December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists…Jennifer Taylor

This is the last in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. The final artist we interviewed was Jennifer Taylor, Creative Wales-BSR Fellow 2017-18, whose performance will take place at the opening of December Mostra at 20.00.

There seems to be a relationship in your practice between photography, sculpture and performance. Could you talk about that?

Throughout most of my practice there has always been the feature of the stage set. Previously, I used to create spaces, construct environments, and photograph the vacant ‘sets’. Recently though, there has been a shift in my practice and the focus has now moved from the curated ‘set’ to inhabiting and performing within the constructed stage.


Photo by Dave Daggers

A lot of your pieces present figures in different geographical locations. Is there a particular reason you chose to spend time in Rome?

Rome has become a very important city to me and has really influenced my practice. I am drawn to the intensity of the city and the architecture; the Baroque churches and the visual impact of frescos filling every surface.

Rome highlights to me the temporality of time. The city, with its vast number of existing remains, gives a very tangible link to the past through their proximity. I am particularly drawn to the apocalyptic timelessness of the ruins.

When planning my initial proposal for the residency, my original idea was to film inside the catacombs of Rome. However, physically being in Rome and talking with fellow residents has ignited a new very different idea.


Do you have any particular projects in mind?

Yes, since coming to the BSR I have been inspired and drawn to the Ancient Roman festival of the Lupercalia (this was an annual Roman festival which placated evil spirits and purified the city, bringing health and fertility).

I shall be performing my own live interpretation/re-enactment of this ancient ritual on the front steps of the BSR. I plan to recreate the lost Lupercal and the associated rituals.

How has being resident at the BSR informed your choice of project?

I initially became fascinated by the Lupercalia festival after the tour of the Forum with Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens. Discussion over teas and dinners with other residents at the BSR, in particular Kresimir Vukovic (Rome Fellow – working on early Roman mythology) has helped my idea develop and evolve.

This project will be a live performance at the mostra and I hope to involve other BSR residents in the performance. I think that having humanities scholars who have studied these ancient festivals participating in the performance will bring a very different energy to the show.

Your project seems to focus on festival, ritual and performance, tell us more…?

Festival and ritual have always fascinated me. Following a residency in Brazil last year, in the period leading up to the Carnival, I have been thinking about the ways that rituals and festivals can overturn society and reverse roles in the city during the festival period.
I am also interested in reconstructing rituals from the distant past that only exist in stories and legends.


What are you most looking forward to about performing in the Mostra?

I am excited about bringing different people together in a unique moment, where it is possible to step outside of normal familiar behaviour. I love the unpredictability of live performance and the new scenarios and relationships that emerge, in response to the audience and the tension of the live moment.

Jennifer’s performance will take place at 20.00 on the opening night of December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)




December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists…John Robertson

This is the penultimate in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. As part of this series looking at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect, we interviewed John Robertson, our 2017-18 Abbey Scholar.

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Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Your works intricately blend the language of painting and collage. Could you talk to us more about this?

Well I call them paintings, even though they’re all technically paper collages. I never paint directly onto the canvas, partly because it annoys me that if I put a bit of green say in the bottom right corner, I can’t move it to the top left. So I use the paper as a kind of mediator between the paint and the canvas. Then it becomes about the process of arranging and rearranging, a kind of visual syntax that’s trying to articulate the rectangle. Articulate rectangles, that’s what i’m trying to make, and I’d call that making paintings.

Farrier, 29.7 x 21 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas

Farrier, 2017, 29.7 x 21 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas (Photo: John Robertson)

You will be exhibiting in three Mostras at the BSR, do you think you will be able to see a change in your practice over the months from being resident in Rome?

I hope so. I think being in Rome, going around with an open mind, the city is beginning to seep into my work. One of the works I’m showing in the December Mostra is a large mostly black piece made with carbon paper. I arranged the paper the evening after I had visited San Luigi dei Francesi, the church with the Caravaggio triptych. When I was in there I realised that the only flat areas of colour in the church were the dark areas on these Caravaggio paintings — everything else was Baroque. But it was not as if I consciously came back and then did something about this, the carbon paper was in the studio and it was what I happened to pick up. It was only the following day that I made the relationship.

