ON DÍSIR: AN INTERVIEW WITH AISHA CHRISTISON, ANOUSHA PAYNE AND LUCY EVETTS
Jeanette Gunnarsson, August 2019
Dísir, an exhibition featuring the work of artists Aisha Christison, Anousha Payne and Lucy Evetts explores the correlation of digital and spiritual ‘other worlds’, new and old realities, be they algorithmic or folkloric. Free association and creativity is pitted against and merged with automated reasoning. How much expression is left to chance? Fittingly the Dísir of our title were the female deities of Norse mythology known to control fate, be it benevolent or hostile. The exhibition is curated by Jeanette Gunnarsson and Kristian Day and is hosted by TM Lighting until the 30th of August.
Curator Jeanette Gunnarsson spoke to the artists about their practice and discusses some of the pieces in the show in more detail.
Jeanette Gunnarsson: You have mentioned that you want to convey a sense of nostalgia in your work. Where does your desire to portray nostalgia come from?
Aisha Christison: I spoke to you before about my visual language being made possible by growing up, like a lot of my generation, between the virtual and physical world; a product of growing up watching television, playing computer games and having the internet as a ready available tool. I like to think of the internet as the closest thing to a physical manifestation of the collective unconscious and so I will have absorbed my visual language directly or indirectly from this as well as from art’s history. I like there to be the possibility in my work of recognition from the viewer, déjà vu or nostalgia for a memory they had forgotten they’d had. As the work has become deeply personal, I strive for a personal connection between the viewer and the work, so I suppose it is not so much portraying nostalgia but attempting to objectively portray a subjective experience. This is something I find difficult to quantify, it’s not a mechanism that can be repeated to achieve the same results. All I can do is to ensure I connect personally to the piece and then I hope it comes through in some way.
JG: Your paintings are subtle, they feel a little hazy and unfold slowly, which I suppose connects to a feeling of memory and nostalgia. Do you feel this slow unfolding is something that is reflected in your approach to painting?
AC: Most definitely, each painting is built up with many layers, even if the dominant motif is simple. I hope to create a painting that can be looked at for a long time and have ceased to like paintings that go for an initial impact or to stand out on Instagram. They feel shallow and so I try to always think about how to create depth within a painting outside of just perspective. Like with aiming for a personal connection within the work, these two elements are part of the process and are what I bear in mind as I make the work. Therefore, some of the paintings achieve this and some do not. As I often work tonally within a colour, I feel it takes the eye a bit longer to distinguish the motif, which aids the experience of the painting unfolding.
JG: Could you tell us a bit about the use of symbolism and language in your work?
AC: I like to think about the imagery representing parts of one's own unconscious. I am interested in the Jungian analysis of fairy tales and dreams and thinking about objects, environments and characters of parts of one’s own psyche, which I also try to apply to the colours I use. Certain colours are gendered by connotation, for example, ‘On off’ has a sort of ying and yang of dark and light, red and blue which speaks to the balance of anima and animus.
In relation to our exhibition title Dísir, I really liked the plurality of this term, which incorporates deities of fertility, personal guardianship that can be at times warlike and at other times nurturing. They were often considered to be the spirits of female ancestors. Fittingly, I included a portrait of my late Grandmother who I did not have the pleasure to know very well as she lived in the Philippines and then later in the US. As a result of this I have always revered her in a saint like way and look to her to harness strength or compassion for certain situations.
Aisha Christison, On off, oil on linen, 60 x 60 cm
Aisha Christison, Table Scenes, oil on linen, 130 x 130 cm
JG: You tend to use a limited colour palette and a square format for all your paintings. Do you feel harmony and symmetry are important to your practice?
AC: I do not always work with a square format, but I felt the square works I submitted for this exhibition spoke to each other through being in the same format. The square format did prompt me to work with more symmetrical motifs and there is something about symmetry that conveys a sense of wholeness. ‘Table Scenes’ plays with the idea of a mandala which Jung wrote extensively about. The squares and symmetry I suppose helped neatly tie in the idea of the colours and objects representing parts of one’s own psyche.
As for harmony, I tend to judge whether a work is finished based on the feeling of harmony and balance between the colours, composition and motif, but this is more of a feeling, which either the painting gives or it doesn’t. It is also possible that the painting becomes too harmonious and therefore needs an element of disruption.
