change.

Top: Emma Steele at work in her studio in London.
Above: A moodboard serves as the starting point for a project.

BNG: Could you please talk us through Aftermath?

ES: Aftermath looks at the experience of sex. We are born pure and innocent but over time, experiences leave imprints on the body. The body adapts and manipulates its form.

Each person you have been with leaves an imprint. You adapt and change to that person. Over time experiences leave impressions. The impressions are the aftermath.

The knit represents the body. Each piece has a different print, created using my body, which is cut out of the polyester knit, leaving an abstract form within it.

Broken. Reformed. Marks disappear but the experiences stays with-one forever. Forgotten. Lost. Undefined.

I like the similarity between the representation of knit and the representation of a woman. There is a raw openness in the way that the knit falls when it is cut. It creates its own new form.

Experience. Expectation. Colliding into one defined piece. The aftermath remains.

BNG: How do you tell a story through textiles?

ES: Photography captures one part of the story. It is then placed within the structured form of a textile through dye sublimation – a print technique that allows me to print photography onto my knit structures – which further opens up the story.

The knit, with its tactile nature, represents a woman; her naked form. The photography adds layers of imagery to the piece. These are printed on both sides of the knit so that the viewer is able to walk around and examine it from both sides, a metaphor for the woman being displayed in her most vulnerable state.

To touch something. To desire. To want. To crave.

Aftermath by Emma Steele, on display in the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.

BNG: Aftermath explores sex from a woman’s point of view.  Why was it important to you to tell this story?

ES: Sex has been stripped down and twisted back and manipulated into a social form, creating conflict within the topic. We are constructed and deconstructed.

Sex. Reclaiming. Judgement. Imprint. To be wanted. To be desired. To be loved. To be touched.

How do we cope with the reality of sex?

The experience of sex. Defining and remembering the experience. Reclaiming sexuality. Defining sexuality.

I wanted to re-introduce the narrative. To reclaim it for women so that we don’t live in fear of judgement. For me, this meant reclaiming something that I had lost.

I was sexually assaulted when I was eighteen. After my trauma I did not know how I felt. I had no emotions. I did not want to be touched. I did not know if I could be loved again. I did not know if I could feel beautiful and comfortable in my own body.

To be seen naked is to allow someone to see you fully vulnerable. You are at your most vulnerable state when you are naked. You are allowing someone to become a part of you.

I wanted to open the topic up, look at the emotional aspect of sex and the experiences of it.

The simple motion of a touch. To see. To react. To notice.

Detail from 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Aftermath by Emma Steele, 2020.
Knit textiles. 35 x 19 x 3 in.

BNG: Both your 2018 and 2020 Bermuda Biennial artworks use knitting a traditionally feminine and passive pastime to tell stories of female empowerment. How do the medium and the message interplay in your work?

ES: I did a BA in Textiles at the London College of Fashion before going on to the RCA, where we were taught the history of design and fashion. I became fascinated by the historical portrayal of women though the lens of fashion, particularly the portrayal of feminism through photography.

Throughout history, different stages of feminism have continued to evolve. This is the same for textiles, especially knit. In the second year of my BA, I began to interlink storytelling with the use of knitting. Textiles became a platform for my voice to be heard.

I use knit as a portrayal of femininity. Textiles are misunderstood and underestimated. Historically, women have been portrayed in a certain way, as has knitting, and I am trying to bring the two together to explore them both and to showcase it as more than just a craft or a simple pastime.

BNG: Your work is an expression of female strength in the face of male aggression. In what ways has this impacted your artistic practice?

ES: I was assaulted when I was eighteen, at the beginning of my artistic career. Over the past four years I have explored the topic by creating two individual pieces of work: Just One Word: Consent, which was exhibited in the 2018 Bermuda Biennial and a dissertation entitled Am I asking for sympathy? Do I need to be looked at differently? Will you listen to my story?

These two separate pieces of work allowed me to explore and understand two separate sexual assault cases that occurred to me. It was a way for me to allow myself to heal through an artistic platform and identify my feelings around the subject.

Being assaulted has impacted my life but it has also allowed me to re-think and re-design as an artist. There is a long healing process to being raped and there is not always help available when needed. These projects allowed me to open up the conversation and explore a new form of creating.

I use my traumas and how I am feeling as concepts for a project. It helps me to explore things and it is a way of self-healing though my creative practice. I allow my feelings and the events that have occurred to me to define and lead me within my practice.

