ESSAY ON CHARLOTTE PERRIAND MODERNISM, CEREAL MAGAZINE, SPRING 2020
Changing Landscapes Exhibition, 27 February – 13 March 2020
The Changing Landscapes exhibition, brilliantly conceived and arranged by Rosie Zielinski, featured the work of six Camberwell MA printmaking students. The exhibition was a wonderful collaboration; the setting up and curation were as enjoyable as the event, involving much repainting of walls, scrubbing of floors and repositioning of work. It was a fantastic example of the new ideas that emerge from a collaborative, mutually supportive creative enterprise.
Pop-Up Exhibition, Camberwell College of Arts, 12 March 2020
FULL INTERVIEW WITH TRACY HILL, 27 APRIL 2020
CL-P: You define Haecceity as ‘an interweaving of the mapped and measured world with the very personal world of our sensuous experiences.’ To what extent do you think that the confined, circumscribed ways in which we’re all now forced to live could produce a new kind of creative response to minutiae, to the fragmentary, the fleeting. Could it result in a more intense, new form of individuation?
TH: This is a really interesting question; there are both practical and technical adjustments that have had to be made by everyone. Personally, on a practical level, I am simultaneously separated from my place of work, colleagues and studio at present.
I have found that the physical shift to working from my home has created a new headspace or perspective. I have had to prioritize the work I can do given the space at home and also re-evaluate what is possibly in terms of equipment in order keep making some work. I have realized that my writing and drawing are becoming more closely linked during this time. I am able to read, walk and draw in the same day allowing an extended but natural reflection process to take place.
The restrictions of travel had created a need to re-evaluate the places of engagement and I think shifted the timescale of those engagements rather than re-writing my role. I am revisiting spaces around my home with a new recognition I think. I am more attentive to the extra time, which the lock down has afforded us and I think I am measuring this through my walking. The physical world we can explore is smaller at this time but if we consider the world through multi-sensory engagements and a pause to consider place then I think the way finders world has the potential to explore unseen territories as never before.
CL-P: You cite the conversation between Humphrey Ocean and Mark Alexander, noting that the ‘marks laid down are the beginning of a conversation; to put down the first mark creates a dialogue from within until something new emerges. […] Playing with the idea that maybe I am uncovering something that has always been there but has only just materialised into physical space.’ Do you start to draw with a sense that you are, as it were, re-finding the thing that was there all along? Or is it more a question of finding new potential in something?
TH: Specifically thinking about drawing, I do consider the act of mark making as a conversation, it is a conversation primarily with myself, to help me understand something. Through the drawing I always hope to create a visual space, which has enough room for audiences to bring their own questions, interpretations, memories and values. So in this respect it always about finding new potential, but that potential is different for everyone depending on how much they offer and invest in the work.
The Humphrey Ocean and Mark Alexander quote was connected to my Haecceity project and the act of drawing during my residency. Julie Mehretu (amongst others) talks about the third space when making. This is a space, which unfolds during the act of making, from this emerges a new understanding or view. I begin a drawing as I begin a walk, it is a discovery, a journey; the journey is participatory between myself, the location of the drawing and the world around me. By this I mean I am trying to decipher the world through a personal lens as a way to understand myself within it.
During Haecceity I think I also described it as an archeological dig, at the beginning it was impossibly hard, like digging blind. Each days drawing uncovered a new memory or a new conversation, they had always been there but drawing gave them a language. The drawing revealed and enabled a visual articulation allowing links and connections to be seen in new ways. Each layer of drawing/conversation created a context to inform or encourage the next day’s drawing/conversation.
CL-P: What is your own personal definition of the word ‘mapping’? It’s a term which seems to spring from the idea that there is a definitive version of something that just needs to be decoded or recorded. But your work seems to interpret mapping in much more elusive, unpredictable and rewarding ways.
TH: I suppose I would describe my personal definition of mapping is a recording of locations with the intention to understand and navigate, enabling location within an unknown space.
Certainly I think within western culture there is the idea that maps provide a truth, the ‘definitive map’ is seen a reliable marker for recorded pathways and rights of way used in legal disputes and for planning.
However, all written maps contain biases (this has been widely written about) with many places now left off modern maps as emphasis is given to reaching urban centers in the most direct and time efficient way. Robert MacFarlane speaks about how contemporary maps triage aspects of landscape, selecting and ranking them in order of importance, these subtle interventions create forceful biases in the way a landscape is perceived and treated.
I think my work speaks about a much more sensory form of mapping, more of an ‘unmapping’. More widely my work asks us to consider whether we should unconditionally accept and trust digital information presented to us. Based on the decisions and biases inherent in digital navigation aids, maps are programmed by others to guide us and as such influence how we travel and where we travel. For many it also informs and controls our experiences of the physical world, the idea of being lost is one, which is experienced when we lose signal on our devices forcing us to suddenly reengage with the location we have been travelling through in a virtual space.
In my last two projects I have become increasingly interested in visualising the very essence of place, the elusive properties which connect us to spaces when we inhabit them through walking and spend time enough to form memories. Friedhard Kierkeben called it a ‘discernment of individuality’ in an essay he wrote about my work. https://www.nontoxicprint.com/tracyhill.htm
By exploring the capabilities of our developing digital technologies my observations as both artist and walker offer a re-imagined vision, one that resonates with non-verbal human experiences, subtle, rhythmic and immersive. Providing an immediate link between the senses, thinking and showing, where our physical and digital worlds overlap.
By distilling the huge amounts of data collected by the digital scanners I can bring a kind of decoding through corporeal experience or a form of digital translation.
A more sensory visualisation of my experience is created based on aesthetic decisions as an artist and my understanding as a walker. In scientific and mapping terms this renders the scanner data useless but the resulting images I feel, offer value beyond the captured physical information and mapping of the location.
