Letters Post Covid-19: Sinta Tantra

Our Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator, Marta Pellerini, asked a series of artists to imagine and explore new ways of sharing and thinking about art in the aftermath of Covid-19. The following text is by artist Sinta Tantra (2016–17 Bridget Riley Fellow).

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Just as the lockdown began, I was about to open a new solo exhibition, Modern Times, curated by Guillaume Vandame at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery in London. It felt chaotic in the week leading up to the opening in mid-March. However, I believed we had to push on, make the most of things and install the show as originally planned. What made it challenging was the significant amount of site-specific works we had to install — a pink vinyl on the glass roof; a live birdsong projected from a speaker on top of a tree; archival film footage; a painted mural on the staircase; a sculpture garden on the terrace.

As other London galleries were cancelling their private views that week, Kristin, my gallerist, decided that we would have an online opening using Instagram Live. We held an informal dinner with the team, and that evening, I cooked a Balinese dinner for all. The next day the reality of lockdown was finally sinking in, and without an end in sight, I felt the urgent need to document the show with more than just photography. I thought of an online video in the format of a virtual walk-through tour which would give viewers from home a more intimate experience. Once uploaded, the video gradually gained momentum online and was featured in several digital publications including Wallpaper and Elle Decoration. Sadly the exhibition never opened to the public, but it did curiously seemed to have self-generated a virtual life of its own.

Although friends have suggested that I should present virtual tours for future exhibitions, I think we can all agree that there is nothing quite like being face to face with an artwork — for me, it’s all about materiality. In particular, there is a shade of blue that I use in my paintings that just cannot be picked up by the camera. When the focus of the art is colour, perception, and its relationship to space and architecture, it’s essential to see the artwork with your own eyes rather than through a screen.

I am lucky that my studio is at home in my flat in North London. Since lockdown, I’ve been able to work consistently with my core team, producing paintings and developing new ideas for public artworks. I’ve started daily routines such as yoga and running, staying in touch with friends and family, and have even begun a little herb garden on my balcony which has inspired me to try new recipes and become friendlier with neighbours.

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Photograph: courtesy by the artist

Like other artists, many of my upcoming projects have been either postponed or cancelled. In some cases, the impact of COVID has forced me to change the work entirely. One example is with my public art commission in Treviso, Italy, where I was to create an interactive installation in the courtyard of the Gallerie delle Prigioni. Unfortunately today, audience participation is now seen as a contagion rather than an act of communion or togetherness. As an alternative, I designed a Love Seat, so that two participants can sit precisely at one metre apart — the exact measurement of social distancing in Italy. Has COVID somehow transformed this work into something more or less exciting? As artists, do we purposefully include the realities of COVID within our practice or seek to avoid them?

This global pandemic is a reminder to us all of the incredible value art brings into our lives, especially in these trying times. And as the world shifts with the additional impact of Black Lives Matter, I foresee the dramatic and unsettling transformations that lie ahead of us. Undoubtedly the world will never be the same, but we as artists and individuals have the power to be part of a positive change should we wish. I am scared, but at the same time hopeful — in fact, more hopeful than I have ever been.

Sinta Tantra (2016 –17 Bridget Riley Fellow).

The text is part of the project Letters post Covid-19 by BSR Visual Art Residency Residency and Programme Curator Marta Pellerini. Read Marta’s introduction to the project here.

Letters Post Covid-19: Alessandra Ferrini

Our Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator, Marta Pellerini, asked a series of artists to imagine and explore new ways of sharing and thinking about art in the aftermath of Covid-19. The following text is by artist and educator Alessandra Ferrini (2018 UAL Mead Rome Residency).

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Reflections around the effects of the ‘Covid-19 emergency’ have a tendency of making generalisations, conceiving the lockdown and isolation measures as a monolithic experience. Yet, differences abound at both macro and micro levels. In the UK and US, for instance, it has been proven how Covid-19 has affected some demographics, specifically Black and South Asian, in a disproportionate way. In addition, the emergency measures have been impacting particularly those who are chronically ill, have a disability or struggle with mental health issues — as well as people whose immigration or housing status confines them at the margins, with no rights nor hope for support. Any reflection on ‘post Covid-19’, I believe, must take into account such varying experiences. To rethink the art world in light of the pandemic, thus, we should aim for a wider, structural transformation that actively fights systemic oppressions.

