Sunday, 15 April 2012

Interview by Hannah Johnson, BA Fine Art at De Montfort University

1) What do you want to express in your artwork?  What do you want people to experience, learn or know from your work?

I want to try to communicate what it is to be in and of a body, a female body. I say ‘female’ and that suggests a gendered body. A ‘woman’s body’ with all the layers of gendered entrapment, both by myself and by outside influences. I would like viewers of the work to experience something common whether they are female or male. I appreciate each viewer would bring something individual to the work based upon their own experiences and prejudices, so they would take something very unique away with them, perhaps even something that I did not intend. This is where it gets interesting though as then I am learning from my audience and it becomes a conversation as opposed to me ‘preaching’ to viewers about my opinions and feelings. A recent piece ‘Purge’ presented a series of videos of me performing to camera, eating communion wafers and running, slowed down in edit as if dreamlike. This piece was installed behind a wall and viewers were invited to kneel on cushions and look through keyholes to view the videos, this has brought up a lot of ideas around controlling the audience physically and has very interesting results into whether they want to ‘conform’ to a set of rules in order to view the artwork.

2) What is the relationship of your art work to ‘reality’?

Everything I make, draw, sculpt or film is my response to something ‘real’ so in that sense I guess it is all related to reality. I appreciate it is my subjective reality as everyone has different experiences depending on their age, gender, ethnicity, cultural background. I remember meeting someone who said that they felt I had summed up their pain experienced throughout an illness which affected their spine in the piece entitled ‘Going That Same Way’ and when something like that happens, it is quite overwhelming.

3) What lead you/ inspired you to become an artist?

I always wanted to draw. From a very early age I would draw everything I saw, especially things I found strange in nature, the body and other people. I am fascinated by the silent conversation you can have with someone through making art and what it can offer other people. Above all, I find the making process incredibly cathartic and I am not sure where I would be if I didn’t make ‘stuff’.

4) Do you work alone, or do you collaborate with others?  Do you have staff?

I like to hide away and find my own inspiration for the work. The making process often requires other people’s help, for example of I need a cast of my own body or need someone to hold the video camera. Specialist metalworkers are my best friends too! So I commission other people rather than ‘employ’ them. When I do workshops for young people, I usually collaborate with other artists as it offers a variety of approaches to the group.

5) Is it important for you to follow a specific procedure in creating artwork?

Yes, I always have more than one piece on the go, usually at least 3. I always work from drawings, particularly the sculptural work. Although working on more than piece at a time, I see them as related so they produce a body of work.

6) Why do you choose to use un-traditional materials such as chocolate and soap within your 3D practice?

I like the idea that the work is transient, like the body. I have a growing feeling that if I make lots of ‘stuff’ which lasts too long then I am taking up valuable space in the world. I have been told that this will work against me as ‘collectors’ want work to last and it’s value will depreciate if it doesn’t. However, the process of working with materials such as chocolate, soap etc are very physical and relate to the body so perfectly that I am not sure what else could fill that. Commissioned work I complete always has the stipulation that it must last for a certain amount of time and be weatherproof, this is a challenge for me and this is when I tend to re-use found objects instead.

7) Femininity, feminism, individual control, consumption and the body are some of the reoccurring themes of your practice, how have these areas affected you within your life?

I have always struggled with the term ‘feminine’ as I don’t think I am or ever have been. I am a feminist and found myself at a very early age getting frustrated with comments, images and prejudices some people have about women. Consumption of media images of what is considered to be beautiful and of food became the primary issues in my life and my work. I have always and a disordered relationship with food and my own body however the making of artwork seems to be the solution to this. I have enjoyed researching with other people who have experienced similar things and am currently working towards Phd study surrounding this.

8) What would you say are the main feminist issues you address within your work?

The main issues I attempt to address are the pressures put upon women to look a certain way, to be a certain size and to not take up much space. This is obviously culturally dependent as what is considered ‘beautiful’ differs tremendously across the world.

9) One of my favourite pieces is ‘dirty cow, 1996’, what is the concept behind this piece?

