Many thanks for your letters. It’s been very interesting to find out a little more about some of the things you’ve been thinking about recently.
One word crops up several times in the letters, I had to look it up to check what it means – stereoscopic. As I understand it, this refers to a kind of rudimentary 3D way of presenting an image, that relies on the pairing of two images, almost identical but representing slightly different perspectives, in the same way that our two eyes give slightly different perspectives on whatever it is that we’re looking at. It would appear that we can trick our eyes into seeing ‘through’ these pairs, to get an impression of depth. I quote Wikipedia: ‘eye focus and binocular convergence are habitually coordinated. One approach to the decoupling the two functions is to view the image pair extremely close up with completely relaxed eyes’. And then, presumably, our eyes would refocus, and the image pair would somehow merge and look as though they were solid?
In thinking about stereoscopic viewing, I’ve been wondering about how it might apply to other aspects of your practice. Firstly, the idea of the paired, but slightly different images – an original and a double, or a fake, even. You mention a few of these. Like your Father’s stuffed owl, a pile of lifeless feathers and cotton wool (or whatever it is that taxidermists use) posed in imitation of when it was capable of flying away; or your Mum’s plastic orchid, the only sort of plant she would put up with in the house. (By the way, did you know you share your name with an American bodybuilder? I’ve not been able to find out much about her, other than a few images online, of her in a bikini with straightened hair, flexing her enormous muscles). And then secondly, how it might apply to your relationship with John Dilwyn Llewelyn, the Victorian photographer and botanist who you’ve been researching during your residency. I wonder what it would mean for you to be stereoscoping with him? He as a ‘gentleman amateur’, that obsolete breed who contributed so much to the development of human knowledge, but who today would probably not be taken seriously; and you as a contemporary artist, perhaps in certain respects the modern equivalent? (Though not, as a rule, so wealthy!!). What would the ‘illusory whole’ glimpsed between the pair of you look like? (Of course, I’m not interpreting you as his fake!).
There is also the mutual interest in collecting that you share with JDL – him with his orchids, you with your selected instances of domestic recall. I’ve been thinking about how this, the collecting impulse, relates to stereoscopics too – the desire to gather together disparate items unified by a quality that perhaps only really exists in the mind of the collector, a desired characteristic, that creates another sort of illusory whole, here gone beyond a binary phenomenon to include multiple (infinite?) facets. Yours and his work might seem quite different, his scientifically rigorous and yours more vulnerable to the vagaries of memory, perhaps. But I would rather focus on the similarities in your ways of systematising perceptions to create an understanding of the world, or, at least, the impulse behind them.
Because one of my eyes doesn’t really focus, I am unable to see any sort of stereoscopic image. The last 3D film I tried to see was Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and after trying with the goggles on, I felt so strange I had to take them off, and instead put up with the weird double-vision images on the screen. I am aware that similarly, the significances and connections around aspects of your practice that I have attempted to see, and that I have written about in this letter might be misperceptions (likewise my understanding of what stereoscopics is in the first place). But I hope they are not entirely unhelpful.
Hope this finds you very well anyway. See you soon, no doubt. Phil,x.
On my desk is a book of Sylvia Plath’s letters that she wrote to her mother. I read her novel The Bell Jar in my early teens and I remember parts of the book but never really wanted to read much more of her work after that. I brought the collection of letters on a whim at some point while I was at university and it has been in every studio space, big or small, that I have had since. Sometimes there are things around you that you don’t realise are important for quite some time.
The series of Dear Visitor letters occurred while I was struggling to find form for the large body of research made during the residency with Mission Gallery. Almost every morning I had at the studio I would go to visit the free bookshop first before I did any work. Set up to save unwanted books from landfill ‘customers’ are allowed to take three free books per day. Needless to say I have acquired some amazing books through my continual visits and searching through their sometimes peculiar Dewey Decimal System.
One of my favourite categories is ‘Makes You Think’ where I found a copy of beat poet Gregory Corso’s Gasoline, that was a small run of 15,000, disguised under a Support Your Local Squatting Group flyer. On another visit I found in the education section a copy of The Teach Yourself Letter Writer. This series of books have particularly appealing covers with blocks of black and yellow and the rather square typeface that just screams 1950’s publishing. The book begins with a chapter on layout and information required for writing letters, then moving onto types of letter and the language appropriate for each; such as business, neighbours, letters of friendship and even letters of love, courtship and marriage. (For the less inspired lover.) Needless to say the book is now very dated and a hilarious read but somehow I got to a point where I decided, after making some failed photographs and bad video with dull voiceovers, that I would just write a letter for each day for the visitors of Mission Gallery.
