I completed this work for an exhibition in Paris which was of course, cancelled because of the Covid19 crisis. I had begun making it just before Christmas and finished it in early March. It is a reflection on where we find ourselves as human beings living in a climate change emergency. Even though I knew from friends how Covid19 was affecting life in China I had not taken on board that it would hit Europe in the same way, largely because of remembering SARS and subsequent viruses. I was a fool - like so many - I should have been expecting the worst. In this artwork where a rising sea teams with life, where cities lie drowned in their depths, my imagination was more in touch with the realities we face than my conscious self.
'Venice' central panel of five for 'Port' an artwork which explores the intertwined narrative of East/West trade and exchange from historical, philosophical and personal perspectives.
102 x102cm canvas, acrylic, collage, gold leaf
The online catalogue for my upcoming exhibition features the curatorial essay written by Emily de Wolfe Pettit.
I've been spending a lot of time on my new Oculus Quest using Tiltbrush to create 'sketches' for the artwork I'll present at Tate Exchange Liverpool. It's massively interesting - and often frustrating and I am really enjoying the process. My assistant Terri Broughton and I have been troubleshooting and sharing the headset (it gives you quite a headache if you wear it for more than an hour and a half.... So I'll start posting these sketches as they're completed. The idea of using all kinds of vessels, not just maritime ones is a reminder that human beings use many means of travelling and maybe in the future we will need to become migrants in space. On a day when one unfortunate would be migrant fell out of a plane and landed in garden in Clapham, it feels appropriate to consider that with changing circumstances we might all be driven to being stowaways....
Only when I had finished this work did I fully understand what I wanted to express. My father took me fishing regularly as a child and these were the times when our relationship was least complicated and he was kinder to me. We would spend hours on the rocks looking at the sea and trying to spot when a school of fish would break the water’s surface. He is now in a state of advanced dementia, he is gone from this world and from me…. From a wider perspective, I am contemplating the complex journey of a human life as I sit in my inland sea in a state of flux.
The process of making this artwork, which incorporates 3D scanning & printing and internal lighting, was a crucial to exploring meaning in a subliminal and profound way.
I started work on Age of Exploration: Spice about 6 years ago when I found this wooden case dumped on a nearby street. Initially I laid out a trail of cloves on the floor of the case and then ground to a creative halt. Last November I opened the case again with a clear idea of what I wanted to do with it, complicated.... It kept me awake nights but the complexity helped me to get through a hard time and it has been one of the most enjoyable pieces I have ever made. My son filmed it for me - it's always difficult to capture a 3D piece in a 2D photo, what the film doesn't capture is the fragrance of the spice landscape, it is in fact an olfactory experience as well as a narrative of exploration. What started me thinking about making this piece in the first place was a visit to the Musée Nationale de la Marine in Paris about 12 years ago; I saw a wonderful model ship made entirely out of cloves and of course, this was made by a sailor who had nothing else to occupy him during the many months at sea. He made the work about what was close to hand, a hold full of cloves and the ship he was sailing in and he created something magical.
For the last couple of months, apart from from the 3D work I have been working on the paintings/collages also. These 2 artworks 'The Dreams of City Dwellers' #2 (above) and 'A Child's View of Babel' (below) both reflect my ongoing fascination with cities, their complex histories and the movement of peoples to and from them. These works will be featured in 'On Paper' curated by Chang Feng in Shanghai this April.
In common with many people I have experienced 2017 as a year of cancellations, frustrations, disappointments but it's also been one of my most creatively productive years ever. I took heart when reading Waldemar Januszczak's article "In praise of older women". In it he describes the plight hitherto of most artists who are over 50 and who crucially, are women and writes "If the lifestyle sections are genuinely interested in predicting our artistic future, hey need to be trawling the nation's old people's homes and shouting "Is anyone here a forgotten artist?" Because that's where the money is."
All I can say is yes, but do we have to wait until we're in the old people's homes? do we have to wait until we are too old and frail to achieve the ambitious and large scale projects which we want to achieve but can't because we haven't got the money! I'm always so thrilled to hear about artists like Phyllida Barlow and Lubaina Himid finally getting some recognition and keep hoping that I may someday get a break - after 37 years of making art through all kinds of challenging circumstances, maybe 2018 will be the year that my work gets seen and gets recognised.
I meant to write this post on New Year's Day to keep to my schedule as conscientously as possible - didn't manage of course because the decision about my use of time came down to making art work or writing about making artwork..... I finally have got the time to write because I'm bedbound with a nasty bug and can't stay upright for too long, so a break from the studio is in order.
In the run up to this year's big exhibition in Beijing with Niamh Cunningham, Gulistan and Jin Mei (our working title is 'Like an Iceberg') I've started work on a series called 'Age of Exploration'. The first finished work is on my homepage and the slideshow above shows progress on a larger work in the series which is in 4 parts. In fact I can't work on more than 2 parts at any given time because the studio is too small.....
Of course, I started work on it without measuring the ceiling height in my dining room (the only wall in the house that can take it) and then discovered that it's 10cm too low. This meant setting up a system of leaning supports so that I could actually assemble the work and check that everything would link up. I'm going to ask a kindly neighbour with a higher ceiling to lend me a wall once I've finished the painting
These photos show the ongoing progress, the stretching is temporary because it will have to be destretchered for transport to China and I need things to be floppy so I can do the sticking and burnishing.
As there's a lot of cutting out to do I time the process and try to watch videos/films related to the theme while scissoring away which is quite fun in a nerdy way. So far I've watched all 4 series of Vikings (it's not great so I on't feel bad about keeping one eye on the cutting out all the time) as well as In the Heart of the sea. That comes out at 4 series x 10 episodes - each 45 mins = 1,800 mins + the film which is 122 so a total of over 32 hours of cutting out excluding the cutting out where I've been listening to music or having a conversation on the phone. Nothing like multi tasking.
I'm also rereading old favourites like Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island and Lord Jim which were such memorable experiences from my childhood and adolesence. So that's all the 'light side' to the project, there is of course a darker one which relates to crossing water as a refugee or a migrant and this is the aspect that keeps me awake nights. I watched The Crossing recently, an extraordinary documentary film about the Irish Navy resue mission in the mediterranean
I wish that all those people who use refugee almost as a term of insult would watch this and begin to understand the difficulty of what being a displaced person means.
As we sail into 2017 I want to make art about important ideas, histories and ethics, to seek meaningful collaborations and reach out to many people - to dive into my own age of exploration.
Fion Gunn is a London based visual artist with an international multi-media practice.