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Surface Gallery's EM16: Pulse Exhibiting Artists

17 November 16 words: Lucinda Martin

As the eighth East Midlands Graduate Project comes to a close, we delve into the works of each of the exhibiting artists. The project supports fine art graduates as they transition from university to the professional art world, offering up four-week residencies on Surface Gallery's top-floor project space...

Connie Liebschner

Connie Liebschner's Cascade. photo: Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Have you felt much of a difference creating for a graduate show as opposed to creating as a student?
The difference is that you’re setting your own goals; it’s quite liberating to do something without having to justify what you’re doing. It’s also slightly daunting because you don’t have the cushion of being an undergraduate – you’re establishing yourself as an artist and it’s one of the first pieces following graduation – so there is pressure, but more from a personal point of view.

What does Pulse mean to you, how do you connect with it?
It symbolises something alive. There was a jokey irony, as well; we’re all still alive, we’ve survived and we’re still wanting to do this. I like to do stuff with the here and now and where I’m at that moment: it’s about the light-space interaction, but it’s temporary and it’s a personal moment. That only happens when you’re alive in that moment.

That personal moment you mentioned – is that something you want your audience to feel when viewing your work?
A lot of my work is based on observing the everyday and taking a moment to think, “actually, that’s really beautiful.” This project space has been inspiring for me because it’s architecturally interesting, and I’m among new, creative people. I’m trying to use the space as part of the work –  I'm personally interacting with the space, drawing people’s attention to different parts of it, and maybe slightly differently than how they’ve seen it before. A solitary moment becomes a group thing.

How did you get into using light and space as a medium?
Throughout my degree I documented the everyday. I use a lot of stuff within my own house, as well as the idea of how every time you move house you remake a space and it becomes a home within a few months. Exploring that, I use several different mediums: painting, photography, printing, and the house became like this installation piece. None of it was ever set up, it was just things I was observing, but because people don’t stop and look at the everyday they assume it’s a set, like a beautiful show home where the light’s coming across and everything’s really perfect. It’s not, it’s just being in that moment, that personal moment, and going “I want to photograph that” or “I want to paint that really quickly.”

How will you be using the space? What do you want people to get from it?
I’m really inspired by this space and how is it going to translate downstairs [in Surface Gallery]. I  want to be spontaneous, otherwise it becomes a bit forced. The interesting thing about the space downstairs is it’s an exhibition space so there’s remnants of that everywhere: hooks and hanging points, nails in the ceiling where people have hung stuff before. You can draw attention to the history of that space by reusing those fastenings. I want it to be about the space, not just about what I’m putting into it, so that will dictate where the fabric will be hung from.

You have a lot of fabrics set upstairs – how will you go about moving them?
I’m always changing it. I’ve been using chairs to position it – I like the idea that people can sit on them, you get a completely different angle. I don’t mind if people move the chairs, it changes the dynamics of the space and that’s fun. Each time I take it down and put it back up it’s turned out completely differently. Originally I was going to drill bits into the floor so I could discreetly fasten it, but I’m experimenting and don’t want to do anything that will risk the fabric for the time being.

Have you enjoyed sharing the space with other people?

I like the feedback because [working alone] you can get very stuck in a certain route with what you like doing, and you keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s even really nice to have someone say they don’t think something works. It all allows you to question yourself a bit more.

Connie Liebschner website

Dave Dent

Dave Dent's Geometric. photo: Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Has it felt different creating for a graduate show as opposed to creating as a student?
It is nice in some ways, but I am actually doing an MA and this is part of the practical work for it – so it is actually being assessed! I’m in an odd position, but I’m trying as hard as possible to not think of it as being assessed.  

What made you want to do an MA?
It took me a long time to start doing my art degree – before I started my degree, my last formal art lesson was in 1973 when I was thirteen. I went into sciences and trained as a microbiologist. There’s an Einstein quote that says all religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree, and I’ve always viewed that [they’re] an exploration of the same thing. It’s a way of trying to interpret and understand reality, or at least that’s how I see it. But, going back to why I’m doing an MA – I’ve just loved the process; having started formal training and education in it, I don’t want to stop.

