December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Mariam Gulamhussein

Thank you to everyone who made the December Mostra a success. Our eighth and final artist interview is of Mariam Gulamhussein, our Giles Worsley Fellow.

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Studio view, 2019

Your research interest for this residency focuses on the architect Luigi Moretti and how his work was influenced by Michelangelo, especially in the building Casa il Girasole in Rome. Could you tell us more about it?

Moretti had an eclectic way of applying Michelangelo’s sensitivity into his own architecture. What was originally an aim to understand the ‘feeling of construction’ in Michelangelo’s designs since the age of 19, later developed into an architectural ambition that he explored, not only through his writings and making (sketching, plaster casting, photographing Michelangelo’s work) – but in his own architectural designs. During my time in Rome it has been important for me to get a good understanding of these influences, firstly analysing the original documentation and models held at the Archivio Moretti-Magnifico and the Archivio Centrale dello Stato di Roma, and then placing Moretti’s explorations alongside my own physical responses to the building. For me the Casa ‘Il Girasole’ which is just around the corner from the BSR on viale Bruno Buozzi, is particularly significant because it shows not only tectonic and formal assonance with Michelangelo’s work but material assimilations in light, colour and texture. Ultimately the proposal invites a contemporary reflection on the value of our built history as precedent and I hope to take an essence of this feeling into my own architectural process today.

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‘Il Girasole’, 35mm b&w film photograph printed on fibre paper, 300 x 400 mm, 2019.

Do you consider yourself to be a visual artist?

I don’t know if I can categorise myself in this way. If I reflect on where I am now, being at BSR is such a special opportunity to learn from both scholars and artists and I feel like I have been in a privileged position of being in between the two. The way I’m working is trying to explore this relationship to the arts firstly in the process using more artistic ways of making as a means of researching and naturally therefore in the result. During my time I have asked myself a similar question about the nature of my work and I think it is polyvalent and this multiplicity is what I enjoy the most.

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‘Il Girasole’, negative void plaster and clay cast, 2019.

 

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Bea Bonafini

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The seventh interview is of Bea Bonafini, our Abbey Scholar.

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Bea in her studio at the BSR

What is your relationship with materials like ceramic and fabric?

I approach both of them as materials to be stained and layered, and then reconfigured again and again. I use fabrics because of their versatility, my daily intimacy with them, because they keep us warm and embellish the body, they make objects comfortable, it’s what we sleep in. I like using an inlay technique to shape the material into a patchwork made up of separate entities. The cut-out form can be removed, repeated and replaced. Within the rules I set myself, the process of making can become very methodical, where the repetitive slicing and splicing eventually creates a complex composition of juxtaposed and superimposed forms.

My relationship to ceramics is closer to food. I knead clay and dough in the same way, and whereas one becomes edible the other becomes its container. I’ve made ceramics that have a functionality that is then stretched into something more abstract and surreal. My recent series looked at ceramics in a religious context – Acquasantiere were used a lot in southern Italy, at the entrance of homes or churches, depicting an iconic figure like the Virgin and Child. They contain holy liquids while also referencing very bodily things. I began staining porcelain with pigments in the same way I do with my fabrics by using chalk, pastels or oils. The pigments don’t just sit on the surface but stain the fibres and the clay, permeating the whole of the material.

My textile pieces can be really monumental, from 12 or 15 metres long, to much smaller and intimate hand sewn pieces. When I work with textiles, it’s often horizontally on the floor and it’s very sculptural. Whereas the ceramics give me that direct relationship with my body.

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Laboratorio di calchi del De Angelis a Cinecitta

You always work with fragmentation and in Italy you have the chance to see fragments of Etruscan and Roman frescoes. In which way are you thinking of linking them with your work?

