Summer and art at the BSR

Our July artists in residence from Newcastle University and those on the Meade Rome Residency from the University of the Arts London (Chelsea and London College of Communication) arrived just as the BSR façade was being completed. Together with Sainsbury Scholar Anna Brass and the three architects in residence on the Boas Award (Marco Fiorino, Fiona Cuypers-Stanienda and Aoi Phillips Yamashita), they curated a pop-up exhibition on the portico and steps on the evening of 25 July.

Elin Karlsson Portico_Elin_Karlsson2019_38

Elin Karlsson, untitled, 2019 (photo: Elin Karlsson)

Elin Karlsson (LCC, UAL) unfurled three large sails which she lit against the night sky with a floodlight hidden in a tiny cluster-cave of salt dough, broken glass and candles. Karl Foster (Chelsea, UAL) filled three abandoned niches beneath Piazzale Winston Churchill with a triptych of small dead trees that he found at the bottom of the road, with their roots exposed. Karl covered some of the tips of the branches with bits of plastic and clothing as a way to heal their wounds, ineffectually.

Karl Foster photo Portico_Elin_Karlsson2019_13

Karl Foster, i vostri figli i ragazzi pairoli crea spazzatura, 2019 (photo: Elin Karlsson)

Marco Fiorino (Cambridge) exhibited architectural mappings of in-between spaces connecting gardens and public urban spaces, having spent his time to explore historical gardens in and around Rome.

Marco Fiorino photo Elin_Karlsson2019_9

Marco Fiorino, Gardens for Third Nature, 2019 (photo: Elin Karlsson)

Abigail Hampsey’s (Newcastle University) paintings contrasted the classical limestone framework with entwined fluorescent narratives and Remi Rana Allen (Chelsea, UAL) presented The Memoirs of Lady Vagina Dentata and Killer Queen, a Medusa’s head made of Indian hair extensions from Delhi placing ‘black hair and dark skin’ as protagonists within traditional Western myths.

Abighail Hampsey photo Elin_Karlsson2019

Abi Hampsey, don’t miss, 2019 (photo: Elin Karlsson)

Remi Rana Allen photo Portico_Elin_Karlsson2019_17

Remi Rana Allen, Killer Queen, 2019 (photo: Elin Karlsson)

Fiona Cuypers-Stanienda’s (Architectural Association) four photographs of people and objects occupied an off-centre area near the doorway, reflecting her self-imposed challenge to understand and represent the use of public space in Rome.

Fiona Cuypers-Stanienda photo Portico_Elin_Karlsson2019_1

Fiona Cuypers-Stanienda, untitled, 2019 (photo: Elin Karlsson)

These very different practices that somehow spoke to each other brought the façade, hidden for months behind scaffolding, to life within an expansive discourse. This was an internal event that took place in an external setting which meant that people walking by were intrigued and stopped to look at the works exhibited.

In the previous weeks Meaghan Stewart (Newcastle University) led a monoprint workshop with left-over paints from previous BSR residents, inviting anyone curious to drop into her studio, including scholars and architects. She encouraged the less expert through the steps, from how to ink the acetate or glass support, create designs for effect, and experiment with different techniques. Some of the monoprints were exhibited on a table under the portico, including work by Anna Brass, Aoi Phillips Yamashita (Architectural Association) and Meaghan. The table featured small sculptures too, creating a miniature landscape for the prints.

Anna Brass, Aoi Phillips Yamashita and Meaghan Stewart photo Portico_Elin_Karlsson2019_5

Anna Brass, Aoi Phillips Yamashita and Meaghan Stewart (photo: Elin Karlsson)

Meaghan Stewart monoprint (photo MC)

Meaghan Stewart, untitled (Fountain of Maremma), 2019 (photo: Martina Caruso)

Meaghan Stewart monoprint workshop (photo MC)

Monoprint workshop with Meaghan Stewart (photo: Martina Caruso)


Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries)

Photography workshops

The past few months have been photographically eventful at the BSR, and while we have yet to set up a bona fide dark room, we appropriated the lavatories by the lecture theatre for an afternoon of impromptu printing.