When emergency measures began, I remember hoping that mobility restrictions might lead to a sustained turn towards research, radical care and ‘deep listening’ in the arts, away from the focus on hyper production and visibility. Such aspects can be particularly detrimental for research-based practices that are not usually concerned with the art market and require long-term commitment with the object of study. As I was enjoying the slowing down of the art world (despite the risk of impending bankruptcy) museums and galleries were experiencing a crisis of identity fuelled by the fear of becoming irrelevant in a world dominated by virtual interaction. As it has happened, many have resorted to pre-crisis thinking through the hyper production and circulation of online content — often demanding artists to contribute without financial retribution. On the other hand, open calls and funding opportunities for hastily produced artworks in response to the Covid-19 emergency have mushroomed, asking artists to provide answers on such a heterogeneous and confusing new reality, without the appropriate space or tools to metabolize it. Then again, production has trumped research and the possibility of offering more thorough or mindful reflections.

All the while, the Black Lives Matter movement and the ecological crisis are demanding us to bring about a deep systemic change. As the art world slowly resumes to ‘business as usual’, can we develop a practice of radical care that won’t be cannibalised by turbocapitalist notions of progress and adaptation? Can we embrace research and deep listening to reshape the art system so that its political potential can be truly fulfilled? And in this equation what should the role of museums and galleries be? To radically rethink the system and valuing the ‘lessons’ of the Covid-19 emergency as well as the interconnected causes of the BLM and environmental rights movements, we need to renegotiate power dynamics and essentially commit to long-term investment in change rather than quick fixes.

Alessandra Ferrini is an artist, educator and PhD candidate at the University of the Arts London. Her work is lens-based and focuses on Italian foreign and racial politics, questioning the legacies of colonialism and Fascism.

The text is part of the project Letters post Covid-19 by BSR Visual Art Residency Residency and Programme Curator Marta Pellerini. Read Marta’s introduction to the project here

Letters Post Covid-19: Adam Chodzko

Our Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator, Marta Pellerini, asked a series of artists to imagine and explore new ways of sharing and thinking about art in the aftermath of Covid-19. The following text is by artist Adam Chodzko, Rome Scholar in Fine Arts (1998–9).

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Where did this all begin?

I was really trying to wonder exactly that when January began, well before I’d heard of Coronavirus.  I’d retreated into my own self-imposed lockdown; a gift through a break from teaching or any other deadlines. Nobody out there was interested so, with nowhere to be, I could, I hoped, start identifying exactly what I most wanted to look at in the present. And, in this dithering mode, work on some drawings, which I need to do in these occasional chinks of air and light that temporarily leak into ruptures in the ‘bustle’.  I bought, for a sculpture, a part of a dismantled Tornado jet’s wing – a part that looked like a leaf from a Pixar animation; cute, yet bringing death from above.  I was given by a local scientist some microscopy images he’d made of the process of Ash die back disease spreading at cellular level. In addition I’d become pretty sure that the affect of growth hormones involved in the act of pruning were mirroring domestic human events…

Surrounded by all these loose ends I somehow ended up thinking about a particular moment, the act of eating, putting something (something ‘wrong’) inside the body, that’s described in the Genesis creation myth with the rapid succession of new feelings and actions that immediately followed this first instance of self-consciousness.  This sequence of events produces an incredibly rich, intoxicating and extraordinarily complex knot bound around some apparently simple everyday actions.   I read The Social Psychology of Adam and Eve, a paper by Professor of Sociology, Jack Katz and anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas’s amazing Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo.  Both these texts seem to be about desire, limits, rules, beliefs, consciousness and the social.  At least, I began reading them but sensed that they were so significant that I had to take them very slowly as a drip feed.  Their message needed special time; for me to develop a higher intelligence in order to be able to properly understand them. Now it’s June; they still sit there waiting on the kitchen table, half read because they still seem too important.

