3.15 / Bruno

Interviews from the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts

By Daily Serving May 24, 2012

Image: Sarah Forrest and Virginia Hutchison. In the Shadow of the Hand; installation view, Market Gallery, Glasgow, 2012. Courtesy of the Artists.

As part of our ongoing partnership with Daily Serving, Art Practical is pleased to bring you two interviews conducted by Magdalen Chu from the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art that ran through May 7, 2012. In the Shadow of the Hand and Back to the Things Themselves were presented as part of the festival. The process of collaboration between two artists and an exploration of a subjective experience are central issues in both exhibitions. Chu interviewed the included artists to find out about their individual practices and their collaborative approach to examine the role subjective experience plays in responding to artistic production and knowledge about the world.

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In the Shadow of the Hand 

In the Shadow of the Hand was on view at Market Gallery and presented new work by artists Sarah Forrest and Virginia Hutchison. Reflecting on the process of evaluation and critique in the development of artistic practice, the artists create texts for each other that are cast in lead. They melt and recast the lead into an object in response to the text, forming part of a series of exchanges exploring subjective responses to an objective call, and the relationship between object and text. You can also read the interview here at Dalily Serving.

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Magdalen Chu: Could you talk a bit about your individual practice? I saw Sarah’s work in the exhibition P is for Protagonist and couldn’t help but think of that exhibition when I entered the first gallery.

Virginia Hutchison: A lot of my work is site or context-specific interventions in the public realm. Quite often it is objective or brief-led. Recent projects have required interaction between the work and people, and an exchange of skills. What has become more important for me has been the dialogue in the making of the work; for example, with people installing the work and having conversations about the space and the work.  Through the conversations, I’ve become interested in [our] different roles, of whether I am the artist, or they are the artists, because they help to make the work come to full cycle. That was what made us decide to collaborate. Both of us were dealing with relationships between viewer, artist, object, audience, and how all these roles shift. I was at the point when I was really quite keen to just reflect on all the work that I was doing.

Sarah Forrest:  My practice is much more gallery-based and I do creative writing with texts published independently of the visual work. I was in an exhibition at Transmission Gallery and my starting point for my work was the voices of objects. In the run-up to the exhibition, I was undertaking a lot of research on the voices of objects, and I became so lost in theory that I almost lost myself. The work I presented, Part 1: for the voice, was a white sculpture narrating with a pair of headphones. Everything had gone white, and it was about a voice that was missing. By that point, I had a desire to move away from intellectualizing, come back to a much more subjective space, and find different ways to talk about a creative practice. That was when we began speaking about evaluation and critique, in relation to the art object. I am interested in creative writing as a response to a visual experience, and I think that’s when our conversation started.

In the Shadow of the Hand

Sarah Forrest and Virginia Hutchison. In the Shadow of the Hand: cymbal; cast lead cymbal on stand. Courtesy of the Artists.

VH: I haven’t done a lot of creative writing myself, but I like how it made me think differently about the projects I was doing. It was important to find a way to present a narrative of the conversations I was having. When we started off, I thought it was going to be very linear, when we had text, object, text, object, and one would follow one from the other. In reality, when responding to Sarah’s text, I was thinking of my text, and I was also thinking of what object she might be making in response. So many things started to feed in, including our conversations.

SF: We started off with texts that each of us had written or appropriated that were cast into lead letters in Edinburgh. We would respond to each other’s text with an object. The size and weight of the object was dictated by the size and weight of the texts. It was a really simple relationship between text and an object, and a playful way to work and structure a collaboration. There was a point when I was making a symbol that was in response to the the the and I was asking for advice. We spoke about ideas of repetition and rhythm, the the the being like a stutter almost, and talked about the idea of making an object like a stutter. We began to collaborate in the making of the object.

The The The

Sarah Forrest and Virginia Hutchison. In the Shadow of the Hand: the the the; typeset text on paper. Courtesy of  the Artists.

VH: Even in the making of the work, we had to share our skills quite a lot. What I found healthy yet scary was letting go of ownership of something, as well as authorship. Although I know what texts I wrote and what objects I made, because Sarah has a text that sits with my object—is it mine or hers? Is it somebody else’s?

