In Conversation is a series of group exhibitions taking place throughout 2021, curated to draw parallels between practices both visually and conceptually.
Displayed within the historical setting of Beckenham Place Mansion, the first instalment of In Conversation brings together three sculptors. Each led by materiality and the juxtaposition of old and new, the practices of these artists will be housed in a responsive dialogue with three separate rooms: Clare will take the Drawing Room, Adeline, the Dining Room, and Benjamin, the Old Library.
Beckenham Place Park Mansion is a Grade II* Georgian building, which currently houses artist studios, a yoga/pilates/wellbeing centre, arts and crafts classes and a bar/café. The Mansion is believed to have been known as ‘Stumps Hill’ at first, and was built as a gentleman’s seat in Beckenham, Kent. It was a grand family sized house intended as a pleasant retreat from the hubbub of London.
Clare Burnett is a British artist, raised in France and Belgium and working in London. She is President of the Royal Society of Sculptors. Her work is a process-led response to the issues, objects and spaces around her. She scavenges from her surroundings; plays with, reconfigures and transforms her ‘finds’ in the studio; then arranges them to create interactions with each other and with the space beyond. Clare studied Architecture and Social and Political Studies at Cambridge University and Fine Art at the Byam Shaw School of Art. Clare’s studio is in North Kensington, London.
Q&A with Clare Burnett
You are a gatherer of objects, where did this obsession with collecting ‘things’ come from?
It’s odd because I’m not really a hoarder, a collector of specific things and I don’t really like shopping. But I have always loved beach combing and my form of collecting is a similar derive - I wander without thinking and pick up the things I notice. I really love things that are related to what else is going on – bits of cars that have dropped off, copper fittings from plumbing, boxes that have been unpacked and left out for recycling. I have an eye out for objects that have a character in their form as well as a relationship to the space or to an idea. At the moment I am loving the laughing-gas canisters that are discarded on the street.
Colour is clearly of great importance in your work. Is this a way of categorising your finds?
I think colour is part of building up a relationship with and between objects and the spaces they are in. It’s easy to blank out the colour in space and just think of the colour of an object but I’m more interested in the relationship between the two. That’s why I’ve loved putting the works in Beckenham Place Mansion, against the plasterwork and the green walls. It builds an extra dimension. In terms of categorising I’m not very good at it. I put the things I find in boxes all together. In fact I think I like it like that because they can meet new and surprising friends that way.
What is your favourite colour and why?
I was always fascinated by how blue a grey can look next to the same tone of orange. So it’s more the relationship I think – although I do have a soft spot for a pale, greyish turquoise. I’m also really interested with how the surface affects a colour – I used to make all my paint from pigments and modulate the finish from extremely matt to glossy and the difference was enormous.
What inspired your recent ‘Museum Series’?
Last year I went to Mexico on a residency. I had thought I would be able to scavenge for materials in scrap yards but, quite rightly, everything is used until it is, in effect, unusable. Instead I went to the markets. When I came back I looked again at Shepherd’s Bush market near me and started wandering through on my way to my studio. Before going on the residency I had made a couple of sculptures. Coptic Echo and Adoration, with local finds and wanted to make more. I really liked how much character they had, especially as a pair. With lockdown, the market became a perfect source as everything else was closed. On my ‘daily walks’ to my studio I slowly collected, and once I had enough I mixed it up with bits I already had and started making these pieces.
If you could exhibit anywhere in the world where would it be?
I would like to make work in Jaipur in response to the observatory. I visited it when I was in India as a student – I spent six weeks there looking at the architecture and I still think about it – these very old and odd shaped structures, how people moved between them and how they all related to each other.
Where will you visit when the lockdown restrictions have eased?
Of course I can’t wait to go to galleries, cinemas and theatres, but really what I want to do is be on the tube surrounded by people.
If you could own any artwork/object what would it be?
I’d be tempted by the Venus of Willendorf who is so life affirming and that I could hold in my pocket, but in the end I think it would be a Matisse stained glass window, installed in my house so the colours came through. When I was growing up in France I went to lots of Matisse exhibitions and to the Chapel in Vence. I couldn’t believe how the colour coming through changed the space so much.