In late February my elder son was in Vietnam on his gap year travels and sending out Instagram pics of himself doing cheeky poses on the border with China.  I became vigilant about monitoring the initial spread of the virus because he seemed so close to it.

With this series of prior encounters when the pandemic actually became our reality and not just other people’s and we (finally) went into lockdown I felt I’d already been dreaming it all as premonition. I was already in a massively slowed down state. I felt that I already knew how this enormous collective shift in reality felt and yet, despite this preparation, this ‘tip off’, still felt totally useless at recognising what it might really mean for us.

Covid has given us a model of contamination. It has shown how quickly something can become global just by going from one mouth to another. That’s an incredible demonstration of network theory. … It shows that we must not think of the personal and the collective as two distinct levels. The big climate questions can make individuals feel small and impotent. But the virus gives us a lesson. If you spread from one mouth to another, you can viralise the world very fast. That knowledge can re-empower us. —Bruno Latour

I like this idea of a rapid empowering viralising of the world through knowledge (and as importantly, the transmission of honest communication in the present to acknowledge what we don’t know) also managing to leap across time and between languages.  I’m increasingly reminded of Into Eternity, (2010), the brilliant documentary by Michael Madsen, about the construction of the Onkalo waste repository at the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant on the island of Olkiluoto, Finland.  It shows scientists speculating how to deal with our future us over the duration of 100,000 years when the nuclear waste finally becomes safe. Do they put a sign over the burial site warning future generations?  Or will a sign be misinterpreted as an indication that there’s treasure stashed below ground — an encouragement to explore?  What for me becomes the real subject of this film is the gentle, tentative, almost childlike way in which these scientists transmit their wonder, trying to extend their attention and care into such a distant future.  Nearly all of them seem to intuit that our future us will be a much more primitive species, comparatively (more) stupid, requiring a deeper level of consideration, responsibility and kindness; thinking ahead.

Adam Chodzko is an artist working across media, exploring our conscious and unconscious behaviour, social relations and collective imaginations through artworks that are propositions for alternative forms of ‘social media.’ Exhibiting work nationally and internationally since 1991, his work speculates how, through the visual, we might best connect with others. He was a Rome Scholar in Fine Arts (1998–9).

The text is part of the project Letters post Covid-19 by BSR Visual Art Residency Residency and Programme Curator Marta Pellerini. Read Marta’s introduction to the project here.

Letters from Lockdown: Pippo Ciorra

During lockdown, our Architecture Consultant, Marina Engel, asked a series of architects, to consider, or dream about, the role of the architect and urban design post Covid-19. The following text is by Pippo Ciorra, Professor of Design and Theory at University of Camerino and Senior Curator of Architecture at the MAXXI in Rome.

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My premise is that I hope that things will slowly go back to normal. It will take time and there will be social and economic casualties, but — needless to quote Hobsbawm — human progress is also based on the ability to forget and leave behind mistakes and wounds. The alternative would be paralysis and regression. However, this is a big trauma, just like a world war, and recovery from global trauma always implies that human kind learns something from the experience and turns it into some kind of positive innovation. If this interview aims at identifying in which areas such innovations (or relevant changes) should/would happen, I can here propose three fields of action, all related to the space of living/working.

The first and most obvious directly concerns the space of the house. There are already thousands of Covid and post-Covid projects posted, in these days on the web, showing how to expand your home into a mini-office, mini-gym, mini-restaurant, mini-garden etc. It is certainly interesting and useful, because it will probably give a new impulse to research on residential space. Still, we should acknowledge the incredible resilience of the typology of the house, which has been basically the same for four millenniums, and which has easily absorbed any similar changes in the past.

