John Kinross Scholar in 2011.
How did the experience affect you as an individual?
I was plucked from a post-graduate malaise and transported to a city that felt safe, welcoming, and nestled in a resplendent countryside of rich golden greens. Where for three months I felt supported by my fellow scholars and the institution behind us. Graduating from art school has it’s own unique set of challenges, and where a career path isn’t clear cut, the RSA provided the first solid stepping stone and instilled a valuable belief that our practices had a potency that should be cultivated. It’s no wonder that the John Kinross Scholarship holds a very dear place in so many of our memories. Good weather and better food fed my degree-weary body, and the marbled facades and the artworks contained within them nourished my spent mind. As my fellow scholars became friends, first over gelato, then over grappa, the John Kinross Scholarship introduced me to a vital way of moving through the
world that I would seek to hold on to.
What was the impact on your practice?
On discovering the RSA had selected scholars who shared a generosity of spirit we naturally came together to bolster each other’s burgeoning practices, both in critiques and in the opportunities we created for each other in the city – collaborative artworks, private tours of museum archives and excursions out into the dazzling tuscan countryside. I arranged a cross institute critique with students from Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici and was rewarded with introductions to tutors, gallerists and practitioners based in the city.
The idea for an artist collective was cooked up alongside fresh pasta from Mercato Centrale, and the plans we laid in Florence provided the foundation on which we exhibited together. First our group show in London (When the Moon Hits Your Eye, Shoreditch Townhall, 2011, supported by grants from RSA and Arts Trust Scotland), and followed a second in Glasgow (The Listener, Telfer Gallery, 2012).
It was a joy to learn about the other scholars’ practices, and in turn find new perspectives on mine, or simply share an afternoon off to sample another new flavour of gelato. It was after one such meeting we wandered into the antique market of Piazza dei Ciompi, where in an unassuming box I discovered rolls of expired film, a perfect complement for the tired analog camera I’d found in a similarly unassuming box on a Glasgow market. Their meeting allowed the films to finally capture the light of the market where they’d remained cloistered in the dark heat for who knows how many years. With this camera I captured the shut away bone archive of La Specola, back corridors of the Pitti Palace, an abandoned merry-go-round, and the overgrown corners of the Boboli gardens. The years the film had immured in the sweltering box on the outdoor market resulted in photographs that glowed and dissolved in cyan hues. The stuck lens and worn camera body contributed shallow focus and light leaks, creating a collection of photographs which asked what we choose to forget in a city dedicated to preservation. The set of images formed a perfect distillation of what I cherished most about Florence and was entered into the RSA Permanent Collection.
What would you say the long term impact has been on yourself and you work?
With the dawning of 2020, we’ve been prompted to look back 10 years, and I was inescapably flooded with vibrant memories of my time in Florence; feeling the warmth of the dappled light filtering through the primped trees of the Giardino di Boboli, the tang of pecorino and the queasy feeling of too much chianti. Although it’s hardly a once in a decade occurrence, as my daydreams often find their way back to Florence; flickering memories of the starlight on the Mediterranean as we walked the Cinque Terre, the vivid turquoise of the Mediterranean turned inky black, and nights sharing ideas on the steps of Santo Spirito, complete with screw top wine that turned our smiles a reddish hue.
As well as introducing me to people and creating memories I cherish deeply, John Kinross also gave me invaluable time to carve out a way of working that I would use to build my practice upon over the following decade.
My practice has consistently drawn upon my experiences as I immerse myself in new communities. On residency in Florence I recognised the importance of spending enough time to notice the rhythm of the place, and in turn pick out nuances and anomalies which I draw into my folkloric narratives. I’ve applied the way of working I developed in Florence to frozen forests in the artic circle, to the sandy streets of Senegal and a whole host of sites in-between.
Acknowledging the impact of the relationships I built in Florence, I’ve never neglected the importance of cultivating artist collectives (I’m a founding member of MODS, conceived in Barcelona, and with bases in Toronto, Leipzig and Bergen).
In imitation of the city’s moniker cradle of the renaissance, many of my subsequent works can trace their birth back to Florence, however the footprints I can most keenly follow back are that of my ever expanding wolf project.
First provoked by with my encounter with the bronze capitoline wolf statue in the Uffizi, I have been following an ever thickening line of enquiry between the wolf and the woman, examining if we can use reactions to wolves as a societal barometer for the treatment of women. While still resident in Florence I began to study the restless dualistic role of mother and whore played out in Italian culture through the eyes of Dante’s icon of lust and the maternal Capitoline wolf.
On my return to the UK I continue by pulling articles from the local paper archives from the 1910s to track the last wolf of England, allowing me to map and follow her journey through the woodland creating shrine-like tributes to her along the way (Mutter, 2011).
In some way possessed by the ghost of this wolf, I was driven north into a staring contest with Elera, the female alpha of a pack in the Scottish Highlands, as I explored the folkloric demonised wolves of northern Scotland (with RSA Residencies for Scotland, Creative Scotland and Cromarty Arts Trust, 2011).
The wolf’s presence was keenly felt when I was invited to explore Finnish and Karelian sexuality in the wild north of 19th century Finland (Mustarinda Centre for Art and Ecology, 2014) where I found myself following bloodstained wolf footprints out into the snow laden old growth forest of Paljakka.
In my thesis, Minding the Gap: Reimagining The Space Between Human And Non-Human Animals, I speak directly of the moment I saw the capitoline wolf statue in the Uffizi (accompanied by a photograph on made my analog camera, loaded with the antique market film – although un-noted was how the camera clicks call was returned by a chastising tutting from the Uffizi security.)
This capitoline wolf bared her teeth again in my publication Interview with my Dog (2017), published by the University of Gothenburg Press, with kind support of Fru Mary von Sydows Stipend.
I have not a doubt in my mind that being awarded the John Kinross Scholarship had a significant and irrevocable impact on myself and my practice, and I’ll always be grateful that Royal Mail delivered my application on time.