Do you relate the name of the group, Pulse, to your work at all?
I’m not sure it does relate to it, but it also doesn’t jar. Trying to come up with a title for our degree show, for such a diverse range of work, it didn’t quite break out into warfare but we had a vote and in the end it was ‘Derby University 2016 Fine Art Show’. [Pulse is] a good title; it’s succinct. There’s suggestions of it being contemporary and ‘on the pulse’, so it works well on the title.

Tell us about how you got into this form of glass painting, with layering metals? It’s not necessarily what you expect if you hear glass painting…
It started in my second year, we had to do a response to something in Derby Museum and Art Gallery and I picked Joseph Wright’s The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus. I produced three square panels:  the first represented lead; the third gold; and then in the middle I did a philosophers stone, which was coated in bronze. There’s a thing called the Feynman diagrams which represent the interaction between the particles for the reaction; I carved them into the surface of the bronze panel, of the transition from lead to gold, so that was my philosopher's stone. It was that which really got me into coating metals onto glass and made me think I could go a long way with it. I started playing with various other metals and materials, and became interested in the concept of art as alchemy: artists take basic materials and hopefully transform them into something that is valuable, something beautiful… Beauty is an odd concept, but [artists] take base things and transform them. Artists are alchemists.

Tell us a little about your project, what we’ll see in the exhibition…
There has to be something about the work that invites the viewer to engage with it on an aesthetic or a tactile level, because if they don’t then they’re not going to think any more about it once they leave. It’s got to invite the viewer to wonder.

What do you want to get out of the residency?
The experience of working with a different bunch of artists, exposing my work to a different audience and an opportunity to do some more exploration. It’s a new challenge, a different way of working. If I have future residencies, I think I’ll be a bit more reckless and not plan so much; try and sort of break away from being too controlled.

Dave Dent website

Ellysia Bugler

Ellysia Bugler's Close-Up. photo: Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Is there a difference in creating for a graduate show compared to a student one?
I can notice the difference. Your third year is self-directed, but they question you throughout about so many things that a bit of the fun goes out of it. It’s nice to do something because it’s what I want to do. I think it’s freer.

What does the name Pulse mean to you?
I’m drawing foliage, berries, brambles and tree lines, and you can associate living and pulse with that. I’m trying to put a smell on it as well. I think you can see links there. I don’t think literally as in breathing, but just the loose theme of life and light. I think you make your own mind up what Pulse is to do with.

Your primary medium is drawing. What got you into it?
I’m quite stubborn and on my course they had three or four pathways – painting, sculpture and print, lens based. I was like, “I want to do drawing”. They didn’t really cater for that, and I found that the first few years were focused on experimenting and I’m quite controlled. I was too bogged down – I had to get everything correct and I wasn’t really loosening up. I thought I’d try different experiments but it didn’t really feel right. I know it’s good to be loose and free, but I get a lot more out of making something I like the look of.

Were your tutors supportive of that?
I had a really nice technician and he helped me so much with getting the sense of smell on things and using wax. I did a massive drawing made up of lots of little bits and my tutor was like, “cut it up and get it framed”. It was so painful after all of that. That’s when I decided nope, I’m gonna put it in wax and put a smell on it.

What got you interested in smell?
I picked herbs because my dad imports them, so they’ve always been around. It was always loosely there because I like to draw from observation, so I’d set the herbs in wax so they’d last longer. They’d go all wrinkly and preserved so that was interesting to do. As you set it, you’ve got this wash of smell. I didn’t pick the right herb in the end, though. I picked Methi for my main piece which you put in curry, so my show stank which wasn’t so good.

Have you chosen your scent for this exhibition?
I’m using essential oils. I’m not literally using natural things because I don’t think the point will be clear. The smell might go.

What do you hope people take from your exhibition?
I’d like them to get a sense of the smell. The drawing on it is so literal, but I want them to feel something else. The drawings take a lot of time, but I’ve sort of got to get that out the way in order to get the smell right. I’d like them to focus on the senses.

What do you want to get out of the residency?
Confidence. After graduating I had an internship and a couple of small jobs to fill in the gap because I don’t know if this is definitely for me. I want it to be but I’m quite realistic. This is such a good opportunity, I have to use it and see what comes of it but be open minded about the outcome.

How are you finding sharing a space?
No-one infringes on each other’s space. I like where I am. I can’t wait for everyone to get started because we’ll be able to bounce off each other.