What will probably achieve more radical change in both the living and working space (and beyond) is instead the infrastructure. Going back to war-fueled innovations, they mostly happened in the field of infrastructure and tools. It seems clear that this will also happen this time. In the short run, cities will have to manage the conflict between the persistence of fear and the need to bring back the previous degree of activity in physical infrastructure. In the longer run, every home will need to be provided with a much broader band and instant connectivity. It is not simply us teaching students online or companies run from home. Why couldn’t the robot building a car be managed from the worker’s home instead of at Wolfsburg? We will also need to investigate how to combine these anti-virus tools together with climate consciousness, being aware it could be a very productive alliance.

Coming to the third point, I would like to speculate on the idea of dystopia and “smartness”. What we have learnt in these days is that the two concepts seem to love each other more that we had already expected. We’re seeing a new kind of dystopian space: not the late XX Century chaos, pictured by Blade Runner or JG Ballard, but images of clean, empty and unpolluted cities with everybody at home and nobody disturbing the beauty of monuments and landscapes. Control in this kind of dystopia is transferred to the invisible activity of a trillion networks and devices, monitoring and influencing our lives. We already knew that smart had a lot to do with control and we have already lost most of the battles in this war, but clearly the virus condition pushes this to the limit. This is where we will have to watch carefully and build some conceptual resistance. It will be important both to go back to the streets, the original space for democracy, and to build consciousness and counter-actions in the digital world.

Pippo Ciorra is Professor of Design and Theory at the SAAD School of Architecture and Design, University of Camerino. He is Senior Curator of Architecture at the MAXXI, Rome and Director of the International PhD Program Villard d’Honnecourt, IUAV Venezia.

The text is part of the project Letters From Lockdown by BSR Architecture Consultant Marina Engel. Read Marina’s introduction to the project here.

Letters from Lockdown: Stefano Boeri

During lockdown, our Architecture Consultant, Marina Engel, asked a series of architects, to consider, or dream about, the role of the architect and urban design post Covid-19. The following text is by architect and Professor of Urban Design at the Politecnico in Milan, Stefano Boeri, who also exhibited at the BSR in 2011.

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Looking at our offices in Shanghai, in Milan and in Albania, we have noticed, how in these days, we have lived as if in three parallel universes. As if, on the planet, there were different geographical and temporal areas. This incredible contagion, in an age of great globalization, has accentuated the construction of a sort of planet with different times.

This third global transformation event — after the two World Wars — has created a sense of urgency that we did not feel before the Corona Virus. The urgent need to understand that there must be a transition, but not between socialism and capitalism, nor between sovereignty and populism. A transition that must bring into play a new way of thinking about the space in which we live, the place where we live. Therefore, we must put into action immediate and strong choices.

First of all, mobility. We have to establish that, within a maximum of 3 years, the era of cars running on fossil fuels will end and that private transport will have to rely only on renewable sources.

Secondly, we need forestry: deforestation, the destruction of natural environments, is one of the main causes associated with the proliferation of viruses, such as those we have seen, which tend to move from one species to another. The deprivation of forests and green surfaces brings an worrying imbalance to all species, including ours. That’s why we must give space to nature and we must include a greater presence of trees and plants in contemporary cities, as well as preserving wild natural habitats.

Then, the energetic transition. Every house, every building, every block, must become a hub for both production and conservation of clean renewable energy. And we should create the conditions to build a production system of companies that produce energy locally?

We need a transition towards a new world. Only if we undergo a deep conversion in our way of thinking, together with our way of acting, will we be able to face this challenge. Together and starting right now.

Let’s start thinking about it!

Architect and urban planner, Stefano Boeri is Professor of Urban Design at the Politecnico in Milan and, since 2018, President of the Triennale in Milan. Stefano Boeri Architetti is based in Milan, Tirana and Shanghai .

The text is part of the project Letters From Lockdown by BSR Architecture Consultant Marina Engel. Read Marina’s introduction to the project here.

Letters from Lockdown: Carolyn Steel

During lockdown, our Architecture Consultant, Marina Engel, asked a series of architects, to consider, or dream about, the role of the architect and urban design post Covid-19. The following text is by architect, author and former Rome Scholar in the Fine Arts (1995–6) Carolyn Steel.

