Editorial #3: Craft, Making, & The Environment

‘Civilized Man says: I am Self, I am Master, all the rest is other – outside, below, underneath, subservient. I own, I use, I explore, I exploit, I control. What I do is what matters. What I want is what matter is for. I am that I am, and the rest is women & wilderness, to be used as I see fit.’

Ursula Le Guin, ‘Women/Wilderness’

Assembling our ‘Craft & the Environment’ issue whilst the Amazon rainforest burns thanks, in part, to the arrogance of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsanoro, it’s almost impossible to feel anything but despair as the world lurches ever closer to an irreparable climate catastrophe. In June, Bolsanoro attacked European interference in his administration’s exploitative environmental policies with the proclamation that ‘the Amazon is Brazil’s – not yours’; his statement evokes regressive attitudes that have seen the world carved up and controlled by a capitalist, patriarchal system that set itself above women, people of colour, the nonhuman, and the environment. As we are discovering, the consequences of ignoring the fact that the world is a shared home, a home that we need to cultivate and build an ethical relationship with, are dire. In spite of the gloom, we hope that this issue will serve as a reminder of the ways that feminist art –and, specifically, craft – can reimagine the world and play an intensive role in the regeneration of our environment. Craft shapes our world and exists in an intensely physical dialogue with the environment; it can help build a sustainable future and raise awareness of excessive consumption and environmental exploitation.

Contemporary artists and makers across the globe are connecting the dots of this ecological crisis. Recycling and regeneration form a large part of this practice, from Jasmine Linington’s sustainable textiles made with Scottish seaweed, and Kenyan artist Kioko Mwitiki’s junk sculptures made with waste materials dumped in Kenya by Japan, China, and America, to our featured artists and makers Hala Kiaksow’s hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics that draw on the richly diverse traditions of Islamic dress and Nnenna Okore’s abstract sculptures made of an eclectic mix of biodegradable materials. Okore’s contemporary practice also presents profound encounters between artist and environment. In her interview, Okore reflects on the varied and transient ways in which the natural world encourages conversation with colour, shape, texture and abstraction within her pieces, which are made from biodegradable and recycled materials.

A sense of global community has been an emerging theme of this issue, and is, of course, central in fighting back against the wilful destruction of the planet. GroundWork Gallery in Norfolk, reviewed here, show how small local gallery spaces are engaging with global artists.  Pioneering marine biologist Rachel Carson’s research into the poisoning of her local natural landscape developed into her ground-breaking work Silent Spring, a text that drew attention to the global, interconnected nature of the planet’s ecosystem. In an interview with Jade French about her Rural Modernism project, Dr Hope Wolf suggests that many modernists were attuned to the way that by looking ‘microcosmically, even myopically, at a place, you begin to see that there are many connections with the wider world’. Modernism has often been viewed as a masculine movement that thrived on the speed of trains, planes, and motor cars, a newly electrified world, and the emergence of exciting new visual technology – or, as Alexandra Harris points out, ‘the wasteland, and not the herbaceous border’. Yet the ecocritical turn in modernist studies combined with a new focus on marginalised modernist artists and modes of making is creating a shift in how we understand the nature of modernism. Hattie Waltersreview of the enchanting ‘Botanical Modernisms’ conference, which took place in the idyllic surroundings of Virginia Woolf’s garden at Monk’s House in Sussex, highlights innovative work currently being carried out on horticulture in modernist texts, such as Katherine Mansfield’s ‘vegetal encounters’; the garden emerges as a sensory, material space that shaped the modernist imaginary.

Like Hope Wolf’s Sussex modernists, Scandinavian artist Hannah Ryggen turned to the rural landscape of her adopted Norway. Weaving fiercely political, anti-fascist tapestries from local wool hand-dyed with organic materials, Ryggen’s art reconceptualised our relationship with the nonhuman, creating ethical art works that remind us of the bonds that connect us to each other and our environment, even in the darkest moments. The Royal Academy’s current Helene Schjeferbeck exhibition, offers a fascinating perspective on another overlooked Scandinavian artist who was intimately in touch with the environment around her. Jenni Raback’s review shows us how, through Schjerferbeck’s airy, atmospheric compositions, we enter into light-filled spaces of her physical world. 

