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Blog post for Three Left Feet

22/04/22 – Looking back at GAP and Cartography exhibition preparation

Hi all! My name is Núria, and I couldn’t be happier to be the first visual artist to be “Feetured” by Three Left Feet. I’ll use this blog space to share my experience co-running The GAP studio collective and give you a behind-the-scenes of my art practice and upcoming exhibition. 

Like other creatives here at Three Left Feet, I graduated from LICA in summer 2020. As soon as I finished uni, I teamed up with two other artist and very close friends from my degree to start The GAP studio, a studio space and artist collective based in Morecambe. The GAP has been open at Arndale Centre since August 2020 with the support of Venus and Cupid Arts Trust. 

So, what do we do as an artist collective? One side of GAP has to do with our individual art practices growing in the same space. Kasia specializes in drawing, Georgina works in abstract painting, and I explore installation and digital media. At the studio, we are surrounded by each other’s work as we create, which means opportunities to share ideas, books and opinions that fuel each other’s creativity. The GAP Studio provides this “studio environment” that makes us feel accompanied in the process of creating, bringing key motivation to keep making work. Starting a career in the arts (and during a pandemic) is an uncertain and rocky journey, so we decided to do it together and join forces to create our own opportunities.

The other side of GAP is where we collaborate to run an arts curation and community engagement programme. This side means exhibitions, workshops, digital spaces, outdoor art displays and networking events for creatives. We want to explore our shared aims of platforming art, celebrating place, and fostering connections amongst artists with these events. Of course, it has been challenging to carry out these aims during a pandemic! Although GAP has only been able to open its doors virtually, we have found ways to run our programme. We have reshaped our plans into online and window/outdoor displays (I’m sure these are formats many other creatives are familiar with after this year!). 

We often get asked why we chose to base ourselves in Morecambe to pursue a career in contemporary art. For some reason, all you hear is that London and Manchester are the places to be if you want to become an artist. At the GAP studio, we want to challenge this trend because we believe the future of contemporary art is local. After this year’s transformation of the art world into online formats, it seems more evident than ever that contemporary art is not attached to a specific location. It can bring value to the public and creative networks of local places like Morecambe and Lancaster. 

On top of that, Morecambe is full of reasons that make it the perfect platform to start our careers as recent Fine Art grads. An important one is that it’s affordable! Being able to rent a studio space is a big luxury as an artist, and with the support of Venus and Cupid Arts Trust, this is something we get to have in Morecambe. Another big reason is our support from the local network of creatives like Venus and Cupid, Deco Publique, Good Things Collective, White Elephant Gallery, Morecambe Artist Colony, More Music… They have warmly welcomed us into the community offering their help and mentoring. We are also here because Morecambe Bay is a beautiful place to make art! With projects like Eden on the horizon, there is this feeling that Morecambe has unexplored potential; artists and creatives are being attracted to tap into that. We’re excited about the future of where we work and want to be a part of its growth!

We started GAP because we believe artists collectives are the future of the art world. There is a lack of support systems for artists, especially for young emerging creatives. After graduation, it is easy to feel disconnected and disoriented about what path to take due to the lack of opportunities and support. An artist collective can be a point to anchor yourself. It can provide a sense of community, collaboration opportunities and experience of curation and programming.

For me, having a studio routine with GAP has been essential to continue developing my art practice after graduation. I work in Bio Art and Site-specific research that I display in multimedia installations. What I mean by Bio Art is that I directly study biological organisms in my artwork through an interdisciplinary combination of artistic and scientific practices, which I have developed thanks to the support of experts from scientific fields. My studio space is a strange combination of objects like Petri dishes, microscopes, sculptural materials and projectors. I use this studio-lab combination to grow and research living organisms like slime mould (2019), silk moths (2020) and the non-humans of Morecambe Bay’s mudflats (2021). I think about it as a “collaboration” between myself and the organisms. This collaborative approach makes me relinquish control from the project to allow for the fragility and unpredictability of working with living media. 