Detail from 2018 Bermuda Biennial artwork Just One Word: Consent by Emma Steele, 2017. Knit textiles. 14 x 12 (x12).

BNG: The conversation surrounding sexual assault has been amplified in recent years with the growth of #MeToo. How has the movement affected people’s perspectives on consent and sexual intimidation?

ES: The Me Too movement was first started in 2006 but did not gather strength until 2017. I am sure we all remember this hashtag appearing on our screens with friends posting #MeToo. I posted my #MeToo post in 2017. I was hesitant at first. I wondered how I would feel typing those five letters on my keyboard. When I posted it, it verified that I had begun to accept what occurred to me. I had announced to the world that this had happened.

The Me Too movement has opened a new form of feminism. We are now in a new era and the internet rules the fourth wave of feminism. It has allowed women to take their voice back and it has given them a platform from which they can use their voices. We are at the starting point of change.

BNG: In the past year alone we have seen the conviction of both Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein for serial sexual assault. In what ways have these high profile cases helped to shift the conversation?

ES: These cases have opened people’s eyes up to the sheer volume of victims out there that have been silenced for years and are only now feeling comfortable enough to speak up. The Me Too movement has helped bring the fourth wave of feminism to life. Feminist power is growing and it is allowing the victim’s voice to be brought back to her.

Let’s begin to open up the conversation about rape. Let’s let the survivor know they are not alone: “I know it’s hard, but if we don’t figure out how to have tough conversations, we will sacrifice another generation of victims” (Anderson, 2019, Time, 15 January).

This is to help further educate people into a better understanding of what consent is and how important it is to give it. It is about helping the victim to become more empowered in herself and to allow her to begin to heal.

Education is the key to success. Educate people about what they are unaware of. The conversation needs to keep moving forward.

Just One Word: Consent by Emma Steele on display in the 2018 Bermuda Biennial.

BNG: Do you have any advice for women who have suffered a trauma similar to your own?

ES: I am sorry to anyone who has suffered from a similar trauma. I would like to say that what occurred to you is awful. Remember that you are a strong person and that you will overcome this trauma. It will not define your life forever. It may feel that way at the moment but I am a survivor and you are a survivor too.

My advice to anyone who has had to deal with a similar trauma is to understand that it was not your fault. You are not to blame. No matter what you were wearing or what you were doing, it was not your fault. That is something that I have struggled to come to terms with over the years.

I am three years surviving my trauma and every day is a new beginning. Some days I feel pain and anger and other days I smile and giggle like nothing has ever occurred to me. Let the pain come in and then remember that you won and that you are a survivor. Use that anger and pain to let you feel like a woman again – the powerful woman that you are.

To deal with such a traumatic event will change you. There is no way around that. It is how you deal with that event that will shape your future. Remember that you are a survivor and that you will overcome any aftermath that occurs to you.

Follow Emma at @emmasteeletextiles and @foxyladydesigns

If you are dealing with the trauma of sexual assault and would like to speak to someone the hotline for Centre Against Abuse is available 24 hours a day and can be reached on 297 8278.

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

The Haze Of Memory

Catherine White

Catherine White describes her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork as a prologue to her life. The piece was inspired by a roll of undeveloped film that she found shortly after the death of her father. In developing the film, Catherine discovered a series of portraits of family and friends that her father had taken before she was born. The resulting insight into a day she never knew, yet longed for, led her to explore the notion of remembrance.

In Figment, portraits of Catherine’s father and mother, both discovered on that fateful roll of film, are printed onto a sheet of aluminium substrate. Hung at eye level, the result is an intimate experience that allows the viewer to join them in the frame. Whilst the reflection places the viewer in a time long gone, the coated surface of the material distorts the mirror image, mimicking the haze of memory.

Created as a way of re-connecting with her father, Figment is a quiet, emotive work, that simultaneously breaks down and puts up a barrier between the past and present. We caught up with Catherine, who lives in London where she works as an interior architect, to talk about the 2020 Bermuda Biennial and how her fine art practice strives to evoke the ephemeral nature of memory.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Figment by Catherine White, 2020.
UV print on aluminium. 12 x 36 in.

BNG: Figment was inspired by a roll of undeveloped film your late father had taken before you were born. What was it like to discover these photographs?