CL-P: How much do you allow chance to guide your practice, whether it be via materials behaving in unexpected ways or because the landscapes in which you work can’t be controlled. Do you welcome such unpredictability?
TH: I am not sure I would call any part of my practice chance – I allow room in my investigations to develop through interactions and partnerships. These both bring unpredictability and richness to the research, which then feeds into the work I think. Every project develops over a long period; relationships and conversations are key to informing that work.
With the drawings and the conductive ink prints there is a very strong participatory element. The work has to be allowed to grow and respond to the gallery or the situation, to allow audiences to bring their own interpretations. In the case of the conductive panels demands a direct activation through touch meant each experience was different and not controllable. The material vulnerability of the wall drawings is a clear metaphor for the threatened, fragile environments the drawings strive to represent. The choice of material does bring unpredictability as responses to the wall textures and surfaces differ for each site. This is an integral part of the work and essential for its success so is very much embraced and welcomed.
CL-P: So much about the art world is predicated on the idea of preservation and conservation – in other words, making a work of art immutable. But you seem to embrace the idea of impermanence. I’m thinking here of your painstaking charcoal drawings which by their very mature are so fragile and transient. Does transience have a unique power over the viewer?
TH: I try to ensure the drawings are seen as very obviously temporary and there pending disappearance often creates an anxiety for some visitors who needed to believe that what was before them could be controlled and preserved.
Conversations during installing of Haecceity resulted in members of the public assuming it was the gallery who had determined that the panels would be destroyed at the end of the exhibition. Offering opinions that it was a waste of time me drawing if the work could not be shown again. Their lack of control or ability to control the destination or fate of the work caused an inability to engage fully with the work or me and some individuals then became reluctant to invest time in something they perceived to be impermanent and therefore of little value or use to them.
For others, the transient drawings were embraced, conversations were animated and dynamic and the work was carried away as a memory or an encounter and enjoyed for the experience of the temporary performance. Some visitors made multiple visits as the work developed and their stories became part of the work.
FULL INTERVIEW WITH FINLAY TAYLOR, 11 MAY 2020
CL-P: Do you ever recoil from what you’re representing? I’m thinking of the snails munching away at paper for example, or butterflies resting on tongues. On your website you talk about viewers’ simultaneous fascination and repulsion. What’s the purpose of that dual effect?
FT: Ahh, good question. Personally no, I am intrigued and fascinated by those things, events and happenings that I either set up to happen or observe and capture in some way. But I understand others have different reactions and I like that response. I want a gut reaction, a reflex if possible in the viewer, some sensation beyond the retinal.
CL-P: Is there something unique or particular to printmaking which makes it particularly powerful when documenting landscape? I’m thinking here about the Swedish word fotminne or ‘foot memory’ – the idea that the foot not only leaves an imprint on the land but that the land leaves a metaphorical yet visceral imprint on the person who’s walked there.
FT: Thanks for the reference Charlie, I didn’t know it. For me it’s the power or importance if you like of printed matter, of printing and forcing out a image or text or both. Print is complex so the ideas are shifted through the media and making. Printed stuff in the context of contemporary practice can be ephemeral or more substantive like a etching or book but it usually takes a place of importance, of asking to be noticed. I always think about it as a way of drawing, if in a computer or on wood or plate, I am trying to work something out, come to consider it further, that’s the idea or image. Your reference is there the ‘foot memory’ in some way, I think a bit of ‘I was here and left this’. There is some ego in that of course but I like what I feel is often humble about print, if not humble then graspable, mostly in the scale that I use anyway.
CL-P: In representing catastrophe such as climate change or the current pandemic, do you think artists have any particular responsibilities? After 9/11, for example, some artists chose to disrupt things further whilst others took the safer route of offering consolation. Does an engagement with catastrophe matter, and is consolation ever permissible?
FT: These it seems to me are jobs for us all and artists are no different, so across the spectrum we engage. If someone is making formal work, I wouldn’t expect them to divert at every shift in event or politics. It seems in our job contexts does so much, so the things we make now reference our time even if they don’t address it directly. I say all this and think practice can shift to a moment but it’s not for everyone and we don’t all have those skills. Right now were all responsible, ‘plant a seed’, shit we gotta do something.
CL-P: Has Covid-19 changed the ways in which you view landscape/territory/domain/nature? How might you represent it in your work?
FT: Ummm, yes, too soon to pinpoint, I would like to say the hierarchies of importance will shift for me and society at large. I am please to see ‘nature’ shift in some cases quickly. Weeds infesting the roadsides of London, pollution dropping in the city. Surely we don’t want to rush back to that. I can taste the difference in the air. This moment has animated me to work with some short texts I have been gathering on my phone for about 5 yrs, so making some grungy home made relief prints and drawing a bit. They now sound different at this time.
CL-P: What qualities do you find in the artist’s book which makes you keep returning to it? Is it to do with narrative, or something else altogether?
FT: Well, they fit so much of what I like. Scale that I mentioned before, you can hold them, its intimate, that’s very important. You can touch that artwork, you are invited to. Maybe two or three folks can look but not more really.
Sequence, order, the quality of familiarity and potential for surprize with each turn of a page.
Narrative is there though I don’t tell stories, so in its broad sense. It’s the structure, form, potentials, I still think in ‘book’ about works and planning works, so the sketch-book as a place to hold and rediscover ideas for example. I am making some books at very particular scales that relate to some rope works I have completed. So ‘The Great Grandmother- a rope as long as a wolf’’. I have also used them to work in collaboration , using the book as an exhibition space with page specific works that do not exist elsewhere. They can be everyday objects and special at the same time. A book is a place I have always been happy to spend time in.