What three adjectives best describe your work?
Playful, thought-provoking, human
Adeline de Monseignat
Adeline de Monseignat (b.1987) is a sculptor who lives and works between London and Mexico City. Her work translates an interest in psychology, mythology, urban legends, anthropology and other literary sources which refer to birth, fertility, anthropomorphism and the uncanny. Through the process of sculpting, the artist aims to provide physicality and functionality to such intangible concepts. Adeline works primarily with organic, mineral, sensual, strong yet vulnerable materials such as fur, glass, textiles, steel and marble that aim to echo the human body’s qualities, vulnerabilities and potentialities.
Q&A with Adeline de Monseignat
You live between London and Mexico. Where are you most inspired?
They do complement one another. London will always have a special place in my heart after having lived there for more than 14 years. However, this comes with a certain sense of knowledge of the place which Mexico doesn’t have yet. Everything still feels new while spending time on this side of the world. Mexican culture and history are incredibly rich, and I feel like than in three years I have only just scratched the surface. It always leaves me wanting to discover more, explore and experiment more. It’s the beginning of a long love story I feel.
How has COVID affected your practice?
I have had to think of new ways of making because of the limited access to my studio. I have had to rely on sketching, water colouring, 3D drawing and maquette making even more so than before. I used to simply attack a piece in large format, but the pandemic’s restrictions have taught me to slow down and plan more ahead, which is somehow a more sustainable way of working. I taught myself to delegate more, build a team of people who understand my language and can help me make in larger scale. For the logistic complexities that sculpture poses, it has always and will always be a field of collaboration, nowadays ever more so.
Your work is very precise, beautifully finished, with an attention to detail. What is your studio environment like?
Tidy. At least, if it isn’t, it’s the first thing I need to do every morning before starting a day’s work. The space is divided in three areas: where I make and get messy, where I draw, read and write, and where I meet studio visitors and have lunch with my husband. I’m lucky to have a spacious studio soaked in natural sunlight that can accommodate for these three distinctive zones, which is also very much the way I have also built my website: project, reflect and connect.
What is your favourite quote?
‘They wanted to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.’
Ladders often feature in your work. What is their significance?
Ladders first came to my attention after having spent a significant amount of time in marble quarries where they lie around by the dozens, often used and abused but not thrown away. Ladders, even if bent and unusable are often kept and left propped up against giant marble blocks as if a sign of respect for the invaluable work they’ve contributed to.
They are incredibly anthropomorphic and resemble human bodies, skeletons, limbs. In those immensely vast spaces such as quarries, ladders - made to human proportions - are often the only way to be able to gauge the scale of things. Lately in my film A Escala Inhumana, the ladder takes on yet another meaning. Being the quintessential worker’s tool, the ladder, being carried by leaf cutter worker ants serves as a way to comment on how hard working and resilient Mexican workers are, often known to be the nation with the longest hours per day/ per year.
Your film A Escala Inhumana is fascinating to watch, how did this come about? Tell us a little more about your interest in ants.
As the designer Ian Stell once told me, it is easy for us makers to have a fascination for other living organisms which extraordinary making skills and incredible work ethics and sense of community. We have a lot to learn from ants. Each of them has a defined role within their tribe. They work long hours all day every day and think first about the greater good of the community before their own self-interest. I have observed the resilience, strength and outstanding ethics of workers in Mexico and thought to pay them a tribute by drawing a parallel between them and those remarkable ants.
I want to touch Handle, is that how you want your audience to respond to this piece?
I have always enjoyed creating a sensorial tension between artwork and viewer. The concept of “touching with one’s eyes” is often an integral part of the work I produce. Nowadays, we all feel like a huge tactile withdrawal due to the pandemic, I wanted to reawaken our urge to touch, or at least tease it since I don’t imagine many people would end up going through with such a tactile experience, either for simple health reasons (every surface is nowadays scrutinised and considered our enemy) or simply because most of our audience will get to experience the work online. I feel it’s our role as artists to address the difficulties and absurdities the world is currently going through.
If you could touch any sculpture/landmark/object in the world what would it be?