CW: It was really exciting and also a bit overwhelming. I had three rolls of film that I found and after sending them off to a specialised photo processing firm only two were viable, and then they could only develop them in black and white, not colour.  I had no idea what would be on the film, so to find an entire roll of beautiful portraits of friends and family on a dreamy day out was a real gift. Seeing the world through my late father’s eyes was like being given an extra day with him. 

BNG: When and how did you start thinking about turning the photographs into an artwork?

CW: Immediately I knew I wanted to do something with them. I felt that they embodied a moment as a group, so how to best translate that to other people was an exciting challenge. It was probably a year or so before I started seriously exploring what to do with them.  I tend to let concepts sit a bit instead of forcing them. I have another piece I am developing from that series but in a much more intimate format. 

Catherine developed the film after her father died.

BNG: Could you please talk us through the process of creating Figment?

CW: Two of the photographs which resonated most with me were of my parents looking directly into the lens of the camera. Possibly the one of my father was taken by my mother? I felt as if there was a moment passing between them. I was looking for a way of capturing that moment and showing it in a way that would allow me to think on what they were thinking about. With families and children on the boat, perhaps their minds had turned to a family of their own.

I started by overlaying transparencies of the portraits to represent a combined thought. The strongest representation was simple; a family portrait without me in it, but that was complete when I stood in front of it. A figment of their imagination. A prologue to my story. 

BNG: You have in the past described your landscape works as “looking back from afar”. The same could be said for Figment. How does our memory of people and places alter them and how do you attempt to capture this in your work?  

CW: I often focus on details or moments. Pairing the concept down to its bare bones can help the essence of the memory increase in strength or resonance. Removing the noise and focusing on the moment or detail allows me to bring you to that memory. Being often away from Bermuda and my late father creates a perspective that allows for reflection.  

The film unearthed unseen photographs of her parents.

BNG: This is your first Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to you to be included in the exhibition?

CW: It is an honour. I’ve grown up seeing the Biennial and admiring participating artists. This year is no different, although I am so sad I have not been able to visit in the flesh! 

BNG: What are you working on at the moment?

CW: I have a few pieces I am developing, again looking back.  My mother’s house is “home” and there is a certain sense of emotional safety when I look out of her windows and see her garden. I’m looking at ways of exploring that concept, capturing that emotion. 

Follow Catherine White at @c_white_art

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

In Colour

Naimah Frith

The bright colours and bold stance of Whining Queen greet you with confidence as you enter the 2020 Bermuda Biennial. Taking up an entire wall of the Humann Gallery, Niamah Frith’s fabric and chalk pastel portrait, which the artist describes as “an examination and celebration of the black feminine body, a site of resistance, power and resilience” sets the tone for the exhibition which provides a crucial platform for Bermuda’s contemporary artists.

The artwork, which the recent graduate created as a final piece for her BA in Fine Art, marks her first time exhibiting in the Biennial and pays homage to both the crafts passed down by the women in her family and the sense of freedom she found in working with textiles. “This work takes apart and puts back together the politics of my culture, femininity and the things that have been handed down to me as truths” she explains.

We sat down with Naimah, who is currently teaching the Bermuda National Gallery Art + Tech Summer Camp programme alongside education officer Louisa Bermingham, to discuss the Biennial, breaking free of the constraints imposed by a traditional art education and why she has wanted to teach art since she was six years old.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Whining Queen by Naimah Frith, 2019.
Fabric and chalk pastel. 72 x 48 in.

BNG: Could you please tell us about the background to Whining Queen?

NF: I made the artwork last year in my studio class during my last semester at the Nova Scotia College of Fine Art (NSCAD). Before taking the studio class, I had been in other drawing classes where the focus was on traditional mediums such as charcoal, oil painting and acryclic. I had a really hard time connecting with the class. It simply wasn’t doing it for me. So I asked one of my teachers if I could do something else and call it drawing. That started out with wire and led to a sculpture piece using wool, which was where fabric came in for the first time.

BNG: What drew you to use more tactile mediums?

NF: I like working with my hands. I always have done. I guess that drawing is also a way of working with your hands but I enjoy seeing something come off of a page, to have the chance to mould it and shape it. To feel. The approach in the drawing class was incredibly precise and it felt too prescriptive. It gave me a good foundation to build on and go outside of but I found it very frustrating. My classmates were very good at taking such a figurative approach, which I admired, but I wasn’t interested in capturing things in the same way.