I follow this lengthy process of observation, documentation and interaction with the biological organism with building an installation that reflects on what I discovered. The installations typically combine video projection, sound, performance and sculptural objects creating an immersive space under constant change. In a way, the installations are a living environment that is only complete when the viewer walks into the space, offering each individual a different experience. 

I go through the trouble of working with living biology because I am interested in noticing the entanglements between humans and non-humans. I believe it can help us find paths of recovery in the environmental ruins we are occupying. My work uses my personal encounter with the living as an invitation to bring more-than-human scales and temporalities into our thinking. I’m interested in how we can access these unexplored paths by overlapping voices from different disciplines. 

Currently, I’m so excited to be back at working with Lancaster University through a commission I’m doing with Future Places Centre (FPC). This pioneering new research hub investigates how we can use computing and data to adapt the places we live for healthier and more sustainable living. FPC has invited art voices into their research through series of “Cartographic Interventions” to explore the future of Morecambe Bay through data and maps. My “Cartographic Intervention” imagines the non-human cartographies of lugworms through a multimedia installation that emerged from the data collected during 20 walks on Morecambe Bay’s intertidal mudflats.

This project brings together my interests in biology and place. I approach the tidal spaces of Morecambe Bay as a living entity of its own that I’m collaborating with. Just a few steps from my studio, the Bay’s mudflats are the perfect example of the impermanence of place. The mudflats blur the line between land and sea, challenging our human map making practices. They are also vibrant with life, with lugworms constantly shaping the ground with sand castings. Walking can be a tool for map-making that engages with the movement of place. During the walks, I use data collection methods like GPS tracking to record each experience. I aim to document my encounter with the topographies of lugworms to invite other living beings into our maps. 

The data collected during this on-site research will come together in an installation at White Elephant Gallery, a local art gallery also a few steps from the shore of Morecambe Bay. It will be part of a group exhibition with the other two GAP artists, Georgina Harris and Kasia Tatys. The show will open in May, and it will focus on the exploration of maps and perception through three distinct art practices of painting, drawing and installation. After many months of planning and rescheduling due to covid restrictions, it’s such a blessing to be able to exhibit alongside my close friends and artists I admire! 

That’s all I have for now, but you can find out more about GAP and my work on our website and follow us on social media & @art_nur.rovia for updates on the exhibition!

original post:úria-rovira


Cartographic interventions – 5 first walks

26/03/2021 – Some thoughts after starting the first site-specific research walks for my Future Places Centre commission

I’ve started the first on site work for my “Cartographic Interventions” and I have many thoughts that will benefit from typing them down! So far, I’ve had three chats with experts relevant to my project and I have been out for 5 long walks on the intertidal mudflat area across from my studio space. Something else that has changed is an exhibition opportunity with White Elephant Gallery at the end of April! These have been the right steps to narrow things down and have a clearer view of the possible outcomes of the project.  

There are two things to figure out now. One is what will my framework for data collection during these walks look like, and two, what will the outcomes of the project look like. This is key so that I can start preparing for it with enough time to have a good volume of data when it’s time to present it as a cohesive body of work. The pressure has increased now that I have an earlier date for the indoor installation to be finished in the gallery. (about 4 weeks!!) 

Walking on the empty mudflats and talking through my thoughts while recording it on my phone has been a great tool (inspired by Erica Scourti’s artist talk with Lancaster Arts). Talking whilst walking both shifts my attention and maintains it at the same time. I suppose it forces my brain to stay on the topic of what I’m researching and not drift of… it’s a way to make sure that I am more present. The more I think about it, the more I want to keep this practice as part of the framework of data collection, even if I don’t show it to the public it seems like a very useful way to keep an “oral sketchbook” and to also keep myself accountable during these walks, or simply another tool for thinking and verbalizing the project which is something I tend to struggle with.
Other forms of data collection can take place during these walks (eg counting), with an interest in the sustained observation in the process of counting rather than the numbers collected. From walk 5 I figured that it might be a better idea to count using one of those gallery clicker rather than trying to figure out how to use a quadrant. This is a better option because it will be a number that represents my capacity for noticing, which would be interesting to see how it develops over time, and also because using a quadrant would disturb me from the action of walking which is something I am sure is an key part of the process.  