This was a very early piece created with the idea that a woman can be labelled depending on her promiscuity. As I am now quite a bit older and wiser (I hope) and feel incredibly proud to be a woman in every sense and the image of a woman’s sexual organs appears throughout the work in all it’s sculptural form, power and ability to seduce, offend and devour.

10) What is your opinion of how women are portrayed within society and media?

In my opinion, there are not enough strong female role models within society/media who are revered for their intellect, knowledge, skill, power, etc as those that seem to be ‘on show’ constantly are those who are pinned up as an ideal. As a realist however, I appreciate there is and always will be a market for the pornographic image both of women and men. However the idea that this filters into a mainstream media image and therefore the conscience of the wider society instills fear in me. If I have children, a daughter particularly, I would be afraid for her being subjected to images of subjected women. I currently produce my artwork in a rural farm in Cataluyna with ample space and light. This rural location has no mains electric, no running water and therefore no television and more importantly no adverts. I have also stayed in Cyprus for a couple of years previous to this where I have the same setup. This is a personal choice, I must add. The choice not to pick up a magazine with the photoshopped images of unattainable beauty. Not to turn on a television and be bombarded with images of dangerously underweight women’s bodies. I do however have the internet and this is my connection to the outside world while I am creating my work, offering me a chance to get my work ‘out there’ and to see if it has any effect at all.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Misselbrook interviewed by 3D degree student, Katie Weston

Katie Weston, currently studying at Portsmouth University on a 3D degree course, contacted me via my website.

Katie said, "I am so excited to hear of a feminist artist from somewhere so close to me as Southampton! I am a 3D degree student at Portsmouth University and am currently doing an essay on museum/exhibition/gallery spaces. I have a personal interest in feminist art and feminism and have done projects based on some well know feminist artists, my favourite being Kiki Smith.
I really admire female artists that aren't afraid to use controversial subject matter and step outside of the box!

I would love to be able to see your work whether in a formal gallery space or in any other situation. Would this be possible at all in the near future?
I look forward to hearing from you."

I jumped at the chance to help Katie and as well as her visiting 'Collectible', currently on at the Bargate Monument galley, to see 'Dual' she sent me the following questions to answer and has kindly allowed me to post it here for all to read, enjoy.

Thanks Katie for the chance to answer some very interesting questions and good luck with your project!

1. Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you come up with a concept for a new piece of work?

Every piece that I think of in my head usually comes from a burning desire to question and hopefully change something or someone's way of thinking. I don't make 'pretty' pictures - although the aesthetic quality of my work is very important. My inspiration comes from being a woman in this country and what that all means. I try to comment on the absolute tragedy that is the total objectification of the female body by reducing it to the one thing we all have in common. We are all skeletal under the flesh (however much flesh we may have) - the space inside and our spirit/ mind is where it all belongs - we should not be judged upon our surface. Societal norms of being a certain size and shape and dressing/ behaving a certain way put an enormous amount of pressure on the female (and more recently the male) body and it is this that I have been a victim of and want to see the balance between body and mind regained. Therefore, every time I make a piece of work, it is a response to an extremely strong feeling from within and without this outlet I am not sure I would be here.

2. Do you have a reason for using specific materials? (Particularly in the piece Dual at Bargate)

With the choice of materials, I try to add to the very nature and concept of the piece itself. By using soft, fragile materials such as latex, feathers, cotton, tights, I am trying to underline the transient nature of the human anatomy. The very fact that our skin ages (in a similar way to latex) makes a complete mockery of a societal obsession with youth and beauty. Surely, we should embrace our very human fragility but no, we attempt to conquer it by plasticizing our flesh. To be specific, the piece on show at the Bargate 'Dual' focuses on a fundamental difference between male and female, the protrusion and the void, the positive and the negative. This uses cactus spikes as protrusions from the back on the canvas through to the surface. I was based in Cyprus at this time and drew on the very aggressive but beautiful structures in the plant life. The use of opposites with the bare canvas and the black leather try to reinforce the biological differences. However, my intention here was to present myself - one person who battles within a very male dominated world, but is female. A mask of maleness then is adorned to achieve, to accomplish, and the very female openness which is seen as a weakness. Whether this is a coping strategy or whether I have been moulded into this, I do not know??

