Discussions: Ella Wright

Geographical specificity seems very important to your work; many of your works are made from materials gathered from the Thames during your walks. I know that over the course of the last year, you moved from Glasgow to London in the middle of your research. In what way, if any, has the change in your environment affected the outcomes of your practice?

Moving from Glasgow to London was something I never really planned. I ended up in London after Christmas for a variety of reasons and decided to take each month as it came. Growing up in London, I had often found it impenetrable and somehow distant. If anything this now made the need to see the city afresh/outside of my previous understanding of it all the more important. Walking along the riverbed felt like one of the only ways of interacting with the city’s intricacies beyond its planned and developed structures. 

But below street level, out of sight, the city quietens. The bank of the Thames is littered with strange objects; medieval boat nails, terracotta roofing tiles, bike wheels, broken electrics, networks of disused pipes, old shoes, bones, and cows’ teeth. I would walk according to the tide’s timings. Anthropologists and archeologists scan the river bed for objects which they can use their expertise to define, record and investigate London’s histories. Without any knowledge of these systems of research I found myself relating and grouping objects according to my own intuition/imagination, unlikely narratives and imagined histories emerged. In this sense it was being in London that forced me to look much closer. 

This project has a very tangible archival quality to it. Archives as we tend to understand them, in the context of history and museums, are hard evidence that can point to clues of what might have taken place in the past. As your work shifts the archive from the realm of history into the realm of visual art, how does this factual or truthful element change? Does imagination or the presence of creative storytelling adjust the narrative? How important is hard, truthful evidence in the artistic archive?

Whilst as you say, archives tend to contain evidence that points towards fact, I was interested in the mystery surrounding the lack of information in certain archives. I had been looking at lots of art from the Ice Age. In spite of being meticulously documented and recorded in various museums and archives, we still have very little understanding of the exact dates/purpose of/thinking behind each piece.

However, I didn’t see my project as the making of a fictitious archive, or as an attempt to play with the distinctions between the world of history and visual art. While the objects/images I have made combine things I had observed on walks with imagined worlds and narratives, these entanglements are true to my personal experience/memory/imaginative relationship to the places I had been exploring. 

Creating the ‘quality’ of an archive was a way of grouping the different objects/images I had made, presenting them as artifacts of my experience and memories of the walks I had been on. It was a way of connecting the different fragments without the need for written explanation or too much gap filling. In this sense it was a way of maintaining the mystery of the images in their presentation. For this reason, I was careful to not attempt to try and replicate the archiving of objects as done by historians in museums. The works are not labelled, dated or ordered in any specific way or according to any particular system. 

I’m not sure if any of this answers your question. In terms of the ‘truthful’ element in the artistic archive, I’m not sure quite what this means. We all experience the world in a different way, different things captivate our interests, and we each have our own ways of making sense of things. As we walk through the city, our minds wander to all sorts of things from our personal lives, dreams to things we have read or been told. These influence the way we take in the landscape. The narratives and invented parts of my image making, may feel entirely unreal to you but are still true to my experience. 

This project combines both your visual and written work, and I know you were a little more apprehensive to share the writing. I wondered if you could speak a little bit about why the writing feels more vulnerable, and how you view the relationship between word and image as it exists in the practice of a visual artist. 

I suppose my fear with sharing writing alongside visual art is that it suddenly makes things too explicit, or detracts from the mystery/ambiguity of the image making. I didn’t want the images to turn into illustrations. By including a written element I didn’t want to exhaust something which felt alive… adding an atmosphere of pretension/false sophistication that makes people want to run away. I often find in exhibitions that I get more excited about work before I’ve read about it – somehow writing can shut down an imaginative response to work. 

But it can also do the opposite!  I love writing and storytelling and didn’t want these concerns with it to mean that I didn’t ever include it. A story which I’ve thought about a lot recently is Virginia Woolf’s Solid Objects which is about a man slowly losing a grip on the real world as he becomes obsessed with collecting interestingly shaped objects which litter the London streets. I read Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49  a couple of months ago which I haven’t been able to get out of my head.  

Sharing writing here is very much an experiment, it’s nothing big but it’s a start! I’m not sure how I feel about it yet but it’s good to give it a go.

Lastly, one of the things that I find most compelling about your work is the mystery surrounding the narrative based images, which feel so reminiscent of ancient wall drawings and carvings. The images feel so strongly personal, yet the underlying tale is hard to decipher. What is the process for coming up with these? Is there a specific story that you are trying to tell? How do you feel that they connect to more ancient traditions of visual storytelling? In that vein, how do you view their permanence or ephemerality? 