I would stroke Merret Oppenheim’s Déjeuner en Fourrure, embrace Louise Bourgeois’s Sleep II and lie undressed in one of Ana Mendieta’s Siluetas. A full return to the womb.
Who/what has inspired you recently?
Noguchi. Reading his biography – Listen to Stone by Hayden Herrera – has brought me a huge sense of freedom and will to experiment and take my work further without the fear of being judged because the work feels like too big of a departure to previous works. I don’t want to be defined by the work I have made; I want to keep excited by the work I am yet to make. Artists have to keep playing to keep surprising themselves. And play only comes about while feeling free.
Dark or Light?
Shadows! So the playful interaction between both.
Adeline de Monseignat
A Escala InhumanaA Escala Inhumana is a 5min film, shot in Oaxaca, Mexico, featuring the performance of leaf-cutter ants carrying ladders, the quintessential worker's tool, and in doing so, blurring our sense of scale. The film aims at highlighting and mirroring the ants’ qualities of strength, resilience, inventiveness and diligence, who are native of this part of the world, onto those of the indefatigable industrious people of Mexico.Click image to view
Through experimentation with expanded notions of sculpture, painting, film and time- based media, as well as a continuous engagement in collaborative practices, Benjamin Cohen’s work consists of objects, films, photographs, sound and ‘structures’ which explore notions of architecture, topography, memory and ‘display’. He was born 1986, UK and lives and works in London. He completed an MA in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2014, and now lectures in Fine Art at University of the Arts London. He is Co-founder of 40 Years - a series of collaborative projects with Majella Dowdican.
Q&A with Benjamin Cohen
The sculptures exhibited in this show are all made of different materials, how much of a role does the material play in the making process?
I’m interested in materials that lie in some way. ‘Shaped to the comfort of the last to go’ is made from silicone with varying degrees of fast-drying catalyst used to determine the gradient of chewing-gum pink. This work appears to be solid, as you’d expect a corbel (or architectural feature) to be. However, the corbels are soft. They can be bent, twisted, pulled, and will immediately bounce back into shape. They are archaic in form, yet ultramodern in material.
Tell us a little more about your inspiration for this body of work?
Over the past six years my practice has been shaped by the mausoleum-esque home within which my late Uncle Derrick resided – Middle Eastern rock formations in books, a redundant metal-detecting kit from Germany, pastiche corbel fittings and an inch or so of dust covering everything – a family history waiting to be excavated; a series of fragments or clues waiting to be pieced together. Notions of the archaeological, archival and architectural play out in this body of work.
Line, form and repetition run through your work, how much does this reflect your working environment and practice as a whole?
Line and form (as well as distance, shape, space, scale, angle, surface, point, plane etc) make up the basic principles of architecture, geometry and, fundamentally, nature; these values form the basis of everything.
If you could be anywhere else in the world right now where would you be?
The climbing centre. I find climbing (specifically Bouldering) is the best way to lose myself. Climbing has nothing to do with anything else in my life; it is a true physical and psychological escape.
I love your titles. Where do they come from?
Most of my titles come from literature. Some of the works in this show have titles that come from Philip Larkin poems. ‘Through lengths and breadths’, for example, is taken from Larkin’s ‘Arundel Tomb’.
Larkin describes a pair of reclining medieval tomb effigies in Chichester Cathedral, hand in hand. I like the idea that, through ‘lengths and breadths’ of time, these two effigies are witness to the past and the future. Like interstellar travel, a wormhole of sorts, linking disparate points in spacetime.
Your work references architecture and space, what would be your dream building to exhibit in?
If, in a thousand years time, I could ‘put back’ or ‘re-situ’ the work I am making now in my late uncle’s home, this would be the dream.
What was the last book that you read?
There are a number of half-finished books I am getting through. However, the lasting thing that I have been hugely influenced by is Patricio Guzmán’s ‘Nostalgia for the Light’; the notion that astronomy and archaeology are synonymous.
Inside or outside? Outside - I haven’t yet climbed outside. Well, not for decades.
In Conversation: Part I: Clare Burnett | Adeline de Monseignat | Benjamin Cohen