3. Is it a conscious decision to not have a frame around the piece? (Bargate)

Yes. As I am primarily a sculptor, when I make a canvas work I still treat it as a 3 dimensional piece. Particularly with the use of objects or structures protruding from the surface or opening up to reveal the inside of the canvas. It is important therefore that the canvas is seen with all its dimensions, not just the width and height but also the depth at which it is off the wall.

4. How do you feel when you see your work in a gallery? Is it gratifying, especially as feminist artists are a minority?

It is the very reason I make my work. For it to be made and then stored out of sight is going against everything I am trying to do with the work. It is very gratifying when I see my work within a group or solo show as I feel like I am getting that message across, whether it is read exactly as I intended is another matter, but at least it is getting seen.

5. Is your work aimed more towards men or women? Or both?

I don't aim my work at anyone in particular. I think that is why I have enjoyed exhibiting the work at non-gallery spaces as this usually results in a more varied audience (those who wouldn't usually go to a gallery). I feel like I want to reach to as many and as different a person as possible.

6. Do the reactions you get from men and women differ? How so? Does this affect how shocking or personal you make a piece?

I don't allow people's response to work affect how I make future pieces as I am far too selfish for that! I make exactly what I want to make and that is an absolutely amazing thing to be able to do as your career! To have the freedom to create from within you with no thought as to how this will be received. However, once on show the work generally has a different response from men than women. Some women have responded negatively saying that there is no place for feminism today - I strongly believe that this is due to them feeling that they will disassociate themselves from the male world they have entered into. So I disagree - there is even more space for feminism now that we are trying to cope with being male and female all at once.

Some men, and I am very lucky to be married to one, are just as feminist as I am and they react with a very understanding, empathetic but not patronising response to the depiction of a woman whose body remains subject to scrutiny and objectification. On the other hand, some men react on a sexual level to imagery which contains masks, restraints etc - for example in 'Misplaced', 'A Day in the life of' or 'To Myself' - I believe they have become so accustomed to viewing the female form in sexual masochistic positions that they cannot read these works in any other way. Surely this only reinforces the need to make the work!

7. Do you get to decide on how your work is displayed? i.e. where it is positioned in the gallery and in relation to other works?

Within a group show, such as the present Bargate 'Collectible' exhibition, the curator(s) of the gallery will decide on the placement of the works in relation to each other and how the show is read as a whole. However with solo shows, which I have been able to travel to, I have been fortunate enough to decide on placement and have hung all the works myself. This allows me to design the overall effect of the exhibition and which pieces I want to show first and which ones I would like to keep hidden to make a sudden impact throughout the experience.

8.Do you work with the gallery in mind? ie. The scale of a piece, or how easy it will be to display?

I usually have about 3 or 4 pieces of work on the go at any one time - they usually differ in their medium i.e. a sculptural piece, a canvas series, a film or a photographic work. This allows me to be more efficient in my practice and allows me to work depending on the weather and my mood! So no to the question, the piece is made without thinking of any particular gallery space - however I always need to think about installation of the piece, whether it will appear on a plinth, be wall mounted etc.
For my solo show at the Bargate Monument Gallery in 2006 I was approached by the curator to have the opening exhibition 18 months before it opened so I designed every piece to fit the gallery space. This was quite obvious to visitors as they commented that the work seemed to belong.

9. Do these factors make a difference to how likely a gallery will accept it? Particularly small galleries?

There are a lot of galleries and open exhibition submissions, which will only accept wall mounted pieces of work - this is due to the ease of hanging, storage etc. So maybe I do limit where my work can be shown but I would not want to start making work to fit as I feel I would lose the freedom I have.