Thank you! I definitely didn’t intend on making images with an explicit narrative, I’d rather leave that up to whoever is looking at them, so I won’t give too much away.

 The development of the stories/compositions comes from a range of things. The spaces I walked through both by the Clyde and the Thames were often unmapped, full of structures and objects which were undefined/unaccounted for. I was interested in how because these spaces were not planned or translated, my relationship to them was immediately imaginative… invented stories and explanations could emerge. I would pass lots of empty boat yards, old scaffolding yet to be dismantled, and abandoned ships – their skeletal structures felt like empty stages. I would also draw passers by or imagine people inhabiting these spaces. I would try to include how my own personal thoughts and memories entangled with the landscapes.

This is all very vague really, but I suppose one specific thing to mention is that I was really keen for the images to feel not placed in any specific time. Whilst some of the colours and mark making feels reminiscent of ancient art, I didn’t want them to slip into the past too much, and so I sometimes included compositional elements such as bike wheels, hammers and nails, or a man in a stripy suit which brought them closer to this world. I wanted a sense of a layering of histories and times, rather than anything that placed them too specifically in a single world or story.

INTERVIEW: FLORIAN GENZKEN

A conversation with Florian about his recent exhibition, World Minus Human: On Spotlessness

Can you explain the decision to have extended blank spaces between the works and the writing in your exhibition? They almost mirror the content of your work; they are long enough that when scrolling, the screen can be almost blank, but never entirely. They are like breaths which can only be held in for so long before they have to be let go.

Making an online exhibition is – obviously – very different to setting up an exhibition in a physical room, that’s why it was hard for me in the beginning to think about it as a scroll instead of something that you can walk through. In a physical exhibition you’d have to think about viewing axes, spaces between works and of course their format, which all becomes obsolete when it’s about an online show. Texts that come with offline shows are usually written on the wall or given to the visitor in the form of a flyer, therefore the visitor is free to choose the order in which artwork and text are perceived. Curating a show which the viewer has to scroll through gives you more control over the order of perception. Because I didn’t want the text to become something that was merely commenting on my works but having an equal importance, my sister and I decided on leaving the blank spaces. It can also be seen as an invitation to take your time, to first read a text and then look at a work, to go back and forth and to stroll around instead of having the scrolls that are packed with seemingly endless information, that each of us is dealing with daily.

Your landscapes include subject matter which is naturally evasive or in-motion; snow, grass in the wind, clouds, rainbows… Weather seems to be important in the work, and the conditions and landscapes that are created in its temporality. Can you speak about temporality, time, and motion in your work and whether these play a part in your process? 

The aspect of transience plays a big role in my work because I think there‘s an interesting moment in saying „I was here“ by pissing initials into the snow, knowing that this tag won‘t last long. It can be read as a metaphor for making art itself, doing something in the hope of that the product will be seen, that it will last, but at the same time knowing that it‘ll be gone and forgotten soon. Making birds fly the way I want them to in a painting is a ridiculous (or say: humorous) attempt of stating that I‘m there, that I‘m the author of the work and that I‘m the one in control. The idea of being in control is a lie that we all like to tell ourselves in order to overcome the fear of mortality. The birds will pass; the hill will stay.

Stains on a mirror or footsteps on a hill are marks of an action that took place beforehand and have now been completed. Painting these remnants is interesting to me because the act of painting itself means (intentionally) leaving stains. Depicting fictional footsteps takes more time than leaving actual ones.

You paint with a distinct softness which is then often contrasted with a sharp and anomalous marker; a ‘signature’. Where does this contrast come from? What do you think about the interaction between natural and digital landscapes?

The interplay between the two systems text/sign and image is very interesting to me, because they somehow contradict each other in many ways, not only visually but also conceptually. It‘s inevitable that the one is contrasting the other and changing the viewers perspective. In some works I try to figure out how a painting (and our perception of it) changes, when there‘s a sign or letters on it. A bracket stands somewhat disturbingly in the middle of a painting and weakens the illusive impact of the depicted; it’s in the way, sitting on top of the painting without connecting, commenting but making an unclear statement.

Signing a landscape means forcing abstract characters onto it, making it one‘s own, making clear that there is no such thing as an unbiased view, that looking at something always means projecting on it. What’s remarkable about ‚natural‘ and digital landscapes is that they are both designed but when we look at a digital landscape, we know that we‘re looking at something that is man-made. Looking at natural landscape, we mainly see our attributions. 

Your play with the self-portrait is really clever. Scanning mirrors which become prints derails original function. Pissing in the snow – a physical signature, but one which won’t last, and doesn’t explicitly point to you. Can you talk a little about how the self-portrait comes into your work, and whether this is something that you intended to come through at all in the first place?