I’ve been thinking more and more about how through time things can be superimposed. How a layer of painting is painted over with different imagery at some point later in time, hiding the previous work but not entirely, and so they coexist. They are overlapping and speaking over each other. I’ve also been thinking about layers of soil that contain different objects within it. I’ve been doing tests with jesmonite poured in layers to trap fragments of beach glass or horse hair or tiny bits of ceramics within it. I’ve then been smashing them to turn them into rubble, and trapping them between sheets of plastics amongst a collaged composition of other fragments of drawings, prints and fabrics. I’m thinking more and more about how objects can contain many other objects within them, and our ideas of how to salvage material, like a healing process.

Bea’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

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Rilievo in tufo a Cerveteri all’entrata del museo

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Max Fletcher

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The sixth interview is of Max Fletcher, our Sainsbury Scholar.

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Max in his studio at the BSR

How did you become interested in the play El Nost Milan by Carlo Bertolazzi?

I had been reading William Morris’s play The Tables Turned; or, Nupkins Awakened which was written in the 1890s in London. At the same time, I was also reading a Louis Althusser essay, The ‘Piccolo Teatro’: Bertolazzi and Brecht. Carlo Bertolazzi, the subject of Althusser’s text, was an Italian contemporary of Morris, and while the themes that they explore are similar, the form that each’s writing takes could not be more different.

Morris’s play has a clear narrative and deals in no uncertain terms with the prison system, police corruption, wealth inequality, and protest. After Judge Nupkins dishes out heavy sentences to the poor, and lets the wealthy go free, a tipping point is reached when the court room is stormed by Morris’s comrades. The result is a socialist utopia, blighted only by the lone figure of Nupkins who wonders through the countryside, unsure of his place in this new society. Bertolazzi, on the other hand, has a more nuanced understanding of form. El Nost Milan’s setting is a funfair and consists of the unemployed in 1890s Milan walking the stage and waiting for something, anything. Food, perhaps, if they’re lucky. The play ends with Nina, the daughter of a fire-eater, leaving world of the fair and poverty in exchange for the other side, where in Althusser’s words ‘pleasure and money reign.’ It is a world of exploitation and corruption but at least there is truth. Each act follows the same structure: nothing much happens as some forty characters come and go, yet there is a sudden flash of action, a conflict, before the act closes. This radically changes the course of the play. The gap between non-dialectical time (waiting) and dialectical time (sudden action/ conflict) is what so excites Althusser and makes Bertolazzi’s play so radical.

In short, Bertolazzi’s play is highly eccentric, and as a result only achieved limited popular success. Yet it is the oddness of the play and its unconventional form that lead Althusser to suggest that it possesses a sort of alienation effect that goes beyond simply actor/ audience relations and manifests itself in the structure of the play, as with Brecht’s best plays. It is something that occurs between the ‘latent’ action of those passing time and the ‘manifest’ action that shapes each act. I found this account of the play compelling and wanted to research further into Carlo Bertolazzi. Yet, the play was written in Milanese dialect and has never been translated. It experienced a revival between 1955 and 1980 with Giorgio Strehler putting on several performances at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, and the play even travelled to Paris, where Althusser was in the audience. The combination of an exemplary form and lack of an English translation drew me to research the play further and use it as a base for my time in Rome.

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Pieter Brugel the Elder, The Misanthrope, Capodimonte, Napoli

In your opinion is there a connection between painting and theatre?

Painting and theatre have always overlapped, and it is not uncommon to hear painting being described either positively or negatively as ‘theatrical.’ I am interested in how a relationship with painting can be maintained, while also incorporating a wider set of interests, theatre included.

Rosalind Krauss is adamant that medium cannot be abandoned, but nor can it retreat into itself. Instead it must be seen as a layering of conventions, in constant need of re-articulation. For Krauss, Marcel Broodthaers’s work could easily be characterised a part of a ‘post-medium condition’ but instead she suggests that medium is integral to Broodthaers. In his film A Voyage on the North Sea, we see a number of still images including: a painting of a ship at sea, the sails of the ship, the painted waves, and weave of the canvas. Each image is attributed a page number, but the sequence is muddled, indicating an incomplete history. Broodthaers states the film deals with ‘painting as subject,’ which Krauss suggests refers to medium rather than content.