I began the letters on my typewriter using some paper from an old notebook that had been unsuccessful. It was good to use the ripped paper. It felt un-precious and I could just get on with writing. It was always my childhood dream to write and illustrate my own book. When I was growing up my parents had a typewriter that I would use to write my stories on and I would pretend I was the author of a book.
Now I have a pile of letters which tell stories about my residency. The things I’ve discovered or remembered; walks through woodlands, friends sending me photographs of orchids, things I saw, memories I had or the plants growing in my living room. They are unedited and the thought of showing them as they are is a little worrying. My spelling, grammar and punctuation aren’t very good, or maybe that should be isn’t very good, and it is scary to let the world see your flaws but I didn’t want to ruin these letters by making them perfect.
I have only read Sylvia Plath’s letters in parts, but when I first dived in I read the last letters first. I, like many people, was morbidly curious at the story of her suicide. The last letters are surprising upbeat, there is maybe the odd mention that she is not feeling herself, or maybe a bit down but you would never think that she was going to gas herself in the oven. Even in the letters to her own mother Sylvia wasn’t really telling the exact truth.
Yesterday when I was outside work at the Welsh Pavilion in Venice this discarded Orchid floated past still alive but flowerless. They are ugly plants when they are no longer in flower with rather plain round leaves and an almost bony finger-like stalk. Orchids appear to be as popular here in Venice as they are […]
On the kitchen shelf that overlooks my parents back garden sat a fake orchid, brought for my sister as a leaving gift. It is a replica of Phalaenopsis an orchid which is easily cultivated and is warm growing . Perfect for growing inside a house that is central heated and if treated well it can […]
I came across the photograph of John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s Orchid House on Google almost a year ago just before I moved to Swansea. The photographs depicts a luxurious group of orchids growing on a large shelf or table with a slanted ceiling with a skylight and in the background, various vines growing in the darkness. This photograph is not a straightforward document of orchid specimens but an example of an enthusiast’s collection and this really intrigued me.
Being the recipient of the Jane Phillips Award has given me support to make a new body of work investigating this curious photograph of the first orchid house built in the United Kingdom. Now orchids can be bought from supermarkets for around five pounds and you will see puckered and painful orchids displayed in the windows of Swansea tattoo parlours but they weren’t always this common. Victorian botanists and collectors would pay the equivalent of millions for a rare specimen of this plant. As part of my research into this plant I am going to meet with Welsh orchid enthusiasts and also visit the Marianne North gallery at Kew Gardens.
At this early stage I have no idea what form the work will take but orchids are found on almost every continent so I could end up anywhere…
The Jane Phillips Award was set up in 2011 as a memorial to
Jane Phillips (1957 – 2011) Mission Gallery’s first Director
Mission Gallery are delighted to announce that the Jane Phillips Award 2013 application is available from today!
The Award includes £1000, a nine month studio residency, one year of mentoring, guidance and support in all areas of professional practice and a profile within Mission Gallery. Anyone aged 18 – 30, living in Wales who can demonstrate outstanding creative ability and ambition is eligible to be nominated.
The Jane Phillips Award recruits a host of respected mentors across the Visual and Applied Arts that assist at both the assessment and development stage of each application.
For each award there will be a guest selector: a respected professional working within the arts. The 2013 guest selector will be Claire Curneen, Ceramicist and ACW Creative Wales Ambassador 2012-13.
JanePhillips Award Recipient 2011 | Laura Edmunds
Laura Edmunds was the recipient of the inaugural Jane Phillips Award in October 2011. Her 6 month residency ran from 1st November 2011 to 30th April 2012.
Laura Edmunds in her studio
“The Jane Phillips Award was awarded to me at a time that is crucial to my professional and creative development. It is easy to lose focus and concentration upon leaving university, and I felt that I was able to continue the practical and theoretical work that I had spent 3 years developing, as well as the new ideas that were coming into play as I worked by myself for the first time. The Jane Phillips Award bridged the gap between university life and the beginning of a career; and so it was an invaluable opportunity. It was an insight into the career that lies ahead of me; at times challenging but always rewarding.” -Laura Edmunds
During her residency and mentoring in association with Mission Gallery, Laura was accepted as an exhibitor of Welsh Artist of the Year and winner of the Drawing Prize, 2012 (St. David’s Hall, Cardiff) and was shortlisted for the Young Artist Scholarship, Vale of Glamorgan National Eisteddfod 2012. Laura is now studying an MA in Applied Design and Art, majoring in Visual Arts, at Curtin University, Perth, Australia.