The interior of Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso is almost entirely decorated with faux marble. It is a brown colour and you really don’t notice it at first. Some of it’s quite bad and I’m interested in that idea of bad faux because it’s really nebulous. With good faux you get this surprise when you get close and realise it’s paint but that’s about it. But bad faux is weirder, like a painting of good faux – a painting of.. a painting of… a surface. It’s more aware of itself as an image and that’s a quality i’m after in my work.

bad faux

Bad faux (Photo: John Robertson)

I often try to get that self-awareness from ripping up the paper, i’ll paint some faux woodgrain and rip it up and so you’ll get this bit of paper that’s pretending to be wood and admitting that it’s paper at the same time. It’s the torn edge that gives the game away.


Detail (Photo: John Robertson)


Could you tell us what ideas you have been exploring since you have been in Rome?

In my application for this residency, I stated that I was going to visit Palazzo Massimo as I knew that they had a lot of frescoes there. I was interested in the point where a trompe-l’oeil fresco gets eroded and the wall and plaster is exposed. This line, this sort of split, I think of as ontological in terms of what a painting is, a meeting of the image and the object and the discussion between these two things.

In Rome I have found a lot more of these frescoes, or displaced mosaics displayed on the wall. They all have this swathe of white interrupting them- the bare plaster. This has definitely been a thing that I’ve been looking at – the relationship between the painting and the wall. Previously I’ve used ripped up wallpaper to look at it but since i’ve been here I’ve been focusing more on using the negative space of the white gessoed canvas. I’m trying to throw the wall into the work. This can be seen in the black piece, which is named St. Bartholomew – after the statue at St John Lateran, which we saw on our walk around the seven pilgrimage basilicas of Rome.


Statue of Saint Bartholomew, St John Lateran (Photo: John Robertson)

In this statue he is holding his own image, his own skin. It’s a bit like the bad faux again, an image of an image. In my work that I have made for the Mostra, there’s this white expanse that can trick your eyes, it looks like there’s a hole in the middle of it. It’s like the white canvas is a faux painting of the wall. I like how this makes the white figurative, like it’s got a depth to it but only two and a half cm, the depth of the stretcher.

St. Bartholomew, 200 x 120 cm, Acrylic on paper on canvas

St. Bartholomew, 2017, 200 x 120 cm, Acrylic on paper on canvas (Photo: John Robertson)

I am still exploring these white spaces and will be looking at these and trying to figure this out over the next few months.

John’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)



December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists…Stephen Cooper

This is the sixth in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. As part of this series looking at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect, we interviewed Stephen Cooper, our 2017-18 Abbey Fellow.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Could you tell us how your practice has developed over the years/since coming to Rome?

I have been involved with Italian art at varying levels for a long time, starting from when I was a student. My journey has been from the Renaissance to the Baroque. As a student I was very interested in Giotto, Fra Angelico and Titian amongst many others.

One of the pieces that has been very important to me are the frescos by Fra Angelico in the cells of the Convent of San Marco in Florence. I have visited these cells for many years and they have been a significant part of my adapting and changing my process and evaluating my ways of working. In a sense this is a site-specific work painted on the walls, so it is responding to the space and also the architecture as well as the narratives within the frescos.

The thing that I am interested in is specific responses to a site that engage with and illicit specific approaches. This has become a really important part of my research and where I have found commonality with lots of artists, but the Matisse chapel at Vance is a place that crystallised my thoughts and practice. The architecture of the chapel had become an essential and inclusive element of the making of the chapel. One of the many things I learnt from this was that Matisse had taken the constituents of painting and re-assembled in the interior of this chapel  in a new and exciting way and as it was as if you had become a character within one of his paintings whilst sitting and looking at this space he had created. So for me the questions of time and space were being extended.

While resident at the BSR, the consequence of being in Rome is the inevitable dialogues with history. So being  in the BSR community and all that that entails, and at the same time being submerged in Rome is complex and exciting. My own approach is through immersion. Immersion in Rome and Italy and in experimentation in the studio. However, a period of reflection will be needed to digest and understand what I have done whilst here for three months.

How has your project changed and developed since coming to Rome?