Contemporary writer Marianne MacRae similarly opens up modernist art to new, ecologically-minded interpretations: in her poem ‘“A Kind of Fretful Speech” for Marianne Moore, MacRae ‘[dives], headfirst through the thirsty crest of a wave’ with Moore, bringing into focus the arch modernist’s Moore’s proclivity towards animal otherness and the natural world. Moving away from the traditional centres of modernism reveals further surprising and inspiring encounters with the natural environment. Elsewhere, sisters Holly Froy and Willa Froy play with myth-making and the figure of the sun as a scorned (or scorched) forgotten lover whose temperature rises. Their poetry and accompanying illustrations interrogate a current-day ambivalence and disconnect with the natural world, as temperatures increase, icecaps melt and rainforests burn. 

There is always a risk of essentialising both the environment and craft as the ‘natural’ home for women. In the experimental work featured here, we instead suggest that craft opens up a difficult and important dialogue between human and nonhuman, where the relationship formed isn’t easy or expected but rather worked for and respected. As Donna Haraway notes in ‘Situated Knowledges’, a reconception of nature not as passive matter or an object of study, but as an active subject, is central to the process of revising our actions and our language towards our ecosystems. In this issue, we see artists, poets and curators working with (rather than taking from) the environments around them, returning us to the wilderness that is both our home, our equal and our responsibility. 

Spotlight: Designer Hala Kaiksow

Hala Kaiksow is a designer, an artist and a sculptor. Her intricate craft, design and construction of garments and pieces allows for profound and striking engagements between the natural world and human labour (hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics, woven raw linen, silk and hemp are often embellished with fragments of latex and metal, as well as natural wood and mother of pearl). Her contemporary practice is infused with a sense of rich Islamic tradition and the past; Kaiksow’s inspiration draws from nomadic antique Bergers clothing to traditional Barhani uniforms. Last year, she was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize 5, an international prize for contemporary artists and designers inspired by Islamic tradition held by the Jameel Art Foundation.

Wandress Collection

“Hala Kaiksow’s journey as a designer begins with the human hand and its ability to imbue garments with a sense of soul.”

Hala Kaiksow, Artist’s Statement
Kaiksow’s practice, weaving on her loom
Nomas Collection
Turba Collection
Al-Qursan Collection

“It is a reflection of Hala’s artisanal approach to thoughtful luxury, one informed by her passion for transforming unexpected materials through age-old craft traditions.”

Hala Kaiksow, Artist’s Statement
Al-Kīmīya Collection
Al-Qursan Collection

Review: Botanical Modernisms

As Alexandra Harris notes in Romantic Moderns, modernism is more typically considered to offer allegiance ‘to the wasteland, and not the herbaceous border’, a consideration proved inadequate by the recent Botanical Modernisms symposium, held on the 17th of August 2019.[1] The midsummer’s evening event, organised by Jasmine McCrory (PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast) in association with the National Trust, was devoted to illuminating discussion of modernism and the garden space, and based in the perfect location: the garden at Monk’s House in Rodmell, East Sussex, owned by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Seated next to Virginia’s writing lodge, across from the orchard, and overlooking the south downs, we settled down to an event full of horticultural modernisms and replete with garden puns.

Review: Botanical Modernisms

Poetry: ‘A kind of fretful speech’ by Marianne MacRae

My interest in Marianne Moore began in 2011, when I was doing a Creative Writing MSc at the University of Edinburgh. I took a course called Poet Critics, and, on a list of nine modernist poets, Moore was, shamefully, the only woman. This, alongside the fact we share a first name, made me infinitely more attracted to her work than that of her much-lauded male compatriots. When I actually got stuck into her Collected Poems, I realised we also share a love of animals, the natural world and deep sense of irony about… pretty much everything.

I decided to pursue a PhD and placed Moore’s animal poetry the heart of the project. Initially I intended to investigate the role of talking animals in poetry (Moore’s ‘The Monkeys’ is a real favourite of mine), but as my research developed, I was drawn to the idea that poetry focussed on animal otherness can lead to a spiritual (not necessarily religious) connection with nature. By the end of my PhD, my work on Moore had shifted to concentrate on her poetic connections between visual art and art in nature as a means of reaching towards the sublime. 

It took me three years to secure funding for my project, and while the waiting and the initial rejections were difficult to navigate, I found deep comfort in Moore’s poetry. Her work holds an infinite source of wisdom, humour and intrigue, and even now, almost a decade after my first encounter with her, I take away something new with every reading. ‘“A kind fretful of speech”’ (I hope) pays homage to her style of syllabic verse, her penchant for quotes (all of which come from her poems) and the motif of the sea that appears in some of her most striking works (‘The Fish’ and ‘A Grave’, for example). But really, I wrote this poem as a tribute to a woman who, from beyond the grave, has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, for which I am eternally grateful. 