Being from Bermuda, I also had a different language in colour. I’ve always been drawn to bright and bold colours and I was a bit embarrassed about my colour sense at first. I felt like I wasn’t doing it correctly as the other works were very muted. I come from a very bright place where everything is colour! I had to figure that out how to translate that which took some time.

I continued to make things with other materials in drawing class and then I went on to studio classes which was where I first started experimenting with fabric. That was fun. I liked the challenge of it. I loved being able to take two very different textiles and transform them into something that made sense together. I enjoyed using materials that wouldn’t usually be appreciated and incorporating them into my artwork. I really enjoy (fellow Bermuda Biennial artist) Gherdai Hassell’s work for that same reason. Her artworks are so vibrant and I admire how she incorporates a lot of different ways of making art into a single piece.

Detail from Whining Queen by Naimah Frith.

BNG: Have you always sewn?

NF: Before I started sewing the fabric in the way I do now, I used to create sewn portraits. I would draw the face on a canvas which I would then sew, incorporating scraps of material to create the portrait. It was a very time intensive process and not conducive to art school as you move so quickly through projects!

I don’t think I’ll go back solely to that way of working but I do think that there is a place for it in my practice. Back then, the sewing was the main focus of the work; whereas now the fabric takes centre stage and the sewing compliments it. Both ways of working use the same materials and mediums but I’ve switched their importance.

BNG: Do you think of Whining Queen as being part of a larger body of work?

NF: It’s the beginning of a series, in the same way that each of the other pieces are part of a series that led me here. They are all women; usually mother figures, working women. This figure would be a younger, freer woman. I’m very drawn to and inspired by motherly women in my life and I tend to make art about them. My family also has a history of craft making, specifically women’s craft, which has been passed down to me. I’m currently working on more pieces as a response to Whining Queen. I never saw her as just one thing. Just one piece. She has a lot more women to accompany her on her journey.

Being back in Bermuda, I don’t currently have access to the same selection of fabrics that I did in Canada, which is difficult. It has made me change the way I work. I used to plan my piece by sketching it out, planning the colour scheme and earmarking specific fabrics which I would then source. Now, I have to start with the fabrics that are available and make it work from there. I have turned to collecting personal, used, fabrics since I can’t select exactly what I want at the moment. This adds another layer to the work. Each piece of fabric has its own life. Its own story.

Whining Queen fuses textiles and drawing with chalk pastel.

BNG: What was it like to be able to work on a bigger scale at college? Was it quite freeing?

NF: I was actually really scared. It was very nerve wracking. I felt like I should have been comfortable but I wasn’t. Up until that point someone else had always had full control of everything that I had been doing – the size, the subject, the material. When you are at school you are limited by the materials and the space available to you. You only have your desk to work with. Then you get to art college where have your own studio space. You can make all the mess you want. You can go as big as you want. Suddenly everything was up to me.

Even now, teaching the BNG Summer Camp programme, we’re telling the kids what materials to use and that constrains how big it can be. Which is needed. We need rules in life. But when that is gone the freedom can be quite overwhelming. That was definitely a challenge for me when I got to art school. But it was a good struggle to go through. I was able to figure it out and it made my work stronger. I had to find my own voice.

BNG: You have been working as a para-educator at Dellwood Middle School this past year. What’s next?

NF: I would like to be an art teacher. I’m going back to school in September to do my MA at Kean University in New Jersey. It’s a dual programme with a focus on both teaching and fine art. I get my teaching certificate and then go on to the masters where I get to deepen my artistic practice.

I have wanted to be an art teacher ever since I was 6 years old. I had a brilliant art teacher in primary school, Miss Friday at West Pembroke, who taught me in P2. Her classes were so fun! I have wanted to be an art teacher ever since. I remember being very struck by her and wanting to teach art, not just make art. The classes were so fun to go to and we would explore different materials. I enjoyed the freedom of the art class. There was no right or wrong answer. The answer was whatever you wanted it to be.

Students work with textiles to create their own artworks inspired by Whining Queen.

BNG: You’ve just finished teaching the first week of the BNG Art + Tech Summer Camp. What has that been like?

NF: Teaching the summer camp has been a learning experience for me. The students have an amazing sense of freedom that we often lose as we get older. They are very open to trying different things. They are not confined by the rules, which is very different to the way that I was taught in art college.

