Travel Prize: In discussion with Threefold
April 2019 (interview and edit by Anna Moss)
Hi Alex! It's been 6 months since you finished your Masters. How are you feeling?
Excited, terrified, productive, slow, tired, ready to hit the ground running?! All of the above?
We had such a smashing year on our MA didn't we? What made it such a good year and what do you think is the most important thing you have taken away from it?
Smashing is an understatement! The MA was more than I could have possibly hoped for. The year was one of challenges, frustration, tears but most of all laughter and confidence building beyond belief. The most important thing I think I took away from the year was learning how to ask questions and not be afraid to venture into the unknown. I pushed myself to do things that were uncomfortable, to dig deep and try and find the confidence needed to do work that might not fit my ego! Ego is certainly something I never considered before, but it's such a prominent factor in making work - I started to learn how to move around that.
At the end of the year, you were awarded The Travel Prize for Fine Art at AUB. Can you explain a little bit about what the prize entails?
So, the Travel Prize is one of many opportunities offered on the MA to allow a student to branch out of their comfort zone and expand on the parameters in which they may apply to their practice. Going through an application process, each student who wishes to apply are welcomed to propose their ideas – with no set rules or restrictions in terms of their proposal, each student is asked to apply with a statement of 500-600 words, a current CV, a list of works (maximum of 10 images) and any online platform/web links. A straight forward application that is both familiar and similar to those within a broader, “real world” context. Asking for details and thoroughly considered decisions, the application demands specifics and encourages you to think about your work in relation to the possibility of travel.
So where are you going to go And how did you decide? What was the inspiration behind your proposal?
Where am I going?
I am going to Granada, Spain, more specifically the Alhambra Palace, at the end of this month (April), Old Town, Corfu in August and The Messina Cathedral in Sicily (which is yet to be booked!).
To begin answering these questions properly, I feel I should really start with what pushed me to even consider applying for the travel prize in the first place. Once the background is given then I will go into more depth about the inspiration for the decisions I made when writing my application.
The push I needed came whilst watching The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), 2013, directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Originally a method to “wind down” one evening, I became entranced by the beauty of the film, the rawness, the grit, the honesty. A film recommended to me by my uncle, a particular line was spoken:
"To travel is very useful: it makes the imagination work; the rest is just delusion and pain. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.”
It was this that made me think about applying for the travel prize that had only just been put to the MA cohort as a possibility.
If I’m honest, my work has always remained quite safe. Yes, throughout the MA I managed to push myself and somewhat force myself into the most uncomfortable positions where I would do something new and unexpected – like I mentioned previously, I would try and push the boundaries of avoiding and battling this sense of ego and drive to make “good work”. Throughout the MA, I conducted residencies and explored different spaces to respond to. Responding to space, place, objects, scenarios, feelings, materials etc, I found myself completely absorbed by an element of observe and response. But I always remained within safe spaces, familiar territory. But it was time to be brave. I neededto be brave.
How did I decide what to do and what was my inspiration?
Really, I made the decision based on what I would call by-productsof other pieces of my work. Having had an idea for a piece of work (a video performance) I needed to source tapes in which to record onto.
I found eight tapes. These tapes were not recognised as ones recorded by my own family as they were not labelled or numbered. When transferring the footage onto my computer, I found that they held memories of strangers. Strangers that were now in my own home. The faces were not familiar, nor were they intruding. Well-spoken, rich in experiences and knowledge, the owners of the tapes were an elderly couple who appeared to have loved travelling, exploring and understanding different cultures. I had an overwhelming sense of obligation.
An obligation to keep the original footage, not erase or tape over it. I was now completely and utterly consumed by the tapes that I had spent hours watching whilst my laptop “screen records” and saved them onto my hard drive.
My intention is to go to the places that they saw and retrace their footsteps. Recording my own experiences and responses to the tapes which have now become my triggers, my aim is to create work that will fuse both past and present, old and new. Ultimately, I want to understand the shifts, gaps and moments that form when following the parameters set within the tape’s original footage. Parameters set by complete strangers.
Space continues to be an extremely important factor within my work and the opportunity to take up residency in such locations would be an ideal way of branching beyond my comforts and allow me to see the possibilities within spaces and places beyond the UK.
I proposed that if I were to win the Travel Prize, that I would take three separate trips. Each trip would be for a four- or five-day duration and I would locate myself central to the places in which are evidenced in the tape recordings. On the day of my arrival, I plan to explore the area and choose a spot in which I will loyally return to every day (inspired by the work of T.J. Clark, The Sight of Death) for the duration of the trip. Writing, drawing, performing, documenting through photography and film, I want to collect an archive of information. On my return, I will write a report on my time spent at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Messina in Sicily and Old Town, Corfu. Not only will my research and documentation of my time revolve around the practical works that I have created whilst there, but I hope that they will also draw comparisons to the tapes that I have stored and spent so much of my time watching and admiring.
Although they are not mymemories, they are still memories, visual memories, documented and treasured that I believe deserve recognition – so that’s my plan!
Do you find being in a studio limiting?
Not at all! It’s just different. Different in terms of approach, different set of parameters, methodologies, mind set etc. Limiting is a negative word most of the time, but I like to think that limits are challenges, a new set of rules to produce work.
How do you find the right balance between making in a studio and heading out for inspiration?
The balance really comes from where my ideas stem from. If something I’ve thought of requires more space, then sometimes that means heading out/outside/somewhere else is more logical than staying within the four walls of a studio (or on my bedroom floor). Making in a studio can sometimes really help to stay focused – no distractions, no Netflix, no fridge to keep walking back and forth to, no dog to take for a walk just as an excuse to stop working – whether that be making, writing or reading. Other times the balance comes because I NEED to get out of the studio. So, the balanced is forced because my brain subconsciously pushes me outside. The forest is now another studio for me, walking as a form of drawing and thinking, processing ideas. Making doesn't always require a physical space, sometimes it's just a virtual space within my head - other times that virtual space doesn't exist, and I go back to Netflix, the fridge and the dog walking.
You often collaborate in your practice. This can either be with other artists, members of the public or unsuspecting strangers…how do you describe their role in your work…Are they catalysts, are they artists, are they part of the art...(etc.)?
This is a hard one… it very much depends on who the collaboration is with and who they are. Sometimes I work with other artists who are aiming to get something quite specific out of the collaboration. It’s a mutual transaction, a conversation. Their intentions may be different to my own, but they have a position within the work that stands as equal. An agreement that perhaps our intertwining and interaction of each other’s work and responses are of equal weight or reason. Other times people come in and out of my work without realising. They become the subject of a response. Perhaps this could be criticised as quite invasive and intrusive – especially if permission isn’t given… but we’ll just shuffle past that for the time being as that’s a very rare occurrence!
But, what I must stress is that I believe collaboration is absolutely vital in the progression and development of ideas. Perhaps not so much collaborating in making a piece of ‘art’ per say, but definitely in terms of conversation and sharing new ways of thinking. Progression is vital in the field of contemporary art and I personally think that this is only possible when conversation and developing ideas together happens – perhaps over a cuppa, a pint or via email in front of the telly. Collaboration is networking, sharing, understanding, agreeing, disagreeing, questioning, “creative chat”!
Quick Fire Questions with Alexandra Wilson:
What book are you reading?
Fischli and Weiss, Flowers and Questions - A Retrospective.
What artists are you loving?
Tania Kovats, Tacita Dean and Felix Gonzalez Torres.
What are you watching on Netflix at the moment?
The Story of God with Morgan Freeman.