My initial proposal for the BSR was to look at Borromini and Caravaggio, but the phenomenon of Rome has overtaken me and the project has expanded. I think the idea of transformation has been fundamental in this process. You hope that you will do something here that you have not done before, or that you will attempt to change your practice and perhaps do those things that you have never had the opportunity to do before, so for me the experimentation has been great. However the emphasis is on changing and developing.

I have been including things from everyday life – the things that you can see in the street. For example incorporating the Limoncello bottles from a stall and the gloves in a shop. I like to try and mix things up and to use  imagery to form a broken narrative, which then comes together to form a whole. In a way I am interested in wholeness in this project – something that I am working towards in my practice, rather than hitting straight away.


Limoncello bottles (Photo: Stephen Cooper)


Gloves in a shop (Photo: Stephen Cooper)

The idea of working as a whole is to do with making the space and the things in it find a convincing relationship with one and other. relate to one another.  Physically and mentally I adjust to the space, and this process transforms the work. The idea of chaos is very much there at the beginning and then changes into a disjointed order. This is to do with the idea of perfect/imperfect which I am very interested in and part of.

One of the key reasons as to why my proposal has changed is because of the sites that I have visited. I have visited Santa Maria della Vittoria (the Bernini Ecstasy of Saint Theresa). The thing is that the Baroque is so complex and so multi that it becomes quite fascinating. What I have found is that it takes time and contemplation within the space to understand how it works. With the Baroque you have to really look at the space, see what it is actually doing, the decoration and how the sculptures and painting work in the space. There is a good degree of analysis of the space to be done. This has also been my experience at San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane and Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza as well, both of which are phenomenal buildings.


San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Photo: Stephen Cooper)


Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (Photo: Stephen Cooper)

In researching Caravaggio I have gone inside churches; both the Caravaggios that I have been looking at are inside churches – Santa Maria del Popolo and San Luigi dei Francesi (with the Caravaggio triptych). Whilst studying the  Caravaggios, I have also been struck by the phenomena of the churches, which has also been attractive to me in terms of the Baroque.

In previous exhibitions your work has reacted directly to the space in which it has been shown. Has the work you have been producing here been in reaction to any specific place?

For my studio installation, I am going to respond to most aspects of the architecture of the room and to  incorporate them into the space.


Studio shot (Photo: Stephen Cooper)


Studio shot (Photo: Stephen Cooper)

But I am also looking forward to making a fresh piece for the mostra in the gallery. Both pieces will respond to the specific space. I am a little apprehensive about what I have set for myself and will probably be with it till the last moment.

What made you decide to do a studio installation as well as a piece in the gallery?

It is my way of working. For the last ten years I have responded to the site, the site has been the primary basis for the work. But it is always together with the studio practice. The studio practice is the engine and powers the work. Generally you go to a site and respond to it in a way that complements the practice.

Going to Japan, visiting the Kyoto temples and seeing the relationship between the inside and the outside is so fascinating; the window becomes a picture, and the outside is manipulated to match the inside. This experience completely propelled my interest in architecture forward.

You have incorporated a lot of photos into your work, can you tell us more about the images you have chosen?

I collect images, and I specifically collect images that then become part of pieces. There is a sort of language involved, I often alter the images and transform/translate their meaning.

I never know what I am going to take, but I take photographs all the time. That is why I say that I collect images. In both the process of taking the photo and also after in review, you question your consciousness. Often when searching through a lens you take things that you were not looking for, but there is a part of the thinking and seeing that recognises something. So in the reviewing process you step back and look and think…what is that…that is really interesting or not, as the case maybe??

I choose the images intuitively from my database of images, put them together and see if they work. I like the idea of space and volume and their meaning. The contrast of this gloved hand and the relationship between the images which also coincides with my interest in the relationship between art and life. I see my work as a visual form of poetry.

What have you enjoyed most about being in Rome?

I have really enjoyed being in this community and the amount of shared information and knowledge. Here, you are constantly involved with conversations and you cannot help but soak up knowledge. After watching La Grande Bellezza in the BSR film club, it seems more than likely that the great beauty is Rome.