I came to work with the mirrors because I was thinking about the relationship between surface and superficiality. A mirror is somehow a supersurface, because it is not speaking about itself but instead just throwing back what you put in front of it; mirroring without reflecting. Scanning a thing means just portraying the very surface of something, because it is technically impossible to depict depth. Vain light illuminating itself, broken only by powder and filth. The stains they carry, tell stories about how they‘ve been handled, where they‘ve been touched, showing remnants of an action that has taken place beforehand, witnessing an interaction between human and object. Everyone using a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other personal device is used to being confronted with interacting surfaces giving feedback at any time. What is disturbing about the prints of the scanned mirrors is that they don‘t give any feedback at all but instead the illusion of great black depth and void.

In the landscapes, as well as in the mirrors, one never sees people but only the remnants of their actions. The traces that people leave on objects or their surroundings say a lot about our view of the world surrounding us, one which mainly focuses on utilization. 
In the landscape paintings, I‘m trying to integrate my signature into the imagined environment; forcing my initials on it, inscribing myself into it, forming it, making clear that what we look at is a very individual perception of our surroundings.  

You’ve collaborated with your sister, a writer, on this exhibition. Can you speak about this process; did it change your experience of curating these works and do you think this collaboration has changed how to view your own work or process in general?

It was interesting for me to see how Lisa‘s texts and my works interact, also because – as described above – the interplay between the two systems image and text/sign are important in my work, too. I thought it would be nice to have texts that don‘t explicitly connect with my works or comment on them but stand for themselves instead. The process itself was quite playful because we pushed around my works and Lisa‘s texts in kind of a construction kit manner and tried to find out what could work out well. In my view, both complement each other in a good way because the texts give another perspective on the works and it functions the other way around, too.

Thank you, Florian.

To see more, find Florian on instagram: @floriangenzken
Find World Minus Human: On Spotlessness on our Exhibition Carousel


Graduate Showcase Special: Yeon Su Ju | 주 연수

16 page preview of the upcoming Graduate Showcase, featuring writing from GSA students + The Skinny’s Katie Goh – pick up a copy from cultural venues around Scotland or read online via The Skinny’s website. 

Let’s start with your beautiful painting on the cover of The Skinny. This work in particular feels very narrative focussed – is there a story behind the work that you can share with us?

 It started with one of my favourite lines in Sangsoo Hong’s film, On The Beach at Night Alone

“None of you are qualified. Everyone’s cowardly satisfied with fake things” – in the context of the movie, it means none of us is qualified to be loved. 

This very confined and sad view instantly enchanted me; it made me want to understand how not to be a coward, not to avoid and not to pretend that I am facing decisions beyond me. 

To find answers to these, as the first step for it, I made up my mind to go for a drive to find something I missed – (I mean in the painting) – I might wander and don’t know where I am heading, but I believed that after I finished this, I would become more honest and could understand better what was said in the movie.

Drive – where could we find the honesty?, 61x76cm, 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas
I’ll save my friend ‘cause you’re like a monk seal, 50x60cm, 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas

Your paintings are all so captivating and lyrical, and have an incredible ability to draw the viewer into a different world. Can you tell us a little bit about your process for creating them? 

It is embarrassing to describe myself as a romantic, but in truth I think I am, and sometimes my hopes, wishes, and love go too far – they never get tired but keep growing bigger. So I kind of have to imagine how I can make this work within the paintings because I just cannot let them go. 

In practice, I set a hypothesis or situation that fulfils these hopes, wishes and love. Then I do drawings – usually with graphite on paper and change details to get things more convincing. If things make sense enough, I move to painting. I pick some of the main mood colours, paint them as a background and get rough compositions with acrylic. Build up details and narratives with oil until it gets done. 

Rain reading – is she coming?, 61x76cm, 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas

I’d love to know a little bit more about your relationship to colour in your work – whilst vibrant, your palette often feels very soothing, especially with the predominance of pastel tones. Where does this come from? 

I think it has to do with my perception of sadness. My work mainly deals with feelings, especially love and sadness. Since I see sadness as something fond, flowing and nostalgic, I find that the pastel palette gives feelings of soft, melancholy and delicate, also represents these subtle feelings effectively in a way that I want. 

She brings the rain, 120x150cm, 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas

Lastly, what strikes me most about your work is your commitment to the medium of paint, despite the restrictions of the last year. As the graduate showcase launches online, what does it mean for you to translate such a physical medium into a digital one? What has it been like for you to try and continue painting without a studio? 

