Hi Emma! We are honoured and very excited to have you as part of CIRCA’s c.20:21 programme for this month on the Piccadilly Lights screen, in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery and the Max Mara Art Prize for Women. Perhaps we can start by asking why you were interested in this commission?
The prospect of being able to realise some work for the screen at Piccadilly Circus was super exciting to me, because it offered the potential to address the zeitgeist of our times so directly. During lockdown, I’ve really had to ask myself how art could or should function. What can art do in relation to a set of contemporary conditions we’d never experienced before. The CIRCA project, for artists to make works for the iconic outdoor screen extended the potential for art to have a life in a city. Situating my animations, that address the problematics of accelerated capitalist structures and their empty promises and appeal to us to reimagine our futures differently, within a space commonly used for advertising seemed apposite.
A Year of Dark Shadows, 2021
What will it take to emerge from a year of darkness and heal, Talbot asks? “Do you stare down into the pit… or up to the stars, pinpoints of hope in the night sky?”
Emma Talbot (b. 1969 Stourbridge) is an artist based in London. She is the winner of the 2020 Max Mara Art Prize for Women in association with Whitechapel Gallery and Collezione Maramotti. Across a range of media; painting, 3D forms, drawing, sound, installation and animation, her work constructs narratives that explore how the internalised, emotional space of subjectivity is cast into current prevalent concerns - such as our relationships with technology, nature, the regenerating city and power structures. Recent exhibitions include GEM Kunstmuseum The Hague NL, 2019 Art Night Commission William Morris Gallery London, Galerie Onrust Amsterdam, Neuer Aachener Kunstverein D, Arcadia Missa New York, Petra Rinck Galerie Düsseldorf, Tate St Ives, Turner Contemporary Margate.
CLICK HERE to learn more and visit Emma's website.
“After decades of There Is No Alternative ideology, we see a pathos of the possible that aims to quell fears about empty possibilities without potentiality. But what are the potential possibilities—as opposed to largely hypothetical ones? In Peter Osborne’s characterization, the space of art is project space, and hence the space of the projection of possibilities and the presentation of “practices of anticipation.” And indeed, much contemporary aesthetic practice is possibilist—from speculo-accelerationist 'we were promised jetpacks' retro-Prometheanisms to various forms of social and political practice seeking to foster and form alternative forms of assembly and cooperation.” - Sven Lütticken
'Divergent States of Emergence: Remarks on Potential Possibilities, Against All Odds' by Sven Lütticken, February 2021, e-flux journal issue 115.
CLICK HERE to read Lütticken's 'Divergent States of Emergence: Remarks on Potential Possibilities, Against All Odds'.
Can you tell us a bit more about your reason for splitting the month into four parts, and four films?
The four animations reflect the year we’ve had, since we were first in lockdown, divided into four narrative ‘seasons’. The ‘seasons’ focus on dark withdrawal (winter), the breakdown of structures (autumn), renewal and healing (spring) and the warmth of community (summer).
Your work is often grounded through the words of female writers and thinkers such as Rebecca Solnit, Arundhati Roy and Valarie Kaur. Who inspired your first film ‘A year of Dark Shadows’ and why?
A Year of Dark Shadows was inspired by all kinds of information about instability from around the world in the news every day. During the pandemic I began to listen to lots of online discussions about how our future could be shaped and reimagined. It was interesting that many of these challenging and hopeful discourses were coming from women such as (Valerie Kaur, Rebecca Solnit and) Arundhati Roy, who wrote ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’. Roy’s essay describes capitalism as a train wreck - we can either try to assess it, examine it’s parts and decide whether we want to help fix what is broken or ‘look for a better engine’*. It’s the idea of a portal to a different, more caring, responsible future that seems visionary to me.
Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’, April 3rd, 2020
The novelist on how coronavirus threatens India — and what the country, and the world, should do next.
CLICK HERE to read the full article.
It’s World Book Day today (4th March). What are your favourite five books, and what would you recommend to read for today?
My favourite books change all the time, but at the moment Isabelle Stengers ‘In Catastrophic Times, Resisting the Coming Barbarism’, Arundhati Roy ‘Azadi’, Clarice Lispector ‘Água Viva’, Edna O’Brien ‘Night’ and Hélène Cixous ‘Coming To Writing’. I also recommend Ursula K LeGuin ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’.
Isabelle Stengers, 'In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism', 2015
CLICK HERE to read the full book.
Your first film is entitled ‘A Year of Dark Shadows’. What are some of the themes and narratives found in this new work?
In this animation, a woman is trying to survive by gathering sticks and branches, in a volatile, malignant world. The environmental toxicity is due to the virus, but also pre-existing problems such as climate change, divisive political problematics or shady activity on the dark web.