On a sunny Saturday in March, Anna Brass (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture), David Whiting, a darkroom-based photographer and member of The Gate Darkroom in London, and Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries), organised a pinhole camera workshop: we hung black-out material over the bathroom door, set up the safe lamp and laid out three trays for the chemicals. To dry the prints, we made do with string and clothes pegs in the neighbouring cloak room. In spite of these rudimentary arrangements, some excellent results were achieved.

Fig. 1 Anna Brass BSR tennis court March 2019

BSR tennis court by Anna Brass.

The fourteen participants included scholars, artists and staff from the BSR and beyond: Mercedes Jaén joined from the Spanish Academy with professional British photographer Richard Davies. Jaén’s skilful experimentations picked up on unusual aspects of the Lutyens façade.

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BSR façade by Mercedes Jaén

Richard also achieved interesting results using his digital camera as a pinhole by removing the technical apparatus and turning it into a camera obscura, directly exposing the digital screen.

Fig. 3 Richard Davies In_the_dark_room

Richard Davies in the dark room

David Whiting’s pinhole camera was passed around as one of the most reliable for actually taking a photograph. Others transformed shoeboxes, tea boxes, and Anna Brass made her own nine-hole camera which doubled up as a miniature house.

Fig. 4 David Whiting using Anna Brass' nine hole pinhole camera

David Whiting using Anna Brass’ nine-hole pinhole camera.

In May, BSR archivist Alessandra Giovenco invited Tony Richards, a professional wet collodion plate photographer from The John Rylands Library (The University of Manchester), to give us a demonstration of this Victorian technique. Tony talked BSR scholars, artists, staff and patrons through his methods as well as how to avoid explosions and intoxications from the chemicals. Artist Kirtika Kain (National Art School, Sydney, Resident) became Tony’s assistant for the day observing that the workshop opened ‘a world of early photography so new to us: the chemistry, physicality and magic of each element. As an Australian-Indian artist, I couldn’t help but reflect on early colonial and ethnographic photography as I stood before the lens.’

Fig. 5 Kirtika Kain wet collodion workshop

Kirtika Kain poses for the camera.

David Whiting also found the workshop to be a ‘fantastic opportunity to discover one of the earliest photographic techniques for creating extremely high-quality images’ saying ‘I now feel confident about using the techniques in my own darkroom-based practice and exploring collodion’s rich artistic potential.’ Kirtika, David and Alessandra were able to create glass and metal-based prints of their own after learning about the theory.


Having to sit still for five to ten seconds means that the sitter’s stare acquires a holographic, slightly haunted quality which transpires in Victorian photographs, somehow bridging a gap with the past and helping us feel connected to some of the early practitioners and their subjects.

Fig. 7 Anna Brass Kirtika Kain and Stefania Peterlini wet collodion workshop portrait

Portrait of Anna Brass, Kirtika Kain, and Stefania Peterlini, using the wet collodion technique.


Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries)

Fresco-making workshop


Anna de Riso, from Studio Sottosopra Anna de Riso Paparo conservation laboratory in Rome, led a two-day fresco-making workshop which was attended by both Humanities and Art award-holders and Assistant Directors, Martina Caruso and Harriet O’Neill. We were also delighted that artist Helen O’Leary could join us from the American Academy. We started with a lecture during which Anna outlined the history of fresco-making and the main techniques used. This theoretical session was quickly followed by the practical, mixing the plaster and preparing our surfaces before deciding whether to trace and then pounce an existing image or paint directly, onto the topmost layer. We then began applying our pigments.


The paragraph above outlines what we did, what we learnt was far more complex and arguably more meaningful. As an art historian I was familiar with written descriptions outlining the process of fresco-making and canonical examples of the technique. I also had the opportunity to inspect fragments of frescoes such as A Group of Four Poor Clares (possibly about 1336-40) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti during  my time at National Gallery, but experiencing the medium through making transformed my thinking. Understanding how the plaster is applied, dries and feels, the strength needed to mix it, often using our hands, combined with getting to grips with how the pigment behaves once applied to the surface, provided a new appreciation of the subtlety and confidence artists such as Lorenzetti possessed, particularly in their approach to flesh tones. It also provided an insight into how a workshop might have worked, especially in relation to the transfer of drawings to the plaster.