My ambition with artwork is to have a very close relationship with the audience and to try and make work from the heart which, I believe is something in common with poetry. It has been a really fantastic opportunity from the Abbey Council to be here at the British School in Rome and I am really grateful for it.

Stephen’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)

December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists…Josephine Baker-Heaslip

This is the fifth in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. As part of this series looking at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect, we interviewed Josephine Baker-Heaslip, our 2017-18 Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture.


Photo: Alice Marsh

In the past few weeks you have been working on an ambitious number of works on paper. Is this a new development in your practice, or do you see this more as a natural progression from your more sculptural work? Is there a relationship between the two?

I have always made drawings, but their intensity has changed. I used to draw very quickly, and being able to slow the drawings down here in Rome has reminded me of drawings I made when I was a teenager, not as an art student. I am enjoying returning to this meticulous way of working. But I think it is a natural development as well, insofar as when you start in a new place and you do not have abundant facilities and tools around you, which you become used to as a sculptor. For example, when I graduated from the RA Schools in June I rented a temporary studio with no facilities at all, I had to change my methods and I started to draw on paper again, using chalk to create colour fields and patterns resembling landscapes. I find starting from scratch in this way helps me to see what is around me again.

I see drawing as the mediation between different moments or stages of a sculptural or more spatial practice, and for me it is often the place where ideas for new sculptures first arrive. I guess partly because of this the sculptures often feel quite flat, reduced and diagrammatic. I have often been told that they look like physical drawings in space. As I come from more of a printmaking background, working within the parameters of a surface comes relatively naturally. This limitation is also something that interests me about architectural space the building materials that I use.

I am currently taking things that I have learned from sculpture and reapplying them back into my drawings, to try to in turn figure out what can be made physical again. So, yes, it is a progression in my practice, by me learning how to look both into the past and future of my work. Making these intense landscape drawings now is going to inform the sculptures that I make here in the next months.


Josephine Baker-Heaslip, night is also a sun, 2016


Josephine Baker-Heaslip, new grass, 2017

What things in Rome have particularly struck you and influenced you during this period?

I’m not really able to talk about it until I can see the influences starting to operate in my work. For example, I can see it here in these drawings of organs.


Josephine Baker-Heaslip, last breath, 2017

It has been critical that in every church I have been into in Rome there has been this incredible strange musical edifice of the organ. Being confronted by an overtly Catholic culture here, as an atheist, has drawn out my interest in my own relationship to these places. The organ is so huge and so silent when it is not being played, even though it is practically the loudest instrument in the world. There is something about a need to believe and a will to sense, and how they are visible or invisible to one another, that is particularly powerful, which I want to try to visualize.

Also, in Rome the kerbs of the pavements have these interlocking sections. When my auntie visited me in Rome she said that my gran was always struck by these kerb patterns. Even though it is a very pragmatic form, it suddenly felt to me very personal and the shape became imbued with another kind of history. These interlocking semicircles now recur as a motif in a lot of my drawings.

I try to approach things very naively at times. Like seeing some huge holes through the façade of a Roman structure, and not knowing what they were for, guessing that they were to do with water, so my drawings of this form often have charcoal smudged into water flowing out of them. I like to play with the processes of the imagination and how they can predict reality, or structures of knowledge, in an attempt to figure out how I am affected by the landscapes around me.

Being here for twelve months I am able to take things quite slow and let the city take me by surprise. You never know what you are going to encounter and how it might change your practice. Rome is saturated with these moments, and at every turn there are moments that your gut has to pick out.

You are in Rome for 12 months, are there any specific places that you would like to visit?

I have been able to go to Venice for the Biennale and Turin for Artissima while I have been here, so far. However, in both places it has not been the art fairs or festivals necessarily, but other things that have struck me on my visits.

While in Italy, I am particularly interested in visiting the earthquake sites and in doing so start to understand a country that is much more affected by natural disasters (earthquakes and volcanoes) than the UK. I have used images of natural disasters in my work as a frightfully real metaphor for a lot of contemporary conditions. Thinking about the environment in the 21st Century and the distinction between natural and man-made catastrophe has been a constant theme in my practice for the past two years.