The woman retreats to a cave, alone. She uses her bundle of kindling to make a fire – connecting to ancient survival methods. On her own in the cave, the fire either threatens to consume her in her own negativity or to release her to dream more openly – to connect with and to listen to nature’s messages. She starts to mark and release her experiences by painting on the walls of the cave. After a long sleep, Spring pulls open her hibernating eyes and, stepping outside, she finds a virus-free environment where healing plants have grown tall.
The German Benedictine visionary and mystic Hildegard of Bingen is an important influence in this new work. Why did you pick her?
I wanted to ally contemporary visionaries with ancient counterparts, who still speak to us today. Hildegard Von Bingen was a visionary from the 12th century, whose work we know because she felt compelled to write her visions down, to make music and to produce works about healing. The activity of creative making as a conduit for ideas that can serve the future seemed important to me. I also like the idea of a voice that speaks to others about structures that are inherent in nature. I visually described Hildegard von Bingen in my animation as a bird with a woman’s head who flies through time to call out to others, a voice to convey visionary ideas and bring people together.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
The best-known religious woman of the twelfth century was Hildegard of Bingen. She joined the double monastery of Disibodenberg in the Rhineland as a child and became the abbess of its community of nuns. In 1147 she experienced a vision that caused her to leave Disibodenberg and set up her own community, solely of nuns, at Rupertsberg near Bingen in the Rhineland.Hildegard was a cultured woman of wide learning: she composed music, was a prodigious letter-writer and wrote texts on medicine and herbalism. However, she was best known in her time for her visions, which were set down in writing and illustrated by the nuns of her community. The two books of Hildegard's visions are entitled 'Know the Ways of God' (lost since 1945) and 'The Book of Divine Works'.
Are there any particular female figures whose words you believe should receive more attention?
Arundhati Roy’s essay ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’ is important, because it gives an idea about the possibilities in the future through the lens of problematics that are evident to Roy where she lives, in India. To be able to encounter first-hand experiential information that is so distinct and precise, but that also helps us all think about our own situations is crucial. To hear voices from a range of sources is the implicit message of my animation ‘Chorus’. I have also been interested in activists such as Starhawk, Osprey Orielle Lake and Valerie Kaur as well as Isabelle Stengers.
Valerie Kaur is a seasoned civil rights activist and celebrated prophetic voice “at the forefront of progressive change” (Center for American Progress). Valarie burst into American consciousness in the wake of the 2016 election when her Watch Night Service address went viral with 30+ million views worldwide. Her question “Is this the darkness of the tomb – or the darkness of the womb?” reframed the political moment and became a mantra for people fighting for change. Valarie now leads the Revolutionary Love Project to reclaim love as a force for justice in America.
CLICK HERE to visit Valerie's website
My friend Varun asked me, “Over the course of this global pandemic, what have you discovered is most essential to YOU?” It made my body ache. I think questions like this have the ability to open up wisdom waiting to be heard. What have you discovered is most essential to you? pic.twitter.com/RY43df3xi4— Valarie Kaur (@valariekaur) November 25, 2020
Your CIRCA commission coincides with International Women’s Day on 8th March. If you could have a zoom with 5 women throughout history who would they be and why?
I would like to zoom Anaïs Nin and talk to her about her process of journaling and writing, Agafia Lykova, who lived her whole life in isolation in one of the remotest parts of Russia, about self-sufficiency, Hildegard Von Bingen to hear about medieval life, healing plants and her visions, Meret Oppenheim to talk about about her pieces ‘Ghost with Sheet’ (1962) and ‘Six Little Primeval Animals and a Snail’s Shell’ (1978) which I love and Doris Stokes, to hear what life after death is like!
What is one of your sources of inspiration that may surprise people?
I don’t know how surprising this is, but I’m really interested in Peter Fenwick’s work on near death experiences and research on the experience of dying.
Peter Fenwick (b. 1935) is an eminent neuropsychiatrist, academic and expert on disorders of the brain. His most compelling and provocative research has been into the end of life phenomena, including near-death experiences and deathbed visions of the dying person, as well as the experiences of hospice and palliative care workers and relatives of dying people. Dr. Fenwick believes that consciousness may be independent of the brain and so able to survive the death of the brain, a theory which has divided the scientific community. The ""problem with death"" is deeply rooted in our culture and the social organization of death rituals. Fenwick believes that with serious engagement and through further investigation of these phenomena, he can help change attitudes so that we in the West can face up to death, and embrace it as a significant and sacred part of life. We have become used to believing that we have to shield each other from the idea of death. Fear of death means we view it as something to be fought every step of the way.