More striking was the fact that frescoes in museum collections have been removed from their original context. This is an obvious point, but hitherto I had considered frescoes more decoration than wall and yet it became obvious as the workshop progressed that they were part of the physical structure of the buildings they came from, bestowing them with an aura and poignancy I had not previously considered. It was enormously productive to work alongside artists who were able to articulate the opportunities and limitations of the medium and classicists and archaeologists who could illuminate the context and subject matter of ancient frescoes.


BSR serendipity struck again when a number of newly trained fresco-makers joined Professor Rosamond McKitterick on a study trip to Catacombe di Priscilla, to see amongst other things, its frescoes. It was surprising to observe how our looking and understanding had been enriched through practical knowledge.

Harriet O’Neill (Assistant Director for the Humanities and Social Sciences)

June Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists…Karin Ruggaber

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The sixth interview is from Karin Ruggaber our Abbey Fellow in Painting.

So you’re making this sculpture on the wall with concrete. How long have you been working with this material, and why?

Yes, I’ve been working on this seascape relief here in the studio in Rome. I’ve been experimenting with concrete since 2005. It is like stone but it’s not stone. It presents a sort of instant geology. You can shape it and bring your imagination to it.

I like to work with architectural facades, and I’ve been making work that relates to architecture in the sense of how your body relates to architecture, how you stand with it physically and become immersed in it.

I think we understand objects with the whole body, beyond the visual sense.  It is something to do with touch and how we relate to scale and material, and move in space. The idea with my larger-scale pieces is that you move alongside them as you would move alongside a wall, navigating them with your body.

Karin Ruggaber studio

Karin Ruggaber, BSR studio, June 2019.

I was trying to reconcile this aesthetic with that of the fountain installation you made at the Romanian Academy.

Yes, they’re two different strands of my work. I saw the fountain at the Romanian Academy and instantly connected to this space. Ever since I came to Rome I had this revelation about water, although I was already working on marine subjects before. I like this subject matter, the idea of the aspiration of it, of escape, of the sea being this powerful force connected to identity. The many fountains in Rome are strangely magnetic sites, monuments but also functional water systems. There is definitely a sense of Italy, and its past as a naval power, being connected to the sea, in reality and mythologically. There are perhaps parallels with Britain and its past as a maritime empire.

I collaborated on a fountain piece with a friend of mine last year, working from an image of a nineteenth-century painting of a shipwreck and sirens and mythological creatures being sucked into the sea. There was a logic to do with the current political situation in Britain. The title of the painting is A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas with a Siren on the Rocks by the history painter Lacroix de Marseille.

There is an idea of a dark force, a seduction, something uncontrollable at work, stormy seas being of course a political metaphor too. As well as the temptations of nationalism, of mythological narratives.

Karin Ruggaber fountain installation (blue) Romanian Academy

Karin Ruggaber, Fontana del Nettuno, 2019. Wire, climbing rope, plastic, rubber, European palm, Bay tree, Cypresse, Olive, Rose, grass, wheat, European pine. Spazi Aperti XVII, Accademia di Romania in Roma.

Would you say your inspiration is derived from nineteenth-century epic painting rather than a direct experience of the sea?

Maybe both. I’ve been looking at figuration and ornamentation around water and marine life in Rome, in the fabric of the city, historic as well as contemporary. I’m fascinated by ports, such as the one in Naples for example. I was in a group show recently in a seaside resort in Britain, at Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, and I like the figuration around seaside resorts.

Fountain where

Michele Tripisciano, Fontana del Tritone del Commune di Marino, 1889. Piazza San Barnaba, Marino Laziale.