JG: Your painting ‘Table Scenes’ is mesmerising! Intricate, balanced and accomplished, I think it’s a great example of all the elements in your work we have talked about. Could you tell us more about this work?
AC: This is the first time I have tried to work with such a complex motif. It is comprised of various table scenes that overlap to form a mandala like image. I tried to create a sense of balance between chaos and order with this work. Having recently watched Stranger Things, I became taken with the idea of the upside down and so I had been thinking about mirrors and trying to bring this idea of inversion into the work. This piece is the first that I have made that can be turned upside down and still work. Marie-Louise Von Franz, a Jungian, brought me onto the idea of a somersault as a mode of transformation, in which a person has to literally flip upside down in order to bring about a spiritual or mental change of state. I have been playing with this motif within my work recently and this painting was my first departure into that.
Aisha Christison is a British artist working in Brussels. She graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2012 and completed the Florence Trust residency program in 2016.
"it is also possible that the painting becomes too harmonious and therefore needs an element of disruption"
"I am interested by the performative nature of behaviours on social media and these themes influence the content in my work "
Jeanette Gunnarsson: You source your imagery from social media algorithms, which is a space we are all increasingly living through. How would you say the Internet informs your practice?
Lucy Evetts: I spend a lot of time online; it’s where I communicate, shop, look at art, learn and waste time. The Internet makes imagery readily available and easy to appropriate and I am interested in this ability to ‘grab and take’. I am concerned by the contradiction of the Internet and screen in relationship to painting onto a flat surface. I am interested in the different modes of sharing that happen online (in particular on social media) as well as this idea of a ‘collective’ experience and the ambiguity around private and public experience. I am intrigued by the performative nature of behaviours on social media and these themes influence the content in my work.
JG: Algorithms determine your source material, and there is an interesting interplay there between chance and self-determination. Animals and text, for example, feature heavily in your paintings. How do you decide which images to paint, what draws you to those images?
LE: I am interested in painting animals and using them as a metaphor for human behaviour and characteristics. When I choose the imagery or animal that I want to paint I look towards creating a body of paintings, whose subject matter deals with contradictory or opposing themes. Such as cute or dangerous and fear or love. By using imagery of opposing themes I intend to create a collection of paintings that plays with the appearance of being both earnest and insincere. I look to straddle these contradictions, as I am interested in confusion with identifying feelings and exploring failed communication.
JG: How do the paintings inform each other? Do you work cyclically or more individually on one painting at a time?
LE: I decide on around 5-6 images that I’d like to paint. The images usually relate, oppose, inform or confuse. I attend to work cyclically but it doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes a painting will happen in just a couple of hours, other times it will take weeks and in that case I concentrate on the singular work.
Lucy Evetts, All Hearts are Egg Shaped, oil on canvas, 66 x 94 cm
Lucy Evetts, Crowding from fear (The Hunt), oil on canvas, 122 x 122 cm
JG: I would describe your work as sweetness and nostalgia, laced with a bit of strychnine, probably best exemplified in a painting like 'All Hearts are Egg Shaped'. Would you say your practice is interested in frailty?
LE: I would say that I am interested in emotional frailty rather than physical, however I use imagery that represents physical strength and frailty as a metaphor.
JG: 'Crowding from fear, (The Hunt)' is a really successful and powerful painting to me. The neon orange under painting gives it an eerie and angry energy, something from a dream. Could you tell us more about this work?
LE: Like most of the works in this show I sourced this image from Instagram. What interested me about this painting was how the dogs were running towards you (the viewer.) When something or someone is running towards you I think it evokes very extreme feelings, happiness or fear depending on what it is. To be chased or attacked is a very primal feeling and I was interested in exploring this as a phobia.
Lucy Evetts graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 2018. She lives and works in London.
Jeanette Gunnarsson: Your work seems to morph between human, animal and natural forms. The sculptures feel animated, otherworldly. They have a sense of 'being', is this something you are exploring in your practice?
Anousha Payne: I’m interested in the idea of animism – the notion that all objects have spiritual agency. This is often a belief associated with the religious beliefs of indigenous communities, and isn’t immediately associated with modern / city life. To get closer to the idea I make objects that lean towards being human, animal and something else, I like the idea that they are on the verge of movement.
JG: You mentioned that the titles of your works interlink to create poems. That seems to link with this sense of animation or 'being' in your work. How do the titles inform the sculpture?