I would like to go and see Giampilieri Superiore (Messina) in Sicily, a small town that was completely decimated in 2009. And also visit the volcanic island of Stromboli. I don’t know exactly what will come out of these visits, but I know the motivation has much to do with observing a human relationship to nature in crisis, and how these extreme situations and their imagining relate to the complexity of the current migrant crisis.

How has being resident at the BSR affected your practice?

I am making a wall sculpture of a large backgammon board, based on a travel one that I have here in the studio that I brought with me, with the hope that I’d find someone to play with! This form has come into my work as both an architectural and natural one, and for me represents a certain kind of structure of loneliness. This is not immediately obvious from the work, of course, but for me it was the motivation to use this motif, as well as it being a popular ancient game in Mediterranean countries. The board, dice and pieces will also play with the ideas of cause, effect and chance — which are recurring themes in my work. So being at the BSR has affected me, but I think it is more about being self-aware and figuring out what you are affected by and using it in the work.

Will you show both sculpture and drawings in the mostra?

In the mostra I would like to use the space to experiment with the relationships between my sculptures and drawings. I didn’t end up doing this for the show at the RA Schools and I would really like to push this spatial relationship between really concentrated works on paper and scattered sculpture. I am looking forward to creating a series of connections in the room and from there think about where I would like to go next.

Josephine’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)

December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… James Epps

This is the fourth in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. As part of this series looking at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect, we interviewed James Epps, our 2017-18 Augusta Scholar. 


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

There is a use of ‘unconventional’ materials in your works/installations. Would you agree?

For me they are not unconventional. At present in the studio I am using coloured paper tablecloths to make these wall drawings. Paper tablecloths are a material that most people will have encountered in Rome, they are not uncommon as such, it’s just that the context is different when used to make a drawing. I wanted to use a material that I had encountered in Rome, rather than bringing a material from my studio back home, so they make sense as a material to work with for me.

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Studio shot (Photo: James Epps)

I wanted to use a material that was here in abundance, that was commonplace, not something that is particularly specialist. It’s along the same lines of Arte Povera, where they would use potentially any material, often something quite cheap and very accessible. So in Italy there is this idea of using commonplace materials that are not traditional fine art materials, but the most appropriate materials for the work being made.

A paper tablecloth isn’t permanent, on a table you can spill wine and then it gets thrown away and a new one is got out for the next person. I like this quality that they are not meant to last, they are meant to be thrown away. The work I have been making in the studio and will show for the mostra, is site-specific, it will only be there for the duration of the show, then it will disappear. In a sense I am using the tablecloth in a way that is similar to how it is used on the street, at a table.

When looking in different shops in Rome and deciding what material to use I was really struck by the colours of the tablecloths. They were very easy to choose as they stood out in the shop above all the other things. It was an instinctive choice to go for them, then I began to think about the material in different ways, the qualities that it holds.

They are very quick and easy to make things with. I have been cutting them and using wallpaper paste to put them onto the walls. When I put them up, I do it in quite a quick way so that you get the wrinkles, you can see where they have been cut and torn, so both the speed of making and the materiality is visible there in the work once it is on the wall.

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Studio shot (Photo: James Epps)

I will not take any of the work home after the mostra, except for a few samples as a record. For me it is quite important that it just exists for a certain amount of time and only in that space. I don’t want to try and prolong it, I am interested in the finite moment of the work.

Have you already thought about what you will present at the December Mostra? Will there be an installation that will be a reaction to the space itself?

I have been doing lots of different trials and experiments in the studio, and seeing how I could work with the material, what it does and what might be possible. Looking in the gallery space helped quite a lot, visualising a particular context.


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Studio shot (Photo: James Epps)

Working with dimensions of the architectural features, and using a particular feature of the gallery means that I can repeat a pattern that mirrors the space. Going into the gallery and looking at the space has been completely integral to what I am going to make, I very much had the idea only after seeing the space.

The exhibition will be the first time the work exists. A lot of my work exists beforehand as paper plans and tests, but it will never exist or come together fully until I install in the space. There is always an unknown element until I make the work in-situ.

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Studio shot (Photo: James Epps)

Artists like Sol LeWitt in the past have spent quite a bit of time in Italy. Are there any specific artists that you are currently looking into during your stay in Rome that have passed through Italy/have had experience in Italy?