10. Do your prefer small, intimate gallery spaces or larger 'white cube' style galleries? (as a featured artist and a visitor)

As an artist, I have really enjoyed showing in different spaces like the medieval vaults in Southampton which are underground spaces loaded with history and stories and seeing my works (which had only ever been shown in white gallery spaces until then) placed in these spaces somehow gave them even more power and narrative. As an artist I enjoy showing work in a variety of spaces, the small private spaces and the large white cubes. As a visitor I try to mix it up too - with a recent visit to the Guggenheim in Bilbao viewing the new Richard Serra installation compared to a recent private view I visited in Bitterne triangle in Southampton which is a very small, commercial outlet for local artists.

11. How has the opening of the Bargate gallery affected you? Has it improved your ability to get work shown?

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been offered the first exhibition at the Bargate Monument gallery. I do feel that this gallery has improved all Southampton based artists potential showing of work. I had before then however, shown in London and at other local galleries so I would like to think that it was a successful run of exhibitions which led to the show at the Bargate gallery. 'a space', the arts organisation that run the gallery, have been very supportive towards my practice, especially considering my work is not the most accessible to all viewers.

12. How do you feel about the Bargate gallery in comparison to other galleries your work has been shown in? or in solo exhibitions? Do you have a preference?

As I made the work specifically for the Bargate space for my solo show, as mentioned previously, I felt as though this was the most successful. It resulted in a group of pieces that complimented each other very well and, as I was involved in the installation, I felt more connected it.

13. How much does your work usually sell for? What do you take into consideration when you put a price on a piece?

My work has increased in value since I sold my first piece in 1996. The work now sells from 800 pounds for a canvas/ photographic work up to 3000 pounds for a sculptural piece. I make a record of material costs for each piece and also how many hours I have spent creating the work, which includes any research, travel, concept designs, maquette making and the final piece. I then add an artistic value for the collection of the piece, which relates to how I think my practice will grow and how well established I am as an artist.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

My time in Cyprus August 2006 - February 2008

Freedom to create

It all seems to be making a lot more sense to me. The urgent need to create being fulfilled at present with the freedom, time and space to make work as and when I want/need to. I no longer have to time the making of work around other things, in fact I time everything else around making work now. It is giving me the chance to really explore creating work and I am constantly finding ways of visualising how I feel.

I am using materials I find around my here in Cyprus which include cactus spikes and leather and I am collecting everything that is dead and no longer considered beautiful.

In an attempt to create something beautifully appalling to reflect the fragility of life, our inevitable fate trying to question the importance of surface image, beauty and youth when all around and we are dying. This control over our image, our bodies, our politicised vessels keeps us from making changes that would make the world right.

And yet all I do is continue making work about it, is that enough? Will this make changes? Aren't I simply posing questions rather than offering answers? Like this blog, questions. I don't have the answer so the work reflects a/my situation and asks of you to change it or to simply think about it.

Latest Artwork

My body is caught up in the symmetrical battle on these canvases. Please take away that mirror, reflection line, that Golden Section, perfection, I will never be. We are not perfect, nor beautiful, we are here, that's enough. We imperfect everything; taking, eating, spoiling, devouring, consuming, ruining and yet we think we have the right to.

I want to make beautiful images with an ugly undertone, aesthetically pleasing but appalling. The figures featured are alone even in groups, bound to the weight of the perfection quest. I try to ruin the canvases with stains of food colouring with no control over application or result.

I feel less alone in a foreign country, I am liberated like a child lost in translation. I feel close to people I can say only one word to and receive a nod of the head from...'Man dies after confronting youth who threw half eaten chocolate bar into sister's car'...the internet keeps me up to date with events in England. Too many people crammed in to such a small space keeping their heads down, eyes off each other - through fear?

Is it all connected? If we continue putting too much emphasis on the superficial, the surface, are we widening the gap between our inner self and that of others. 'I' is not the surface, it's beneath that, it's in 'here'.We are creating a gulf between me and you... I fear you, you fear me, we don't communicate. I am certain this is the route of many awful things. Many wonderful things too but the awful things surely could be addressed. It's that reminder that's needed - we are all intrinsically the same, one, vessel, being - there are too many things used to separate us.