Words by Marianne MacRae 

Review: Helene Schjerfbeck Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts

Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-portrait, Black Background, 1915. Oil on canvas, 45.5 x 36 cm. Herman and Elisabeth Hallonblad Collection. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum; photo: Yehia Eweis

The painter Helene Schjerfbeck (1862—1946) is apparently ‘one of Finland’s best kept secrets’.[1] I must disagree: firstly, we Finns don’t really aim to keep national secrets (or, at the very least, we get very excited when anything Finnish, such as this exhibition, makes international news), and, secondly, Schjerfbeck is probably Finland’s most internationally acclaimed painter—that the curator of Helsinkian Ateneum Art Museum, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, can describe London as ‘the final outpost’ not yet conquered by Schjerfbeck, tells more about the British isolationist tendency than about the painter’s international reputation. However, I think there’s grounds to get excited about the fact that British audiences are discovering her only now: a clean canvas means that, since there aren’t layers of old paint to be rubbed out first, the discussion we create around Schjerfbeck can be made fresh, strong and feminist.

Review: Helene Schjerfbeck Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts

Review: ‘Water Rising’ at GroundWork Gallery

In appropriately apocalyptic weather, I ducked into GroundWork gallery. The pouring rain provided the perfect atmosphere in which to explore the exhibition ‘Water Rising’ (9th March-1st June 2019) at the UK’s first gallery dedicated to the environment and sustainability. Past exhibitions have included Dutch artist Jan Eric Visser who transforms inorganic household waste into sculpture, as well as specific shows focusing on environmental features such as wood, birdlife, fire and ice, and sunlight. GroundWork are leading the way with what a local gallery space can do – broadening Norfolk’s horizon’s to engage with global artists.  

Tucked away by edge of the River Ouse in King’s Lynn (Norfolk) ‘Water Rising’ exhibited a series of artists to explore the nuances between calm and storm, plenty and drought, power and flow. Overall, the effect of a group show organised around a defining element served to bring together practitioners in photography, film, ceramics, glass and jewellery under one unifying theme.

Three pieces stood in for the ways they engaged psychically with the environment. Peter Matthews’s durational large-scale drawings explore the isolated power of the Sublime. He makes his pieces by walking along the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, stopping to draw directly in the water. With material lapping into the ocean, the resulting painting and drawing takes on a ritualistic repetition. Marks are made in time to the movement of the water, bringing together an experimental take on the relationship between an individual and their environment.  

On a smaller scale, Annie Turner also works directly with a source of water, the River Deben, a tidal river in Sussex which washes up all manner of fossils, sharks teeth, feathers and more. Turner collects these to create memorialising sculptures. What looks like woven baskets on closer inspection are revealed to be delicately hand-made from stonewear. These archaeologically inspired ceramics, although modern, retain the look of something found and rusted. Turner creates a new brand of natural-industrial in works like ‘Tide Line’ and ‘Flotsam’.

Perhaps narrowing the scale even further, Helga Mogensen’s hand-made jewellery brings the environment to the skin working with silver, steel, copper, brass, driftwood and fishskin to create beautiful wearable objects. Drawing on lived experience, her work palpably draws on the Reykjavik environments she’s inspired by. Colour, shape and texture work in harmony to evoke beaches full of driftwood even as she contains her found materials in the form of necklaces and brooches. The spiny threads that hold each element together poke out haphazardly, defying neatness and convention.

Helga Mogensen. L: Royal Madness. Driftwood, thread, paint. 2016.
R: The Red Thread, Names of Places 3. Driftwood, thread. 2015.

Their current exhibition ‘Fragile Nature’ (running until 15 September) is an intergenerational conversation between artists Elspeth Owen, Paca Sanchez, Lotte Scott, Emma Howell. Titled ‘Fragile Nature’, each artist explores a different medium. There’s Sanchez’s modernist explorations, which abstract natural forms such as seeds, flowers, stems and twigs into geometric patterns alongside Lotte Scott’s feminist geographies, which experiments with charcoal, lime, soil to explore place, time and material. Emma Howell taps into grief and loss in her work with colour, providing a robust counter to melancholia, whilst Elspeth Owen creates egg-shell thin ceramic vessels to explore fragility in a different way. 

Words by Jade French

GroundWork’s current exhibition ‘Fragile Nature’ runs until 15 September.