Ellysia Bugler website

Jane Smith

Jane's Smith's Beginning. photo: Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Is there a difference in creating for a graduate show compared to a student one?
For my Masters I had my own show; I was up in the metal workshops, down in the plaster workshops, then in the studios, but all by myself. It was really nice to come into the residency with other people, the other artists are great and have offered loads of input – it’s changed my work so much. 

What does the name Pulse mean to you?
In the first meeting we all came up with three words – mine were fragmentation, wholeness and body. Then I thought, “I’m working with the idea of community and there’s a pulse in community.” The concept of my work is community coming together, and the hands that built that community continuing to build because the fragments are still there. After finding a book that was full of stories from Sneinton Market, I was inspired to walk around the area to get feedback from people. There’s also clay underneath it that was used for brickwork; I’d started working on an idea to cast bricks with plaster hands inside, and I decided to make the bricks here. Sneinton Market has been taken down and built back up many times. That’s the idea of the wall – not to keep people out, to remind them that it can be knocked down and rebuilt, and there’s parts of people inside.

This sense of community and building it up, what should people expect from your work at Pulse? Will your work continue to express community to the audience?
I like to think so. I did a residency in Derby Arboretum last summer and my proposal was based around the fountain there. I did workshops almost everyday; I was going into the park and inviting people to draw on this massive eight metres of material. They were drawing on it, doing tags… they could do anything, write in their own language, or just stamp their hand. Then I ripped it all up into shreds and wrapped a spiral of copper around all the mixed-up pieces. That was the idea, communities are mixed up, we’re not all the same, we’re diverse. There’s so many different elements overlapping, and that’s beautiful.

Is that where fragmentation comes into it? You mentioned that word earlier in relation to your work, but you’ve mainly talked about bringing things together?
I think it’s to do with coming from Belfast; it’s a beautiful place in a beautiful country and it has the most lovely people you’ll ever meet in your life, but the society is fractured. Although I’ve moved away, it’s something that sticks with you. That’s why I like getting into community things and getting among the people because I like to say, “look, it doesn’t matter what religion, what colour, what creed – it’s about community. It’s about you and that’s what makes the world stronger.”

Why did you apply for this residency?
I think it’s something I like about Surface, to be honest, it’s the diversity and it’s where it is. It’s sort of on the cusp of really getting somewhere and having a gallery like Surface attached to your name is a big bonus. I’m dead proud: your art, it’s such a personal and private thing and you’re laying yourself out there, laying yourself bare but because it’s warm and soft in here, it’s okay. It is like a home from home for art.

How do you like sharing a space?
It’s marvellous, I love talking to people. It’s lovely seeing everyone’s work progress and change, it’s gone one way and then it’s gone another – that’s the beauty of a place like this.  As an artist, you never should say “I am making this and it’ll only be this way”, if you’re doing that, what are you doing art for? You need that bit of risk. You need that element of surprise.

Jane Rose Smith website

Miriam Bean

Miriam Beam's Circuit Board. photo: Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Is there a difference in creating for a graduate show compared to a student one?
The atmosphere is completely different. You’re in a bubble at Uni, so it’s not scary all at once and it builds you up to something like this. This has been great to meet like-minded people who all want the same thing.

What does the name Pulse mean to you?
Because I work with sound, it’s a very physical thing. You don’t really interact directly with a static object, it’s a very separate thing to you. Sound waves are really strong, so you feel the vibrations and they pulse. It’s about the physicality of sound in that sense – I’m interested in people’s perceptions of sound and what our preconceptions of sound are.

What influenced you use sound as your primary medium?
I come from a really musical background, but I always wanted to kind of rebel. I didn’t want to be a musician. At university I did some painting and dabbled in other mediums, but overriding that was always this influence. I became interested in people’s gut reaction to music – why do I like this so much? Why do people hate this so much? People have arguments about music quite easily, but with art they’re a lot more tentative and they’re not sure how to judge it. I wanted to bring the two together and make art people feel comfortable to say what they feel.

What can we expect from your exhibition?
A lot of what I’m doing is looking at the physics of sound. Not mathematical equations, just pure sound waves and how they act in the space. They act quite differently to recorded sound because their waveform is so rounded it bounces about in a weird way. You can go to different parts of the room and the sound will sound odd. What I’ve been looking at is how to transform sound energy into light energy, and then back into sound again. I’m taking a risk.