I wouldn’t say my interest in historical painting is tied to a particular period but it’s connected to the representation of a force. I like it when it becomes hyper-figurative, like many of the siren paintings of the late 1800s, early 1900s, when mythology ventures towards superstition, and the non-rational. I became quite interested in Neptune Fountains, and I have tried to see as many as possible. My favourite one so far is by the Sicilian nineteenth-century sculptor Michele Tripisciano in Marino Laziale, an hour south of Rome (it’s a twin fountain, the other one is in his home town in Sicily), and of course Neptune overlooking the port in Naples.

Neptune Naples maybe

Fontana Del Nettuno, Napoli, 1600, Domenico Fontana, Michelangelo Naccherino, Angelo Landi and Pietro Bernini. Piazza Municipio, Napoli.

I’m also interested in representation from the fascist era in Italy, and I just got a book out on Mario Sironi, La Grande Decorazione, with all these incredible murals. There’s something about how the narrative is stacked and literally builds an image or a relief sculpture on a building. I’m planning to go and see a fountain and a mural representing an underwater landscape and seascape in Naples, in the Mostra d’Oltremare, an exhibition area similar to E.U.R. conceived as a world exhibition in the 1930s and then reinvigorated after the war in the 1950s.

My fountain installation at the Romanian Academy integrates architecture and image and some kind of story-telling aspect, but also other things: it is a kind of re-working of a Neptune Fountain and presents a mixture between debris and ornament, it has elements of a rescue situation at sea, or an aftermath of something, perhaps a storm. It is a sort of anti-monument. When I started the water was an aqua blue colour and it has now become a lurid green because algae have grown in the hot weather. I like how the elements change it. I have been working with it and developing it for the duration of the exhibition, during which time, the weather has shifted from thunderstorms and rain to 35-degree heat.

The piece changes all the time and becomes difficult to maintain because it’s eroding in the water and functions with the weather, and that’s also what I like.

Karin Ruggaber fountain installation (blue 2) Romanian Academy

Karin Ruggaber, Fontana del Nettuno, 2019. Wire, climbing rope, plastic, rubber, European palm, Bay tree, Cypresse, Olive, Rose, grass, wheat, European pine. Spazi Aperti XVII, Accademia di Romania in Roma.

Does this have something to with climate change?

I suppose you can read a sense of crisis into the image of it, but I don’t set out to make issue-based work. For me there is a sense of urgency with these pieces and they speak of internal states, which inevitably speak of external situations. I’m interested in the direct experience with the work, its undercurrents, maybe the unspeakable side of it, not the headlines. And that is connected to the elements and to weather as an emotional landscape. And yet again, it is connected in the overall atmosphere perhaps because of the wider political landscape of chaos we’re finding ourselves in at the moment. There is something about grief perhaps, I’m interested in the translation of difficulty, of emotional states.

Since being in Rome I’ve been drawn to the idea of the fountain as a continuous flow of water, invigorating, restless but still, and transformative, and I have researched a little bit about the Roman Acqua Vergine system too.

I’m interested in the physical impact of something and clash between image and architecture. It’s connected to a kind of trauma in a way. Italy seems to have processed the Fascist period in a completely different way to Germany for example. In Italy you get a different glimpse and angle into this time period.

So much was destroyed in Germany, and has also become unspeakable, and maybe for me it’s also something I’ve been interested in because of my own family’s trauma from that period.

Karin Ruggaber with fountain installation, the Romanian Academy 2019

Karin with her installation at the Accademia di Romania. Photo: Jonathan Kim.

Karin’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries) . Photos by Karin Ruggaber unless otherwise stated.














June Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Jonathan Kim

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The fifth interview is from Jonathan Kim our Helpmann Academy Resident.


Jonathan & The White series in studio 7

Photo: Jonathan Kim

Hello Jonathan, so what are you working on at the moment?

I’m making these drawings which I call paintings because after drawing I do more processing with ink, water and cotton wool. It’s like expanded painting. I’m making these for the exhibition at the Romanian Academy and I’ll also make sculptures using the materials in the Academy. They have a store room where they have wood stocks which I’m making into a sculpture.

I see your equipment – the set square and the ruler. Have you always used these?

