14th Mar 2019
Hi Conch! Thanks to you for the invitation and to João for putting us in touch. Sorry it’s taken me ages to send my response - I feel fluid, slippery at the moment. It’s hard to speak about my work and myself as if they were things with stable identities when everything is in transition. Maybe this is why I’ve chosen to write in pencil…
So, a bit about me - I’m an artist and writer working across media including photography, installation, sculpture, performance and poetry. I studied philosophy and literature and have pieced together an alternative (and ongoing) artistic education via independent research, residencies and learning from peers (*I also did an MA in poetic practice that got me thinking about language / text in an interdisciplinary way). I’m intrigued by interconnectivity, systems, the ways in which things are in relation. My interest in interdependence (and a reverence for life) has found a focus in the contemplation and conservation of honeybees. As a Trustee of the Natural Beekeeping Trust I’m engaged in ecological advocacy and view this as a form of cultural/ spiritual work that is part of my creative practice.
∞ There are some things that have been simmering away for years. I often return much later to a drawing or collage or piece of writing and with fresh eyes have a sense of how to develop it, although completing things (and naming them) can be a challenge. It can feel reductive. I’m drawn to the idea of the non-finito - an artwork that is intentionally left unfinished. I came across a sculpture called La Convalescence at the Rodin Museum in Paris a couple of years ago and it’s haunted me ever since. A partially formed head and hands emerge from a block of marble - the sculptor’s chisel marks are deliberately legible. Sometimes it feels as if finishing things kills them. I’m interested in retaining a space for future becoming, the possibility of evolution. And I also admire works that leave visible the process of their making. My difficulty in finishing things can be a bit problematic when it comes to writing as I do like to publish my work and generally the publication of something entails that it is DONE. It’s rare that things really feel complete. At the moment I’m working on several projects including my first book, Renunciation Exercises. The book is an experimental memoir, a non-linear meditation on illness, ecology, art, social philosophy, spirituality and intergenerational trauma. I have a couple of performances in the works too. My practice seems to be becoming more collaborative in nature. And many of my ideas are arriving as potential pieces of theatre/ live art.
∞ The links between my material/ conceptual artistic work and my writing are becoming more clear with time. My practice is a living organism in symbiosis with daily life. I’m unsure where/ if my work fits in the context of the art world. But I’ve pretty much made my peace with being somewhat of an outsider. (*ha! are you convinced?) I could take up pages with thoughts on ethics, responsibility, language, power and meaning… conversations for another time…
∞ There’s a distinct mode that I get into creatively and a dedicated workspace really facilitates this, as do the other artists around me who constantly inspire and motivate me. For the past few years I had a much loved shipping container studio in Limehouse, east London, as part of a community project initiated by the Royal Foundation of St. Katharine (*and Bow Arts). A lot happened during those years and the studio was my springboard and sanctuary. I’m currently based at Arteles Creative Centre in rural Finland. I came here on a residency a couple years back and have returned as an assistant. This is a special place that encourages a synergy of contemplative and creative practice. The winter programme incorporates silent days and group meditation sessions. A slightly monastic flavour…
I’ve spent much of the past decade in cities - I’ve struggled to find a sustainable way of life. So at the moment most of my things are in storage and I’ll be in Finland for at least six months, possibly longer. I’m not sure what I’ll do next. Right now I’m looking out my window at the forest. The long dawns and dusks are blue magic. Snow has been building up on the rooftops and will come down in colossal heaps any day now. It could happen today - I can hear a creaking shift of weight above me. Life in this winter climate is filled with perils and practicalities I’d never previously considered. I’ve learned that in the event of a fall through ice you should clamber out of the water on your belly like a seal. I have a frozen lake as a neighbour. Have not yet had occasion to test my seal skills. But there's still time. (I joke but actually I’ve a great fear of the ground breaking beneath me. I’ll never be able to forget the first film in Kieślowski’s Dekalog series. Am constantly on the lookout for omens. There are images that become phantom apparitions in my life, stories that become so deeply embedded I forget they’re there, a lens through which I encounter the world and perceive/ make sense of my own experience.)
∞ A biennial bursary from a-n enabled me to attend the opening of Manifesta 12 in Palermo last summer. This iteration was dedicated to the themes of migration and climate change. I saw a broad array of site-specific and socially engaged works presented in diverse settings including semi-derelict palaces and churches. In my later reflections on Manifesta I’ve remained particularly interested in the documentation and display of performance. Photographs, objects and videos served as the afterlife of actions and could be read as works in their own right, often presented as installed environments. This spoke to many concerns in my own practice. Impermanence, embodiment, duration, gesture, representation, repetition, score. There are also still some lingering questions and doubts with regards to uses of art, its applications in social contexts and the ethics thereof… I’ve vivid memories of the magnificent botanical garden in Palermo - the Banyan tree has become something of a symbol for me. What can appear to be a grove of trees is in fact a single being. I spent some time in India in my early twenties and recall visiting the world's largest Ficus tree - the Great Banyan - in Calcutta. Many years later this memory has taken on new meanings. The ability to put down roots from above. The interconnectivity of apparently separate things.
∞ There are so many books and authors that I find myself returning to - whether for nourishment/ reassurance or a gradual unpacking of layered work that invites (or demands!) multiple readings.
• I’m particularly interested in hybrid works fusing image and text: am thinking of Claudia Rankine, Sophie Calle, Patti Smith, W.G. Sebald, Etel Adnan, Louise Bourgeois, William Kentridge
• The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso - the closest I’ve found to a rendering on paper of what it is to live with illness
• On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss - powerful thoughts on the social body and vaccination (superb writing on interconnectivity of human bodies and on civic responsibility)
• Next to my bed: Rebecca Solnit, Audre Lorde, Virginia Woolf, Anne Carson, Robert Walser, David Foster Wallace, Robert Smithson, Kurt Vonnegut, Colette Inez, Tracy K. Smith
• The dance writing of Deborah Hay: My Body the Buddhist. Am increasingly concerned with the possibilities of dance as emancipation and healing art
I often revisit Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself - a project presented in various forms including a publication. Calle asked over 100 women working in diverse fields to interpret a break up email she’d received through the lens of their respective disciplines. The different analyses don’t provide any definitive answer as to the meaning of the message. There’s so much going on in this work.
∞ My participation in the Bee Time residency in southern Spain in 2017 was definitely a turning point for me in so many ways. The residency brought together a range of practitioners who were all interested in engaging with themes relating to honeybees and systems thinking. Being with these generous multi-disciplinary souls gave rise to my first live performance work - North South East West - which was devised as a site-specific response to James Turrell’s Second Wind at the NMAC Foundation for Contemporary Art. (Now I regret that it went undocumented!) I also made a sculptural installation in a disused watermill and generated numerous seedling ideas that are still manifesting.
∞ I’ve long been interested in combining artistic practice, earth care and spirituality and I view my long-term project as the creation of a space or platform dedicated to furthering this research and practice. I have a vision of starting a community or residency. A multi-faceted school in the vein of Black Mountain College, non-hierarchical, radical, experimental and as self-sufficient as possible with gardens, a printing press, gallery and retreat programme. It’s been a picture in my mind for so long that I think it’ll have to happen. Somehow.
Carrie Foulkes Finland 2019 Ø