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Food after Covid-19

Whatever our world looks like post-COVID-19, one thing is for sure: it won’t be a return to business as usual. Although a global catastrophe, the pandemic represents a timely opportunity to reconsider how we live; a task that threats such as climate change and mass extinction made urgent even before the virus struck. As I argue in my recent book Sitopia (food-place), there is no better way to do this than through the lens of food. The greatest force shaping our lives, food binds us to one another and to the natural world. The fact that the current pandemic started in a Chinese wildlife wet market tells its own story: our relationship with nature is dangerously out of kilter. Monocultural industrial food production has dangerously weakened biodiversity, while our encroachment on wilderness exposes us to new disease. In the West, we have also seen how fragile our food systems really are, with empty supermarket shelves and warnings from farmers that, without migrant labour, crops will rot in the ground.

Yet positive stories have come out of the crisis too, in the shape of people sharing food with neighbours, celebrity chefs cooking for schools and producers collaborating to create new supply networks virtually overnight. Such rapid responses aren’t new: they also happened after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where food-based social networks sprang up that still exist today. I call this ‘disaster democracy’: the discovery, in adversity, of what really matters in life: health, safety, love, neighbourliness — and food.

The virus that is killing us has also done us a favour, by reminding us of what a good life really means. If we are to thrive in the future, we shall need more resilient, localised, seasonal food systems; more flexible local supply networks and stronger links between city and country.

Social resurgence almost always revolves around food: the shared problem of how to eat, after all, was how we evolved as a species. It is only in times of scarcity that we remember what food really is. Food is life: if we treat it as cheap, we cheapen life itself.

Carolyn Steel is a leading thinker on food and cities. Based in London, she is the author of Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives (2008) and Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World (2020).

The text is part of the project Letters From Lockdown by BSR Architecture Consultant Marina Engel. Read Marina’s introduction here

Meet the artists…Wendelien Bakker

An interview with Wendelien Bakker, the BSR Wallace New Zealand Residence Awardee, in which she speaks about the works she has produced during her residency at the BSR in January–March 2020.

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BSR artist studio. Photo: courtesy of the artist

In your practice, you often use your body in connection with water, sometimes against it. Could you tell us more about this relationship?

Water comes in so many different forms, it can be fluid or frozen, super forceful like waves or a gushing river or it can be gentle and calm. I’m interested in the challenge of trying to change the form or how to fight it as a human being. For example, when I’m sweeping away the pressure of a wave and how I can physically work against it. I enjoy exploring the limits of what my body can do and the determination and ‘wanting’ to change something using physical exertion. To make the water run uphill for example, everyone says it is impossible, but I would say oh yes, I want to try it, there must be way! This particular idea really intrigues me, I’m curious on how you could make water run uphill which I suppose is seeking a limitation of the material.
What I gravitate towards is to see how far I can get with limitations; I have to wait and see. Sometimes it is a success, sometimes it’s really not. But it is also about the journey to get to the point of failure, or of a potential failure. My initial plan when I first arrived here was using water in a way that could break something as hard as marble. It’s mind-blowing to me that you can use such a simple element as water to create such a powerful force that it can break such a hard material. Water can be also that, it can have such a force that it can break a rock.

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Carrara marble quarry. Photo: courtesy of the artist

I am intrigued by the way you use the environment that surrounds you to play with paradox: you build swimming pools where you cannot swim, you attempt to catch the movement of the water, you try to move the horizon. How did you use the environment of the BSR?

I have never really had a studio; I work in my backyard or wherever I find the space to work so this is the first time I have been given such a big space that is very specific in its use. Outdoor spaces have much less restrictions. In the first week I was kind of terrified as I felt I had to fill my studio up with things as it was so empty. I started creating very practical stuff, like a toothbrush holder, jugs out of stones or tool holders with materials that I found in the very close proximity of the BSR. Pebbles from around the tennis court, bits of marble…
I’ve been thinking about how people generally use a studio, people with a studio practice. Experimenting with materials, making things/objects related to other things/objects they’ve made but this is not how I normally work. For me it has become interesting to understand how to use the space of the studio in a way that reflects the different moments and materials I experience within the space.
What I generally tend to do is very site specific and research based: I come up with an idea, like I want to come to Italy and I want to split a rock. But here, now that I have an assigned studio, I feel like I have to use this space. So it is less of a research project but it is more of a kind of filling a space with things. I regularly used the library at the BSR, looking up ancient mining/rock splitting techniques.
I am very very aware of my surroundings, constantly observing my environment and I always want to try and see how I can use it in the most practical sense.

