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.


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.

Max Fletcher, Footnotes on a Materialist Theatre, 2019, acrylic paint, gesso, canvas, 152x112 cm, Photo credit Roberto Apa.jpg

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


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.


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.


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.


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

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)


Meet the artists…Yun Fu

An interview with Yun Fu, winner of the Scholars’ Prize in Architecture, in which he speaks about the works he has produced during his residency at the BSR in January–March 2020.

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Study of loitering in Piazza del Popolo. Photograph by Yun Fu

Can you explain your research on the concept of loitering and wandering? How are you developing it in Rome?

From the beginning, there was an awareness of the topic’s seeming elusiveness to rigidly structured research, which swayed the project towards an informal and immersive approach, perhaps more related to anthropology, to study loitering and wandering through the act itself. Large parts of each day was spent in  loitering in and wandering across the city, with loosely defined goals and destinations, if any, moving through and lingering in the spaces of the city, taking different paths to the same places, and observing both other people and ourselves. Taking a page from photographer Henri Cartier Bresson and design researcher Jane Fulton Suri, early studies were documented through candid photography, to try and capture unmediated chance encounters and interesting or common modes of exploring and occupying the city.

To represent and examine the observations, a series of study models using found objects were developed. This approach was useful and fitting as the discovery and collection of the found objects is itself part of the process of loitering and wandering. The way in which the found objects are used in the study models, imagined at vastly different scales and put to unintended uses, is also similar to the open and ‘opportunistic’ gaze of the loiterer and wanderer; akin to a process of looking for a comfortable place to sit in a public space, where all surfaces are imbued with the potential of sitting, though with different degrees of comfort, whether or not it was intended for sitting in the first place. With the observations collected and documented in study models, the aim is to develop a catalogue of broad design approaches and applicable strategies, for creating places that are pleasant and intuitive to loiter and wander in, that go beyond the anecdotal accounts typically guiding such pursuits in the design process.

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Study of loitering on Isola Tiberina. Photograph by Yun Fu

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Close up view of a study model. Photograph by Yun Fu

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Overview of study models. Photograph by Yun Fu

You and designer Wenting Guo are creating a chair together. Could you tell us more about it?

We were recently commissioned by a Beijing based furniture company to design a series of leisure chairs for production. We are of course excited by this project, particularly given the company’s interest in broader issues related to the quality and diversity of contemporary lifestyles in cities, and the lineage of designers with whom the company has collaborated before, including Alvaro Siza and Zhang Ke. The resonance between our study of loitering and wandering in Rome and the leisure chair is also apparent and interesting — we have been looking closely at the ways people occupy the city, in places that may or may not be designed for it.

For designers and architects, furniture is a particularly interesting project type. It is perhaps the most intimate with the user, both ergonomically and emotionally, and closely reflects diverse conceptions of what constitutes a good life. Engineering wise, a furniture’s structure needs to be light and strong, and resist in relative terms some of the most severe and diverse load conditions — comparable to extreme skyscrapers and infrastructural projects. It is also the most democratic and accessible design product, in the sense that the selection of furniture, and in particular the chair, is how most people improve and personalise their living environment, particularly in contemporary urban circumstances where compact, standardised apartment units are the norm.

Leisure chairs is a loosely defined category of furniture — in our mind, it could be anywhere between a dining chair and a sofa. We are particularly interested in rethinking the established image of the ubiquitous multi-piece living room sets, typically organised around one or more sofa units, a coffee table, and a TV, which seems anachronistic and poorly suited to the fluidity and diversity of contemporary lifestyles, and the compactness of modern urban housing. We are also curious to explore the possibility of moving away from the chair as a passive object for sitting, i.e. the modernist trope of a machine for sitting, with its narrowly defined functional orientation, towards a more diverse set of considerations, including whether a chair is intuitive and fun to sit in, and facilitates diverse scenarios, both planned and unplanned.

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The artist in his studio. Photograph by Wenting Guo

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

Meet the artists…Sharon Kelly

An interview with Sharon Kelly, our 2020-21 Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow, in which she speaks about the works she has produced during the first months of her residency at the BSR.

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Watercolour Torso, watercolour on black paper, 13 × 13 cm, courtesy of the artist

Your practice focuses on investigating the areas of human experience and the body: in what way are you expanding your research in Italy?

My work embraces how it is to be in the world and has been informed by personal experience. I have always been interested in the body and in recent years explored the idea of the body under strain; so for example, I made work in response to the challenges of running; the experience of endurance athletes who push the boundaries of the physical body. This led to explorations around mental challenges and the mind/body synergy. Prior to my coming to Rome, my focus shifted to the area of physical illness, bodily strain, breakdown and bracing.

