As part of our March Mostra Meet the Artists series, we spoke to Anna Brass
(Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture) about Brexit, a fourteenth-century Diabolical Englishman, and mortadella…
Can you explain your process of working?
I make films, drawings, paintings and sculptures. The films always emerge from an intensive process of making, so at the moment I’m making a film but I’m working out all of my ideas through sculpture and drawing.
I look at a lot of images, which is what feeds everything I make. There’s so much to see in Rome – all of the mosaics and frescos and buildings, but also things on the street, like drawings on walls, shop signs, potholes. Seeing these things has generated a lot of work -I’ve made a big slice of mortadella, some Byzantine feet, a palazzo carpet…
Can you tell us a bit more about what you’ve been working on?
I’m making a film about a fourteenth-century English mercenary called John Hawkwood, who was born in Essex in 1320. He spent a lot of time as a soldier in France and when he was about 40 he came to Italy, and he spent the rest of his life there working as a condottiere. There’s a fresco painting of him by Paolo Uccello in the cathedral in Florence, which I saw a few years ago. And I read a book about him by Frances Stonor Saunders called Diabolical Englishman, which is a really visual and beautifully written book, and reading it generated so many images in my head.
The film I’m making now isn’t about Hawkwood the man, it’s not about his character or biography at all, I’m not really interested in that. I’m interested in what was happening around him – the swirl of violence and money and religious belief. I think Hawkwood will just be this elusive, shape-shifting figure in the midst of everything.
What are you going to show in March Mostra?
I’m going to show some of the sculptures I’ve made, which relate to the strange spaces in early Renaissance paintings. I’m really keen on predella panels, which are sometimes at the bottom of paintings and show scenes from the life of a saint, often in quite strange architectural spaces or structures. I like the shifting scale between people and buildings and rocks.
Can you tell me about the Brexit project you have been working on?
Yes – Dillwyn [Smith, Abbey Fellow in Painting] and I have been making plans for this Brexit project. We have made flags that we are flying on the BSR flagpoles, and we did a Brexit workshop that was open to people from the BSR and from other institutions. We made lots of salt dough and asked people to make objects in relation to Brexit, trying to give a body to quite abstract concepts. They made things like a full English Brexit, a Maybot, lots of pigs – all of these emblems of Brexit made of salt dough.
And what about the post-it notes that were part of the workshop?
Yeah, these were written soundbites, which aren’t in the mostra but they’re the lynchpin of everything. The whole project revolves around these bizarre soundbites from the news on Radio 4, which we listen to in the studio. It’s not about a single Brexit phrase it’s about the tidal wave of Brexit chatter and how overwhelming it is, and how impenetrable, the manic talking around it and no traction. I don’t think the project is about being for or against Brexit, it’s just a tornado of mania, as felt from quite far away – still being in Europe but being relatively far away from home.
The workshop turned out quite differently to what we had planned because we hadn’t taken into account the language and culture barrier with friends from other academies. I was really struggling to explain what the phrases meant, like the Danny Dyer line ‘in Nice with his trotters up’, and to explain the recurring motifs like pigs and pig-gate, and robots.
Also, just seeing my mortadella sculpture, there is a theme of meat, and pigs, and ham in my work, which I think is being amplified by David Cameron and Brexit.
How does this all relate back to your Hawkwood film?
For me there is this link between contemporary politics and meat. There’s pig-gate and the bacon sandwich, but also climate change, horse meat and the posh burger. Italian meat is quite different to English meat. I’m a vegetarian, but the meat shops in Italy are really beautiful, and the mortadella in particular is beautiful as well as being slightly gross.
There was a popular rebellion in Florence in 1378 called the Ciompi revolt, which was crushed in-part by the guild of butchers. I want to somehow include this in my film, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what the emblems of the guild of butchers might look like and how I might make them.
Anna’s work is currently being exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in March Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 March 2019..
Interview by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager). Photos courtesy of the artist.