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Untitled, 2020, marble, tape, b&w photo. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

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The artist in her studio at the BSR. Photo credt: Viviana Calvagno

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

 

Meet the artists…Max Fletcher

An interview with Max Fletcher, our 2019-2020, Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture, in which he speaks about the works he has produced during his residency at the BSR.

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Footnotes on a Materialist Theatre, 2019, acrylic paint, gesso, canvas, 152 × 112 cm. Photo credit: Roberto Apa

How is literature important to your work?

I often use literature as generative device for making work. Yet, it is the footnotes, marginalia, or the act of translation, rather that the text itself that I tend to engage with when making work.

In Rome I have been working with the play titled El Nost Milan, by Carlo Bertolazzi. It was written in Milanese dialect and despite being in many ways radical in form, it never achieved popular success. In this occasion I’ve also collaborated with artist Andrea Celeste La Forgia, with whom I’ve made paintings that isolate various characters speech which is then translated. One of the paintings we produced, for instance, is based on the translation of a speech by the character Gasper. In short, the translation of El Nost Milan becomes the basis for a series of paintings.

The other painting that I’ve been working on, also made in collaboration with Andrea, is based on a postcard sent to Antonio Gramsci while he was imprisoned by the fascist government. The postcard quickly becomes detached from its original context, and the act of enlargement into a painting drastically changes the nature of imagery. The painting itself has little reference to literature but becomes a placeholder for a wider set of questions that do engage with literature. Gramsci’s writing advocated Luigi Pirandello’s Liola, another dialect play. The play was seen as being capable of subverting and undermining the official policy of the state. Yet, the play’s lead Liola, is a misogynist, and Pirandello was a supporter of the Italian state. My work seeks to question such antinomies, querying the space between ideology and literary form.

How have Gramsci and Pasolini influenced your work and what is the connection between them?

Perhaps Pasolini’s most famous poem and the title of a collection of his poems is Le ceneri di Gramsci or Gramsci’s Ashes. That Gramsci had a profound impact on Pasolini hardly needs to be stated and affected much of his thought. It is however a shared view on language and dialect that has most shaped the work that I have made in Rome, especially the collaborative work with Andrea.

As an adult, Pasolini learned Friulian dialect, something that despite shared roots with the Italian language was no small undertaking. Many of his early poems and theatre were written in Friulian, while his early film scripts were often in Roman. For Pasolini, dialect represented not only an authentic voice, but also the voice of history, often ignored in the present day. Gramsci was perhaps a little more suspect of dialect, seeing it as something of a paradox. On one hand, it offered a counter to the unified Italian language, and he was supportive of new generations learning it. On the other hand, he saw dialect as inherently provincial, and to solely speak in dialect was to be excluded from the possibility of affecting wider societal change. The paintings that I have made with Andrea seek to utilise such a contradiction, while also placing dialect theatre in relation to other realist fiction.

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Untitled, oil paint, canvas, gesso, 182 × 152 cm. Image: Courtesy of the artist

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The artist in his studio at the BSR. Photo credt: Viviana Calvagno

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

Meet the artists…Bea Bonafini

An interview with Bea Bonafini, our 2019-20 Abbey Scholar in Painting, in which she speaks about the works she has produced during her residency at the BSR.

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I conversed with you in dream, 2020, gouache on inlayed cork, 40 ×  30 cm. Image: courtesy of the artist

This is your second show at the BSR as an Abbey Scholar. What has changed in your practice since the show in December?