The Jane Phillips Award 2013 application form will be available on the website from the 22nd April 2013.
In October 2011 the Jane Phillips Award announced Laura Edmunds as its first recipient. Laura received £1000, a 6 month residency in Swansea Studios and mentoring from professionals across the arts. Highlights of Laura’s achievements included being awarded the drawing prize at Welsh Artist of the Year, 2012 at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff and being shortlisted for the Young Artist Scholarship, Vale of Glamorgan National Eisteddfod 2012 where she exhibited in Y Lle Celf.
On 21st June 2012 Laura took part in an ‘in conversation‘, alongside her presentation of work as ‘Maker in Focus’ at Mission Gallery to reflect on her time as the first Jane Phillips Award recipient.
HK – Throughout the 6 month period of the Jane Phillips Award I have had the pleasure of being a mentor to you and what I believe the Award did most notably, was allow you to find your voice as an artist. You came to Mission Gallery as a mature, professional young artist and perhaps one of the most poignant things that you have said to me was, that the Award gave you the time to discover the relationship between yourself and your practice.
Throughout the Award I have watched you develop a confidence in your ideas. You developed strength to reflect on existing ideas, to return to them and have the confidence to say, ‘this is who I am, and this is what I do and that’s ok’. Your subject deals with a lot of juxtapositions between what is permanent and what is non-permanent, particularly in relation to the body. There is a notion of control and ultimately things we haven’t got control of, particularly in relation to life and death. It has been rewarding to watch you work. You have a very beautiful, intuitive process in which you explore your experiences of grief and the loss of a loved one and you present it to us in a way which we can all relate.
LE – I draw on my experiences and from bodily traces because I am trying to wrap my head around how someone can be so physical, fleshy and heavy and then in a moment, they’re gone. I have been trained in textiles and drawing but was interested in developing three dimensionally so during the Jane Phillips Award residency I explored harder materials, in particular I was looking at precious metals. I enjoy the play on words with what is precious and what isn’t. I worked initially with teeth. I have teeth in a box in my studio; I think they are very beautiful. There is some comfort in them, although they can make your stomach churn. I found a bodily trace from a person that I loved who is now gone; it became a lot more precious, almost like a relic.
HK – how did you find the transition from working with textiles to exploring silversmithing?
LE – It was just a totally different way of working. As I said, I was trained to think in a certain way with very soft, tactile materials and suddenly all these scientific chemical processes were being introduced. It was really exciting; I enjoy being taken out of my comfort zone. I learnt a lot from it and grew a lot as an artist.
HK – The box of teeth, it is actually your family’s teeth isn’t it?
LE – yes, they are. My Mum has collected 3 children’s worth of teeth! I was talking to various family friends who have all offered me their own family’s teeth and I’ve thought, ‘oh no, no thank you’. I find it quite interesting how I feel comforted by the teeth that I use and yet I feel horrified by others.
HK – Your work has a strong craft root; unlike many other young, contemporary textile artists you have not used computer technology in your process. Instead you have presented the teeth on a material that has been aged and made heavy with repetitive stitch. Your design palette is exquisitely subtle, with black thread and gold shimmering against earthy colour schemes combined with neutral cloth. Repeat stitches manipulate the inherent warp and weft imbuing the cloth with the personal tragedies you have experienced; marks that evolve from a series of intuitive decisions. Intriguing and mystifying, they appear to have been taken on a journey through your ideas and now exist independently with their own story to tell.
LE – the aging process was talked about a lot during my degree. People have questioned why I don’t just bury cloth in the ground, get it dirty, dishevelled and old but through this process I have no control. A lot of the stitch marks that I use, they are so tiny, they are like pores from the skin and I don’t think a lot of people may notice that, but it is important that I make work that I feel like I have some sort of control over. During a time of loss, I felt like I had no control, so now control in my work has become an important element. It is something I have only realised recently and there’s definitely a lot of scope in it for the future.
I have also been asked why haven’t I used the actual teeth that I have got and just present them but, it feels like it is something that I have to do, the making process is really important to me. I have to be involved in the process.
HK – Your stitching demonstrates skill and is a process reminiscent of drawing, of which you are also a master draughtsman. You took the full 6 months to complete one drawing; presenting a precisely drawn repetition of marks, complex but unfussy, built up to present something which appears as though it is disappearing.
LE – the drawing did take a really long time to do, I actually hurt myself through the drawing process! I felt like I was building the marks up but, I meant for them to look as though they were burning away or decaying. Decay is something I am really interested in within my work; holding on to something that’s not permanent. The drawing was a presentation of what process actually is. It took 6 months but presents itself as something so delicate and fleeting; a sort of moment. I have often been asked why I don’t do huge marks and why it is all so constrained and tiny but, it is something that I feel is my language.