I have been looking into LeWitt’s work in Italy, he had a house in Spoleto and a lot of fresco painters informed his work. However, I think the thing that you can really see in his work made in Italy, is the use of colour.

Other artists who have previously worked here have said that in Italy they really wanted the colour to come through in what they made. There is a sense of life and excitement in these colours, which are qualities that you encounter in Rome. Colour has always been integral in my work, so this hasn’t necessarily just come from being in Rome, but it definitely feels pertinent to being here.

Before I came to the BSR I had been very conscious of Robert Rauschenberg’s time spent working around Italy and the Mediterranean, even though it was just for a relatively short period in his career. Seeing some of the iconic works he made, especially the photographs taken in the Capitoline Museums of the head of Constantine and his photos in Venice, you get the idea of his excitement of exploring Italy coming through the different images.

Robert Rauschenberg also made the Feticci Personali, which he installed in the Pincio Gardens, just across the park from the BSR. Being conscious of that work, which he made in such proximity to where we are based is difficult to ignore. He installed this work in the gardens, which was only ever going to be there for a brief moment. There is a spontaneity which feels very relevant to the way I make my work, going somewhere new and letting the environment inform what I make and, for me, really soaking up the city.

Have you visited many different sites while you have been resident here at the BSR? Are there any that have particularly inspired you?

Visiting the Etruscan Necropolis at Tarquinia was probably the most memorable visit that I’ve had so far, seeing the incredible painted Etruscan tombs. Some are figurative and some have mythological scenes, but they also use a lot of geometric patterns and colour banding. These paintings, despite being 2,500 years old, look very fresh and there was such a sense of life to them. The way that they were made also looks very quick and very free and those kinds of qualities definitely struck me. All the tombs are underground, down a dark staircase, and you have to press a little light to illuminate them, making it quite a theatrical experience. This visit has stuck with me, both because it was an experience that was quite alien to me and also the quality of the paintings they made.

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Etruscan Necropolis at Tarquinia, Tomb of the Leopards (Photo: James Epps)

You mention you are interested in patterns, have you looked at any of the mosaics in Rome?

In my project proposal I said that I would look at the mosaics at the Baths of Caracalla and also at Segni. Unfortunately it’s not possible to see the mosaics at Segni, but after discussing these mosaics with BSR Archaeology Officer, Stephen Kay, he told me of a similar interesting mosaic at the Villa of the Papyri, at Herculaneum. I was able to get a permit to visit this site thanks to Permissions Officer, Stefania Peterlini. It was incredible to see this mosaic preserved in such amazing condition and to see the original colours. The experience of having a guide to take me in on my own was incredible as I was able to encounter this mosaic still in the villa context without ropes and other people. 

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Tesserae mosaic in the Villa dei Papiri (Photo: James Epps)

Seeing mosaics in their original context was something I was very keen to do here in Italy, as opposed to seeing them in museums, where they are up on a wall, like a painting, rather than on the floor where they were intended to be encountered.

Seeing all the fantastic mosaics in churches, like the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, where every surface is covered with something, was incredible, opus sectile mosaics alongside Byzantine mosaics. It was really incredible seeing that intensity of artworks and decoration in one space.

How have you found working in the BSR community?

Going around Rome with different artists has been really good, seeing how other artists look at the city, as well as going with them to places that I might not otherwise think to visit myself.

My most fun trip to a church, probably in my whole life, was with Patrick O’Keeffe (Giles Worsley Rome Fellow) to San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, where I was part of an experiment he was conducting for his research, trying on eye-tracking goggles which track the specific route a person’s eyes follow within a space. There are some similarities between my work and what he is doing, how the eye engages with architecture and artworks, so it was a really interesting insight into how he approaches these questions from the perspective of an architect.

Being at the BSR feels like sitting down with twenty of the best tour guides in Rome for breakfast! To get a sense of the other award-holders’ and staff members’ enthusiasm for different places in Rome and their knowledge is very special.


James’ work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)


December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Emily Motto

This is the third in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. We will be taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect. Third to be interviewed is Emily Motto, our 2017-18 Derek Hill Foundation Scholar.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

How has your project evolved since being in Rome?