What do you hope to gain from this residency?
Mixing with other artists and having a base to be creative. No matter how hard you try, when you’re at home you just don't want to work. So this is a great space to be focused. Hopefully I’ll learn something new, too.

Do you think there’s something special about the East Midlands for creativity?
It’s growing. Leicester for example, when compared to Nottingham, it’s not great for the arts. There isn’t many venues, but I can see it growing. I want to be there when it all kicks off.

Miriam Bean website


Tayler Fisher

Tayler Fisher's The Head of the Beast. photo: Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Have you felt much of a difference creating as a graduate opposed to creating as a student?
I’d say no because mid-way through my third year I already felt like I was kind of ready. I tried to stop thinking of myself as just a student because I think that can make you hold yourself back. It’s just a continuation – you have to own it, your work is never going to be what it should be if you don’t.

With the group name of Pulse, how do you connect to it to your own work?
The work that I’m creating for this is a big, dying creature so, straight away: pulse, heart beat, life. It’s off the back of packing up my degree show; there was one piece that I knew I had to get rid of but I didn’t want to. I was just like, “right, stuff this”, pulled it down to the ground. It was a huge, two metre thing so it came down with some force, its leg snapped and it was kind of laying there. It was just this genius moment of “this actually looks better than it did stood up”. You think it’s the end of something and then that becomes the challenge and the reason to carry on. Showing something as dead, it almost gave it more life than it being stood up. So when somebody mentioned Pulse as a name, it fitted, I’m trying to confront people – it’s more exposing the mortality of life, of pulse, rather than exploring it.

When did you get into sculpting?
Not until third year, I’ve drawn and painted since primary school, I knew I was gonna do art, it was all I ever did. But when I was at uni, all my friends were sculptors. Being around sculptors and their work got me more excited than what I was doing at the time. Everyone was saying I should make [my work] 3D and I was a bit reluctant, but I tried it. The first thing I did I was like, “I’m so happy, it’s so good” and then I did a couple more. Come third year, I just started trying out more and more and before I knew it, most of the third year was devoted to owning the 3D. Materials has been an important thing with my painting and drawing, and doing sculptures, you have to think about materials more and then those materials tell you what to do with the shape of the work.

We’ve touched on it a little bit, but what should people expect from you on opening night? Confrontation?
A little bit, I always try and get that across in my work to some extent, whether it’s intimidating through the size of something or the slight grotesque nature of the materials. For example, I use a lot of sheep wool and it’s straight off the sheep. If you’re presented with that in a gallery space, people are gonna be put off from going into it straight away; but what I’m showing in the actual space is a really big dying creature, it should be laid down on the floor. It can’t gather the energy to get itself back up so it’s a similar aesthetic to previous practice, a lot more fur and wool, and this time I’m going to have sound coming from inside the work. A bit of howling from the head, breathing from the chest, that sort of thing. I’m hoping to use a speaker, take all the housing from the speaker and use bass frequency to make it twitch a little bit, like it’s breathing its the last breath.

Have you done physical movement before?
No, I thought it’s something new I’ll try out on the residency. I’m hoping to do two to three hour tracks so every time somebody walks in they’re experiencing something new.

Tayler Fisher website

Tracey King

Tracey King. photo: Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Is there a difference in creating for a graduate show compared to a student one?
It’s less prescribed. It’s a real mixture for me – there’s new people in a group which is a bit like university because you bounce off each other. It’s familiar because I’m working next to Dave [Dent], and we actually sat next to each other at uni. The main difference is that you don’t have the workshop facilities at your fingertips. I’m kind of challenging myself to do what I can with the equipment available.

How do you think that’s impacted your work?
I’ve had this battle with myself in a way. Some of it looks cruder than I would normally do, just because of the different material I’m working in – rather than soaking it in plaster I might have done it in porcelain and fired it because it looks finer. I’m trying to let go of whether it’s crafted nicely. I’m seeing something different in the work. I’m quite excited about it now.