HK –You consciously present yourself and your experiences within your work in a way which we can relate to but it still is very much, ‘Laura Edmunds’ presented for everyone to analyse.
LE – It is like that, but what was so great about the Jane Phillips Award was that I got to meet so many like-minded individuals; in the professional sector but also in a creative and contextual way. So speaking to artists like Rozanne Hawksley or Becky Adams; about how she takes her experiences and how she translates them into something which is visual, so that other people are able to understand it and relate to what has happened is really important. I was able to establish for myself that it is ok to make work about my experiences because, for a while I thought, ‘how long can I make work about what happened’ but I realised during my time on the residency that this is who I am, this is how I work and it is ok to continue. I needed the time to accept it.
HK – throughout the Award you were able to speak to a variety of mentors to challenge and encourage you; were there others that influenced you?
LE – There are many interesting individuals; I visited Fireworks Clay Studios and met Lowri Davies, it was great to speak to someone who works in a completely different way to me, she was able to give me hints and tips about how to keep going after you leave university. It’s a scary time where I felt like I was going to drop off the face of the earth, I didn’t have a Masters lined up, no PGCE and Lowri was able to give great advice on how to continue.
I feel like I have established relationships with artists, galleries, studios not just in Swansea but in Cardiff and across Wales and they will stay with me now throughout the rest of my career. Being introduced alongside the Jane Phillips Award established me. I was trying to get my name ‘out there’ sending off my CV to different venues, but what made me different from all the other graduates that were out there? Having the Jane Phillips Award introduce me to this network was priceless.
HK – throughout the Award you moved forward at full speed and made a name for yourself as an up and coming artist though papers, blogs, websites and magazines; has this has shifted your attitude in regards to your career aspirations?
LE – I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with myself when I left university. A lot of people kept asking if I was going to teach. I thought I would quite like to, but I also want to be able to make my work. It has made my future a lot more clear and has made it feel a lot more accessible. I kept thinking about different things I wanted to do but, I feel now like I know how to get them. I feel like if I don’t know how to apply for an opportunity, award or internship that I now have a relationship with Mission Gallery where I can now ask for advice and mentoring and that will stay with me for the rest of my career.
HK – you have been an amazing ambassador for the first Jane Phillips Award; were there any highlights for you?
LE –One highlight was the opportunity to take part in a photography workshop with Toril Brancher at Oriel Myrddin Gallery. When applying for different internships and awards I know that the photography included in the application is crucial so I’ve really taken the skills I learnt from that day.
Meeting the exhibiting artists of Mission Gallery throughout the 6 months has been a massive opportunity. I got to know a lot of the volunteers and build a relationship with everyone. Being part of the group exhibition, ‘A Feminine Perspective’ curated by one of the volunteers of Mission Gallery was brilliant. I was introduced to so many people at various private views and events at Mission Gallery and other venues.
HK – we have talked a lot about how the Award has allowed you to develop your confidence and a strong sense of direction; how important do you think an Award like the Jane Phillips Award is for young, emerging artists?
LE oh, it’s massively important! When I first left university I was working 6 days a week in an office and trying to find time to do something remotely creative. Through the Award, I was given a studio, funds and all sorts of support and I was able to sit down and think, ‘what now, what do I want to do?’ It was brilliant to have the time and space to just make work and not have to think, ‘this is going to be graded’. It was time to explore things which sometimes didn’t work, I was supported in being able to think, that this was ok and I was able to move on to the next thing. It gave me growing space.
HK – you have been the perfect combination of artist and ambassador and you’re gaining real momentum with your career; a participant in both the 2012 Welsh Artist of the Year and Y Lle Celf at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. It has been a pleasure to watch you develop an internal strength throughout the Award and I look forward to seeing your future unfold.
LE –It has been a fantastic start to my career, as for a lot of people it can take so many years to get their name out there and it has happened to me straight away and I think that is all thanks to the Jane Phillips Award and Mission Gallery.
The time, money and support of the Jane Phillips Award in addition to experiences throughout the Award allowed me to explore my ideas and my work. I was able to question, ‘why I work in certain ways, why on a small scale, why is it quite contained’ I feel that I am able to ask myself these questions now and that I am ready to build on them. I explored the use of projection during my residency and I would like to continue exploring the use of the digital and the use of sound. I have confidence now that I will grow in the next 5 – 10 years. My work will build with the experience I have gained; I trust my judgement now and don’t apologise for working in the way that I do.
This is my language.