Early on in the residency I made visits to Museo Universitario delle Scienze e delle Arti in Naples and drew inspiration from the human anatomy collections, which I found very poignant. In Rome I visited the Museo Storico Nazionale dell’Arte Sanitaria viewing the  historical collection of medical exhibits. I was lucky to be here in Rome to see the Sublimi Anatomie exhibition in Palazzo delle Esposizioni.  What has been interesting for me is the contrast between the interior body, the body excavated and liquidity of the body and then being exposed to examples of Etruscan and Roman sculpture that you can see in the Museo Nazionale Romano in Palazzo Massimo for example — suggesting the solidity, mass and permanence of the body.  I’ve been inspired also by time ravaged frescoes and sculptures; the fragmented and broken gestures which have made their way into the work…


Dry Media, charcoal on paper, 60 × 115 cm, courtesy of the artist

In my research, I have found memorable examples of anatomical votives from the collections in Museo Nazionale Etrusco, Villa Giulia, in churches and on walls in the city itself. The broken or fragmented body is echoed over time in the faded and damaged frescoes from ancient times. Visually and spiritually they have had a big impact on me. My research has embraced the idea of the votive as either healing petitions or reflections of gratitude for healing. This connects strongly with a tradition still practised in Ireland of rag trees and holy wells. A fragment of the clothing of a sick relative is dipped in the holy well and tied to a tree in hope of healing.

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Red Study, watercolour and crayon on paper,
24 × 36 cm, courtesy of the artist

Visiting your studio, one has a feeling of synergy between the body and the mind. Does this psychological aspect interest you, and if so, how?

Indeed such ideas are always present in my mind. The body as our vehicle for our own sense of ourselves — it’s an aspect that I have been researching using the resources in the library, in particular practices of ancient people and questions around how they may have understood their bodies and their relationship with deities and mortality. The vision of the fragmented body can be unsettling and ambiguous. At present I am contemplating many ideas and developing the work through the use of both dry and fluid materials — charcoal and watercolour / ink — which in a sense echoes the previous comments about solidity and fluidity.

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Torso Fluid, ink and watercolour on paper,
30 × 22 cm, courtesy of the artist


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

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)


Meet the artists… Paul Becker

An interview with Paul Becker, our January-March 2020 Abbey Fellow in Painting, in which he speaks about the works he produced during his three-month residency at the BSR.


Image: Skirt of ‘Toilette of Salomé II’
Oil on canvas, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

.Has anything inspired a shift in your artistic practice since your arrival to Rome?

There are lots of things I have been thinking about but more to do with the wider cultural context of Italy. Perhaps not the ancient world or the Baroque but I have always been interested in Italian history and certain cultural events, certain films, novelists, certain artists. More generally I have been interested in the fin de siècle, in end of the century artists and writers and the feeling, the atmosphere present within that time, and how there are obvious correlations with what is happening now in the world: a feeling that we are all slightly doomed, and that society is approaching a crisis, just as people felt just before the beginning of the 20th century (and were proved right). I have been looking at Medardo Rosso, Visconti’s Death in Venice, decadent art, symbolist art, Beardsley, Spilliaert, Max Klinger. But none of these things are referenced specifically, I am just looking and thinking about them. Talking to the props makers at Cinecittá was quite extraordinary. All these histories of film and time, jumbled up and reused: a bust from Spartacus being recycled for Gladiator. A chandelier from Casanova or Salò dusted off for a Gucci shoot. 


From the props dept at Cinecittà. Chandeliers from Visconti’s Death in Venice and Pasolini’s Salò. Photograph by the artist

You’re a painter, but you’re also a musician and a writer. How do these practices influence one another?

There is a similar approach when I try and make music: a freedom that comes from not really knowing what I’m doing, or where I am going. Making something from nothing. I’ve not got any recognisable skills as a musician but the band I play in (War Dr with Luke McCreadie) still manage to produce good things through our complete lack of virtuosity. So, yes, in that way it is connected to my paintings. As for the writing, I suppose I have more idea of structure, or strategy for how it could function. Perhaps editing is closer to painting? Certainly, the painting and the music have more similarities in locating the subject, the content, the work itself, in the process of trying to formulate it: like writing a poem and the making of the poem becomes the work. I don’t want to impose too much, I am looking for clarity but that doesn’t mean I want things to be explained or to be specific, not in music, not in writing and especially not in painting. It is more about locating an uncertain feeling, an atmosphere, something I cannot explain that is not to do with inspiration, with research or specific references but that is really important to me to try and have in the world.


Image: Max Klinger Repose from Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove (1881)


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

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)