What does the name Pulse mean to you?
It’s this pulsating city centre. With my work there’s a lot of severed hands without wrists and that’s where you feel your pulse most strongly. It’s that feeling I’m trying to get across – unsettled, nowhere quite feels like home. This is my hometown, I used to live in the city centre and be a part of everything, but I feel a bit disconnected. I’m at a different part of my life and I’m doing something completely different.

When did you get into sculpting?
When I started uni, I’d never done sculpting. I went to an open day and we were shown the welding bay and it excited me. When you first start you have little inductions to woodworking and metalworking and it quite excited me. Casting was the thing. One of the first pieces I did was with a carnation, and I cast it into bronze. I like that, it’s magical and that got me into sculpting.  You can make something that is a normal everyday thing, but you can completely change it.

Do you want your audience to feel unsettled when they take in your work?
I’d like them to see it and question it. I want them to look a bit closer to see how the pieces react to each other. Hopefully they feel unsettled. I try to use recognisable, familiar objects and forms that anyone would know – a hand, an egg or a glove, but why’s it like this? Why does it make me feel like that? An emotive reaction. That’s what I want to get.

Tracey King website

Uta Feinstein

Uta Feinstein's work. photo: Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Have you felt much of a difference creating for a graduate show as opposed to creating as a student?
It feels similar to the student experience at the University of Nottingham, but a bit less directed and without assessment pressure. The time frame seems much tighter and challenging as I use the medium of paint which is a fairly slow process. It helps with confidence that there are people interested in your work after graduation.

With the group name of Pulse - how do you relate it to your work?
In my current project work the regular pulse and rhythm of the grid merges with the irregular flow of the net, they become intertwined – the regular and irregular aspects, in various states of tension. Or sudden external pulse disrupts the predictable, flowing rhythm.

Tell us about your primary medium of painting and what got you into it?
In the seventies, finger paint was something new and in Germany lots of people have cellars so we had this window which we were allowed to finger paint on, I always loved that. It was there for years. Painting has been always natural to me, I explored different mediums but I came back to painting. I love the whole history of it, the naturality of paint, just this pigment and you create something out of it.

And how did you get into using things like nets and grids in painting?
We all know practical uses of nets or grids and their metaphorical potential like interconnectedness, social nets… I confronted the geometric grid with the reality of its imperfect, distorted, organic ‘derivative’, the net, that diverges from the grid’s angular logic. I question ideals confronted with reality and its imperfections. I try to get people to question perception, ideals, illusion against reality. I explore forces pulling in different directions with tension and release reflecting various states of being. The scientifically–minded viewer may think of space distortion, dimensions, gravity, communication between distant particles, their effect on each other. Others will relate it to their own life experience, to inner /outer conflicts, dualities, emotive tensions and struggles.

Tell us a little about your project...
I will show a couple of paintings, with some elements stepping outside the traditional canvas frame format. The inclusion of more tangible elements in surrounding space makes the works more physical. The images of flat squares suddenly becoming real, tangible 3D objects. I try to engage the viewer through a sense of tension between image and actual object. Wandering/floating squares move in indistinct space, but in an irregular, unpredictable way. I want to trigger an emotive, intellectual, physical response in the viewer; to relate the image to their own experience – what is out-of-rhythm here? What could it mean? Challenge expectation, perception – something unexpected happens; about uncertainties, tensions between antagonistic forces, physical and metaphorical – life events - conflicting emotions or desires.

I hope that my work can convey the sense of tension and uncertainty of being out-of-rhythm, irregular pulse and bringing their their own experiences. Personal tension, interrupted rhythm of life. My grid lines may look straight from afar but show imperfections/inconsistencies close-up. In relation to the pulse of life, most situations are not ideal, we are not always in control of our situation, things happen.

What do you want to get out of the residency?
It offered me a chance to bridge the gap between graduation and professional practice, to meet other graduates and gain an insight into a local gallery and the supportive network there. What I also found appealing was the chance of having group crits and a ono-to-one session with a local artist and have access to the spacious gallery’s light-flooded project space. It enabled me to discuss my work, ideas and incorporate issues arising from critical feedback and discussions into my paintings. The chance for a final show, to share the residency work with the public and interaction with the community in a workshop is exciting.

Uta Feinstein website

EM16: Pulse runs at Surface Gallery from Saturday 5 - Saturday 19 November 2016.

Surface Gallery website

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