Emerging artist Antonia Dewhurst represented Wales, along with Lois Williams, at Artisterium IV in Georgia in November 2011. Artisterium is a Tbilisi-based annual event comprised of international art exhibitions, individual art projects and seminars, educational and cultural programs. Thanks to the Wales Arts International Critic's Development Scheme I was able to travel to see their exhibition One Room Living in situ in Tbilisi. Antonia graduated in 2011 from from her BA in Fine Art at Coleg Menai. She lives in Llanfairfechan and works as a gallery asistant at Oriel Mostyn, where Georgian artist Misha Shengelia is currently exhibiting. I caught up with the artist about her work, the Georgian connection and her new site-specific projects.
ANTONIA ON ONE ROOM LIVING, GEORGIA:
How did your involvement in Artisterium 4 come about?
Martin Barlow, then Director of Mostyn, had been researching Georgian artists and as a result was asked by Magda Guruli to curate a show for Artisterium IV. He had recently seen my degree show at Coleg Menai and must have liked it enough to ask me to show in Tbilisi alongside Lois Williams.
The work that I showed in Artisterium IV grew out of my preoccupation with ideas around home, which in turn arises from my own feeling of being adrift and somewhat rootless. In particular they grew out of the Welsh tradition of the ty unnos or one-night house: if you could build a house between sunset and sunrise and have smoke coming from the chimney, then you could keep the house and the land surrounding it to the distance of a hammer throw. That idea of having to build against a time constraint interests me and resonates with the universal need for shelter.
I’m not aware of having being influenced, consciously, by other visual artists though there are plenty who’s work I find interesting – Roni Horn, Mike Nelson, Lindsay Seers. I’m more likely to be inspired to make work by listening to music (Grandaddy, Smog, Bonnie Prince Billy) or by direct experience (the ty unnos idea sprang into my head while running in the hills and much of my attitude to work and commitment comes from my past rock-climbing experience).
How long did it take to put together?
The huts are made from many individual digital photographs. The process starts with searching for interesting buildings - doors with peeling paint, shuttered windows, rusting corrugated iron - and photographing them. Each raw image is edited, individual elements isolated and perhaps re-sized and then they are printed on card. Each element is cut out by hand, the edges are hand coloured to match the image’s colours and shadows and then they are sorted into doors, windows, roofing material etc and construction begins. Each construction is entirely imaginary and starts with the cutting of a piece of card for the base; this will decide the size and floor plan at the start but the rest evolves freely as I build. I had 6 huts at the start but 3 were needed for a solo show at The last Gallery in Llangadog. Of the 16 huts eventually shown in Tbilisi, only one had been built prior to my involvement in the event. The process took most of the summer of 2011.
How did you feel about the final result?
I was pleased with how things turned out.
When Martin had first asked me to be involved I was delighted. When I found out how big our exhibition space was (The Main Exhibition Hall at Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, 8m x 40m) I was pretty intimidated as it was a heck of a step up in scale from anything I’d experienced before. Also of course we had to be self sufficient and there was little point in thinking about ambitious multimedia installation as the resources simply didn’t exist to make it happen. I had a few sleepless nights until one 2 am waking it suddenly hit me that the sheer size could be turned to advantage to isolate the huts and I saw a grid of plinths each with its isolated hut and I remembered a Gaston Bachelard quote (from The Poetics of Space) about how, in the landscape of legend there is no adjoining hut.
When the huts were conceived they were part of a multi media installation about home to do with ideas around encroachment and building against a time constraint. By Tbilisi it had evolved into a poem about possible individual existences.
What were the highs and lows of your first experience in exhibiting internationally?
There weren’t really any lows though language and cultural differences made for some complications like there being a show in the space for the first week when we were supposed to be installing and plinths which I had requested to be made on site hadn’t been. But then I quite enjoy the buzz of having to deal with that sort of thing. Oh, and leaving my camera in a taxi wasn’t much fun.
The whole thing was pretty much a high really. Once the plinths had been made my show was a breeze to install but I really enjoyed helping Lois get her pieces together. The buzz at our opening was several gears up from my previous experiences of showing in the UK.
Would you do anything differently?
Not take correspondence for granted beforehand, arrive and leave later so I could see more work by other artists.
Which of the other shows sticks in your mind?
Artisterium IV overall was inevitably a mixed bag but there were some highlights. Masaru Iwai’s film work, Thomas Haemmerli’s photographs, but the standout for me was Iza Tarasewicz’s installation The Creature at the Caravanserai, Georgian National Museum, intriguing work beautifully presented in the space.
How did you like Georgia?
I loved it, what little I saw of it. Tbilisi was a schizophrenic city – buildings either brand new concrete and glass or about to fall down and the people too either relatively wealthy or poor. There seemed to be no middle ground.
What will you take forward from the experience?
I suspect I’ll only really be able to answer this question in retrospect. This was the first sustained body of work produced post-degree so that was an important first as was having to negotiate the world of funding and international freighting. I’m certainly much better equipped to take this sort of thing on again.
ANTONIA ON WALES:
What constitutes home to you?
All the work I have made to date, and I suspect, all the work I’m likely to make in the future is an attempt, directly or indirectly, to answer that.
All I know is that when I drive westbound along the A55 North Wales Expressway and emerge from the Conwy tunnel, usually into late afternoon sun, to the sight of Conwy mountain to the left and Anglesey and Puffin Island on the right, something has changed in me. Beyond that, I couldn’t say.
Describe your studio...
I have two at the moment, one here in Llanfairfechan used for storage and one next to Mostyn, shared with five other artists, which is where the huts were made.