Interview: Curator Marit Paasche on Scandinavian textile artist Hannah Ryggen

Hannah Ryggen, 1958. Photograph: Klaus Forbregd/NTNU University Library

The Swedish-born Norwegian artist Hannah Ryggen (1894-1970) was responsible for some of the most daring, radical textile art created in the twentieth century. Ryggen’s life and work were strikingly atypical: a self-taught weaver and committed communist living on a remote, self-sufficient farm in Norway, Ryggen rejected the art market in order to create public art that critiqued the patriarchal, capitalist world order. Her tapestries offer radical responses to the trauma and chaos of modernity, whilst also exploring new ways of living in, and with, the world. Ryggen allows the brutality of the twentieth century to burst through her tapestries’ angular patterns and flat colour fields, raising questions about the politics of modernism and the purpose of art in a troubled world.

Many of Ryggen’s tapestries represents the destruction wrought by fascism and war, but her materials and methods offer the hope of renewal and reconstruction. She dyed wool shorn from local sheep and, by creating every dye by hand, using flora and fauna gathered from around her home, Ryggen quite literally wove the Norwegian landscape into her tapestries. Her commitment to organic methods was such that she would even invite her houseguests to pee in a bucket, as one of her favourite colours, ‘pot blue’, was made using fermented urine! Her work anticipates eco-feminist arguments that urge us to, in Lori Gruen’s words, ‘revalue nature’ and deconstruct the hierarchical dualisms between nature and culture, men and women, human and non-human. Ryggen’s legacy is a modern, feminist art that eschews patriarchal capitalist structures and the masculine, destructive violence of fascism and chemical warfare; instead, she offers us a (much needed) alternative vision of life and creativity. 

As the curator of several exhibitions of Ryggen’s work and author of artist biography Hannah Ryggen: Threads of Defiance, which will be published by Thames and Hudson and University of Chicago Press next month, curator Marit Paasche is responsible for much of the revival of interest in Ryggen. I caught up with Marit to discuss Ryggen’s art, politics, and connection to the Norwegian landscape…

How did you first encounter Ryggen and what drew you to her work?

I grew up in Trondheim, a city in the middle of Norway which also possesses the biggest collection of Hannah Ryggen’s works ( at Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum). So, I saw her works there for the first time when I was around twelve. Many years later, in 2009, I was reminded of her tapestries by some students and a colleague of mine at the Art Academy in Oslo, and I went to see them again. This time, Ryggen’s tapestries nearly knocked the wind out of me. It was obvious that her work was distinctive, by both national and international standards and they had this rare quality of being both personal and political, in a very explicit, yet original way.  

Seven years later, I published, Hannah Ryggen. En fri, as it is titled in Norwegian (published as Hannah Ryggen. Threads of Defiance in English in September). During this same period I also curated several exhibitions in which her work was represented alongside both contemporary and older art. These exhibitions, and the attention they received, proved to me that Ryggen’s art is relevant to our time and to contemporary art. But why have her works begun to breathe again? To answer this question, I believe it is important to understand the circumstances in which her art was made. That is why I set out to uncover and write about the origination of Ryggen’s artworks– how they related to their own age, to lived life and to the ideas and trends of their era. For Hannah Ryggen, life, art, work and politics were one, and her sensitivity to connections between people, places, politics and social conditions are manifested in her weaving and in the vast body of written material she left behind. 

Ryggen was such an unusual and unconventional figure, in terms of her life and her art. How do you think she understood her place in both the art world and the wider socio-political world?

This is a very interesting subject because she clearly understood herself as a citizen of the world, even if she lived on this remote coastal area in the middle of Norway, and she also had this enormous confidence in art; with art she was capable of saying anything. Her way of relating to art felt very liberating for me. She also strongly believed in the impact of raising one’s voice and when you think of it; politics is always focused on the future, where its consequences lay. When she made her tapestries in protest against Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia (1935); of Hitler’s increasingly inhumane way of governing (1936) or the role of USA in the Vietnam war (1966), it was as a statement to the future. Hannah Ryggen’s artistic legacy reminds us that art is a part of public life and inextricably bound to politics. 

6 October 1942/ 6. Oktober 1942 (detail; 1943), Hannah Ryggen. Photo: Anders S. Solberg/Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum. © Hannah Ryggen / DACS 2017. Courtesy Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum / Museene I Sør-Trøndelag.

Why was the Norwegian landscape so important to Ryggen?