Repetition, reflection, the inside of the body or where the body has been - this will fuel the next pieces of work - the space inside, the void within rather than the visible surface. Relating to traveling too, traces of the body, where we/ I have been using stuff/ landscape around me to create husk/ positive form/ shell/ cage/ constriction. Traveling/ wondering reminds me I am not permanent, to constantly move, see, smell, experience - to not settle. Photographing these works with me in them but then left as husks...'Knives are being used in crimes every 8 minutes, 175 per day which is double that of 2 years ago'...I am on the outside looking in.

Misselbrook’s year in Cyprus

Reflecting on my year in Cyprus; the environment, plant life, animal life, development, consumption, landscape, my aim for the final show was to create a space that reflected my response to all of these physical attributes of the island. Developing the perfectly symmetrical inkblot into a large-scale sculpture embodying the sensual forms I have observed in this environment appearing from the floor of sand with chocolate pouring from every orifice. I have attempted to comment on the seductive qualities of the island whilst trying to simultaneously appeal to and disgust the viewer.

The skeletal forms protruding from the walls, reminiscent of cacti defence systems, are at first visually attractive and then, upon closer inspection, threatening and aggressive. The juxtaposition of hard plaster against soft chocolate, sculpted mdf bone-like forms against stuffed fleshly latex attempt to provide a visual contradiction for the viewer, again relating to my surroundings.

Upon entering the sand filled installation, the viewer is confronted by a repetitive soundtrack comprising thirty-six verbs relating to the somewhat unnecessary routine of beautification, self-policing and consumption. These words appear as written text on a series of three figurative drawings, which attempt to show a personal struggle during my stay in Cyprus. Family bereavements and feelings of isolation also fueled the production of a blanket-covered figure, solitary and crouched on the floor of the gallery space. I became obsessed with budgeting, not being wasteful (particularly when witnessing such waste and a lack of recycling and spoiling of the environment). I kept every single cash withdrawal and purchase receipt to use to draw on instead of buying a new sketchbook. Struggling between a sense of rigid self-control and a total lack of routine, drawings varied from hard skeletal forms penetrating through lines of stitches into sensual vulvic pencil drawings.

A series of stuffed canvases have played on this struggle between the skeletal and the sensual. With a view to producing small scale, more accessible works (both visually and in dimension) using the fleshly latex sculptural inkblots as an opening to look beyond the surface of the canvas. Drawing the viewer in to the canvas as object rather than painted surface. The works play on visual desire to explore with zip opening, corseted entry and splayed canvas skin and on close inspection visually disturb. To contradict the concave, vulvic canvases, a series of defensive sculpted mdf bonelike profiles protrude through the canvas surface, pushing the viewer away.

Within the simplistic environment of the Lempa studios, my practice has temporarily moved away from the direct body casting of previous works towards a more detached way of sculpting. Still of the body but producing a series of separated components or suggestive imagery to evoke skeletal and sensual structures. The basic natural forms in Cyprus, so simple yet so beautiful, intriguing and often simultaneously disgusting. Soft, sensual openings, entrances and voids alongside prickly, skeletal defensive protrusions, the main inspiration for and effect upon my work whilst in Cyprus. Commenting on the beautiful against the ugly, the rich landscape against the appalling consumption and littering, these polarities in existence around me and my placement within this either proliferating the situation by buying in to it or a complete refusal to consume it.

The vulvic form has embodied the device for consuming, the devouring void with viscous matter spilling from its labia, swallowing its surroundings and being swallowed by its surroundings. The skeletal spikes simultaneously feed and rape the sensual form as well as acting as a defense and protection.

The stuffed latex spikes and plaster and chocolate vulvic form installation are gradually drying out, withering and aging in this environment. Insects are infesting the melted mars bars from the local beach sand, which scurry adding movement to the piece when disturbed by viewers. The decomposition and impermanence of this piece runs parallel to our inevitable transience and results in the need to recreate the artwork for new spaces for future exhibitions. I aim to develop the scale and number of components within the installation with a view to completely immersing the viewer in the work as well as in the sound.

