See how the global pandemic has influenced the practice of Kas Williams, Jo Hannah, Sally de Courcy and Cara Wassenberg including exhibition updates.
Lockdown has been a strange mixture of emotions. It’s been a gift of space and time to slow down and consider what I want as well as a time to create new work, learn and try new things. The initial explosion of opportunities, support and information from the creative world was wonderful if a bit crazy at first as the world woke up to how good creativity is for wellbeing. Trying to keep a healthy balance between screen time and making was hard and I don’t think I was the only one who experienced a fear of missing out. I know for-instance that many artists have felt under pressure to come out of the pandemic with a new body of work. At some point I got a bit overwhelmed so I stopped everything, switched off and concentrated on feeling OK which turned out to be a really good idea. When I did start making work again I had to be more resourceful and inventive with whatever materials I had in my studio and having less choice was a really good thing because it generated some very different pieces of work that probably wouldn’t have come into being otherwise. Isolation has been an opportunity to learn new skills connecting in ways that I haven’t before. Right from the beginning I loved the peace of early morning walks through ghost town and down to the seafront and harbour, always taking my camera because I knew it would be a unique opportunity to capture something that felt very surreal. Colours seemed heightened, the sun was golden and the natural world was blossoming. There was such clarity in the reflections on the water.
As an abstract artist I’m conscious of the things I see around me as shape colour and light and it doesn’t always immediately play out in my work but I see the experiences of these lockdown walks now in ‘AND B.R.E.A.T.HE…’. It’s a new piece that feels very different and came out of the blue when I started painting again. It feels like a very uplifting piece and I can see for sure references back to all that light and colour. It’s energised me to do more painting and I don’t know what that will lead to but I’m happy to wait and see. So lockdown has been interesting. I think it will be a long time before we see what the lasting effects will be but I feel changed in some ways and of course it’s not over yet so who knows? In August 2020 AND B.R.E.A.T.H.E featured in ‘Breathworks’ at Modern Art Oxford Gallery as part of a collection of personal stories that shed light on how we all experience breathing. https://www.modernartoxford.org.uk/learn/breathworks-exhibition/
The growth of nature has always been my main inspiration. My constant contact with the natural world is an integral element to my daily wellbeing and sense of positivity. The Covid pandemic of 2020 and subsequent lockdown, coincided with a move to a small village in the Surrey countryside. It was a new chapter in my life and the start of what was going to be my year! I had two group exhibitions planned at London galleries and high profile ceramics fairs, as well as open studios and any other opportunity that arose along the way. I had a spot teaching ceramics workshop at a local boutique art school and plans for more. I was involved with a charity and the local authority to provide workshops to benefit the community through creativity. But all that stopped. I couldn’t translate any of this to an online experience. Instead, I had to focus on myself and how I was going to use this time to grow myself and hopefully inform my work. Throughout this enforced period of isolation nature became an even greater focus of my daily life, walking in it, observing it and educating myself about it. Experiencing nature took me outside of myself when anxiety and depression started to raise its ugly head. Nature not only informed my work as a ceramicist, but it also kept me grounded and was a support system.
My daily walks in the nature reserve beside my house, with it’s lakes, woods, wildlife and the countryside beyond, provided an endless source of wonder and fascination with a focus i’d never engaged before. I was truly living in the moment, stopping and looking closely as if on full zoom! Walks in ancient woodland, around ponds, lakes and fields, became a daily comfort in this time of great insecurity and uncertainty. My sketch book and camera were constant companions. Google reverse image search became a very useful educational tool when I wanted to put a name to a wildflower, tree or tell one breed of duck from another! I made it my mission to educate myself about my natural environment and relished the change of the season into spring, summer and now the beginnings of autumn.