Norway doesn’t have a long tradition of painting, but it does have a very long tradition of weaving. When Hannah Ryggen arrived in Norway in 1924, she had already decided to quit painting and start weaving instead. It took her a decade to master the medium, and when I say master, I mean composition (often with respect to an outsized scale), carding, spinning, weaving techniques and, not least, making dyes from plants. It is also worth mentioning that she didn’t use any sketches or cartoons, but wove guided solely by an “inner image” ––she treated the warp like a canvas.  

Extracting colors from the natural terrain that surrounded her and controlling the sophisticated chemical processes that rendered the colors stable over time was the result of laborious experimentation, and after a while Ryggen came to know the land by heart and also how to extract colors from it. So although we rarely find the Norwegian landscape depicted, it is present in the very material; the linen, the wool and the great variation of natural dyes. Once she had this knowledge at her fingertips, she felt free to express herself.   

You could say Hannah Ryggen brought all of her painter’s knowledge and political fervor to bear in her weaving, but also a pictorial language partly derived from folk art.Also, the other (male) artists of the 1930s and 1940s acknowledged her talent and treated her as an equal. This made it possible for her to establish herself as one of the most renowned artists of her time in Scandinavia. 

Ryggen’s communist beliefs and self-sufficient lifestyle are so interesting in the context of the crises we face today – the climate catastrophe, rising fascism, and a widening gap between the super-wealthy and the poor. What can her work teach a contemporary audience? 

Throughout her career as an artist, Hannah Ryggen actively used her works as statements to society. She never considered the task of responding to events occurring around her to be anyone else’s obligation; she shouldered this responsibility herself. She took stock of her own life, and questioned generally held views about the role of women in society, poverty, economic injustice and inequality, and international conflicts caused by the rise Fascism in Europe.

Together with Will Bradley, I curated an exhibition at Kunsthall Oslo in 2011, with six of Hannah Ryggen’s tapestries alongside works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Cahun and other more contemporary artists like Ann Cathrin November Høibo and Ruth Ewan. On the 22 July, just a few weeks after the show closed, the right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, detonated a car bomb just in front of the Highrise building in the governmental quarter, killing eight people. He then drove to the island of Utøya, about an hour outside of Oslo, where, dressed as a policeman, he shot and killed sixty-nine people at the summer camp of the Labour Party’s youth organization, most of them teenagers. This was a traumatizing shock to all Norwegians. We were suddenly reminded of the consequences of normalizing racist thoughts and ideas in public. 

One of Hannah Ryggen’s most iconic works, We are Living on a Star (1958), hung in the main entrance hall the of the Highrise, close to the blast. But the tapestry withstood the explosion because it is so pliant and relatively light, it only received a gash in the lower right corner, which conservators have now repaired. That this tapestry, which so powerfully proclaims faith in love as a personal and political force, should be struck in the first major attack on Norwegian society since the Second World War is now manifested by a trace, a visible scar in the bottom right corner. The scar is a reminder that no political struggle is ever concluded; they must be fought again and again.

Hannah Ryggen, Vi lever på en stjerne (We Are Living on a Star), 1958, textiles, 4 × 3 m,  Courtesy: Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum / Museene I Sør-Trøndelag, Trondheim, Norway

There is a huge revival in women artists, and, particularly, textile art, at the moment – as well as Ryggen, I’m thinking of recent exhibitions of artists such as Dorothea Tanning, Anni Albers, Frida Kahlo, and Faith Ringgold – why do you think this is and how do we stop it being simply a passing trend?

I think it is quite interesting to see that we have had a period of revitalized interest in ‘female’ artists.  Embracing the idea of the under-recognized female artist has become a popular international trend in recent years and I support this work because it is a correction of an extremely male-dominated account of modernism. I think we have just reached a period in history where it is no longer possible to ignore the work of so many extremely talented female artists. 

When I was working on Hannah Ryggen. Threads of Defiance I came across a poem by the Irish poet Eavan Boland called ‘A Woman Painted on a Leaf’. It describes her longing for poems that have no beautiful young women in them. She writes: ‘I want a poem I can grow old in / I want a poem I can die in.’ Those lines hit me, and I think Hannah Ryggen’s work triggered in me a similar longing—for a different kind of art history. The sum of my research and work in diverse areas of contemporary art has taught me that there is so much great art that does not fit into an art history dominated by canons. So, to paraphrase Boland: I was longing for an art history I could live in: an art history with enough space to contain life and all the hard work, strange experiments and coincidences we know are the basis of all art. 