We want to congratulate you for winning the Max Mara Art Prize. What are you looking forward to most during your six-month Italian residency with Collezione Maramotti in italy?
Thank you, I am so looking forward to the residency! Apart from the opportunity to experience the culture and life of Italy - So many things to look forward to – researching Etruscan Pottery in Rome with the Director of Villa Giulia, learning about intarsia knitting with Miss Deanna in Reggio Emilia, visiting Permaculture sites in Sicily and seeing Gustav Klimt’s painting ‘Three Ages of Woman’ at first hand.
The World Health Organisation officially declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a year ago today (11th March). Can you recall some of your memories or thoughts during that time?
I was getting ready to go on my Max Mara Prize residency and quickly began to realise how impossible that looked. The seriousness of the pandemic hit hard – apart from the threat of getting the virus (I got pneumonia at the end of March, so was shielding) all my plans for the year had to be postponed and I had to reconfigure how and where I was working and how to survive financially. Thankfully, I got an AN/Freelands Foundation grant which was a huge relief. Significantly, the impasse of lockdown also gave me space to teach myself to make animations from scratch, something I’d never done before, because I hadn’t had the time.
Covid-19’s impact on the arts world has led to countless films and concerts being scrapped or postponed and theatres and galleries closed.
CLICK HERE for an updating list of what’s affected so far.
We’ve been locked inside for much of this year. Has your typical day changed and if so, how?
Absolutely. I was always on the go before, I hardly ever spent time at home. I moved about in the city all the time and was often travelling to mainland Europe. This last year, I’ve had to grow to love my home and staying in one place. Like everyone, I’m itching to go out more, to visit more diverse places than just my local area. My studio is only a short bike ride away so it’s very convenient, but I miss a bit more adventurous distance! The lack of contact with others is also totally unusual. I’m very good at being by myself but I now think fondly of irl openings and events and social meet ups.
"It’s amazing how quickly we all agreed to vanish ourselves within the paradoxical solidarity of mutual avoidance."
John Kelsey, VIRUS-TIME, June 2020, ARTFORUM
CLICK HERE to read VIRUS-TIME by John Kelsey
Do you have any memories of the Piccadilly Circus? And what does the location mean to you for this commission?
When I was a kid, I remember lying in the back of our estate car at night looking out at the lights in the city as we drove through the centre, and the excitement of going past Piccadilly Circus. It’s a place I’ve known all my life. There’s something very special to me about seeing my animations on such a scale, in a setting that is so iconic. But even more significant at this point in time, somehow – because this artwork, that is so much about our times, will be present outside and visible when it has been impossible to share art in interior spaces.
Your second film is entitled ‘What is a City?’. London has changed drastically over the last year due to the pandemic. What hopes do you have for the future of London as it transitions?
I’ve known London all my life and can see how much it has changed and adapted over the years. In ‘What is a City?’ I was thinking about how atomised an idea of a city could be, just as power can potentially be atomised. I doubt the centre, like Oxford Street, will ever be the same. I wonder whether physical shops will be fewer, whether mass commuting will cease, whether we will have real ‘garden cities’. I just found myself thinking that the ethos of a city as a physical centre would be really different. But then I also wonder whether we will have a huge party generation after the privations of the lockdown era.
There are many directions that London could take in the future, but the city lacks a shared vision to navigate the many challenges it faces and the trade-offs that will need to be made. The London Futures review is one such opportunity to take a long term, strategic approach to the city. Their aim is to build a new shared vision for London with Londoners.
CLICK HERE to learn more about London Futures.
Do you have a life motto, or words to live by? And if so, what are they?
Your electronic soundscapes for each of the four films are made by yourself, can you tell us how they came about, and how they relate to your visual material?
I make the soundscapes for the work once the visuals for the animation are complete. I always feel that the sound really pulls the animation together. It gives emphasis and atmosphere to the imagery. The electronic sound for the animations acts as an abstract voice that narrates the feelings in the work. I always want the sound to feel experimental and inventive.
In a world dominated by the visual, could contemporary resistance be auditory? Sonic Agency by Brandon LaBelle highlights sound’s invisible, disruptive, and affective qualities, and asks whether the unseen nature of sound can support a political transformation. In this timely and important book, author Brandon LaBelle sets out to engage contemporary social and political crises by way of sonic thought and imagination. He divides sound’s functions into four figures of resistance – the invisible, the overheard, the itinerant and the weak – and argues for their role in creating alternative “unlikely publics” in which to foster mutuality and dissent. He highlights existing sonic cultures and social initiatives that utilize or deploy sound and listening to address conflict, and points to their work as models for a wider movement. By examining the experience of listening and being heard, LaBelle illuminates a path from the margins toward hope, citizenship, and vibrancy. When the current climate has left many feeling they have lost their voice, it may be sound itself which restores it to them.