What do you need in order to be able to work?
Quiet is good. Space helps. A state of mindful melancholia usually induced by listening to music in the van on the way to the studio – Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump or Smog’s Knock Knock would do it.
How regularly do you create?
Since Tbilisi I’ve made one more hut for Gareth Griffith’s Lloches/Shelter at Mostyn, and a new body of work for the Theatr Fach group show in Llanberis in December. Since then I’ve been preoccupied/distracted by a major photographic assignment. But when ideas hit me they tend to take me over and I have to act on them. I don’t know is the answer.
Have you always been interested in art, or has it been a passion that came to you later in life?
Yes, I’ve always been interested, like most kids I enjoyed drawing and making things, playing.
I became aware that I had a real interest in art again perhaps ten or fifteen years ago. I saw Bethan Huws’s drawings at the Mostyn and they puzzled me - those little ballpoint lines on exercise book paper - I was intrigued but couldn’t work out why. I became a reasonably regular Mostyn punter and often left mystified but kept being drawn back.
I wasn’t at this stage making work, it was as though the idea of it was too big to acknowledge; I knew that if I once started it would take over my life and I couldn’t, then, afford to let it do that so I refused to let it to the surface. I had a mortgage to pay, a son to bring up.
I started to study part time through Bangor’s Department of Life Long Learning, but as I’d anticipated, I quickly found the pace of that frustrating and in the meantime I had taken voluntary redundancy and paid off the mortgage so I joined Coleg Menai’s BA Fine Art full time in 2008.
We were a group of 10 or so at the start, only two not mature students and they both left in the first 12 months or so. I think mature students bring life experience to the mix though I admire anyone who knows while at school that they have to make art and pursues it single-mindedly.
You work as a Gallery Assistant at Mostyn. Do you think being involved in exhibitions in this other role has changed the way you approach and present your work?
I’ve learnt a lot of technical stuff about installing work and I’m beginning to get some, very basic, understanding of curation and I’d love to get more involved in that side. I’m also getting a feel for the scale and ambition of different shows that, I guess, ties in with my Tbilisi experience. I’m not aware of any direct influence on the way I approach my work but have always worked by feel anyway so wouldn’t expect that to be a conscious part of the process since I work unconsciously if that makes sense.
I've seen you have been taking a lot of photographs of the beautifully ramshackle and gothic ruins of Hafodunos Hall. Is this for a new project? It seems to fit very well with your previous themes of memories real, imagined and transformed...
Yes, I was asked to get involved in this. The project is Mark Baker’s. He has written a book about Hafodunos and has asked Linda Lamb, a singer from New York/Abergavenny to set the poems of Margaret Sandbach to music. Margaret lived in the original, medieval, Hafod Unos in the 19th century and collaborated with the sculptor John Gibson. She died at 40 from breast cancer and her husband pulled down the original house and built the existing structure in her memory with a dedicated sculpture gallery.
It was deliberately burnt down a few years back and had been on the way down throughout the 20th century once it passed out of the family.
I’ve been roped in to document the project but I’m also interested in exploring that area where documentary overlaps with memory. It’s early days.
You are also billed to be doing something at the Old Tannery. Can you tell me more about that?
I had been asked to contribute to a group show in Llanberis at The old Theatr Fach. Five of us made site-specific work responding to the space and the show happened over one weekend in December. I put images onto Culture Colony:
and within a couple of hours Pete Telfer had asked us if we wanted to repeat the exercise in The Old Tannery. We now have a name – Chwant Unnos. The English original is 'One Night Stand', but interestingly that translated into Cymraeg as Chwant Unnos - 'One Night of Passion'.
That and the Hafod project are the only definites at the moment but I’ll be proposing work for some of the open competitions around the place. The Last Gallery are having an event at the end of June and have asked everyone who showed there last year to contribute so I’ll be in their group show.
You have a new camera, what did you get and how are you finding working with it? Is it transforming your practice in any way?
The new camera has happened because of the Hafod project. My Olympus E3 is a beautiful, bombproof, weatherproof beast but trying to photograph Linda in Llangernyw church in available light showed up its limitations so I now have an E5 which is the newer model with a better dynamic range and better lowlight noise performance. Bet you’re sorry you asked.
The changes it’ll make are evolutionary rather than revolutionary but I’ll be able to push the envelope a little more.
If you could meet any artist alive or dead who would you choose and what would you do or ask?
I’d love to have a guitar lesson and hang out with Jimi Hendrix
Which other artists' work from Wales or beyond would you recommend?
I loved Mike Nelson’s Coral Reef at Tate Britain and really enjoyed Pipilotti Rist’s Hayward show. Lindsay Seers’s work is always interesting; I preferred the dark humour in her earlier pieces but love the multi-layered approach to later stuff like It Has To Be This Way. I like the humanity and intimacy in Carwyn Evans’s approach to his own investigation around ideas of home, Peter Finnemore’s too.
Where in the world would you like to exhibit next?
2011 was a thrill ride; I was delighted to have my work appear in Galeri, Caernarfon, The Museum in Bangor, Y Lle Celf at the Eisteddfod, Artisterium, Tbilisi, Theatr Fach, Llanberis and the Mostyn and I’ll always be grateful to Julie Ann Sheridan at The last Gallery for offering me a solo show while I was still a student.
2012 is very much about finding out what sort of artist I am, making work and taking it from there.
Misha Shengalia's exhibition Bruegel Boogie Woogie runs until 26 February at Oriel Mostyn. A group show of Georgian artists, originally scheduled for March 2012, will now take place at Oriel Mostyn in 2012.