MC: I was interested in the decisions that both of you made, in relation to what you considered physical or immaterial within the exhibition space. The materiality of the objects could be very seductive just by looking at it. Yet these vanish into a two-dimensional screen. I personally found the texts very three-dimensional. One of the texts had instructions for a person to inhale and exhale, and it made me feel my own body.

VH: From the standpoint of public art that I work in, I am always considering ssues of permanence. What is permanent or temporary? It could be a day or twenty years. I like the swopping round, of the text becoming the object, and the object becoming quite two-dimensional. Once an object disappears, it has a different narrative.

SF: What is it that sticks with you when you’ve left the exhibition? What is the echo of the object and how do you [narrate] that memory of the object?

MC: Because I’m unable to move around an object, it changes how my narrative of an experience is made. When the object is presented on a screen, perhaps it changes the way you remember it?

VH: Definitely. Although it is projected on a lead screen, almost as the last remaining object…

SF: … and the size of the screen relates to the weight of the object.

MC: An objective framework has a determined set of values. In shifting from objective to subjective evaluation, are there still values? For example, when you were talking about the conversations that had occurred, are you suggesting that for any kind of critique, there has to be a relationship between two people, or an emotional involvement?

SF: I think it’s a part of communication. For something to have value, there has to be a [shared sense] of what is important and some kind of agreement on what things are important, which is what has happened in this whole process.

VH: I think you’re always going to have a relationship with somebody whom you’re critiquing or evaluating a piece of [their] work. If it’s a media-driven thing, then there is definitely a separation. That’s the problem—there is a separation when you are not encountering somebody in a face-to-face, real-time situation. When you think about the context of making work, it might reveal a lot about the people that create it and how they have conversation with folk. Are they dominant in a conversation and does it reflect in their work? Does their work allow people to put their own selves into it in some way?

SF: That was always a concern with the project because it’s a call-and-response between us. We had to think about how it is interesting to someone else and not just about our personal relationship. The installation became important as a space where you can read and you can sit. I was quite aware of not becoming quite closed and this feels like an experimental exhibition. It’s the first time I’ve collaborated on an exhibition, and the work, when presented, still feels very active. As soon as you present something as an exhibition it takes on a position, as a thing in the world.

Back to the Things Themselves

Back to the Things Themselves, which was on view at The Briggait, presented artworks by Lesley Punton and Judy Spark, who each explore possibilities and limits of translating one’s lived experience of the environment as well as the potential for collaboration. You can also read the interview here at Dalily Serving.

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Magdalen Chu: Shall we start off by talking about your individual practices?

Lesley Punton: My work has always been concerned with landscape issues. In recent years, through the process of walking, it has become more explicitly in relation to my lived experience of places that are usually wild and rarely urban. In the exhibition, I have tried to create a diverse conversation between different pieces of work, exploring the limits of experience, and polarities: of night and day, light and dark, and time and duration.

Lesley Punton. Duration 2

Lesley Punton. Duration 2, 2011-12; oil and gesso on board. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Lesley Punton.

In the past, a lot of the lived experience of my work resulted in long and complicated processes of making. There are works that are directly durational in their actual making, such as Flurry, which marks time. A participatory work is Schiehallion where Jim Hamlyn and I made a pinhole photograph that recorded the duration of midsummer’s night that year at the summit of the mountain. These have a very direct relationship to experiences whilst actually in land. Recent works respond more to reflection and recollections of those experiences. Some have literary connections. Gravesend is the place where the narration of Heart of Darkness starts, with Marlowe sitting and recounting the tale of his experience with Kurtz up the Congo.

MC: Could you talk about the Duration pieces? They make me think of a journey, where the days refer to the duration, or the process of making the work.

LP: The duration refers to polar night and polar day and the idea of time as something that is not quite fixed. I’ve always been interested in aspects of time—deep time and geological time—probably from the experience of spending a lot of time in hills.

MC: When did you start looking at the idea of the lived experience and venturing into remote places?

LP: I’ve always believed that you would make something that has some relationship to how you connect with the world. The intensity of the experience of walking and climbing mountains was something important and I became a bit obsessed with it. It felt unnatural not to do something with it.

Judy Spark. Instructions for creating a gap

Judy Spark. Instructions for creating a gap, 2011-12; printed text. Courtesy of the Artist. © Judy Spark.