CLICK HERE to read Sonic Agency by Brandon LaBelle
What are some of your favourite musicians?
Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Vieux Farka Touré, Alice Coltrane, John Martyn (Solid Air),
What you are listening to and reading at the moment?
Stevie Wonder’s Inner Visions album and I Malavoglia: the House by the Medlar Tree Giovanni Verga.
I Malavoglia (the House by the Medlar Tree), by Giovanni Verga
Malavoglia is one of the great landmarks of Italian Literature. It is so rich in character, emotion and texture that it lives forever in the imagination of all who read it. 'Written in 1881 and set in the Sicilian village of Aci Trezza in the 1860s, Verga's novel charts the failing fortunes of the Malavoglia, a family of fisherfolk who are living through a period of political change following the country's annexation to Italy. The Malavoglias' inexorable slide is triggered by the decision of Padron 'Ntoni to buy a cargo of lupins on credit after a bad year of business, only to lose the precious cargo in a storm at sea. The repayment of this debt leads to the loss of the family home, and all subsequent efforts to reclaim it are doomed.The old values are dying and it is largely due to young 'Ntoni,exposed to the outside world during naval service and ever more dissatisfied by the life endured by the rest of Aci Trezza's charmingly loquacious inhabitants, that the family fortunes are never restored. A tragic 'account of the sort of disquiet visited upon a family ...by the vague desire for the unknown',their struggle for survuval is depicted by Verga with stark honesty.'
Your work beautifully and very magically blends past, present and future, for example placing primordial like forms and figures into seemingly modern scenes. Time is rarely fixed in your works. How does this relate to your understanding of our contemporary moment?
The contemporary moment is always shifting, it isn’t fixed. In the last year, more than ever, we’ve seen how volatile and precarious things can be. Our continuum is the thoughts in our minds, narrating our experiences, consciously and unconsciously. Time is elastic. I’m interested in the ways the past can offer forgotten knowledge and how the future is projected.
Learning From The Virus, Paul B. Preciado, June 2020, ARTFORUM
"If Michel Foucault had survived AIDS in 1984 and had stayed alive until the invention of effective antiretroviral therapy, he would be ninety-three years old today. Would he have agreed to confine himself in his apartment on rue de Vaugirard in Paris? The first philosopher of history to die from complications resulting from the acquired immunodeficiency virus left us with some of the most effective tools for considering the political management of the epidemic—ideas that, in this atmosphere of rampant and contagious disinformation, are like cognitive protective equipment..."
CLICK HERE to read the full article Learning From The Virus by Paul B. Preciado
Spring officially commences on 20th March. Can you tell us what this month means to you and how this season relates to your new commission?
March is significant, because Spring heralds new growth, what seems dead comes back to life. In our case, hopefully Spring will bring some kind of hope for the future, for life being less restricted. I liked the idea that the month when Spring begins could be the timescale for these animated ‘visions’ of reshaping and re-imagining the future.
The Beginning of Spring, Penelope Fitzgerald, 1988
The Beginning of Spring is a 1988 novel by the British author Penelope Fitzgerald. Set in Moscow in 1913, it tells the story of a Moscow-born English-educated print shop owner whose English wife has suddenly abandoned him and their three children. The novel was shortlisted for the 1988 Booker Prize.
CLICK HERE to read the opening pages of The Beginning of Spring
Sometimes it feels as if the world is living through a sci-fi novel: viruses, technological progress, climate catastrophes etc. and your work often plays with this genre. What do you like about this genre, and can you tell us your favourite sci-fi novel?
I like the speculative aspect of Sci-fi projects, the thought experiments that give space to alternatives that can inform us about today. I also like the ways the ancient past can get interwoven with futuristic visions. It’s not a novel, but I always loved the way Fellini described Satyricon, (his film based on the surviving fragments of Petronius’s Roman text) as like making a sci-fi, futuristic film, because the deep past is such an unfamiliar place. The novel I’d choose is Orwell’s 1984.
'What Is Hauntology?' by Mark Fisher, 2013
Mark Fisher, author of the acclaimed 'Capitalist Realism', argues that we are haunted by futures that failed to happen. Fisher used the term to describe a musical aesthetic preoccupied with this temporal disjunction and the nostalgia for "lost futures". So-called "hauntological" musicians are described as exploring ideas related to temporal disjunction, retrofuturism, cultural memory, and the persistence of the past.
