Seven Remarkable and Curious Conversations artists joined Ingrid Jensen at her studio in the Keep, Reading on Saturday 9th April 2011 for a picnic, a discussion, a tour of the studios, and to participate in an art project (Interface). They were Philip Lee, Cally Trench, Linda Francis, Imogen Welch, Alison Carter Tai, Steve Perfect, and Lis Mann.
Ingrid Jensen's Interface project is an extension of the drawing process. Ingrid writes: Drawing is feeling one's way around the object with eyes remotely linked to pencil, so it's almost like running the pencil all over the subject, exploring every part. Interface is about doing away with the pencil. It's also about exploring the personal space between people - we often think it's OK to explore people's personal topography provided we don't touch them. In Interface, participants are invited to imagine they are "drawing" each others faces by gently running a finger over the facial surface and features.
Philip Lee: Ingrid set up her camera to take videos of us, literally drawing on each other's faces with our naked finger as part of Ingrid's project Interface. We took it in turns to sit facing each other, and, in respectful silence, we touched with carefully scrubbed hands the other's face, as if we were touching the face where we would ordinarily just look and mark paper to record our observations. I found it a wonderful experience, which I will always remember. One looks without seeing and greets people without engaging. For Ingrid's project we were given permission to do both: briefly, intimately, sensuously, decorously, and it is a particular pleasure I recommend.
I began the presentation of work by showing a video of a recent performance called Tied Slip, which had taken place in Sunderland four days previously. As usual my work was watched with benevolent interest, during and after which constructive and perceptive comments and suggestions were made. I always look forward to hearing what my Remarkable colleagues think about what I do. As an experienced audience of my unconventional material, their acceptance and learned insights are a pleasure to receive and often get me thinking in even more extraordinary directions!
Steve Perfect showed us one of his dry-point etchings called The Wise and Foolish Virgins. Its simple construction and naive drawing told a complex story and elegant allegory. I particularly liked Steve's style of drawing. At first sight it seems childlike; however, on closer inspection the detailed, conceptually and compositionally multi-layered landscape reveals distorted bodies, variously wielding oil lamps suggesting very much a non-sentimental version of Christ's story and conveying a sophistication that adds to the rich canon of religious imagery.
Linda Francis showed us her cast alabaster chess pieces, which were intriguing and meticulously made. Evoking fairy stories in enigmatic castles they were impossibly detailed and fabulously phallic forms! As re-imagined familiar objects, Linda's tiny, whimsical sculptures brought to life the history and origins of the game of chess.
Lis Mann's textile genealogy piece used imagery rather than text to show family relationships. The intense sewing process, used to fix the many textile prints to the fabric background, was evocative of the emotional search for personal history. The work was poignant in its concept and reminiscent of family life in general - a wonderful project that inspired us all.
Imogen Welch showed us mysterious photographs of idyllic country scenes. At first glance they appear completely natural and then one became aware that there is much more going on than nature intended. For the photographs Imogen had meticulously draped paper made from nettles over rocks in a stream, to brilliant effect. Imogen told us that the nettle paper has to be kept moist after making to keep it supple for wrapping, so the extraordinary care needed to achieve the effect was astonishing. The photographs are as fascinating as they are beautiful. I am sure Mother Nature would very much approve!
Cally Trench showed the miniature Remarkable Bookshelf artist's book, a copy of which has recently been bought by the Tate. It is a charming, ingenious and intriguing piece, linking all those involved in Remarkable and Curious Conversations. It comprises photographs of the spines of books all the Remarkable people were reading in June 2010. A zigzag book with sculptural ambitions, colourful and fascinating, it won everyone over and prompted promises from us all to send in our 'spines' when Cally sends out her request this year.
Imogen Welch: The Interface drawing process was very interesting to observe, and I didn't mind being the subject of the exercise; however, touching someone else's face was more disturbing. Definitely a bit out of my comfort zone as I don't like invading other people's personal space despite being much more comfortable about my space being invaded! The discussion that followed showed that most of the other participants were more comfortable than me: lots to think about.
The discussion about everyone's work was, as always, very energising and I appreciated the feedback on my images of rocks covered with nettle paper.
Alison Carter Tai: I have been thinking so much about Saturday's Interface conversation and being glad that I came. I had signed up to coming without really reading what we would be doing, distracted by my father being ill, and merely registering the fact that it was a Remarkables gathering, and at Brock Barracks that I knew well from the outside, and in Tilehurst where dad was in a nursing home. In the event dad had died three weeks earlier but I still felt it important to come, and I was so pleased that I did. Oddly I had spent a lot of my last visits to dad touching his face, in a gentle way, as a means of letting him know I was there, and soothing him. Not something I had ever really done before, as you don't when someone is animated, talking and moving, and your conversations are made through eye contact and facial expressions.
So, for me the experience of Interface was quite cathartic, really. It reminded me of when I was at school and we had an exercise, in art class, of each closing our eyes and feeling the planes and hollows of our own face, and then doing a self portrait. I enjoyed doing that and still have the drawing! It also made me think of how I feel when people who are visually impaired touch my face in a searching way, and how I always wear a smile when they do, to show a friendly face. When I don't smile my mouth goes down at the corners, and I would hate someone to feel or draw that sad face.
I am very camera shy, due not least to issues around my dental ill health, but I think I managed not to show my teeth on film, and by looking at the camera and holding a smile, I made myself think of my head as that of an artist's model, an object for exploration, done in an objective way, and that allowed any personal issue about having my face touched by someone I didn't know, to subside for the duration. However I surprised myself by enjoying the experience!
As for drawing someone else's face, I felt completely happy using both hands, but rather wish I'd not just used the forefingers like pencils, but gone onto planes through the use of the flat of the hand, and explored bone structure. I went home and spent a lot of time e xploring my own face, again, kneading my face this way and that to see what I could discover. I think I shall now attempt another self portrait, when I feel ready to.
I wanted to tell my dad all about the building... I'm not sure he ever went inside, although he worked almost directly opposite, at Battle Hospital, for many years.
Steve Perfect: A great day at Ingrid's studio in Reading. It was a fascinating to look round the studios and building. Ingrid's Interface project is a simple idea that produces strange and wonderful results. I'm happy to admit that I was well outside of my comfort zone, but am very glad that I took part. As ever, the conversation was varied and stimulating. Thanks to Ingrid for hosting. Great to see and collaborate with everyone.
Lis Mann: My thoughts on the day centered around first feeling dread that I was going to find the Interface difficult, then that it might be too intimate and I would find it embarrassing, to finally thinking what have I got to lose, and finally finding it really enjoyable, both as receiver and giver.
Linda Francis: I really enjoyed seeing everybody's work, Philip's performance which raises so many intriguing questions and issues, Steve's seemingly whimsical print but with a tale to tell, Imogen's beautiful and ephemeral nettle-covered rocks, Cally's peek into our reading habits and Lis's alternative way of relating family stories.
Ingrid Jensen: Thank you all so much for coming to the event at the Keep, and for your willingness to risk taking part in Interface. The filming is only part of the work - another part is what you take away with you as physical memories of the process. What you think and say about it adds a further dimension that moves the work along.
Pondering over other remarkable works was enjoyable and illuminating as always, with unexpected angles and sympathetic discussion.