GPS tracking will definitely be an important part of the final artwork. There is a very interesting parallel across scales between my GPS walked tracks and the sand casts as “tracks” created by the lugworms. An effective way to put it is that I’m layering human and non-human tracks, trying to understand how we are all acting in world making projects with the moving land (currently reading Jane Bennett and Anna Tsing and I can really see them influencing my word choices in my thinking!). Even the visuals are starting to come closer together, I even wonder if I could start (intentionally) making my walks have the shape of lugworm casts, as my way of responding to them… maybe the more walks I do the more I will start mimicking the lugworms, that would be an interesting process to document and see develop through GPS tracking.  

I big realization I had on my forth walk (Jane Bennett again) is that the lugworms are moving the sand under my feet! Not only the tides and geological forces are shifting this non-static place but the little non-humans I’m looking at are the ones who are creating this constant movement by repeatedly digesting the sand – they are world builders. This makes me go back to Darwin’s research in worms, which explains how every bit of soil has gone through the body of a worm. This thought really breaks down the bodies/thing divide for me! It makes me think of land as something animate and full of vitality as it is deeply enmeshed with bodies.  

At this point, because of the time pressure, I’m going to start thinking about the installation and the data collection together. This might be a good approach because It will allow both sides to influence each other as I make them and hopefully that will make them fit better together… the next blog post should start looking at the installation side of things.     

Installation thoughts

18/02/2021 – New installation space, new installation ideas!

I had a very exciting installation experimental day at the gallery space last week! I worked with the materials very intuitively and loads of ideas emerged and solidified. This is me trying to put into words what I discovered!

I started to have a play around with MRI visuals. There is something beautifully strange about it! It has a time lapse quality to it – which as Timothy Morton says, reveals the uncanny qualities of lifeforms… (let me look at the reading wall…) : “ It reveals (in things that seem natural) something natural or artificial, an uncanny morphing flow.” This connection to Morton’s writing reassures me in incorporating MRI visuals inside my practice!  

My knee injury happened in a time in which my art practice was flowing strongly… and I think that for that reason my physical trauma found refuge in my art practice as a way to process what had happened. Something germinated there during these strange times and my drugged brain fog. Now, with time and distance I can feel how they became deeply intertwined as they grew together. These unlike companions came together in my thought, in that strange moment when everything fell apart. As I started rereading “The Mushroom at the End of the World”, I can’t help comparing this unexpected companionship to the Matsutake mushrooms and the Pines in deforested forests. If I go deep into this comparison, I could say that my art practice grew mushrooms in the ruins of my body and my surroundings.  

MRIs are beautifully uncanny. You get to see inside something. You are not supposed to see inside things, it’s so strange! The mesmerizing shapes steal your gaze. Alien and hypnotic, an untrained eye wouldn’t be able to pin down the abstract shapes into anything from the real world. The untrained eye feels the shapes with faces (I bit like those ink stains phycologists make you interpret) faces that are in the valley between the human and the non-human, maybe silkworm faces. With it ambiguous shapes and movements, when projected on top of an uneven textile surfaces, it creates the amazing illusion of the material moving.  

Hand threads video – entangling detangling silk threads. That’s a motive I started to explore at the (early) end of my final year. The threads responds to the light, shining, it works really well. Visually very interesting. It relates in a very simple way to the topic of silkworms: the human hand the non-human’s work to create their own materials; unweaving worm cocoons to weave human clothes. Long story short: capitalism/colonialism, nature’s work is a resource for the human.  

