No 20 Arts is delighted to present THIS PLACE WHERE I STAND, an exhibition which brings together the work of Amy-Leigh Bird, Shaun Fraser, and Simon Kidd. From the shores of the Thames in London, to the Scottish Highlands and Islands, to Northern Ireland, each artist showcased in this exhibition places themes of identity and elemental links to site at the centre of their work.
Featuring sculptures, paintings, film, and works on paper, the exhibition is accompanied by an immersive soundscape designed in response to the artwork of each artist. Created by LOWT, the soundscape provides a cleansing sensory experience within which to discover the artworks of the three artists.
In a new, specially commissioned short essay, Roddy Murray, Head of Visual Arts & Literature at An Lanntair writes:
“Amy-Leigh Bird retraces her childhood steps. Trawls, sifts and mud-larks the Thames shoreline for the river’s strewn cargo: its drowned residue, its human detritus. From buttons to bones. It’s a kind of resurrection. A means to reclaim a sense of the personal, the timeless individual, as much as the lost city and the churn of life. Her pristine prints recall the desert’s bonescape. Beyond the bone is the DNA.
Shaun Fraser’s footprint is in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, still ringing with the clamour of the last battle on British soil, still wrangling with the cultural aftermath. His oeuvre is peat, moorland, the blanket bog. A cultural sink that contains and conceals – dissolved and preserved – the history of these desolate, cleared spaces. His work in oil, tar and bitumen reimagines and recreates this temporal, empty yet alive landscape, recreated from its own essence. Its textures, its sullen, relentless, primeval chemistry.
In Northern Ireland, Simon Kidd’s ceramics are a meditation through petrification on the obstinate, petrified past. On degrees of permanence, from the basalt and granite of Sliabh Dónairt and Murlach to the bog of Dregish he references the dug and quarried past. The chipping and scarring of hammer and chisel on rock, the slice of the peat-iron. Stark and delicate, his porcelain pieces testify to memory, to negative space, absence, removal. Like a script etched into stone.”
*Opened in January 2017, No 20 Arts is a centre for contemporary arts. A multi-functional space, the gallery hosts a programme of exhibitions, performances and events that support emerging and established artists working across all media.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
My work frequently comments upon notions of identity, links to landscape and connections with place. My entire practice deals with my response to locality so when I’m faced with a new environment I initially spend a lot of time exploring the landscape and engaging with what surrounds me. I find that through this process I come to discover the character of my location.
I often work in this manner – immersing myself in a topography. I frequently take surface impressions and casts directly from the elements; rock faces, textures and natural features which I later develop my work from.
My practice was initially rooted in very elemental, very hands-on sculptural processes such as glass and metal casting so I suppose this still guides me to a large extent.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
North, Landscape, Elemental.
You recently collaborated with No20Arts gallery presenting your new group exhibition in London. What kind of new artworks are you showing there?
Since my time at the RCA my practice has become incredibly broad. The show at No20 features a number of sculptural works cast in glass and bronze but, increasingly, I’ve found myself working in different media including bitumen and soil.
Much of my work in ‘This Place Where I Stand’ stems from my persistent urge to explore personal relationships with landscape but it also grapples with memory.
A lot of my work in the show questions how the landscapes, spaces and places which we inhabit form us and can be translated through personal engagement, privileging one’s own memory as a principle source. Through this I explored how memories of landscape, recalled with clarity when first encountered, can over time shift to become completely obtuse and non-linear, they become part-remembered-part-imagined places. In particular, much of my most recent work has been evidence of my attempting to recall through visual means a fleeting sense of a specific place and time. I find this fading from mind really quite compelling.
‘This Place Where I Stand’ is your show’s title. How this name is related to your body of work in this show?
I suppose it goes to the core of everything I try to do – to draw from my surroundings, wherever it may be that I find myself. I think that each of us in the show does this in a different way through our practice so the title seemed to fit.
Could you share with us some insights on your artwork series named ‘Black Terrain’ (2020)? Is there any particular story or meaning behind these artworks?
I first began experimenting with bitumen works a couple of years ago when I was looking to investigate new materials. I suppose that’s part of my process, when I was studying my undergrad in glass years ago I incorporated all sorts of organic matter and soil in my castings so I’ve always been drawn to this sense of alchemy.
The bitumen appealed to me due to the rich elemental quality it possesses. It’s smooth and slick as silk when liquid but it’s a robust material and when soil is mixed with it it can take on an opulent earthy character.
All of the works in the ‘Black Terrain’ series were developed while I was thinking about memory of place last year during in lockdown, unable to physically be out in the landscape as much as I’d have liked, and attempting to recall the essence of some of these places I could remember… the bogs and the moorland in the far north and the Outer Hebrides, the vast expanses of deep, sodden, layered moss. Trying to capture the energy of that.
How do you believe your artworks develop a broader dialogue with the other two artists involved in this exhibition?
I think we all tackle similar themes of excavation and connection. Both Simon and I are communicating the landscapes with which we’re most familiar, the peatlands of Ireland and Scotland respectively. And Amy does something similar in an urban context, extracting objects from the Thames.
I feel we all share a common vernacular which binds all the separate works together really fluently. I’m delighted with how it’s all come together.
Is there any particular theme that utterly triggers you to engage your art with?
I’m forever drawn to the themes I’ve already mentioned, landscape, place, how this forges our identity.
I’m particularly compelled to explore environments which are often viewed as taciturn and forbidding. I suppose I’m fascinated by the spirit of survival which people possess when living in these places. How it moulds them. Obviously I’m most familiar with the topography in which I was brought up. Growing up in the Scottish Highlands I think landscape has always featured heavily as part of my notion of self.
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
Richard Long, Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash, Richard Serra, Bernard Dejonghe, Patricia Shone, Jason Martin, Bill Viola, Annie Cattrell, Will Maclean. Just a few off the top of my head.
I think the most beautiful and emotional work I’ve ever seen is one of Julie Brook’s fire stacks.
My friend Alan Horsley has been a huge influence upon me, it was Alan who first introduced me to glass casting and incorporating inclusions into the making process.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?
I work out of a small studio in Inverness. I suppose that’s my base but I do most of my fabrication elsewhere, I work with various foundries and glass workshops depending on the process I’m working on. My workshop is very tight for space, I mostly work off a large worktop which I clear to do drawings and canvas works.
A lot of my thinking is done in my head whilst out walking.
What does your mum think about your art?
She’s very supportive, as you’d imagine. I’m not entirely sure she fully ‘gets’ what I do or how I go about my career but there’s a lot of love and support.
Which are your plans for the near future?
It’s been such a frustrating past year. Many projects were cancelled and shows postponed. At the moment our show at No20 is installed and we’re looking forward to welcoming guests into the gallery space as soon as government restrictions allow.
Later in the year I have an exhibition in Edinburgh at the Fine Art Society, this was meant to take place last summer but was rescheduled due to everything. Another thing to look forward to is a planned residency in Iceland in August. I’m hopeful this will be able to go ahead but I try not to get my hopes up just in case.
All images courtesy of No20Arts