AP: It’s actually the other way round – the sculptures inform the titles, I figure them out often once the works are all laid out together, to see how they interact with each other and give them a sense of movement - the titles give each work a gesture or action. I think there is so much that can be read from body language, hand gestures, I like the idea that the work has it’s own private language and intonation. When read in a particular order the titles can be read as a poem of sorts. It was important to me that all the work was female, with strong female characteristics running through it, and the titles indicate this.
JG: Could you tell us a bit about the anthropological notion of new animism and it’s exploration in your work?
AP: It’s the belief that objects, animate and inanimate, have spiritual agency. It can be the attribution of a human soul to objects, but it can also be read as a more abstract version of a soul or spirit; this varies between different religions and belief systems.
Anousha Payne, Stretching downwards from her mouth, glazed volcanic black stoneware, metal resin, raw silk, 31.5 x 27 x 7 cm
Anousha Payne, And she grew, jesmonite pigment & resin, 110 x 80 x 60 cm
JG: Your work moves between wall hangings, sculpture and painting. Are you interested in the relationship between these ways of working?
AP: I’m interested in the transition from two-dimensional to three, the information that can be lost and gained by transitioning between the two. I have been drawn towards working and drawing instinctively, and to begin with this was something I found more natural when working with painting. Painting is a very new process to me - I only really started painting as a way of figuring out new sculptures. There’s something satisfying about the immediacy of painting so I like the contrast between the slowness of ceramics – the waiting to see if they will survive the kiln.
I have recently been working with raw silk, partly inspired by a top I designed; I wanted the fabric silk stitching to be reminiscent of a discarded piece of clothing, but also a sack, like it’s holding onto some energy, a cocoon full of empty space that is full in other ways. The piece that’s in Dísir is a continuation of this – the next step, the cocoon has unravelled and become another object altogether. It starts to look like flesh, a female body, a torso. I want them to feel familiar and have an element of luxurious materials whilst remaining new or slightly off-key. The metal hoops and resin chains I have been using are a nod to traditional Indian adornment and decoration, and I want them to feel new, glossy and shiny, like part of a new handbag.
JG: I feel your sculpture 'And she grew' really came alive with its shadows in Dísir. It’s a beautiful piece and I particularly enjoy the interplay of materials within it. Could you tell us more about this work?
AP: It came about as I wanted to see if I could literally translate some of the flatness of a drawing into a sculpture, like something rising up from the ground, and found some black and white polystyrene that had been thrown out outside my studio. I started by cutting the shape out of polystyrene – just to look at it and figure it out, there was something about the scale (larger than my ceramics) that had a more direct interaction with the body.
I have also been interested in design and function, material hierarchies and the values which we give certain places, interiors and objects, so I wanted to use a material that was slick and reminiscent of /associated with classic design, but still nodded towards the process – found materials, using wasted/free materials. This is what lead me to making it a black and white terrazzo. I agree that it became much more animated once it was lit – almost larger, more full and with more personality – outside of a studio and in a clean space. The shadows almost nod to a second personality, the performance of an object in shadows, an association with drama and ritual, a ‘soul’.
Anousha Payne lives and works in London and graduated from Camberwell College of Arts in 2014.
"the shadows almost nod to a second personality, the performance of an object in shadows, an association with drama and ritual, a 'soul'"
She inserted a tiny
Telescope into the spine
If there were any backbone at all
Or if it were
An amphibian creature with no skeletal structure
Or flushed down
From some forgotten swash buckling time
((As she retorts
In all its glory
Pondering under the shadiest light
She weighs up or down
The Pros and cons of living
Wedged between steel and bone))
“Blood used to flow through these cities
Sickly sweet -
Ruddy and red”
“Where time was evanescent and would proceed with little command
Far from the cries of crows or crowds
Where the desolate and deserted
Bargained with Penthos
To remove all mourning
And grant a foreseeable life.
I did suppose”
((And quickly became derailed by insanity and said))
“I do propose if we could live
The girdles of desire-
Pain or fear
And be content
To find ourselves
Rising with the tide
And riding the modern
Wave of Utopia
- Landfill, Lucy Evetts, 2019
Written to accompany the exhibition Dísir
Curated by Jeanette Gunnarsson and Kristian Day
11th July - 30th August 2019
TM Lighting Gallery, 7 Cubitt St, London WC1X 0LN