As to how we prevent the newly found interest in female artist from being merely a trend, I would respond: By looking closely at what public and private institutions acquire, and how female artists are represented in the collections. If they are not well represented, then it is our responsibility to make it heard, again and again. My other concern is how we write art history. This is of course closely connected to collections and to exhibition-practice, but we need to make art and art history an important issue for all citizens, not just leave it to the marginal field of academics. We need to find new ways of writing art history. This is what I have tried to do in Hannah Ryggen. Threads of Defiance.

Ryggen doesn’t easily fit the ‘marginalised woman artist’ narrative, and, in her lifetime, she was reluctant to engage with the art market. In your opinion, how do we respect and do justice to the legacy of this sort of artist (I’m particularly thinking of the commercialisation and fetishisation of Kahlo, also a communist artist)?

No, the ‘marginalised woman artist narrative’ cannot be applied to Hannah Ryggen, and it is interesting to note how, in lifting female artists out of obscurity and focusing attention on their greatness, we almost automatically assume that these women – be it Carol Rama or Hilma af Klint – were marginalized or overlooked in their own time. In many ways, “forgotten” has come to mean “marginalized”. Initially, I made the same assumption myself about Hannah Ryggen. But when I sat down and went through the archival material, I was proven wrong. As opposed to many of her female artist-colleagues, Ryggen was proclaimed a genius by a number of art critics—mostly male—in the 1930s; she exhibited on a regular basis internationally, and her success was indisputable. 

Another very important aspect of her oeuvre was, as you mention, her reluctance to engage with the art market. When she first came toØrlandet, Hannah Ryggen made and sold craft items as a source of income, but she stopped doing so around 1933. Meanwhile, the large-scale weavings were extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive, and her art was for a long time an economic drain on the family. During the 14 years from 1926 to 1940 Ryggen earned merely 3000 Norwegian crowns from her tapestries, just a little more than the annual average salary. And yet, despite extremely difficult means, Ryggen never compromised: not only did she give up making and selling crafts, she also more or less refused to sell her monumental weavings to private buyers. She wanted her works to be public statements, and for that reason felt that they should be publicly owned and hang where all citizens had access to them. And because of this, most of her major works are in public collections in Norway and Sweden today, which makes the art works available on a completely different level than works owned by private collectors.  

When you try to make an artist known there is always an element of commercializing involved and it is difficult to balance the need for attention and the message presented. I have tried to make visible all the myth-making related to Hannah Ryggen ––she was responsible for some of it herself too–– and also to avoid all kinds of exotification, simplifications and attempts at heroic storytelling. 

Hannah Ryggen: Woven Manifestos is at Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt from 26 September – 12 January 2020.

Interview by Lottie Whalen

Interview: Locating Rural Modernism with Hope Wolf

It’s not everyday that the objects and oddities of home decor make up a blockbuster exhibition, but that’s what Dr. Hope Wolf achieved in curating Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion at Two Temple Place in 2017. As a lecturer in Modernism at Sussex, she co-directs the Centre for Modernist Studies with Helen Tyson. Working on both literary and visual modernism affords her an interdisciplinary perspective on modernist movements. This viewpoint culminated once more in ‘A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism’ at the De La Warr Pavilion, curated with Rosie Cooper, Martin Clark and Gina Buenfeld. This exhibition brought together the life the works of Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff, two psychoanalytic and Surrealist makers, poets, artists, and life writers. With the show due to reopen at Camden Arts Centre in April of this year, and with Hope having been commissioned to turn the Sussex Modernism exhibition into a book, Jade French interviews her about curation, expanding the local, and the importance of ‘making’.

Interview: Locating Rural Modernism with Hope Wolf

Interview: Nnenna Okore on Fraying, Twisting, Teasing, Tying

Nnenna Okore is an artist, educator and environmentalist. She has received international acclaim for the ways in which she engages with the environment in her artistic practice. Her abstract sculptures are created using a range of methods; shredding, fraying, twisting, teasing, tying, weaving, stitching, and dyeing are all used to create rich, textured pieces. Her materials are all biodegradable and range from old newspapers, found paper, ropes, thread, yarn, fibres, burlap, dye, coffee, starch, clay and more. 

She is a Professor of Art at Chicago’s North Park University, and has had her work featured at venues including the Museum of Art and Design, New York; Peabody Essex Museum at Salem, Salem; Tang Museum of Art, Skidmore College, NY; Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Art, New York. 

In her artist’s statement, she writes that she is ‘astounded by natural phenomena that cause things to become weathered, dilapidated and lifeless – those events slowly triggered by aging, death, and decay – and subtly captured in the fluid and delicate nature of life’. 

Interview: Nnenna Okore on Fraying, Twisting, Teasing, Tying