But also, it represents this idea of chewing through thoughts…It reveals something unfolding….  I look up at my studio wall and there it is “UNDO THINGS DONE”, it’s a poster that has been on my work space for a long time. It’s almost like a command, ordering the artists to undo things, but not in a destructive way, but in a creative way, doing by undoing, creating by taking apart? Isn’t that what it feels like to be an artist? Sorting through a tangle? We were talking during a group crit about how something special that artists can see is “the negative space”, how things are also made out of what they aren’t. How things outlines are drawn by their difference with other things, going a bit into Derrida there.  

There is an interesting parallel between the shapes in which silkworms weave the cocoon (in 8s) and the way the silk threads fall on the floor – the floor threads were once shaped in 8s. All threads that fall on the floor into 8s have previously been shaped into 8s by silkworms, before they were unraveled by humans. There is something there I would like to follow up. It could be interesting to layer both kinds of silk threads with projection… 

Silk coming from cocoons. I solidified this idea of making the silk threads come out of the dried cocoons. Visually sooo interesting. I was put away from trying it because it felt “too obvious”(something contemporary art must avoid apparently) but when I was at the installation space last week, it was so visually effective I had to go for it.  Both the silk and the cocoons would respond really well to the projection light. If I stuck the cocoons on a line on the wall it could almost become a cocoon loom, aligning with the loom visuals I was exploring.  

Things are moving and slowly coming together! I’m so grateful I have renewed this excitement for my art practice. I look forward to photographing some good visuals  of these ideas in the next few days when I go back to the installation space. Can’t wait for the next update!  

First GAP group crit – First term in review

Exhibitions plans, new art practice habits and new reading!

Last week I had my first group crit with the other two artists from the GAP studio collective, Kasia and Georgina. For the next couple of months, we will establish group crits as part of our weekly routine allocating an hour for each one of us to discuss our art practice and our progress with the rest of the group studio.  

The group crits are part of the framework we want to build in preparation for an exhibition coming up in March (with dates probably changing because of the Covid madness!). The exhibition we are planning would be a group show that displays our work together in one room: painting, drawing and digital art. The title we are working with at the moment is “how did we get here?”, referring to the journey each of as has been through in 2020 and how our art practice has been a tool to process it. Obviously, the title also aims to resonate with the audience since everyone’s lives have been drastically changed in the strange months leading up to the exhibition.  

With exhibition we want to show how our 3 different art practices are surprisingly connected. The core question our artworks ask point at very similar directions. We believe this is because of the symbiotic relationship that emerges when artists work together.  Working in the same space, leads to exchanging ideas, sharing books, offering generous suggestions and artists influence each other. The goal of having group crits is to fuel this process and help us become more aware of it. There is a reason we want to make work together, sharing a space with other artist you don’t make work in a vacuum, you make work in an environment of other artworks growing around you.   

Sharing your work with other artists is key to staying motivated, and sometimes a group crit is the fuel you need to get the momentum all artists are looking for. That is definitely the way I felt on my first group crit!  

It’s been a challenging start to making work after graduating. Part of the reason is ending my degree with an interrupted installation practice because of my knee injury (and pandemic) and the loss of a physical Degree Show. As soon as I had my studio set up, I came face to face with the “I don’t know where to start” problem. I didn’t have my big installation spaces anymore, I didn’t have my expensive LICA projectors and media players, I didn’t have a place warm enough to grow Bio Artwork and I didn’t have and end of term deadline. But what was most important is that I didn’t know what my art practice was outside of uni.  

This resulted in a not very active first “term” (September to December) of studio practice at the GAP my studio. They have been months of hibernation for my art practice in which I haven’t produced much original work. My doubts and difficulties of resuming with my work have led me to spend the little time I had for my studio practice with art research, attempting to apply for open calls, reading and building my new website. In a way, I think this pause was necessary to adapt with all the changes I mentioned earlier, but part of me is scared of losing momentum in my practice.  

During this process I narrowed down the core themes of my practice to understand what is it that I was interested in and what directions I wanted to take my work. Here is what I came up with: 

–       About the self within the entanglement
–       The other contributes (organisms and living place, animism)
–       Impermanence. Unpredictability and chance. 
–       Technology can be the vehicle to represent the (moving) (layered) non-physical.  