My previous work was not geometrical, it was inspired by the Korean patchwork tradition (Jogakbo) in which there are not a lot of white geometrical shapes. People in Korea were poor in the past and didn’t have enough money to buy textiles so they would make textiles using rags, from which they would create blankets, clothes or hangings. My early works used a Korean patchwork combination of colour.

In my recent drawings I’ve been inspired by Roman design, monuments and architecture. I then add geometrical shapes into my compositions. The white may be inspired by Roman white marble: I really like the colour and the texture. But it may not only be from there, it’s my intuitive response to Rome, although its roots may be from elsewhere.

My work is rooted in a phenomenology of perception. Artists respond to their environment without thinking, through the body: an intuitive response to the buildings. That’s my theory. Look at these drawings for example: where is the positive space and where is the negative space?

Yes…I’m not sure.

Exactly. Because sometimes the colour is a positive space and white is a negative space, in theory. However, some people see the white as the form of an object and colour as negative background. There is no final answer. I want to ask people what they think of my drawing and if they feel something that’s an answer.

My practice is based on post-minimalist concepts, and before undertaking the residency in Rome I was particularly focused on the Korean painting style Dansaekhwa and the Japanese sculptural concept Mono-ha. The Korean painting style has texture, it’s called Dansaekhwa. In Mono-ha you put two or three materials together to create a relationship within the space.

The White series, 2019, crayon, oil pastel and ink on paper, 21x28.4cm (each)

The White series, 2019, crayon, oil pastel and ink on paper, 21×28.4cm (each)

Is that how you reconcile your two very different practices of sculpture and painting?

Yes, but they are two concepts that derive from a philosophy which Korean artist Lee Ufan developed called ‘Encounter theory’. Lee now works in France, he founded the Mono-ha movement in the 1970s in Japan and led the Dansaekhwa movement in the 1980s in Korea.

So, what is Encounter Theory?

For example, in my sculpture, you find stone and steel together: they are very different materials. The artist doesn’t make anything: you put something in the space and together they create a relationship through the interaction between each other. In Mono-ha, the relationship is an art work. I call this spatiality.

I believe this is relevant to an Asian theory, connected to the theory of Yin and Yang where material can stand for anything, so for example steel is cold and wood is warm. This works for colour too with the Five Elements Theory: white stands for metal, black is for water, red is for fire, blue is wood and Yellow is soil. Korean people always think about materials as embodying another kind of other being. I put together different materials to create relationships between them. I want to create spatial relationships amongst materials in a phenomenological way.

I apply these theories in my work. So here you have steel with paper: steel is cold and paper is really warm, creating a balance. In the West, perhaps plus and minus together don’t compensate for each other, whereas in Asia plus and minus together create a balance. And here, stone is cold and steel is a little colder: minus and more minus can create a balance too. They balance each other out and create a harmony with the environment.

Wood and Earthen I, 2019, found branch and broken pot, 30x30x80cm

Wood and Earthen I, 2019, found branch and broken pot, 30x30x80cm

How are you developing your practice in Rome?

My painting and sculpture is based on Dansaekhwa and Mono-ha, and Encounter Theory. I find that Mono-ha and Dansaekhwa have limitations in terms of materials and as concepts because both movements have very traditional roots. I want to expand this type of theory with my work and since I’m in Rome I’ve been looking at Arte Povera because it has a broader concept of materials. My sculptures and paintings have developed within an Arte Povera framework. Some materials contain the memory and history of the previous user. With Mono-ha and Dansaekhwa, the materials used for art do not have any memory or history from the former user: they are just raw materials. Whereas with Arte Povera, the materials are from everyday life and so everything you see in my sculptures here is from the surrounding environment of the BSR.

Tin & Brick II, 2019, found tuna tins in the hole of a brick wall

Tin & Brick II, 2019, found tuna tins in the hole of a brick wall

Jonathan’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries). Photos courtesy of the artist. 

June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists… Andrew Bonneau

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The fourth interview is from Andrew Bonneau our Fletcher Foundation Resident.

AB in studio

Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Will you show these drawings (pictured above) at the June Mostra?

Yes, I will show these drawings and maybe some paintings too. Mostly my paintings are en plein air done in the Borghese gardens and at the Forum.