When I came here the focus of my proposal was to look at lots of the Renaissance illusionistic frescos – and spend time in places like the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio, with the ceiling painted by Andrea Pozzo, and experience other frescos painted by him and others, like those we saw on our tour of the convent of Trinità dei Monti. I really wanted to take from how sculptural they are, and ways they play with the space and the shapes they’re painted on, and was thinking about how I could make pictures and drawings with a lot of volume. Our first trip to the Forum with Robert Coates-Stephens, and being surrounded by so many ruins, has also really inspired a lot of things I’ve been making here. I really like to make sculptures that have a sense of instability and transience – and this is so present in the city. Experiencing these different parts of Rome together has been an incredibly inspiring combination actually – seeing both decaying surfaces, and illusions of infinite content, of heavens.


Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio, with the ceiling painted by Andrea Pozzo (Photo: Emily Motto)

Your installations incorporate a broad spectrum of materials and imagery. Could you tell us more about that?

The materials and imagery I use are things that I find and see around me. I think that there is something about tactility which is very important, and that they have some kind of sense of independence. And a kind of temporality that is fun to play with.

Before I came here I was printing lots of digital images in my work. But when I came here I was excited to explore the frescos and how images were constructed by hand, and for very specific viewing, hundreds of years before our use of digital replication.

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Provisional Conditions, Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall, London (Photo: Emily Motto)

Will this installation be different from work you have done in London?

Making things with materials that I have found here in Rome has been really great and quite different – I’ve been working a lot with these big rolls of cardboard as surfaces to paint on and build things with, and with cement. I’ve been experimenting with other ways to scale things that I’ve seen to these more palpable sizes without the large printer I was using back in London too, using different ways of projecting, and by drawing freehand. I have taken a lot of photographs while I have been here too as a process of recording things, which I’m sure I’ll continue using when I get back to London, there’s been so much to take in here.

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Work in progress, studio shot (Photo: Emily Motto)

There seem to be many layers and access points when seeing/reading your work. Have you found any overlap between your practice and the structure of the city?

In the first and second week I found the layers of the city a bit overwhelming – but very inspiring in that kind of confusion. I found it tricky to distinguish between all the different layers of ancient ruins, as to me everything was so new. The longer I have been here, and with the historians, the easier it has been to distinguish between these and see how they all fit together. I love all the stories of reuse of materials in the city. There is this heaviness in the way that everything has been preserved at the moment here, and how the decay of the remaining fragments and monuments has been controlled. I like to use the weight and fragility of materials I’m using, and to use all of these dependencies with an openness to making something else – passing control to different materials or parts of the process, I suppose it’s quite organic in that sense. The Roman skies are something I have been really inspired by when walking around and being here – perhaps even more so than the skies and heavens in the frescos I was keen to see actually.

Will you incorporate these skies into the installation?

Yes, I think I will. I have been painting some of these skies out from the photos I’ve taken – the buildings are so heavy and dense without them. And I’ve been painting these large quite flat solid skies alongside these towers in the studio. The skies are so important in these heavenly frescos, but also in so much of the architecture here, which I hadn’t realized before, especially in structures like the Pantheon. Rome seems to be full of these allusions to the infinite.

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Studio shot (Photo: Emily Motto)

How have you found working alongside artists, architects and scholars at the BSR?

I have learned so much from being at the BSR and visiting places with the historians. I’ve discovered so many stories and histories to things that I never would have known of the fragments if I’d seen them alone, like how so much of the marble in churches, like St Peter’s, was actually pinched from the Colosseum walls.

You are part Italian, how are you reconnecting with your Italian heritage while you are here?

Yes, and what was really cool was hearing the Paolozzi lecture (‘Eduardo Paolozzi: transnational belongings’ Derek Duncan, St Andrews), as my dad is Italian but born in England, and my nonna is from a village a few hours outside of Rome. She came to the UK in a very similar to way to Paolozzi’s family who left around the time of the war – and worked making ice cream like them too! It was exciting to hear how that inspired his work, and I’m looking forward to visiting my relatives whilst I’m here.