CLICK HERE to read the Mark Fisher's essay about his notion of Hauntology.
Fellini Satyricon, directed by Federico Fellini, 1969
Fellini Satyricon, or simply Satyricon, is a 1969 Italian fantasy drama film written and directed by Federico Fellini and loosely based on Petronius's work Satyricon, written during the reign of Emperor Nero and set in imperial Rome. The film is divided into nine episodes, following Encolpius and his friend Ascyltus as they try to win the heart of a young boy named Gitón within a surreal and dream-like Roman landscape.
This is going to be a difficult period for artists. What obstacles have you overcome? What advice do you have for younger artists that are looking up to you this month?
I brought up two sons as a single parent after my husband died, from when they were 6 and 7. Balancing working to support us financially with being a present, supportive parent and trying to remember what everyone needed day to day, as well as trying to keep going as an artist, was really challenging. Especially when we were all grieving. For me, figuring out how making art could become a refuge and a means to really articulate my thinking was fundamental. However tough life is, art can be a really valuable space for exploring thinking, even with very little means.
Radical Care Survival Strategies for Uncertain Times, by Hi‘ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart and Tamara Kneese, April 2020
This article introduces the topic of radical care by providing a genealogy of care as a vital but underexamined praxis of radical politics that provides spaces of hope in precarious times. Following recent theoretical interventions into the importance of self-care despite its susceptibility to neoliberal co-optation, the potentialities of self-care may be expanded outward to include other forms that push back against structural disadvantage.
CLICK HERE to read the full article
Your third film ‘Our Own Creation’ is representative of spring, and seeks to shine hope on the new post-covid era in front of us. What are some of your hopes for the future?
I hope to be able to live in a less restricted way, to feel a lightness that comes with hopefulness. I hope we don’t lose some of the important realisations that have been revealed during the time of COVID – the crucial value of the NHS, the importance of caring more for one another, the kinds of understandings and generosities that have been evident, despite the grimness and craziness of events in the last year. The emptiness of some of the value systems that have been driving our expectations and the way they heaped pressure on us. Through the hard work of many, voices and opinions that have been suppressed have become more audible. I hope they are further amplified and I hope we think of ways to make the future ‘a better engine’.
Animation is a relatively new self taught medium for you, since you’ve been unable to work in your studio during lockdown. Do you miss painting? And how has this medium developed your practice?
I didn’t paint in the first lockdown, but after spending a long time working from home, animating on a screen, I was very happy to make some large, physical work (painting and 3D forms) for my show ‘Ghost Calls’ at DCA, Dundee. I like to move between media, it gives me a sense of freedom, and stops me getting bogged down in one thing. Animation has been an amazing extension of my practice. I see it as a way of walking around in the world of my drawings and paintings. The combination of image, text and sound is a very good way of articulating my ideas, and I like the way it interfaces with the other materialities in my work.
Emma Talbot, Ghost Calls at Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2020
CLICK HERE to learn more about the exhibition
The process of cutting-out and re-placing images and texts is frequently employed in your work, what draws you to this act of making?
It’s such a detailed process, the way I make animation is very slow compared to anything else I make, so it can feel labour intensive. But I really like the effect of immediacy in the images cut out of my drawings, and the way the space is built, like a collage. The potential of visual invention in animation really entices me. I like to enhance materialities – using metallic paint, photographing the drawings under a light source, using hand-made paper and so on.
William Burroughs, The Cut Up Method
The cut-up technique is an aleatory literary technique in which a written text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. The concept can be traced to at least the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by writer, chaos magician and member of the international magical organization Illuminates of Thanateros, William S. Burroughs, and has since been used in a wide variety of contexts.
Burroughs discovered the cutup in 1959 in Paris through his friend Brion Gysin, a painter. When Gysin began experimenting with cutups in his own work, Burroughs immediately saw the similarity to the juxtaposition technique he had used in Naked Lunch and began extensive experiments with text, often with the collaboration of other writers.
CLICK HERE to read William Burroughs' "The Cut Up Method", 1963
Your work often explores what makes us human, and how we engage with intimacy via hand-held technology. What is it that interests you about this?
The speed of technological developments is a crucial part of the world we live in. My interest is the human experience and I found it interesting how much emotional energy we invest into our devices. I couldn’t help thinking that self-regard and emotional interplay were clever ways of seducing humans into an ever-greater dependency on technology. Last year, I made a large installation for Eastside Projects in Birmingham, called ‘When Screens Break’. It imagined the way we would be drawn into virtual worlds once our physical world became too unstable and described the ways we were being seduced to comply with AI. My recent work has been underpinned by a common theme – that of being under the spell of advanced capitalism and wondering if anything will break the spell.