How do you select your subjects?

There are some iconic sculptures that are well known and are part of the academic drawing canon, like this one (pictured below): the Ludovisi Ares/Mars at Rest from Palazzo Altemps. I wanted to see what it is about these sculptures that sets them apart from others. Drawing this one yesterday, I realised that it’s a real masterpiece. The quality of the pose, even the forms of the muscles, have this kind of contained energy. Even the in expression on the face, there’s a consistency to the whole figure which is of a certain mood.

Mars at Rest, Palazzo Altemps

Ludovisi Ares/Mars at Rest from Palazzo Altemps

Is this energy different from other sculptures you have seen?

Yes, definitely. I have made a drawing of Athena, also from Palazzo Altemps. I chose this more for its meaning rather than its aesthetic qualities, although of course aesthetics play a part. Athena is a warrior goddess, a supreme character, very majestic. She’s an important goddess for the Athenians, in the Odyssey she guided Telemachus to find his father. But this sculpture is actually heavily restored. The torso is original second century Roman, but the head and the legs are from the seventeenth century so it’s kind of a hybrid – they did a nice job of trying to make it consistent. However, it doesn’t have the overall sense of unity.

Has it been important for you to look at the original over the copy?

It’s nice if you can look at original Greek or Roman sculpture. For example sculptures that were famous in the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century, such as the Belvedere Apollo. You might think “Why is this sculpture considered to be so important?”, yet, when you draw it you think “Okay this is actually pretty good, I can see why, it’s not arbitrary.” When something is part of the canon, without understanding the reason for its inclusion it can be seen as a cliché, it’s just what people have liked for centuries and they liked it because they were told to like it but when you actually investigate and compare you can see that quality is a real thing. It’s nice to test out the assumptions and to see the difference, not just in terms of quality but character too.

This is a drawing of the Dying Gaul (pictured below), which is in the Capitoline Museum. I think this is a really good sculpture, it’s the pathos not just in the face but in the gesture – even in the shapes of the muscles. It has a different character than this (compared to Mars at Rest). In this pose, he’s dying, holding onto life and there’s an almost exhausted quality to it. There’s a formal quality about the suggestion of life within the body.

The Dying Gaul, Capitoline Museums

Dying Gaul from the Capitoline Museum

How do you place yourself within twentieth-century artistic developments?

There’s a lot of twentieth century art I like (probably up until Pop Art). But there were so many movements in twentieth-century art, that art practice got further and further away from the training artists would have in the past. The kind of training where you draw from the life model, study light and shade and composition and you construct paintings based on that knowledge. Early modernism came at the end of that tradition and seemed to feel that it had to radically remake itself. Since then, the tendency has been towards deconstruction and there doesn’t seem to have been much attempt at reconstruction – putting things back together. When I went to art school, when studying art history, I remember thinking that we have so much to draw upon – in fact all of art history to draw upon – but without the skills you don’t have access to any of this, because you can’t tune into the same things that those artists were doing. I’m interested in reclaiming some of the skill and the aesthetic, it’s partly personal and partly looking at art history, seeing what’s missing and what I’d like to see more of. But I’m at odds with most contemporary art and artists, because most of them don’t think that way. I’m going back to something earlier and I’m quite conscious it’s not a normal thing to be doing, but I think it’s important.

I think in a larger cultural sense it would be a shame to look at the period we’re in now and not see any good figurative painting. We have a pluralistic art world now and a pluralistic world in general and many things can exist at the same time and I think that’s good. So I’m trying to do this particular thing that isn’t being done much. It’s not cynical and it’s not deconstructive, it’s not ironic.

There is so much in Rome to learn from in each period, but since I’ve been here I’ve been drawn towards the sculpture and painting from antiquity. It really helps you understand the things that came later and you can see the continuity. So I guess I’m looking for that language. It’s not the only language but it’s one I’d like to be more familiar with.


Socrates in the Capitoline Museum

Andrew’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries). Photos courtesy of the artist. 