In using Bertolazzi’s El Nost Milan as source material, I am interested in the written form of the play, but also how it becomes a device for structuring a series of paintings. Page number, act, scene, the use of dialect, and translation, are all variables in a sequence of paintings. These variables become part of the apparatus of painting. The paintings themselves can use theatre to imply a narrative, but at the same time eschew that narrative. They are capable of operating in isolation, but also as the backdrop to performance, to theatre.

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Max’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

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Pasolini Monument, Ostia

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Marlee McMahon

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The fifth interview is of Marlee McMahon, our Cranbourne Fellow.

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Marlee McMahon in her studio at the BSR

You’re a painter, but during this residency you have decided to experiment with the technique of collage. Could you explain why you decided to use another media?

My painting practice is quite time consuming and uses many materials. Rome provided me with the opportunity to push away from the rigid masking process that I had been using to make work; ultimately, removing paint was a simple way for me to open up my practice and to discover new ways of making. As colour is important in my work, I found that paper was a nice way to play with immediate colour, shape, and composition. Paper / collage allowed me a sense of freedom that I struggled to find in other materials.

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Designer Sale (M-tooth), 2019, Acrylic on Canvas (60 x 56 cm)

What do you find interesting in work by David Tremlett?

I think the materiality and his response to space through colour and shape are the key reasons why I am interested in his work. I appreciate the sensitivity is his application of pigment onto architecture in Italy. In many of his public installations he brings something new, colour, shape and an idea to a pre-existing place. The spaces that he installs his drawing directly onto are sites that he may not have a personal connection to. The kind of stamping of pigment onto (these sometimes foreign) buildings I find engaging. He manages to mark these spaces without offending them. Visually, I’m drawn to the different pigments that he uses, the colours are so organic and through his composition he creates works that have the most wonderfully quiet and calming effect.

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David Tremlett, decorazioni esterne della Chiesetta della Beata Maria Vergine del Carmine, Coazzolo (Asti) 2017

Marlee’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

 

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Jacob Wolff

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The fourth interview is of Jacob Wolff, our Rome Fellow in Contemporary Art.

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Jacob Wolff in his studio at the BSR

In October 2018, the lost murals by Italian Futurist Giacomo Balla were rediscovered in a building under renovation. The boldly coloured murals, which cover around 80 square metres of walls and ceiling, once decorated the Bal Tic Tac, a nightclub opened in 1921. Your residency in Rome is focusing on this fantastic space, that you were allowed to visit thanks to the architect Marco Pagliara who kindly gave you the permission to see it. Could you please tell us more about this experience?

I had seen some photos online but it was a shock to see it in the flesh. I’m glad I got to see it before all the conservation was finished because it was still in a fragmented state, like something that was still emerging from the walls.

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Futurism’s obsession with movement and speed influences your practice, that you develop by sliding glass stencils across the surface of your paintings. It’s a very peculiar technique, that you started to elaborate in 2008 and which also has a connection with architecture, another very important subject for the futurist. Are you experimenting with the relationship between architecture and painting during your time in Rome? Could the December Mostra be a good moment to do so?

What I’ve realised is particularly important to me about this technique is that it shows the duration of its making, in that each line is a spray of colour in a sequence. It’s as much an action or piece of choreography as a painting. Lots of paintings you look at eliminate that evidence of time.

With the architecture, the key is that these new pieces determine their own forms and edges, instead of filling in. This means they occupy a space more like sculpture. The architecture becomes part of them and it becomes important in deciding where they are located. I’m looking forward to testing that in the gallery for the Mostra, as well as a window for Una Vetrina and street walls in Rome.

Jacob’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

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Jacob Wolff installing one of his pieces at the BSR

 

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Sikelela Owen

As we approach the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The third interview is of Sikelela Owen, one of our Abbey Fellows.

