"playing on that threshold of the animate and the inanimate, ‘the uncanny’ became one way, amongst others, that I found to understand my own work."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
I have lived in London for the past 12 years. I first moved here when I was 17 and started painting and exhibiting my work very quickly. As I had a year to spare before starting my BA in Language in Culture at UCL, I made the most out of it and took short courses in acting, sculpting, painting, design and film production, in many of the colleges under the umbrella of the University of the Arts. After graduating from my BA, I did my foundation at the Slade where I started sculpting and installation making, just before starting my MA Fine Art at City and Guilds of London Art School where I expanded on what I had started at the Slade.
Your sculptures play on the notion of the uncanny, that uncertain feeling on whether an object is living or dead. Could you expand on this? What draws you to the “uncanny”?
Freud’s writings imply that sometimes the beauty lies in what is left unanswered. In his 1919 essay, he proved that the failure to define the term made it even more so interesting, making the search for ‘the uncanny’, the strangely familiar and familiarly strange, even more so tantalizing and irresistible. As my sculptures were slowly starting to have a life of their own and playing on that threshold of the animate and the inanimate, ‘the uncanny’ became one way, amongst others, that I found to understand my own work.
In 2013 you made a piece called “The Weight” that was shown at Victoria Miro Gallery, this must have been exciting to have shown at such a gallery. Could you tell us about the idea behind the project and how it came about?
‘The Weight’ was a project for the ARTiculate exhibition organized by Dramatic Need, a charity that helps children express themselves creatively to overcome past traumatic experiences. A dozen of us participating artists, including Rachel Whiteread, The Chapman Brothers and Antony Gormley, were sent children’s testimonies describing traumatic events.
I felt particularly touched by 8-year-old Meine Maipoto’s hand-written text in which she describes the sudden loss of her mother and the separation with her brother. The weight of her words and the weight of her burden filled me with a desire to help make things lighten for her. I therefore built Meine a wall which read her entire testimony, in which each brick that bore a word or two of her handwriting were sold individually, like a piece of a puzzle, a piece of her story, meant to involve each buyer into attempting at lightening the weight of her pain.
More recently you have written, performed and directed a short film titled “In the Flesh". Could you tell us about the project? What inspired you to make the film?
In 2014, I first visited marble workshops in Pietrasanta while on a residency at Villa Lena. I was struck by the way marble dust covered every inch and surface of the studio including sculptors and sculptures so much so that at first glance it was impossible to distinguish which was which. The following year I stumbled upon texts by Alison Leitch (‘Visualizing the Mountain’, 2010) and felt very moved by the way the quarry workers interviewed by Leitch referred to the mountain as ‘she’: ‘She is alive’ they would say, ‘she weeps at night’, ‘we can hear her moving’, and ‘she has a soul’.
Leitch also inserted a beautiful quote by sculptor Dominique Stroobant: ‘Everyone at Carrara knows that stone weeps.... All of us have experienced how alive stones are, that they behave like sponges, can bend, expand and that they have a voice ... for one who listens.’ If the mountain is alive, I thought, then surely each piece of marble extracted from her should surely have a soul as well. I thereafter wrote my first script in which there would be a mother-to-daughter relationship central to the film between marble sculpture and marble quarry. ‘In The Flesh' (2016) is a 5-min short film about a sculpture, of marble skin and human flesh, a creature that yearns to reconnect with her roots and crawl back into her mother's womb, the quarry. By bringing to light the quarry’s ability to ‘live’, the film also exposes its potential to ‘die’.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?
I am not big on routines, I find them quite uninspiring. It is probably because of this that each project I work on has its very own set of requirements, in terms of space and equipment. I find that this keeps me on my toes and enables a constant learning curve. At the moment I am stone carving in Italy, close to Venice, kindly hosted at the studio of friend and sculptor Gianpietro Carlesso. However only a month ago was I on the set of my film in Carrara’s marble quarries and next month I will be back at my own studio in London. It’s in Lambeth North and is part of Old Paradise Yard, a studio compound which carries its name beautifully. It used to be a school, then a Buddhist centre before being reconverted into artist studios; bricks, wooden beams, high ceilings and a garden, what else.
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
I hope this serves as a reminder on how the world we live in and the nature that surrounds us are well and truly living entities, and that it is our duty to look after it like our own mother.
How do you go about naming your work?
It varies but they often come about after a research on the etymology on each project’s key words.
What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
My film, 'In The Flesh', will have an exciting touring life, starting with a private event over Frieze week, followed by a screening and talk at the Freud Museum on 13 November, then the Royal British Society of Sculptors, Exeter Phoenix, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, the RA, Villa Lena Foundation, Pino Pascali Museum and Ronchini Gallery amongst others.
I will also be taking part in a group show which explores the character of Penelope (Odysseus) with curators Alix Janta and Lauren Jones involving great female artists like Charlotte Colbert, Nancy Fouts, Camilla Emson and Becky Allen. Date TBC.
Another group show in the pipeline will be one curated by David Worthington on the theme of folds and creases in sculpture at the William Benington Gallery, which is the one I am currently stone-carving for. Date TBC.
I am also expanding my 'Whispers' curatorial project to a second edition, this time involving 12 new artists whose disciplines span from performance, photography to video installation and sculpture. The process and results so far are truly amazing. Watch this space!
Interview published: 30/09/16