Donna J. Haraway, 'Simians, Cyborgs, and Women', 1991
Simians, Cyborgs and Women is a powerful collection of ten essays written between 1978 and 1989. Although on the surface, simians, cyborgs and women may seem an odd threesome, Haraway describes their profound link as "creatures" which have had a great destabilizing place in Western evolutionary technology and biology. Throughout this book, Haraway analyzes accounts, narratives, and stories of the creation of nature, living organisms, and cyborgs. At once a social reality and a science fiction, the cyborg--a hybrid of organism and machine--represents transgressed boundaries and intense fusions of the nature/culture split. By providing an escape from rigid dualisms, the cyborg exists in a post-gender world, and as such holds immense possibilities for modern feminists.
CLICK HERE to read 'Simians, Cyborgs, and Women' by Donna J. Haraway
Hito Steyerl, 'Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?', November 2013
Is the internet dead?1 This is not a metaphorical question. It does not suggest that the internet is dysfunctional, useless or out of fashion. It asks what happened to the internet after it stopped being a possibility. The question is very literally whether it is dead, how it died and whether anyone killed it.
CLICK HERE to read the full article
Where’s your favourite place of calm to gather your thoughts?
Your fourth film for the CIRCA commission is entitled ‘Chorus’, can you tell us what led you to this title?
As the fourth of the animations, Chorus brings a group of people out onto the streets, joining together to call out against toxic systems. It describes the time we live in and the hopefulness that is in the will to effect change. The figures are resisting their own experience of living in a threatening world, being isolated on an ‘island of grief’. They are also guided by visionaries in the form of singing birds with women’s heads. This birdlike figure was based on an idea of Hildegard Von Bingen and her voice calling through time, to encourage people to articulate their visions. The animation is a celebration of the multitude, the many different voices that come together to effect change.
Are there any young artists you are excited about right now?
Of course. I’ve been teaching at the Royal College of Art and see the work of a lot of exciting young artists, such as recent graduates Xiuching Tsay, Olivia Sterling, Emily Moore. I’ve also been interested in work by Candice Nembhard, Seema Mattu, Sarah Cockings/Harriet Fleuriot and Anna Perach
Xiuching Tsay’s work is essentially to irradiate the objects of memories, resurrect their essences and rediscover their hidden characters through an ecstatic quality of vision. So, she adopts the concept of hallucination in order to recondition her perceptions toward the intimated objects. This hallucinatory practice experiments with the concept of water because it has both metaphoric and substantial qualities that unfold infinite visions, melting all the possible subject matters into the most ambiguous forms. Water metaphors always play an important role in her paintings, it opens up infinite imaginations; its tumultuous movement such as spiral patterns of whirlpools take over her emotions and introduces her the manifold spiritual sides of an object.
Xiuching Tsay (Thailand, 1993) is currently living in both Thailand and London and she recently graduated with an MA in Painting at Royal College of Art.
CLICK HERE to see more.
Olivia Sterling (1996) is a London based artist from Peterborough, UK. Talking about her practice she says the following:
"My current body of work focuses on paintings of domestic scenes that mimic how I perceived living in Britain as a black person.
Lately, these paintings contained body parts, domestic objects, British desserts and creams interacting with one another to parallel certain modes of marginalisation and alienation. The paintings are often placed in the bathroom, kitchen or playground as they ranged from the private to public areas. I chose these as they were apt settings for moments of transformation of any kind - raw to cooked, dirty to clean, cool to burnt etc. which can parallel moments of othering.
I create scenes of hands gesturing amongst others, silently communicating, as well as playing with objects of cream, suspended in a web of letters denoting their skin colour. Often a white hand will be accompanied by ‘p’ for pink or peach interrupting the superiority that oozes from ‘white’, be reminding us of its true, sillier colour. My aim for the paintings are that they are a place where absurdity and normality collide."
CLICK HERE to see more.
Emily Moor's photographs, taken to record her own travels and experiences, are often the starting point for landscape based work. Moore is drawn to the patterns and forms found within the natural environment and the contrasting, geometric shapes and lines of the man-made structures which inhabit it. Her work, which encompasses a range of media, explores the tension between these two conflicting themes, attempting to find an overall balance within the final composition. A strong architectural influence is apparent in Moore’s work, which often draws attention to overlooked everyday constructions such as pylons, towers and stairways. The physical act of creating a piece, the surface and materials, has always been an important part of Moore's practice. She developed her unique style of painting during her final year at Edinburgh College of Art, where she worked directly onto wooden panels, constructing the image in individual detailed layers, whilst retaining elements of the natural wood beneath.