Judy Spark: My route to making work about lived experience was through a concern with mechanisms like environmentalism that are established to get people to recognize the value of their surroundings. Environmentalism of any kind—whether related to ecology, renewable energies etc.—depends upon the scientific mechanisms that have created the problems that we’re facing in the first place. In the last five or six years, I’ve begun finding ways to think about how people engage with their surroundings. Conversely to Lesley, my landscapes might be right under my feet. It tends to be urban because that’s the environment I’m treading on all the time, and that’s how things come to consciousness.

MC: Could you explain the basis of your philosophical approach? It seems to be about being within a certain environment, perceiving what is around you, and letting these surface.

JS: A big influence was a Master’s in Environmental Philosophy in 2006, which broadened my thinking. There doesn’t seem to be much between the poles of not really caring about the place that you inhabit, and having a code of rules that are scientifically directed on how you should behave. We’re not used to working out anything in-between that is more personal. Trying to find a subjective response to things might actually turn out to have wider relevance than “just my own personal subjective response.” I became interested in the phenomenology movement and the idea of trying to describe actions or processes in a way that allows people to find something more direct and new. I think there are parallels with more indigenous or Buddhist experiences of the worldyhat  I can’t be a part of. I’d love to be, but I would only be putting my own Western perception onto them.

MC: I had a conversation with Sarah Forrest and Virginia Hutchison, and we spoke about the subjective experience and values. When there is an objective framework such as environmentalism, it is easy to subscribe to it, because it is clear what kind of values there are. When we move to the subjective, it opens the question of whether there are still values within this realm.

LP: As much as I might prioritize a lived experience and the subjective, my relationship with the audience is more objective. I’m always looking for a distancing mechanism. The act of translation in the artwork gives the potential for objectivity or a poetics of space, which the viewer could enter into with their own subjective experience. If I thought for one second that what I was making was self-indulgent work, I would run for the hills, literally. At the same time I have no interest in creating distanced work. While my work might be incredibly minimal, I hope that there is a poetic layer that subverts that sparseness.

JS: The notion of value is an interesting one because of the distancing that you talk about. I know that I have a bit of a drum to bang in some way, but I can’t use my artwork for that and I wouldn’t want to try. It really is about putting something out there and if it allows viewers to think about their own response to things, then great.

MC: How did you meet and what led you to decide to collaborate on this exhibition.

Back to the Things Themselves

Lesley Punton & Judy Spark. Back to the Things Themselves; installation view, The Briggait, Glasgow, 2012. Courtesy of the Artists. Photo: Lesley Punton.

LP: A mutual friend was planning on hillwalking in 2004 and we started regular weekend walks.

JS: We did talk about the possibility of showing work together for years and have had many conversations. When we secured the show, I became very busy. Lesley has a young son, and we both work. The collaborative aspect probably starts now in the debriefing of what we’ve done.

LP: As we have individual practices, it was probably important that we had our time to make our own work.

JS: Now that we have put our work in proximity like this, maybe this is the beginning of the next stage.

LP: Walking is a very interesting way to collaborate and to build friendships. There are extended periods of silence and these are different from the conversations you have when you meet somebody in the pub. You actively experience something together. I have made some works where I have collaborated with Jim Hamlyn, my partner. The notion of collaboration is still quite new for me in the actual making of artworks together. Up until very recently, I’ve not formally collaborated.

JS: I’m usually a very isolated practitioner. I teach in an art school and that’s maybe where I get a lot of my energy. Collaboration is something I haven’t made a decision not to do. It seems to be closely connected to that thing of value. Maybe if I meet another artist whose work or practice, or something they say to me about my work or practice, chimes in a way. Maybe it’s to do with being a friend first.

LP: I think collaborations grow organically. I don’t think you can just put two people together and say collaborate, do it now. It doesn’t work that way.

MC: Perhaps you need a lot of trust. It starts off from conversations and knowing that those conversations can take place even without the art.

LP: And equality as well. If there’s an imbalance there, I don’t think you can collaborate, and that’s where your idea of trust comes in.

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Magdalen Chua curates and makes work that focuses on questions of human agency and the way individuals negotiate with the structures that constrain yet provide meaning to their lives. She grew up in Singapore and is now based in Glasgow. She recently graduated with a Masters of Research in Creative Practices at the Glasgow School of Art and is currently involved in running studio 41, a project space for contemporary curating and art in Glasgow.

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