The students are teaching me to be a little more forgiving in my own art making process and I’m also teaching them the same thing. They can be hesitant about whether or not what they are making is good art. I don’t want them to have that mindset as it can really hold you back. They need to understand that there is no such thing as good art. That was a huge challenge that I had to face when I got to art college. I worried that I couldn’t draw like my classmates. That I couldn’t paint like them. Eventually, I came to the realisation that my classmates couldn’t make a piece the way I did either.

It’s been exciting to see the summer camp students grow in such a short span of time. At first, getting them to draw on a larger scale was a challenge. They were used to working in a small space whereas now they have the whole gallery to themselves. They have been looking at the works in the Biennial, many of which are large in size. We have been encouraging them to make a mess of things and bring it back together into something new – it may be beautiful, ugly, whatever it is. But it is their own.

Mixed media collage by Grace Flannery, age 14.
Mixed media collage by Ellianna Goonewardene, age 14.

Click here to learn more about the Bermuda National Gallery Art + Tech summer camp programme.

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Christina Hutchings

Art And Architecture

An instinctive eye for colour and composition combine with a meticulous attention to detail in the work of Bermudian artist Christina Hutchings.

A distinct discipline informs her fine art practice, gained from many years spent working as an architect in New York for cutting edge designers Peter Marino and Henry Smith-Miller.

Christina, who now focuses solely on her artwork, takes a studied approach to conceptualising and developing an idea through drawing whilst allowing herself to be led by an intuitive sense of discovery and experimentation.

It is a dichotomy apparent in her work, which ranges from collage, painting and sculpture to installation, all many layered and marked by sleek materials and striking colour combinations.

We spoke to Christina about her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork, the intersection of fine art and architecture and how, for her, one has always informed the other.

2012 Bermuda Biennial artwork After the Nolli Plan by Christina Hutchings, 2011. Painted string, coloured tape, kite stick fastener. 16.75 x 12.75 in.

BNG: You studied both fine art and architecture and went on to work as an architect in New York for many years, all the while maintaining a fine art practice. Why was it important for you to dedicate yourself to both disciplines concurrently?

CH: It was important to me to dedicate myself to both architecture and art because of my interest in the ways these two creative disciplines influence each other. When I was younger and making career choices, I was not confident that my artwork would provide a way to support myself. This was a disappointing realization. As a practical person with the goal of supporting myself, and because I had a natural interest in architecture due to having a relative in the field, I chose to study architecture at graduate school. In my mind, this would build upon and enrich my undergraduate fine arts education and equip me with a way to earn a living.

In addition to the practical aspect of this decision, there was a more important factor. I knew architecture and art are intertwined creative disciplines, and it was important to me that I work at excellent, highly creative architecture and design firms to gain comprehensive and creative work experience in the architectural realm. Throughout, it was the artistic side of myself that I brought to the projects I worked on, and which allowed me to expand my skills and understanding while gaining the discipline that informs my work habits to this day.

2010 Bermuda Biennial artwork Bermuda Map by Christina Hutchings, 2008.
Pencil, string on paper. 60 x 100 in.

BNG: Did your architectural projects inform your artistic practice and vice versa? In what ways?

CH: Yes. My artistic practice and architectural projects most certainly did influence each other, and have continued to do so in many ways. My working experience at firms of architects whose work I admired greatly, such as Henry Smith-Miller and Peter Marino Architects, gave me the formative experience of being part of a talented team. Our job was to take a concept and through drawing and building models, we would allow the concept to become a built space. We would draw and draw, making gorgeous sets of drawings: plans, elevations, sections, grids, details, selections of colours and materials to the extent that the idea of the project could become a built space. This process of drawing to develop and discover the idea is key to my art practice.

Further, while in Peter Marino’s office, when their art department was busy, I was delighted to be asked, on occasion, to paint gouache renderings of projects showing the finish materials, furniture with designated fabric, and renditions of the artwork the clients had purchased for the space.

However, as much as I enjoyed the creative, artistic side of working in architectural design, the advent of computer aided design and drawing in AutoCAD, and a declining reliance on hand drawing, began to make the architectural work less enjoyable. There was no longer a connection for me with the hand, intuition, and the sense of discovery through drawing. It was during this time of increasing change that I began to consider that I could take a chance to be an artist.

2014 Bermuda Biennial artwork Horizon Line Room (maquette) by Christina Hutchings, 2013. Painted wood. 8 ft x 15 ft x 9 ft.

I want to share two examples that I think convey how I connected art and architecture from my earliest days in architecture.