June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists… Kirtika Kain

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The third interview is from Kirtika Kain National Art School, Sydney Resident.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

You started your residency at the beginning of April. Is a city like Rome having an impact on an Indian born artist, like you, who grew up in Australia?

In every sense. To put my time here into context, prior to Rome I completed a three-month residency in Delhi. These two ancient cities continue to express the vastness of human civilisation. Two months ago, I was in the swirl of Old Delhi, the shrines and havelis; my dearest friend with whom I explored the city’s narrow lanes described to me how he had lived hand-to-mouth as a street child. I was reminded constantly that blood flows so close to the skin, that life in its full uncompromising force is so close to the surface. And then yesterday, in Rome, I walk into the palatial Doria Pamphilj Gallery, such evocative decadence. Each day I stroll through the lush and endearing Villa Borghese. There is a timelessness in both cities, they are the inverse of each other. I have witnessed this timelessness not so much in the built environment but certainly in the ancient land of Australia, within her seas and stones. I feel both familiar and foreign in all three cities of Delhi, Rome and Sydney.
As a resident of the British institution to then consider hierarchical caste and colonial structures from this lens has been so enormous that I think I am still in the phase of experiencing it all. I will ultimately come to a point of articulating and comprehending, but at the moment every day is such a feast of experience.


What has been your journey from India, a country that was colonised by Great Britain, to Italy in a British institution?

It has highlighted for me the complexity of colonisation, and opened up an area of enquiry that is inevitable for me to now move towards. I am curious about the colonial imprint upon both Australia and India and particularly how respectively Indigenous and Scheduled Castes and Tribes navigate this legacy. I often consider how, as a female artist born into the Dalit or Untouchable caste within India, it is necessary for me to show my work in a Western context for it to be visible, especially in India’s current political landscape. I know one day this will change.

I have been informed by such contemporary postcolonial theorists as Debjani Ganguly who have proposed that following Independence from Colonial rule, higher caste Indian leaders became the colonisers of minority Dalits; the structure remained internally even when British rule ceased. As a Dalit artist trained in the West, to address caste violence is playing with this colonial paradigm, it is no longer black and white. I think this conversation and these avenues of thinking start opening up from a place like the British School. The complexities become apparent because it is not just about the victim and the perpetrator, there are so many aspects. It is a grey-zone.


And you are investigating this grey-zone?

I am investigating it as a global citizen, across borders and time zones, from the ancient world to the modern one. A similar hierarchy based on purity and pollution existed in Ancient Rome. I am investigating it in the most human way possible, by working and thinking through material.


What is your approach to materials?


Raw materials from Kirtika’s studio in Delhi including tar, cotton, hand made paper, religious pigment and plaster

When I first considered Rome, I was compelled to know dates, periods of time, to research and define. And now I am here, I experience each time period through the surface and skin of all things. Recently, I went to the Etruscan museum here in Villa Giulia. Seeing these early clay pots, the ancient metals of copper, bronze, gold and iron, I lose track of where I am, as I have witnessed these same materials in the historical museums of Delhi. Being in Rome opens one up to the fluidity and common language of material.


Clay pots and ancient metals from the Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia

Which materials have been new for you in Rome?

I have been etching copper, using waxes and enjoying the materials of restoration. The pigments are so numerous here. Yet the one material that has surprised me is gold. Gold is such a solid metal, it is so present and distinct. Yet in the mosaics of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, it become translucent; it reflects light in the most glorious way I have seen.


Kirtika’s etched copper plates as shown in Spazi Aperti at the Accademia di Romania in Rome

As there is so much work on themes such as feminism and identity politics, how does this generation address this in a new way?

I think it is the responsibility of our generation to think of these concerns with a freshness. Every cell in my body is political, our bodies are so politicised and I can feel it especially as I watch the current Indian parliamentary elections unfold.  Beyond the wave of anger we must find our own voice; much of my political views have been informed by others. I now search for originality. Many of the things we stand for have been learned, especially something like caste which has been recycled for millennia. To believe that you are a shadow, your body is polluted, impure, an assault to those around you. I have inherited this legacy and now I find my own. My own voice.


Kirtika’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator). Photos courtesy of the artist.