Ruining a perfect world

This all consuming, all devouring nature of human kind. In our attempt to live the perfect life, have the perfect body, the perfect house, possessions - we ruin this perfect world. So is this struggle between the skeletal and the sensual related to this? If I were to follow the disciplined quest for a non-body, a skeletal fragile figure I would be consuming less, taking up less space in this already overcrowded world. But to embrace the sensual me involves consuming; beauty products, food, clothes, magazines, an image requiring consumption I would be adding to the depletion of what is around me.

To live on air - a story I once read about a cult following who believed surviving on air alone was the answer.

Obsessed with what enters my body; mouth, vagina devouring and consuming - denying myself these things to control myself and my environment. My work at present shows vulvic devouring forms - on the floor in sand creating this environment (the sensual self) and on the walls/ceiling protrude the skeletal defenses acting as a control to this consumption and simultaneously a result of the lack of consumption (ie skin stretched over bones, spine protruding through skin).

To be experiencing a far simpler existence at present in Cyprus, a limited budget, very few and only essential possessions, solar panel electricity, walking, bike-riding, I am even more determined to resist the temptations of the consumer world.

Losing the ‘Self’

It's as if everything that has been until now has disappeared and I have truly lost my 'self'. 'Affirmation' was a complete purge of the system, how I felt about the world, where I lived, other people and myself - an honest and very public portrayal of my frustration and struggle, putting my body and face and the disciplined routines I go through on show for all to see.

And now? I am living in a foreign country and, primarily due to media messages getting 'lost in translation' as well as not owning a tv, I feel I am rid temporarily of the importance placed on image. I am still in a Western European country with all its cultural and societal norms and ever growing prescriptions however, I am also surrounded by a majority who still 'live off the land', women head to toe in black even in the August heat and strangers who make eye contact and greet each other with a sense of caring and respect.

I am not naive, I know there is no 'perfect' place without hate, crime, self-centredness but I feel I have stepped back in time in comparison to the UK. No one knows me here and for this I am lost, not mentally but physically and, for now, my work has lost 'me', the body, the explicit aggressive figurative image. Instead I am looking outwards and seeing through to where true beauty lies, those things we all tend to take for granted and get lost beneath the layers of self-importance. I see beauty in the life around me in plants, insects, birds, fruit, vegetables, sand, sea, sky and that view - that waking up and seeing the horizon, then the sunset which offers a true sense of self, of belonging - one which no commodity or material possession could ever fulfill. Everyone should witness this sunset and see it, not just look or watch but really see the beauty that has always been and will out live us. Our sense of self is so overinflated but we are temporary, transient.

Although, I am also witnessing the spoiling, staining of these perfectly beautiful elements; littering, consumption of land, a growing population and booming economy - is this inevitable? Human nature to spread like a virus?

I am in a country which mythically claims to hold the secret to eternal youth and beauty but what now seems to be a more spiritual one - a vibrancy and energy, a feeling on the inside under this surface image. I feel at one with the elements - my body in the sea, on the sand, sweating. No longer in a caged box littered with belongings to call a home. I feel outside my body - this is the feeling I have dreamt of. I have felt trapped inside the boundaries of skin, surface, image and now...

now I feel image-less, experiencing, sensing structures, colours, life and sharing all of this with the most important person in my life.

How long will this last?

Introducing Sarah Misselbrook

My name is Sarah Misselbrook. I am a conceptual female artist from Southampton, UK and I would like to take this opportunity to tell you more about where my ideas come from, who I am as an artist and how I feel about stuff. I have produced work for exhibitions, commissions and residencies for 10 years and my website, launched in February 2006, includes an on-line gallery showing the multi-media approach to conveying my ideas.

It has always been with great urgency, the need to create. I can say so much more within a drawing, photograph or sculpture. It is in the making of artwork that I feel and think clearly; a determined form of communication which purges my system. My voice is not heard and I cannot put into words what I am trying to say through the artwork, maybe it is too close, too personal and that the work is detached from me it can therefore speaks on my behalf.

My inspiration stems from a basic need to feel content. Content in life, in society, in my body. It is as if through the focussed creative act I can somehow transcend this body and gain a sense of weightlessness, of not needing to 'belong', to sign up to a societal prescription. And my work produced? It attempts to question why I/we feel this way in the first place. Who am I/are we listening to?