The group crit with the GAP team was a great point to “test” these key themes and see if they were present in the crit as the other shared what their perception of my work was.  The crit also helped me solidify how important it is to me to have an academic base is as a foundation for the work I make. It also helped me narrow down what is it about my academic reading that I wanted to focus on which, surprise surprise, it was Timothy Morton’s strange stranger.  That also tied very strongly with the “Abyssal Intimacies” of what does it mean to care for a non-human. This came out of that discussion “The problem of using Anthropocentric measures to weigh the value of non-humans”. With my work, I want to challenge those measures, flipping the scales with the encounter with the strange stranger.  

Another great take away from the crit is a reminder of the importance to narrow things down, and why it’s always a challenge. Georgina advised me to not interpret having a concrete focus as ignoring to the other branches of my practice, but to think about it a “one part of a larger body of work” (it sounded like it came out of the mouth of an art tutor!)  

With thinking like this I achieved during this term, I feel like I have more of a sense of direction and the necessary tools to break the cycle of “I don’t know where to start”, which is to just start! I’m very inspired by Georgina’s recent format of just producing loads of work in a short time (a week or two) and then analysing it in a critical way later. So, I suppose this is the short-term goal for now – to bring back the “installation experiments” I used to schedule in every week when I was working at the LICA studios.  

I have some form of installation growing behind me that is slowly becoming an installation experiment. It’s inspired by the looms I saw at the Macclesfield silk museum, so I have recently emailed the museum to find information that helps me continue that initial idea.  

I also want to do more silk fabric projection mapping in big and small scales. I feel like those lasts experiments I did before the sudden end of uni were one of the most successful installation formats I explored, but I only got to work on that for a couple of sessions so it’s definitely worth returning to explore it further!   

Currently I’m re-reading “The Ecological Thought” by Timothy Morton which explores the ideas of the “strange stranger” and the “mesh” which are the ideas that inspire my current installation experiments! I believe that reading book at this time will be a great source of inspiration to fuel me through the start of this new chapter in my art practice!.  

Finished two good reads and started the Reading Wall

“Dark Ecology” (2017) by Timothy Morton and “The Spell of the Sensuous” (1996) by David Abraham

During the past couple of months, I have been reading these two books together, one in the morning and one in the evening – now that I think about it, one has the word dark in its title. Although written 20 years apparat, these two books overlapped and connected so that is seemed they were meant to be read together.  

They both talk about human awareness and the need for reconnection with the nonhuman in the advent of the Anthropocene. Both books propose new ways of thinking to correct human habits Morton calls “agricologistics” and Abram identifies as our poor perception of our surroundings caused by our disconnection from the natural world. These are ideas that resonate with the messy questions my dissertation was asking.  

Borrowing this quote from the Guardian, “part of what makes Morton popular are his attacks on settled ways of thinking.” Same thing goes for David Abraham, making it fitting to hear their voices together. They break from established frame works of thinking by creating new words and new definitions to define our reality. (I realize this is the kind of academic writing I am attracted to… creative with storytelling flavour)  

Morton’s slef-made vocabulary doesn’t end with agricologistics but he builds full set of dark and loopy words as new vessels to fit his thoughts in: 

–       Agricologistics:  an agricultural programme so successful that it now dominates agricultural techniques planet-wide. The programme creates a hyperobject, global agriculture: the granddaddy hyperobject, the first one made by humans, and one that has sired many more. Toxic from the beginning to humans and other lifeforms, it operates blindly like a computer program.It is run by three axioms: 

1.      The law of non-contradiction   
-The law of the excluded middle. 
-Easy think substance
2.      Existing means being constantly present.
3.      Existing is always better than any quality of existing.

–       Dark Ecology:  It is ecological awareness, dark- depressing. Yet ecological awareness is also dark-uncanny. And strangely it is dark-sweet. Nihilism is always number one in the charts these days.