I’ve shifted my attention to looking more into the origins of the grotesque in painting. The Domus Aurea wall paintings for example, or the decorative painting framing frescoes in the Vatican or in the Orvieto cathedral, and so on. The term grotesque was applied to fresco painting in the ancient Roman ruins that were being discovered in the 15th and 16th centuries. They inspired artists at the time to consider surreal, bizarre or fantastical elements in painting as tools to move towards a freer, dream-like figurative depiction, that included the monstrous or the ugly. I’ve been thinking of the grotesque body as the site of fluid transitions: from human to animal, or from animate to ornamental. Nothing is what it seems. Anything is granted the ability to transform into something else, or to behave abnormally. I’ve been thinking about how we experience painting without borders, across space; how our way of consuming images is slowed down through the fragmentation of the picture plane. Different from my work in the previous Mostra, I’ve now used an inlay and engraving technique with cork, which is then painted with gouache to create quite condensed, intimate scenes.

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Grotesque in Luca Signorelli’s frescoes. Photograph by the artist

Can you talk about your relationship with colours?

Colour and texture need to work together, I don’t consider them to be separate things. There is no colour without texture, and there is no texture without a surface. So working backwards, I give a lot of thought to the colour-texture of the materials I’m working with. Cork has a patterned and absorbent surface that I hide or expose. I prefer thinking of painting as a staining process. Right now I make puddles of diluted paint that get absorbed into the cork, which gradually becomes more and more saturated with pigment, so that the brush marks are never visible. In the same way that my figures transition, so do colours. I treat them like a body that is blushing, creating its own glowing puddles of colour, emerging softly from a material, from within.

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Reliefs from the facade of Orvieto’s Cathedral by Lorenzo Maitani. Photograph by the artist.

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The artist in her studio at the BSR. Photo credt: Viviana Calvagno

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

 

Meet the artists… Sarah Pupo

An interview with Sarah Pupo, our January-March 2020, Québec Resident, in which she speaks about the works she produced during her residency at the BSR.

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Installation detail. Image credit: Marta Pellerini

Your paintings give physical expression to the abstract ideas of reflection, shadow and trace. What interests you about these transparent and soft concepts?

Yes, I’m trying to speak to what is intangible and difficult to embody in a physical way. I think this is why I’m using these materials that are that are barely there, that leave imprints or traces of themselves, are made of shadows and light, washes of colour, suggestions of shape and structures that barely hold themselves together. I want to give form to the things we can’t see or put into words, like a feeling that washes over you or a memory of someone, or the resonance a place holds.

These physical elements of the work are tied to ways of thinking that are not linear but more associative, like you see a thing and it reminds you of another, you see a gesture that makes you recollect something in the past that you can’t put your finger on. That sense of familiarity, coincidence, déjà vu, something just below the surface. Rome is an interesting place for that, because there is such a feeling of memory and time here and so many residual traces of the past. The ones that are most interesting to me are not the grand monuments but all the things that are broken or half-erased, all the left-overs.

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Laundry hanging in the street in Naples. Photograph by the artists.

It’s as though you are creating different inhabitable worlds with your sculptures. Where do the ideas for these places come from?

They have emerged from these traces and in between spaces where time moves differently. When I make drawings I see it as a ritual: you sit down in the same space with the same set of tools every day and you are returning to a moment in time. You do this physical practice to try to connect these moments and create a space where time works cyclically, stretches out, decisions happen slowly and different types of thought are able to emerge. In the best moments you are opening yourself to a subconscious, intuitive world, a place of associative thinking and slowing down. I love those little weird moments where I feel lost in time, that’s why I animate too. When making stop motion animation it takes forever to make a small thing move but it also feels like no time at all. It is very meditative and I want to bring people into these in between worlds that become a bit dream-like. Where the rigidity of things soften and they aren’t clear or sharp anymore and you can make more poetic associations. My shadow forms are in the process of becoming something like a full thought and I want to bring people into this soft middle space.

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Ceilings inside the Domus Aurea. Photograph by the artists.

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The artist in her studio at the BSR. Photo credit: Viviana Calvagno

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)