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Do you consider your work experimental, and if so, how?

I have a consistent practice, but occasionally the subject requires a change of material or handling. Also, I just work differently across different surfaces. While I’m here I’ve been trying to unpick and consolidate these ideas through experimentation. Experimenting with taking up more space, changing how people interact with the work, how it is seen and displayed. I suppose at the moment I’m asking myself how it’s most effective, whether it’s honest if there is enough room for the viewer to participate and mainly if it makes me feel like I do when I’m in front of work I admire. I came to Rome to see how art is experienced and displayed outside of the gallery. In churches, in tombs, in homes and on walls.

Now I’m working on the wall and with news media images around loss that have really stayed with me and trying to bring the same level of intimacy inherent in the practice with varying degrees of success. Coming here gave me the opportunity to see what works best.

However, Rome has also given me too much to consider, this has slowed down my practice which I think has been good. For instance, I knew I would love San Luigi de Francesi but I didn’t know how much the columbarium at Scipious tomb would affect me. It’s also made me sit with these threads a lot longer than I would at home. And even tried a few things to see how they evolve and function together. But even in their experimentation, they are all rooted in storytelling, art history and the domestic.

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Viv on the green, 2018, 120×120 cm, Oil on canvas

Does the question of belonging come into your work, and if so, in what ways?

Yes, just by virtue of the fact that often the people I represent are members of my communities, women, Londoners and the African diaspora. The idea of belonging has become more central to my work together with ideas of authenticity. Especially now that there are large world events and debates that seem to ask the same questions and have a central position in our society.

My mum is from Zimbabwe and my dad is from Jamaica, so thinking of my relationship with these two different cultures is part of my identity. The notion of belonging as something concrete is challenging, I am more comfortable with the idea of belonging to many communities and narratives.

The idea of loss, memory and memorial are difficult to unpick from belonging because when you lose someone you love you lose a part of the stories and memories you share. The idea of what’s left behind and how many stories go unheard and untold is the reason for this re-examination of old images and photos including those whose stories I don’t know.

For example, pictures of my great-grandma, or images of family that I’ve never met but who were so connected to Jamaica. For me, the idea of belonging and community is an every-day consideration almost as pressing as the idea of intimacy, humanity and empathy today.

Sikelela’s work will be exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 6 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Fine Arts).

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Photo courtesy of S. Owen

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Tal Regev

As we approach the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The second interview is of Tal Regev, our Derek Hill Foundation Scholar.

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You came to Rome with the aim of researching ecstasy in Italian art. You are especially interested in the sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. How are you developing your work in Rome in relation to this subject matter?

In my research about ecstasy in Italian art I am specifically drawn to the fall as a tactical response to an emergency. I am interested in the attempt of Teresa to find refuge from the most silent symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia and fainting fits which she notes in her writings. The angel pierces through her heart with a golden spear and when he pulls it out she sinks into ecstasy.

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The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1645-52

I am interested in the realms that one falls into in ecstasy and how very subtle violences between individuals could push towards losing the boundaries of the physical body. In my research I’m specifically looking for notes of fracture and violence in Italian art. I am interested to bring those elements into my work as a silence which underpins everything.

Rapid shifts, 2018, oil on canvas, 190 x 160 cm

Tal Regev, Rapid Shifts, 2018. Oil on Canvas 190 x 160 cm

The shape of a snake recurs often in your paintings. Does this figure have a specific meaning in your practice?

The snake is a part of my talismanic series Rapid Shifts: swirling snakes leave the body and pull out information deeply embedded in the cells. They cut cords, and detoxify the blood cells. They operate as a healing element in my work, as a counterpoint to the personal experiences that leak through bodies.

Tal’s work will be exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 6 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

Viscera, 2017, oil on canvas, 170 x 150 cm

Tal Regev, Viscera, 2017. Oil on Canvas 170 x 150 cm