The first, a landscape design drawing assignment completed in 1980, is an example of art influencing architecture. A Braque paper collage is the compositional inspiration for this landscape design project drawing.

Top: Landscape design drawing by Christina Hutchings, 1980.
Above: The Braque artwork that inspired the design.

The second example is a 2012 collage, titled Henry’s Office, which is inspired by memories of my work experience in Henry Smith-Miller’s office. The shapes making up the collage are references to a pivoting red wall in his office, a pale yellow colour often used in his projects, a nod to the modernist aesthetic which Henry’s office practiced and a piece of yellow trace similar to what we always used for sketching in in the office.

Henry’s Office by Christina Hutchings, 2012. Mixed media.

BNG: You returned to Bermuda in 2008 to concentrate on your fine art practice. Does your background in architecture continue to be a big influence for you?

CH: My decision to commit fully to my fine arts practice took a long time to arrive at. The decision evolved and ultimately won out over the practicalities of making a living as an architectural designer. My decision to return to Bermuda to live coincided, happily, with that decision. My background in architecture has been, and will always be, a major influence in my work.

I have come to believe that one of the most significant influences of my architectural background is the realization that the concept and its development through drawing are the two most important commonalities between art and architecture. The concept determines the form, and drawings are the visual diagrams of the concept. For my art practice, the concept could be something like the title of the work, and drawing is how I develop the concept.

Another important way that my background in architecture has influenced my artwork is that I have recently started making large installations and collages. These installations require plans, elevations, detail and sectional drawings in order to figure out how they will be assembled. The starting point always begins with drawing grid lines, thinking about centre lines and systems of proportion. In all of my art projects, considerations of space, colour, materials, composition, and references to art and architectural history are part of my process.

Collages, and sometimes paintings, feature details made with hardware materials which are considered for their aesthetic value as much as their functional value.

2018 Bermuda Biennial artwork Out Of Air by Christina Hutchings. Polished aluminium, scuba tanks, plexiglass, fluorescent lights. 108 x 25 x 14 in.
Preparatory work for 2018 Bermuda Biennial artwork Out Of Air by Christina Hutchings.

BNG: Your work ranges from collage, painting and sculpture to installation. A single piece will often incorporate several of these elements. How do you decide which materials to work with and why when working on a specific project?

CH: I use different materials – either for structural reasons, if a project is large, or for metaphorical purposes – to help tell the story, or idea, behind the piece. For example:

In the Biennial 2016, with the theme being It’s About Now: Memories of The Present, I made a large piece called Double Take.

In this piece, I use the 12-ft fluorescent light, which is centred and situated vertically between the two almost identical anchors, to represent the instant that an object we look at (one anchor) becomes a memory of that anchor, (the second anchor).

2016 Bermuda Biennial artwork Double Take by Christina Hutchings, 2015.
Ropes, anchor and fluorescent light. 96 x 40 in.

BNG: Your pieces are very thoughtful and meticulously planned. How to you approach and then develop a concept? Taking your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork as an example.

CH: The theme for the 2020 Biennial is Let Me Tell You Something. After considering the theme, I titled my piece FAST TALK. The concept for this is the speed of our words when we tell each other something using our digital devices. Our words travel at lightning fast speeds in the vast networks of digital submarine communication cables below, and by satellites above, as they carry our telephone and internet traffic to and from Bermuda, and between continents, as we communicate with the rest of the world.

In formal terms, FAST TALK is a drawing and collage combination made with ink lines, layers of Plexiglas, metal rods, an aluminium angle and wood. I use ink and metal lines and a selection of transparent overlapping materials to help tell the story. These rods and ink lines represent the undersea cables and the data traffic within. The disc and white rod connected to it represent the satellites above transmitting our conversations.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork FAST TALK by Christina Hutchings, 2019.
Ink on paper and plexiglass. 17 x 13 in.

BNG: You have exhibited extensively at the Bermuda National Gallery. How has your relationship with the BNG informed your artistic practice?

CH: The BNG in all aspects of its role as an art institution has been an important influence in my life, for which I am very grateful. The programming, the exhibitions and the art collection have had a life changing effect on me. I am honoured to have been a part of the gallery’s public programming and exhibitions, both as an audience member and as a participant.

2018 Bermuda Biennial artwork Shipping Box With Working Drawings, Materials And A Model for Exit by Christina Hutchings, 2017. Mixed medium. 2 x 27 x 17 in.

Tour Christina Hutchings’s studio here