I found calm in the ripples of water on the lake and the sounds of wildlife all around me. I watched Housemartins build nests on the eves of my house out of the local earth (clay) and I often rescued fledgling birds when they appeared to be in danger from predators (mostly cats!).I foraged for wild food and became curious about the numerous uses nature on my doorstep could be put to, such as botanical dyes and materials for various creative processes. It wasn’t long before I filled the vegetable beds I inherited with my own micro crops! I was amazed that I could grow food! There was no great mystery about it. I found myself making jams and preserves from foraged fruits or food I’d grown myself, which is a very satisfying feeling. Nature gave me a support network when I need it most which has directly impacted my wellbeing. It created inner calm where there might have been panic; fresh ideas where there might have been a void. I created, I evolved, I adapted with nature by my side. I learned that I am resilient, like nature. This experience directly informs my work as if it is growing out of the clay through my designs. The surface decoration on my new series of vessels is a result of witnessing the endless rebirth and growth of nature and becomes a metaphor for my own rebirth and strength.
Fake News (main image) made from hydroxychloroquine packages and cast tablets. President Trump declared hydroxychloroquine a treatment for COVID-19 which was subsequently disputed. Lupus patients who depend on hydroxychloroquine were unable to get hydroxychloroquine putting many at risk. Fake News Goes Viral, reproduces this sculpture digitally to create a viral image. The title alludes to the rapid spread of fake news during the pandemic. Beached, (see image 2 below) a COVID19 formation of cast driftwood reflects isolation of shielding. Bound by bloody bandages and rendered meat-like it references Florence Nightingale, Nightingale hospitals and the wet markets. Doll parts reflect depersonalisation of isolation. Hands represent hand washing and the inability to shake hands and bones an emblem in much of the artist’s work express human mortality. Bats the vector of Covid19 invade the sculpture. Beached was exhibited at Fragmented Identities, Borders exhibition, Art Space Contemporart, Palazzo Albrizzi- Capello, Venice 2 September to 3 October 2020.
Sneeze 2020 ( see image 3 below) revisited old sculptural work using cast human pelvic bones arranged in a COVID- like structure. The bones represent human mortality and fragility. Repeated over and over they create an imaginary sneeze as if COVID19 were visible spreading through the air. The image is ironically decorative and black and white. COVID 19 is so small it can neither absorb or reflect light and is actually colourless. The colour in electron microscope images are artificial. This tiny particle has caused social, economic and political havoc and disorder to the world as we knew it, creating a new reality. Sneeze 2020 was exhibited in Espacio Gallery, Bethnal Green, 9 -19 September 2020. Sneeze is to be published in Little Victories, Flea Circus Magazine.
Dual Identity- autobiographical work of an immunocompromised doctor/artist shielded during the pandemic. The work reflects the mixed identity as both observer and participant, as practitioner and patient living in social isolation. Just as the artist has rebuilt herself piece by piece so the sculpture has evolved by using repeated metaphorical objects that relate to the pandemic. Driftwood (feeling stranded/beached) and bone (mortality) are vestigial remains and rendered bone-like. When viewed, the contextual links are re-assembled to reveal a narrative. The work, bound by bandages and symbolic of healing, references the artists medical past and mixed identity as a patient. The sum becomes a surreal optical puzzle, oscillating between dream and nightmare. Dual Identity was exhibited in Espacio Gallery , Bethnal Green, 9 -19 September 2020
All these works to be published in Flux Magazine.
Sculpture Glass Metalwork
The Grounded Series has been made during the time of “lockdown” during the Covid 19 Crisis. Finding myself home bound or “grounded “with three almost grown young people on the cusp between student and adult life and myself in a very new and sometimes raw domestic situation. An exploration in the combination of cast honey coloured borosilicate glass and forged treated rust coloured steel. The translucency of the glass differentiates in tone where it holds the steel. I wanted to convey through the materials a feeling of tension. I think as well as this there are feelings of explosion, inversion, energy, protection and escape surround the pieces. Everyone rushed home for lockdown and then were trapped/literally grounded. There were many positives and negatives of this situation. These feelings would be replicated in families worldwide.
I also looked at the unusual practice where money (coins) are sometimes forced in wood where apparently the superstition is…“ any illness will leave you”