Friday, 19 March 2010

An interview with Chantal Powell

I often find the most difficult answers to be found, are best posed as questions to others. When directed at others and written down in black and white, they seem less daunting. The following interview took place with Chantal Powell currently involved in the exhibition, 'Recollection,' at the Chapel Gallery in Lancashire and is preparing for her debut solo show, 'Traces and Testament,' at the Westbourne Grove church taking place from the 7th July to the 10th August.

An artist who is similarly preocuppied with nostalgia, memory and age, her exploration of objects is particulary interesting as they take on experiences, history and memories of their own. Check out her blog:

Memory is often criticized within the art world as being too vague a term, are you interested in a specific genre or type of memory and how do you explore this?

I’m interested in the small and the personal, the unseen moments that shape us and make us unique. Christian Boltanski called this, “little memory” and contrasts it to the large collective memory of history. I like to explore the fragility of this type of memory and the emotional response it generates. I often do this through the use of objects that have fragments of a story for the viewer to investigate which then, hopefully, lead to a series of thoughtful personal associations.

Is your work at all autobiographical, are the memories involved generic or personal to you?

When I use objects that have a memory or history attached to them then they tend to be objects that are removed from me because I actually find it quite restrictive to have all the facts. I like the idea of mixing truth and fiction, to build a narrative from a suggested story and to exaggerate elements that I am drawn to. When there are autobiographical aspects to my work I think they come through in a more subtle way – like the use of peacock feathers on the reclaimed bed. As a child I remember thinking these feathers were almost mystical in their beauty and longed to possess one. It was then an intuitive choice of material when making the bed piece with its connotations of desire, and extravagant beauty.

How do you gather inspiration to make work?

The starting point for a specific work tends to be an object or material that I have been drawn to and felt compelled to acquire. The finding of these inspirational starting points or ingredients to a piece I find almost as exciting as creating the work itself.

In general though inspiration comes from many sources, an emotive piece of music, a visually evocative David Lynch film, other artists work, or emotions or moments in my own life that are particularly palpable. A lot of the time I think its just about taking a moment and looking twice at something you may otherwise pass by in life. Stopping and really seeing the beauty in something ordinary.

You have a particular interest in the effect time has on objects, alongside the effect time has on the mind; what is it about the aging process you find so appealing?

It’s the contradiction that all things are constantly deteriorating and yet at the same time they are undergoing a process of enrichment by the stories and physical imprint that the environment and our lives places upon them. Its raises interesting questions about the value we place on the aging process I think.

If you could exhibit one piece anywhere, where and what would you exhibit?

Why? What does the relationship between the two mean?

I’d love to make a site-specific work for an amazing space like Palazzo Fortuny in Venice. To date I have tended to make pieces in isolation of their surroundings but an interior is like a giant object really and I’d love to spend more time considering that aspect in my work.

Within memory, which sense would you describe as the most evocative?

Smell I think. Maybe I should do something with that . . .

What are you looking to create next?

At the moment I’m pretty focused on completing works for the show I have coming up this summer in Notting Hill. Its my first solo show and so I’m very excited but it does mean lots of time devoted to organising and publicising it. When the show is done my main focus will be continuing an exciting collaborative project with another artist, Dean Melbourne, based on a novella called “The Ebony Tower” by John Fowles. That’s going to be a great show so watch this space!

What is the most important thing for the audience to experience when viewing and taking part in your work?

Its really important for me to create a sense of intimacy for the viewer. I think in doing this people engage more with a work and are more likely to go further with it and a re more likely to go further with it. i try to dot his by adopting objects or projecting ideas which express and articulate something private.

ihope they also pick up a sense of duality with the work- life and death, present past, me and you, things disclosed and kept hidden.

Mostly I hope they accept the invitation to go on a journey with me.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Kitsch and Twee, what are they?

After recently finishing a piece of writing that explores these terms and their relevance to nostalgia, I decided to post a segment of research onto here. Along with a still from my in progress animation. Again I installed within my shed, Within further research of the space it seems the clocktower I live in was home to retired war veterans, who were essentially sent here to die. In a bizarre relevance to my own exploration into melancholic feelings of nostalgia, I felt that again the space was extremely well suited to the piece I wanted to make.

'In effect it is a littering of objects I have spent a long time collecting which encapsulate the term 'twee,' I wanted to create an eerie suspension of memory, the fragility of the porcelain resonates with the fragility of a personal recollection. I was hoping to recreate the delicate nature of nostalgia and its way of rose tinting certain fragments in time.

Kitsch is used to recapture iconic images. The general appearance disregards subtlety with garish colours, it can be very tongue in cheek, camp and often vulgar. In contrast, twee describes objects of true sentimentality;’ saccharin sweet designs often described as chocolate boxy or affectedly dainty.

Commonly decorated with idyllic scenes of cosy cottages or perfect families, twee also commemorates a moment of perfection which could be referred to as another ‘stock emotion,’ yet they are images which connect with our memory in a different way. Twee reminds us of loved ones, pastimes and cherished moments by using a stock type image or design, we attach this to personal memories which do not meet up to the staged original image. Kitsch is more often a recreation of an icon or symbol with universal appeal, generally created in bad taste. The recreation fails to deliver and increments a sense of disappointment or humility.'

It feels like an enormous relief to have finally finished the writing from which this excerpt has been taken! I have an immense reading list to take this research any further but I hope someone has enjoyed reading it somewhere! here is a little of Richard Slee's fantastic use of kitsch to regale darker and mundane issues alongside a little 'Twee' which I couldn't resist.

For more fantastic creations visit his website;

Back to taking stills for my stopmotion animation, will post the finished piece at a later date :)
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