Emily’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)

December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Dominic Watson

This is the second in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. We will be taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect. Second to be interviewed is Dominic Watson, our 2017-18 Rome Fellow in Contemporary Art.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Dominic is a video artist who will show a video of Fascist sculptures at EUR and Foro Italico

You mentioned a transition in your practice from sculpture to less physical work (video art)… could you tell us a bit more about that? 

I studied sculpture on my BA, when I was a young artist figuring out what art is and what it all means. After a four-year course doing sculpture I sort of felt that it was what I was supposed to be doing, and felt like I had committed to it. But I struggled with making sculpture for ages and really found it difficult to make it do what I wanted it to. I would often make something and expect too much from it. But no viewer is ever going to have as intimate a knowledge as you do of the work that is in your head. So I went through this very public divorce, trying to get over sculpture. I began to make videos. When I started to make the videos I really went right back to the start of what it might mean to make art. I tried to forget all my art education and just start from the beginning.


I started to make these performance of quite crude gestures or actions. Essentially using my body to make sculpture within a landscape, as opposed to using clay or bronze.

In this second video I used the idea of sculpture as the subject to try to talk about sculpture in the dumbest and the least respectful way possible, adopting the persona of a wayward football fan trying to provoke or undermine this inanimate object.

I made a whole series of these performances and eventually stopped with the sculpture and became more interested in the physical body and dancing. Now I have come to Rome and sculpture has come back into my work, so really I have come around full circle.

What are you working on in Rome?

I am making this video which is comprised of footage I have taken of Fascist sculptures from EUR and Foro Italico.

The scenes are intersected with footage of objects that I have made. One is an internal bodily scene – here are some cells I have been making.


Mitochondria cells (Photo: Alice Marsh)



Muscle fibre (Photo: Dominic Watson)

These mitochondria cells, which entered the human biological system about two million years ago are responsible for the ageing process. Scientists think that they are able to essentially prevent the ageing process, which is fascinating and also, quite disturbing. The idea that this invention would create a dystopian world and a divide between society — a sort of fascism in a way. Between those who can afford it and those who can’t.

I am interested in exploring this idea using the sculptures that were built in the 1920s and 1930s at EUR and Foro Italico.


Statue from Foro Italico (Photo: Dominic Watson)

The bodies are very distorted and overly muscular. I have been filming and focusing on them to the point where they have become abstract and a lot less like human bodies. I am essentially trying to create an aesthetic that is kind of a genetic mutation and genetic preservation I guess.

The protagonist of the film is a modern-day alchemist.  I’m taking this historical figure and putting him in a contemporary context, he will be a kind of puppet animated through stop frame animation. I’m working on these prosthetic hands at the moment.


Prosthetic hand (Photo: Alice Marsh)

The film will be overlaid with a musical score which I’ll edit too.

Have you chosen the musical score…?

No, it’ll be less music and more sound effects. I want to make it sound very clumsy and heavy handed, sound effects — as opposed to musical instruments — are less harmonious which really helps with this. There shall be very little language in it, and what I do use will be very basic. I am even thinking of putting in a few words in Italian. My grasp of Italian is pretty poor and I am quite interested in limiting the vocabulary I can use.

Has it been easy filming in these locations?

I have done loads of filming so far at the Foro Italico. I’ve filmed once at night because I wanted the spot lights on them. But when I got there the lights were off and it was pitch black. There were some sculptures that were close to the football stadium and they were lit by the light from the car park, which gave this really nice amber effect, it gives the stones this strange molten-like quality. Then I went back again and the lights were on and the footage is completely different, it looks very black and white almost like Expressionist cinema. The size of the statues, being so tall, means that the angle of the camera is always quite tight so the footage feels quite ominous.



Statues from Foro Italico (Photos: Dominic Watson)

EUR is weird, here there are more references to mythology and Classical sculpture. But at the Foro Italico you can see the true obsession with form and that is when the true and real ideas of the sculpture come out, there is something a bit more subversive.

Do you think you will be coming back to Rome?

Yeah I think that I will, I would love to. There are already so many other works that I would like to make while I am here. So after the show I shall see what what materials I can extract, and make extra footage.


Dominic’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays. 

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)