Recently we had journalist Seline Bullocke visiting our gallery, who held interview with five of the seven Art School Awards winners! This week we will highlight one of these interviews each day, kicking off with Central Saint Martins student and BA2 winner Tanya Tier.
SB: The link between imagination and materiality is clear in your work – how important is it for you to be able to think freely when developing your sculptures from the initial concept?
TT: Well, it’s essential. You’ve got to have freedom of thought and the opportunity to explore all sorts of different aspects and landscapes of the work that you’re proposing the make. You need to access all sorts of different sources really, primary sources if possible, like any kind of research. I think people think that artists just pick up a pen or a bit of plaster and just start throwing things at it but actually, I think what you’re getting with the end result is actually months or even years of research and without being able to have the freedom of thought processes to explore different avenues the work would suffer, certainly in my case. If you weren’t able to actually look at all sorts of different exhibitions and artists and read articles and play with materials. Materials are really essential to me so quite often an idea will begin with an object. I like the juxtaposition especially if it’s an unusual conflagration to just see how things can work together, not work together: sometimes a kind of clunky conjoining actually gives a totally different story if it’s jarring in some way to the viewer – it’s a little bit like a discordant note. My work is quite precise and once I’ve experimented a bit I will have a very clear idea of where it’s going with materials and with the idea but I think every artist loves to have a sort of free-form jazz session before that to just try out things and you have to have that freedom to be able to get it down, eliminate and work your way down to the final object.
SB: In your work you often refer to the vanitas theme – through the use of taxidermy and other organic material – which is a long-standing art-historical tradition; what do you think it is that makes those visual associations remain as powerful today?
TT: I think you can bring in elements of Freud and the uncanny, it’s that sort of ‘uncanny valley’ element where something is not quite dead enough, it’s just still looking very real and we seem to have a fascination for things that repel or repulse us. We’re drawn to it for some reason, you know, horror films, slasher flicks, things like that to a certain degree. I mean not everyone is that extreme but there is something about odd, not-quite-buried-done-with objects. At first I suppose it was all about keeping a memory alive or keeping the essence of a thing alive but now I think taxidermy, especially in this day and age, it’s become something that artists are now working with as a material in its own right, which is quite intriguing, to watch the progression of this thing since Victorian days. But you know, people have been preserved for centuries in the form of mummies and it’s done for spiritual reasons, religious reasons, and then it became almost like a parlour-object. So I think humans will always be fascinated by the unknown, the surreal, the unearthly – it’s another world, it’s like something that’s come back from the dead, or hasn’t quite ever got there in the first place and I suppose it brings up all the clichés about our own mortality. It’s like being in touch with death and how to preserve it and if we can preserve it maybe we’re trying to hang on to something for ourselves. There’s a lot of psychoanalysis that has been done for centuries on this theme alone, so it’s as broad as anything. I suppose everyone deals with it quite differently but overall I think that’s how, or why, we respond to it in the way we do, because of all these inherent themes that have come through all the generations – we’re still doing it, we’re still making this, so there obviously is still a kind of longevity to it and something that is enduring that we’re fascinated by.
SB: How important do you feel it is that young artists are supported and encouraged in the way that Debut Contemporary is doing with the Art School Awards?
TT: I think it’s absolutely marvellous. It’s so important for, not so much for people my age – I know that’s not relevant because any artist needs a helping hand at any stage whether you’re a writer or a filmmaker, everybody. I think for the younger generation especially, when they’re coming up, I think it’s harder now than in the past to maybe get the assistance that you want. You’re rather left to your own devices, especially when you graduate it’s like, ‘okay, there’s the big wide world, off you go’. So for an organisation or a gallery to give them a helping hand just to give them a nudge in the right direction and say this is how it works, this is your career and this is how you might want to see it evolving and this is what people are thinking of your work. It’s essential to get feedback no matter what art form or media enterprise you’re involved in, getting feedback is so crucial. To not only have the luxury of a panel of judges who are giving an objective opinion on your work but also having an audience to come and assess your work, to be able to mingle amongst them and to be able to hear what they’re saying – it really is invaluable to have those situations and those events. You can’t put a price on it because it doesn’t really happen when you’re a collection of students trying to do it yourself. It’s just not the same as when a gallery organises something for you and gives you all those opportunities to chat to a different, eclectic audience and to put your work somewhere that isn’t just a college environment. It really gives you a taste of how it might prepare students for how they might think about space, how they might think about curation, all those elements come into it, so yes, absolutely brilliant.
SB: In what way do you think that winning your category in the Debut Art School Awards, is going to inform the development of your work in your 3rd year?
TT: I think that one of the things it’s probably given me is, because of everything that I’ve just mentioned and suddenly being put under a spotlight, you do have to really think about your work. You always have an idea of what direction you’re pursuing and all the kind of influences and the research you’re doing but I think it helps to focus you. Again, because of feedback and because of having to write things, whether it’s some blurb about your work or yourself, it makes you focus on what you are as an artist, who you are, where your work’s going. From that point of view I think it’s helped me enormously to just try and streamline things and maybe think ‘this has been successful, why?’ You can start asking those sort of questions, why has it won and what aspect of it should I be pursuing, what can I leave out of all the different projects I’m currently doing because you always have loads of things on the go at any one time. Maybe I should be going more in this direction. At some stage you have to work out as a student, don’t waste time doing this because you’re flogging a dead horse with it, you’ve been doing it for a year and a half and nobody likes that but actually loads of people are interested in this. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the best way to go, going back to the freedom thing, you should keep doing whatever you feel inspired by, but by the same token, getting feedback is invaluable because you can then think, actually that worked quite well and people were intrigued by it and it gave them something. They got something out of it so maybe I’ll do more of that because it’s lovely to be rewarded, for want of a better word, by people actually responding to something, you know, you want people to respond to your artwork.
SB: What advice would you give to other students considering entering next year’s competition?
TT: Definitely apply. It will never be a waste of time to get involved with a gallery like Debut and with their set-up, in terms of going that extra mile to put in the effort to apply for things and come and talk to gallerists such as this. These are important contacts you’re going to be making for your future and it’s a huge opportunity, whether you’re planning to exhibit in the future in a gallery space or maybe you want to be an exterior sculptor and only do outdoor work, whatever it is, you will never, ever regret making the most of these opportunities. I don’t know how many people applied but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t nearly enough and I think, you know, these opportunities don’t come along very often, and they should be swamped with students wanting to be a part of this. I would just recommend that, if they’ve got work that they feel is ready to start going out there and they want people to start responding to it, even if it’s just getting feedback from gallerists, curators, this is just a perfect opportunity for them. So yeah, just go for it!
Seline Bullocke is a writer based in London. Follow Seline on Twitter: @Arttext_London