Ahh.. it was indeed a tough year. Also, it is disappointing to show my works online because I believe painting has the power to embrace and overwhelm the space. Of course, there is bright side – it possibly contributed to raising people’s interests and access to fine art. Personally, I still prefer old school way – meeting up at the exhibition in real life! 

In regards to working in lockdown – ironically, the ‘no access to studio situation’ helped my practice in some way. I set my studio at home, and no ‘work and home boundary’ was pretty charming (just for once though – no more!). I am a night owl person, and working at home let me freely indulge in whatever I want. I sang and danced while painting. I could deeply look inside and focus on myself. That was the most significant achievement! 

Who would you save if your best mate and me are drowning?, 60x60cm, 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas

About

Yeon Su Ju (b.1995) is a Korean artist based in Glasgow, UK. She graduated from Chung- Ang University in Seoul, Korea in Sociology, and studied Painting and Printmaking at The Glasgow School of Art where she is about to graduate with First Class Honours.

She has been shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2021, London; a finalist for the D31 Art Prize 2021, Doncaster and longlisted for Articovery Emerging Artist Awards, Seoul. She has also engaged in 180 remote residency, New York, USA (Virtual). She has participated several group shows; ‘Rabbit Skin’, Glue Factory, Glasgow, 2020 / ‘Locked-down but not broken’, D31 Gallery, Doncaster, UK, 2021 (virtual) / ‘Concept 21’ Festival, GSASA, Glasgow, UK, 2021 (virtual) / ‘TSDAP & Vane Spring Exhibition 2021’, Vane Gallery, Newcastle, UK, 2021 (virtual). Currently, she is preparing for ‘The Alternative Degree Show’ in July across various venues in Glasgow, UK. 

See More of Yeonsu’s Work:

Instagram: @yeonsuju 

Website: https://yeonsuju.cargo.site

The Skinny Magazine: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/magazines/current-issue

GSA Graduate Showcase: https://gsashowcase.net/yeon-ju/

In Conversation With …Wies Roeterdink

Although the objects that you use are often fairly mundane – suitcases, boxes, door frames – there appears to be a desire to disguise or hide yourself. To what extent do you see these as self-portraits, or do you intend these photographs to function more as alter egos or as a distraction from autobiography?

 I didn’t intend the photographs to act as self portraits, but –in a way– that is what they are.  There is an element of myself in these works: my body. But, if I think about it too much, maybe I am the object. Confined and deflated. Maybe, I feel trapped, but by what? These photographs reflect parts of my life in lock-down, a distraction from autobiography, a cathartic activity to release more negative emotions, a reprieve, a moment of clear-mindedness, a focus on self. Is the body an object? If it is, then am I manipulating it as well? Pushing and pulling it to its limits. I’m interested in the process of negotiation with objects and body. Are we, the object and I, ‘performing’ together? What is my role in this? I like to think of my micro performances as dialogues between myself and the objects. Do they talk back? What are they trying to say? They tell me that I can’t stretch a suitcase, I can’t twist an inflated mattress around myself, but I can try.  And, if I can’t, we come to a compromise. Often, I’m trying to wrap myself up tightly in objects, maybe seeking some form of shelter or comfort — hiding away from the view of the camera. Something interesting happens when parts of the body are obscured from view, the image of the body distorts and becomes something else. Feet curiously poking out from under an air mattress or a head popping out of a suitcase become characters/creatures of sorts. Usually, this obscuring of form is incidental.

Your work also speaks a lot of constriction and entrapment – how, if at all, do you think your work has been affected by the pandemic and the new emphasis on restriction of the body as a safety precaution?

During the first lock-down in March, I was separated from my family and taken in by family friends. Having filled only a small suitcase with my possessions, I didn’t have access to many art materials. Having to be resourceful, I started using mundane materials and surrounding space to create my work. These performances became my creative and emotional outlet. For months, I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress. I would wake up every morning on the floor – the mattress having deflated entirely overnight. In a way, I felt that the mattress was an extension of myself — deflated creatively and emotionally. I started to empathise with it. This was the first object I chose to perform with, constricting and confining it with my body. Why does constriction interest me? Is it about control or the lack thereof? Is it about bodily constriction or some other aspect of it, like psychological or emotional impact? I’m unsure, but constriction and entrapment are themes that keep popping up in my work. Covid-19 has forced us all to adapt to our situations. Working creatively from home pushed me to experiment with new mediums, transitioning from predominantly sculpture to performance and video. It was a huge turning point for my work. I’d never really considered the body as an artistic medium. For me, it’s not so much an emphasis on restriction of the body as a safety precaution, but more a response to the emotional impact of it.

