June Mostra 2016 / Meet the artists … Margaret Roberts

With the June Mostra opening tomorrow we chatted to Margaret Roberts to hear about her work process and inspirations from being in Rome.

Margaret Roberts (National Art School, Sydney Resident in Drawing)


Margaret Roberts has been thinking of Francesco Borromini’s Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane as inhabitable, rhythmical sculptures as much as buildings, and about how to represent them as such. One way is to begin the geometry Borromini is said to have used to devise their footprints by drawing its triangles at bodily scale, and then locate compass-arms for visitors to make its invisible curves.

From coming into your studio I can immediately see that you have the outline of a lot of different shapes on the walls and floor. How does this relate back to your work?

From early in my art practice I have worked with shapes in one way or another. In the beginning I used shapes more in relation to each other, as part of systems that produced objects. Later I used shapes in relation to the place in which they are located. This interest in shapes comes partly from my sculpture background, modified by my realisation that it is more economical spatially to make ‘objects’ from the found three-dimensional forms of buildings, in combination with ‘flat’ shapes. Even flat shapes that seem to just use the wall or the floor—that you can see here in the studio—can incorporate parts of a building through using its scale and activity as well its flat planes. I think of this interest in shapes as a type of drawing practice that sits half way between the process of planning, and the concrete physical space in which those plans are made to be carried out.

It also comes from an interest in representation, and the process of selecting parts to stand in for the whole.  Like many artists, I started with observational drawing, and later became curious about why we so automatically reduce everything to what it looks like on a flat sheet of paper. Whereas something may also have taste or smell, have other sides and angles, be occupied by people or things, and so on, and these things are usually left out as if they are less important than what something looks like. I am particularly interested in space—I always wonder at the physical space of the whole universe, where it came from, and why it is so overlooked. I realised that locating shapes in places, rather than on paper, is a way of making space more visible, a practice that I realised has a lot in common with Minimal Art.

One of my pieces in the upcoming mostra is intended to acknowledge that space through its potential for movement, where the energy needed to drive that movement comes from the space in which it is located—the energy of gravity in combination with people’s simple actions.  I am also situating it so that something is represented in advance of its realisation, on the grounds that If something hasn’t happened yet then its space is more ‘live’ because we are still waiting for it to happen.  I am fictionalising time in a sense—which of course hardly seems a fiction when you are in Rome.

So these are inspired by your visits to the churches of Rome?

Yes, I have visited a small proportion of the many more churches here, and Borromini’s stand out partly because of how they feel and look when you are inside them, and partly because of the systems that he is said to have used to design them.  In using one of those systems in both my mostra works, I am intending to refer to Borromini’s Sant’Ivo through the first stages of its construction.  These shapes you see on the floor here in the studio have been produced by the systems on the wall, systems that use triangles in conjunction with lengths of wood that enable visitors to temporarily mark out the curves that convert his triangles into the undulating shapes for which Sant’Ivo and San Carlo are known.

Was creating this work something you intended to do before coming to Rome or did your ideas evolve from being here?

They very much evolved. This idea of fictionalising time by remaking early stages of another work is an idea that I have worked before but it has somehow happened differently this time. I have never done it like this with a building as, even though I often use parts of buildings to make artwork, I have not thought so much about how you can design a building in this geometric way. It is new for me.  Borromini’s buildings are more like occupiable artwork than most, perhaps partly because of their scale, but perhaps also because they developed from a system that is like what we use in artwork.

Looking back at your three-month residency, what has been your favourite thing about living in Rome?

It has to be the proximity to the massive civilisation that occupied this space so long ago. That’s amazing. I feel like we live in its shadow here, and this shadow is temporal as well as spatial. It pulls us toward the past as an interesting type of counter to the attraction the modern culture normally has for the future.

Margaret’s work will be exhibited alongside the other six resident artists in the June Mostra opening on Friday 17 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours: 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 June until Saturday 25 June 2016, closed Sundays.

Photo by Antonio Palmieri, interview conducted by Katherine Paines.