2019 Porthleven Prize Winner
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
My work is inspired by the concepts and new discoveries being made in the world, particularly in the scientific fields. I have recognised that after my degree there are opportunities to collaborate with other professionals in both creative and non-creative fields in the production and execution of projects. To develop my understanding and experience of collaborative practice I used my time at the Porthleven Residency to make collaborative artworks with creatives other than Fine Artists: performer Caroline Vitzthum and sound artist Gavriel Rubin.
During the residency, in response to the Porthleven Prize’s theme ‘Provenance’, I participated in a variety of workshops, exhibitions and tutorials as part of my research; dance tutor Sarah Alexander conducted a Flora Day workshop during which we responded to the trees through a choreographed dance; I visited Tate St. Ives, the Barbra Hepworth Museum and the Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens; I had the chance to see Chris Jordan’s film Albatross which looks at the role plastic plays in killing birds and sea life, and watched a presentation on ‘Water’ and its key role at the Porthleven site. Even though all of the workshops were influential in the development of my work, there were three key events that inspired me to explore ideas of boundaries and ‘revealing the hidden’ in the Cornish site; Alexander’s Flora Day dance workshop and visits to Tate St. Ives and the Barbra Hepworth Museum.
My visits to the museums enlightened me to the existing strong link between the sea and Cornwall’s topography, with its rich artistic history involving a new generation of artists in the 1940’s – sculptors Dame Barbra Hepworth and Naum Gabo, and painter Ben Nicholson. The artists explored the Cornish landscape and sea forms in a variety of non-representational styles with Dame Barbra Hepworth and Naum Gabo in particular, opting to create works which used spherical, spiral shapes, and smooth curves. Understanding this history and feeling the strong connection to the sea myself, I conducted a ‘Sea’ workshop on Loe Bar Beach. During Alexander’s Flora Day dance workshop, I was inspired by the freedom and connection I felt as I interacted with my site and I encouraged the other creatives on the residency to participate in connecting to this sublime setting by responding to the rough waves through an intuitive dance.
The workshop confirmed the value of my choice of exploring the sea in my work, and recording the site through movement. I explored the “notions of embodied experience and interconnectivity” of the “human figure and landscape; also the one in relation to the other” (Dame Barbra Hepworth). I researched into cross-disciplinary collaborative projects such as Siobhan Davies Dance: Side by Side (2012). This was a six-week residency where visual artist Helen Carnac and dance artist Laïla Diallo investigated the act and process of cross-disciplinary making, as they intuitively responded to each other in a set space using dance and paper. By moving through space they gathered information, such as their feelings or a ‘mood’ in a particular moment of movement, which they translated into words. They produced multiple outputs ranging from participatory audience ‘happenings’, mark makings on paper, and documentation photography and filming of the activity. They defined collaborative art as: creatives working together towards a shared goal, with each person contributing in a significant way to the artwork.
Recognising that performer Caroline Vitzthum shared my interests in responding to the boundaries between the sea and the shore, a topic we had both discussed during our individual introductory presentations to the group at the beginning of the residency, we chose to collaborate on Dollar Cove beach; I created a sculpture on site and made a film as a record of our process and the setting in which we worked. To celebrate the site’s relationship between the land and the sea, I made my own clay using natural materials found on and around the Dollar Cove beach – Brimstone clay, straw, sand, wool and seawater – resulting in a cob mixture. Using the clay (a representation of the land) I interpreted Caroline’s movements (her response to the sea) through sculpture.
In my practice, I explore balancing control and unpredictability and chose to apply this approach to this collaboration. Whilst I had control over the materials and the way I represented Caroline’s movements, I was at the mercy of natural forces – strong wind and sun – and to Caroline’s intuitive dancing. This was the first time in my practice where I was responding on site, to an existing environment with no control over external factors. This new, more open approach to creation resulted in a raw sculpture, which on close inspection brings to light the materials found in the actual site it is based on.
Interestingly, even though Caroline acted as a bridge between myself and the setting, the final sculpture resembled the shape of the cove which we were in, with the layered walls in the sculpture mimicking the cliffs that surrounded us and delineated the beach – themselves a boundary between the sea and the higher land. Recognising the importance of context for this piece of work, my short film called Interconnected shows the viewer how the work was made, later exhibited in the pop-up exhibition They Made It.
Exhibiting on-site as a ‘happening’ rather than in a gallery context resulted in authentic audience engagement, as ordinary people – beach walkers, hikers and dog walkers – would ‘discover’ the live event and witness the sculpture being made in front of them. Some of them opted to stop, watch, film and talk to us about our collaboration. Using materials from the site caused the casual passers-by to comment on how successful the artwork was, highlighting how it made us all aware of our existence within nature rather than our dominance of it.
My second collaboration was designed to explore the concept of ‘revealing the hidden’; I collaborated with sound artist Gavriel Rubin to create pairs of photographs exploring the colours in the Porthleven landscape called Land and Sea. Investigating the coast using a micro lens, I captured similar colours and textures as found in the land and the sea, creating abstract images that evoke different feelings when seen together. My selective approach was mimicked by Gavriel, who recorded sounds from the same areas I took the photographs and created a soundtrack to match my paired images. Unlike my collaboration with Caroline, Gavriel and I had a more separate approach to collaboration, following Ingram Marshall’s collaboration philosophy “work that’s built through continuous consultation and exchange of ideas and feedback.” We worked together and also independently on our individual pieces before joining them together and reviewing the outcome.
The audio tracks for each pair of images are in development but are already beginning to successfully add a ‘mood’; the white pair has a dry, cracking sound, the pink a rushing, echoing sound and the orange a smooth rattling and dropping sound. They hint at the identity of the subjects in the pictures. Each paired image will be exhibited with headphones.
The Final Three Pairs of Photographs for the Land and Sea series:
I look forward to future collaborative projects, such as science and art collaborations at the Wellcome Trust, with industry and with creatives abroad. I anticipate collaborating in a more ‘back and forth’ style, more as in my work with Gavriel. By participating in the They Made It exhibition, I had the opportunity to experiment with the presentation of the work and understand what was most effective in audience engagement. I made critical editing decisions and was able to develop my work to be ready for the Porthleven Prize touring exhibition, starting November 2019.
Overall, I have used the Porthleven Residency as an opportunity to develop my art practice by working in two types of collaboration styles – direct response to one another and independent creation. Out of the two collaborative styles, I loved and may have gained more from my Interconnected project with Caroline, where we directly responded and worked together in a specific environment for an intense period of time. This is evident in the production and actualisation of the final piece. The residency has opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about making artworks; I created work that pushed my boundaries of interest and production, creating art in a natural environment, making my own material from that environment, exploring colour, and adding audio to my work. Responding to a new setting, my interest in making intuitive works with the process as key has soared. I now understand how to celebrate an intimate relationship with the subjects I explore in my practice.
All images are copyright and may not be used without the artist’s permission.