CLICK HERE to see more.
Candice Nembhard is a writer, poet, artist and creative producer based between Berlin, Germany and Birmingham, England.
Their text, performance and film work have been exhibited at The Volksbühne (Berlin), Birmingham Hippodrome (Birmingham), BOZAR (Brussels), Kunstverein (Hamburg), Soho House (Berlin), Hebbel Am Ufer Theatre (Berlin), and Gallery Wedding (Berlin). Her writing has been published by Sleek Mag, Frieze, Berlin Art Link, Highsnobiety, Poetry London, SAND Journal and others.
She is the founder of the event series ALL FRUITS RIPE, co-founder of the arts collective Poet & Prophetess, and co-producer of The R.A.P Party Berlin.
CLICK HERE to learn more
Seema Mattu (b. 1993, Birmingham, lives and works in Birmingham and London) is a moving-image artist. “I’ve recently met an increasingly nuanced portrayal of subject matter I’m becoming more comfortable with sharing as my experiences evolve. My practice presents a self-awareness of the othered self in a digital space, comprised of four key components of minority: race, gender, caste and sexuality. The work is reflective of interwoven complexities around these states of consciousness and it exists as I do: Indian and gay. Indian and Valmiki. Indian and a woman. Gay and Valmiki. Gay and a woman. Valmiki and a woman. Indian and gay and Valmiki and a woman. These things complete the work(s) by forcing never-ending questions. As I deal with illicit subjects through an ethnic lens, I develop ways of coding - where the use of signifiers and subtleties, albeit humourous and throw- away, emphasise the reveal of things intended to be kept hidden. I’m also investigating ways in which performance shared on a digital platform can be enriched within the narrative of the suppressed ethnic woman. My self’s are characters that I manipulate to my advantage - and digital media has enabled this. My self and my selfies (whether visual, linguistic or other) are technologies of embodiment, an act of penetration between the body and digital media.”
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Sarah Cockings & Harriet Fleuriot work collaboratively across performance, video, sound and sculpture. Their first project together was short film PLASMA VISTA (2016). It was selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2017, which was hosted at Block 336 and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The piece won Tenderflix in 2016, and has screened internationally including WRO Bienale, Aesthetica, Underwire, BFI Flare, Eindhoven Film Festival, ECU, London Short Film Festival and TBCTV at Somerset House. Plasma Vista is currently touring with Videoclub.
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Anna’s practice is informed by the dynamic between personal and cultural myths. She explores how our private narratives are deeply rooted in ancient storytelling and folklore and conversely how folklore has the ability to tell us intimate, confidential stories about ourselves. In her work She synthesises female mythic characters and retell their stories while placing them in the current climate. By doing so Anna creates an experience of eeriness, evoking a sense of both familiarity and distress.
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What did you take away from 2020 and what do you hope for 2021?
2020 was a rollercoaster, I learned to be more patient and to slow the pace at times and I learned to use a lot of software to make animations! I was reminded that even the most unwanted changes can produce new, positive approaches. I saw how much people working in the arts believe in what they do. I hope 2021 can carry the forward-thinking changes that need to happen and we don’t collapse back into redundant old ways. After postponing for a year, I am ready for the adventure of the Max Mara Prize residency in Italy in 2021 and being open to lot of new experiences.
The Max Mara Art Prize for Women in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery is a biannual award established in 2005.
The aim of the Prize is to promote and support female artists based in the UK, enabling artists to develop their potential with the gift of time and space.
The winner is awarded a six month Italian residency tailored to fit the artist and their winning proposal for the Prize. During the residency the artist has the opportunity to realise an ambitious new project which is presented in major solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
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What question would you like to ask the reader?
How shall we make a hopeful future?
Ouroboros Time in the Universe of Emma Talbot
By Louisa Elderton
1st March, 2021
What may your vision for a hopeful future look like? How to explicate the way the world could be? How to harness time; fold it, elongate it, compress it according to the shapes that you want to see? And how may your body move in relation to these shapes, with skin that wants to feel? As depicted by the British artist Emma Talbot’s work, fingertips curl into themselves if there is no one else to touch. Plant tendrils coil as they climb, spiralling, stretching for support. Galaxies assiduously swirl, systems of stars, dust and dark matter that are gravitationally bound and yet celestial. There are infinite such layers that constitute our universe, but what else could our world be? Or rather, how else could it function?
Talbot’s series of four animations for CIRCA, Four Visions For a Hopeful Future (all works 2021), conjures such questions. Of a post-viral world that needs re-birthing. Known for her drawings, paintings and sculptures that combine word and image to narrate the complex nature of human existence, these are Talbot’s first animations, a self-taught skill that she learnt in 2020 during the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown.