I really enjoy your works that investigate the relationship between the body and architecture. I wonder if you could speak a little about the effects of variation in architecture – whether your work is affected by different cities, spaces, or rooms – or whether you feel that you focus more on the mundane repetitions of architecture that can be found anywhere. 

I like to think of architecture as a mediator between the body and its environment – a framework dictating how the body can move. Though subtle characteristics affect the flow and the quality of movement, I’m drawn to the mundane repetitions of architecture. “Architecture could be considered as an extension of the body because it expands our capacities to operate within the environment. It could be conceptualized that architecture acts as a type of prosthesis for the body.” I use certain architectural features, like window frames or doorways to frame my body. My body folds and stretches angularly to mimic these structures, fitting into the contours of space — becoming part of the architecture. I place my body in blank indoor spaces — white walls and window frames — in my photographs, where it can’t be rooted to a specific place or time. The empty room is a blank canvas, and, in these performances, my body’s movements are the paint strokes. I often set parameters for performances, whether it’s spatial limitations or restricting which body parts can move or how they move, to explore space. I haven’t been able to explore other cities or spaces due to covid restrictions, but I imagine my approach/movements would be affected. I’ve noticed a distinct difference in how I interact with interior and exterior space. Movements indoors always seem confined and deliberate, but the lack of walls and limits outdoors makes me feel lost and overwhelmed. Paralysed and unsure what to do with my body when there are so many options.

Looking at your work makes me feel almost hyper aware of my body and it’s limitations, and thinking about how far it can be stretched, pushed or pulled. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about mindfulness and meditation and the fact that I find these practices really difficult because I find the experience of being aware of my body profoundly uncomfortable. Can you talk a little about how the process of making your works affects or changes your own relationship to your body and what the experience of making your works feels like?

When creating my work, there’s a hyper-awareness of my body — of the small contractions of the muscles as they move together, the skin folding over itself — it’s uncomfortable. I’ve never been very comfortable with my body, and have struggled with body image. These performances have forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with it. There’s a level of detachment I feel when I look at the body in the images I create, it doesn’t feel like mine despite rationally knowing that it is. After looking at photographs of my body again and again and again, something strange starts to occur; the images start to break down, becoming not a body I recognise as my own, but a series of abstract shapes and movements. Similar to how, when you read a word over and over it starts to lose meaning.

Initially, making my work was quite cathartic – like meditation, these micro performances gave me a positive outlet from the stress of isolation and Covid-19. My performances are my way of practicing mindfulness – blocking out all thought other than being intensely aware of what I’m sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgement. My movements are unplanned and intuitive, focussing on my relationship with space, body and object. It’s a really enjoyable process. I enter this blank headspace, where I try to let go of my preconceptions and innate knowledge of objects, to discover its possibilities – it’s not a mattress, just a collection of materials. It’s a really enjoyable process, playing with objects without any expectations of the outcome. My exploration of objects is playful but also clinical in its enquiry; if I use it as a springboard how far will it propel me into the air, and how does an object’s rigidity affect the way it reacts to my manipulation? I thoroughly explore the limitations of my chosen objects and space, as well as the flexibility and reach of my body. Pushing and often surprising myself by passing self-defined limits of what is possible to do with my body. Sometimes, these performances are quite physically demanding, leaving me feeling tired and relaxed like I’ve just finished a workout.

Bio:

Wies is a Dutch artist currently studying 3D Fine Art at Central Saint Martin’s in London. Her work investigates the limitations of the body, and its relationship to objects and architecture, through photography and performances. You can check out her work on her Instagram account @wies.art 

In Response To…. Joanna Holisz

How-Be–>, Joanna Holisz

How To Be a Good Artist

by Rhona Sword


Step One: Draw a circle.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a little wonky. The best artists aren’t always the best draughtsmen, if truth be told. It’s just a common misconception.


Step Two: Move the circle.

Rub it out, and draw it again elsewhere. Now it is no longer where it was, it is no longer the same circle. You cannot end where you began. You are no longer the same artist.


Step Three: Erase the circle once more.

There are so many trajectories the circle might have taken. The circle might end up back in exactly the same place, but it still won’t be the same circle, and it still won’t be the same drawing. Try as you might, you can never erase all the places it has been.


Step Four: Make a graph.

Artists are quantifiable – didn’t you know that? We have value in relation to everything else – like doctors or supermarket cashiers. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Our line on the graph will lie very low. We are not very valuable.

See more of Rhona’s work
Website: www.rhonasword.com
Instagram: @rhonasword