–       Econognesis: Thinking Dark Ecology. Ecognosis is like knowing, but more like letting-be-known. It is something like coexisting. It is like becoming accustomed to something strange, yet it is also becoming accustomed to strangeness that doesn’t become less strange through acclimation. Ecognosis is like a knowing that knows itself. Knowing in a loop; a weird knowing.

–       Arche-lithic: Dark ecology that somehow still finds its way through the cracks of Agricologistics, adapting like a plant growing on concrete.  

And some of Morton-words from previous books also come back to the party:

–       Strange Stranger (definitely a favourite of mine and what fueled my 2nd term 2020 installation work). The uncanny realization that the other is weirdly familiar. So close yet still strange – The more you know about something, the stranger it grows. The more we know about life forms, the more we recognize our connection with them and the stranger they be- come. The more you know, the more entangled you realize you are, and the more open and ambiguous everything becomes. ❤ 

–       The Mesh: thinking about interconnectedness in a non hierarchical way…Interdependence amongst life forms is at the heart of the concept of the Mesh, a “to big to think” concept that represents how all thinks are connected. Nothing exists separate from something else and there is nothing outside of the system of life forms… in Morton’s thinking the Mesh goes hand in hand with hyperobjects. 

–       Hyperobjects: escribe objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity, such as global warming, styrofoam, and radioactive plutonium. (non local etc)

(it was time consuming to get these short definitions down, but they will be useful as a point of reference to keep reading Timothy Morton) 

When it comes to David Abrham, he doesn’t quite create new words but proposes new understanding of already existing concepts. In “the spell of the sensuous” he explores perception from a phenomenological approach and goes deep into the idea of writing and oral indigenous traditions, but what impacted me the most from his book is the way he proposes to understand time and place together. Like many authors I enjoy, he proposes understanding time and space together and encourages dissolving the separation between the two. In a beautifully poetical way, he “locates” time in spaces, offering a new framework to think about time as something part of our physical worlds. This is how Abraham maps it out:

–       Future: The future is found it the line of the horizon. It’s what’s to come, something that is not quite “here” yet. But it’s already “there”, but time is just “withholding it” until it crosses over the horizon. Walking toward the horizon is walking towards the future. And when you walk, you always walk towards the horizon!

–       Past: The past is Inside things. Best example is the rings of a tree. The past gets buried under layers of present, that join the surface as they appear from the horizon. Layers of soil, where we find the fossils of the past, remembering like digging like archeologists.

–       Present: The air! It’s what the outside layer of the objects is in contact with, it’s the invisible and constantly moving NOW. He titles the chapter about the present as “the remembering and forgetting of the air.  I loved the way he presents these ideas gradually uncovering them until these definitions appear at the end of the chapter, like a lens that gradually adjusts itself to focus… unfolding and emerging.  

Reading these books opened up my awareness to new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking using the tools of the new words and concepts the authors offered me. Morton’s awareness is strange and radical, like his suggestion of placing nuclear waste in the middle of a city, in a big and striking monument to fight the kind of blindness and amnesia I was exploring at the end of my degree. Morton’s solution is not a escape from the problem, but a way to start with the trouble, to coexists, opening up to its darkness, yet oddly positive like the last sentence of the book captures “Let’s disco”. 

Abraham’s solution has more light to it, it’s about remembering the air an allowing ourselves to be flooded by the present we are beating with. A present that allows the past and the future to leak into it, blending the here and the now into one. 

They were both quite heavy books, full of little gems I kept forgetting. I wanted to remember to keep what I read present in my mind so that it can directly influence my art practice.  So, I created the Reading Wall in my studio, in a way a massive posit note reminding me of the book in my studio. I want to make it a habit to make the reading wall grow a little bit every day and check it gradually to ground myself and remember, and also to share what I’m reading with my studio mates! It’s hard to keep an art practice moving forward, the reading wall might be the fuel that helps me keep it going!