They describe the pressures and inequalities that we have been living under, not only as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic but prior to this even, under an accelerated capitalist structure. In the animation What is a City?,one of Talbot’s faceless figures – the artist’s signature bodies that reflect both her own interiority, as well as being a proxy for every body – is blown down a street, past row upon row of houses, turning and tumbling uncontrollably in a turbulent wind. They climb an enormous staircase, weighted by outsize arms, only to reach the top and topple into a void, falling as columns crash all around – a system collapsing into ruins. Talbot asks, are you part of a city, making decisions that have an effect, or are you a sleeping partner? Does the city see you? Is your image reflected in the windows of skyscrapers or are you rendered invisible?
The coronavirus pandemic has held up a mirror to the structural racism in the UK’s labour market. A recent study has revealed that jobless rates among BAME groups are now double the rate for white people. As the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, has said: “When BME workers have held on to their jobs, we know that they are more likely to be working in low-paid, insecure jobs that put them at greater risk from the virus. This is evidence of the structural discrimination which has led to a disproportionate BME death rate from coronavirus”.1
Having read and reflected on the Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers’ 2009 book In Catastrophic Times, Resisting the Coming Barbarism, Talbot describes how, “I was thinking a lot about how we imagine a future […] this idea of a set of structures that we’ve lived under and that we could rethink. How they function, how they could be kinder in terms of what is expected from a human experience. But also in terms of productivity, how they operate and what a life equates to. How we could build communities, be more experimental.”2 Four Visions For a Hopeful Future is about how we can imagine (and represent) moving from one phase into a very different way of living. It is about hope for another mode of existence in which all people have subjectivity. And where there is enough space, enough scope for this to be shared.
Drawing and cutting out motifs and figures before layering theses and moving each part in stop motion animation, the worlds that Talbot creates are drawings in which people walk around – move, explore. Her accompanying soundscapes layer operatic voices with vibrating synths and deep base notes that have sensorial resonance. Our Own Creation speaks to the beginning of a new time, where the clouds part and a faceless person is born from a hole in the sky. An ever-rotating planet is marked by mercurial swirls. Snakes rise up in salute, forming undulating patterns. Multi-coloured birds fly through a whirling atmosphere. Below, a tree grows and then sheds its leaves, respecting the seasonal cycle. This is an expanding universe where life moves gradually, where we are integrated, connected to the earth and nature. This is slow time, removed from the hyperactive speed of late-capitalist living.
Indeed, there is a timelessness about these worlds; spaces where past, present and future seem to whirl as one. Ouroboros time. Archetypal time. A collective unconscious brought into being. However, while these may look like dreamscapes, utopias, they are grounded in a developing movement of thought that is part of our contemporary zeitgeist. Arundhati Roy’s essay ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’, for example, describes the coronavirus as “bringing the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt.”3 She asks, if capitalism is like a train crash, what does one do amid the wreckage? You can look at it and think about how to replace the parts, or alternatively, you think about how to build a new engine.
These ideas may sound utopic, but they are actually possible and there is a growing weight behind such ideas. As Talbot says, “It is possible for us to think differently about how our lives are structured, as well as production and food production – responsible ways to go about living. It’s about whether you believe that’s the right way to be moving forward, or whether you have a vested interest in clinging onto what was before. There are systemic inequalities at all levels of the structures that we live in. It’s not impossible to say it doesn’t have to be like that.”4
The artist’s animations ask us to dive into the undertow, to look beyond the surface of the water that has mesmerised us with our own reflections, to breath out and move in a different direction, together.
1 Nazia Parveen, ‘Covid job losses show structural racism of UK labour market, says TUC’, The Guardian, 27th February 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/27/covid-job-losses-show-structural-racism-uk-labour-market-tuc (accessed 27th February 2021).
2 Interview with the author Louisa Elderton, 27th February 2021.
3 Arundhati Roy, ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’, The Financial Times, 3rd April 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca (accessed 28th February 2020).
4 Interview with the author. Op. cit.
Louisa Elderton is a writer, editor and art critic based in Berlin. She regularly contributes to publications including Artforum and Frieze, and is the German correspondent for Flash Art. She is the Curatorial Editor at the Gropius Bau, having written the texts for the institution’s upcoming exhibition Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective, and editing their Online Journal. She is also the Editor of Side Magazine, a publication that accompanies the fourth edition of the Bergen Assembly, taking place in 2022. As the Project Editor of Phaidon’s ‘Vitamin’ series, her most recent publication was released in January, Vitamin D3: Today’s Best in Contemporary Drawings.