Anna Spearman is an artist tailor-made for Painting in Text. Whether she is analysing influences on her sculptural work or talking about Sligo Global Kitchen, her ability to assess the strengths of the process she is working in and how to take advantage of them has to be admired
This transcript has been edited by the interviewer for the purpose of this blog.
Sligo Global Kitchen has had some recent success, can you talk about its inception?
Well I stepped back from Sligo Global Kitchen almost a year ago now, as it had found a level of independence and I felt the need to get back and spend more time in the studio. But yes, the project recently received the Community Food Award at the 2018 Irish Food Writers Guild Awards. It was great recognition of all the hard work and commitment by everyone involved. The project came about after Megan Johnston, former Director of the Model invited me to develop a socially engaged project. She was really interested in socially engaged work and was keen to open the doors to new and more diverse communities and to explore ways in which they could more actively engage with the Model.
For me knowing that there was an empty commercial kitchen in the Model while at the same time a community living close by in Globe House (Sligo’s direct provision centre for those seeking asylum) who had little or no opportunities to cook food for themselves, the project seemed like an obvious proposal. It was conceived as a gesture of solidarity to those living in these really difficult conditions.
Can you describe Sligo Global Kitchen for those who might not know what it is?
Yeah, it began as an invitation to those living in direct provision to come to the Model on a regular basis to meet, socialise and cook for themselves and their friends and families. Mabel Chah, was one of the first Globe House residents that I met with and proposed the idea to and she was hugely supportive and enthusiastic…encouraging people to come along to meetings and get involved in the project. The project developed gradually, a collaboration between myself and a core group of residents of Globe House and with the support of the Model. In the early days sessions were quite informal and would involve a handful of people getting together to cook for the day and then to sit down with family, friends, staff of the Model and passing visitors. Over time Sligo Global Kitchen developed a more public face as participants gained confidence and a desire to engage with the wider community. Over the past couple of years the project has hosted numerous public events, in the Model and offsite and has continued to bring people together who might otherwise never meet over a plate of food, music, chat and dancing too sometimes. The project is continuing to grow and develop.
Do you approach the socially engaged work differently to your sculptural work?
In some ways it is totally different. When I work in the studio its a very solitary thing, there is a very different kind of rhythm to it and I kind of like to do things in my own time and in my own way, not having to answer to anybody. I have the freedom to experiment and explore without any pressure to come up with a particular outcome. The other side of my practice, the socially engaged and community stuff is different in that there are people and deadlines and commitments. You’re not just working on your own, it’s a collaborative thing which can be equally rewarding but in a different way. There is a common thread in my approach though. That would be that I’m kind of coming with an open mind, a blank page in a way. So, with Global Kitchen I’m coming with an idea but there are not really any preconceptions about how it might pan out…it’s kind of this is an idea let’s just run with it and see where it might lead too and that is how I approach work in the studio too. I generally don’t have a fixed idea when I come into the studio, I am starting with the materials and putting them through a set of processes and seeing what comes out the other end. Mostly I’m foostering around with lots of different things depending on my mood and what catches my eye. I’m not always very good at finishing things but sometimes I will get sick of looking at something and so will persevere until I finish it, or I’m fed up and put it away!
Your work seems very conscious of its relationship with the viewer what is your thought process in regard to that?
Interaction between the work and the viewer is something that happens when the work is out in the world, but it’s not something I think about when I’m in the studio making work. But yes when it comes to putting the work out there I am interested in that kind of encounter between the audience and the work. I’m excited by the performative aspect of sculpture, when its not a two dimensional thing on the wall its going to be something you actually have to move around. Depending on how you do that you might have a different experience, your understanding of the work develops as you move around it. When I’m looking at other people’s work its the excitement of walking around it and the thrill of something unfolding over time. I know you can have that experience with a painting the longer you look at it the more you see but it’s a different kind of a way of experiencing something. I suppose with socially engaged work there is a similarity in that unknown aspect of the encounter, depending on the particular circumstances, all the variables and those involved you are going to have a different experience its kind of an open-ended conversation?
Could we go more into your practice as an artist?
Yeah sure, probably when I think about what I do it reminds me of how I used to play as a child, you know that thing of piling chairs up on top of each other and throwing blankets on top of them to create a kind of secret space. That pulling together of things to transform them into something else – I suppose creating a space to daydream in and about. At its simplest that’s maybe what I’m tapping into. Its interesting watching children react to my work – they can relate to it in a very direct and playful way which I love.
When I’m in the studio I’m not necessarily working towards finished pieces of work…I am trying stuff out, playing around with materials and processes, working quite intuitively. I’ve developed a way of working where I’m not consciously thinking about the outcome of the end product when I work, but saying that I do sometimes deliberately pick processes that make me step out of my comfort zone, there must be some element of the unknown for me whether it be seeing what this is going to look like? or is this going to work? or if it is even going to hold together? I often find myself doing things in a really slow labour-intensive way that is kind of unnecessary but I think that slow process allows me time and space to daydream while I’m making and thats where the work comes out of really.
Material plays a very important part in your work, could you talk about the influences that got you into that frame of mind?
Well I’m very attracted to the that kind of playful quality in peoples work. Phyllida Barlow comes to mind, her use of materials and that ad-hoc way of making work, there is a kind of raw energy there. Franz West is another artist whose work I love. He plays with your expectations of what things are, the way he uses materials sometimes seems to be turned on its head – massive objects that look like papier mache but are made of steel, or concrete that seems like cardboard – unexpected juxtapositions of materials and just really exuberant, playful work. There are so many artists who have made/are making amazing work…it is hard to know where to start…Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Jessica Stockholder, Hannah Wilke, Achraf Touloub and Irish artists like Caoimhe Kilfeather and Sam Keogh are just a few, but the list is endless really. There are so many interesting artists out there.
Do you have any new projects or exhibitions coming up?
Yes I will have an exhibition in the Foyer Gallery at the Model in September of this year, thats as a result of the Model Cara Award from last years Cairde Visual exhibition. I am really looking forward to that. And I have just been selected for a commission – a collaborative project between Age and Opportunity, Dr Sorcha O’Brien of Kingston University London and the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, based on Sorcha’s research project, “The Electrification of the Rural Irish Home: Housewives, Electrical Products and Domesticity in the 1950s and 1960s”. The outcome of that will be an exhibition of work made in collaboration with communities in Castlebar over the next twelve months, that will run alongside Sorcha’s exhibition in the National Museum – Country Life, Castlebar in 2019.