Andrea Williamson

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I arrive at Andrea’s house, and she is putting a cheesecake in the oven. This may be the real benefit of the home studio, access to the kitchen while you are working… and also the ability to butter up curious curators. Andrea shares the house with her partner and fellow artist Chris Millar. It looks the part: lime green trim and full of interesting art and curios, a friendly cat greets me from the Kitchen table.

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We settle into her studio with cups of coffee, which is full of the work she is currently preparing for her upcoming show. As I am finding, a recurring theme of discussion in these meetings is the rather slippery topic of “how to be an artist” perhaps because all creative people, by the very nature of their profession, do things differently. Artists are the people that are neck deep in our culture, both actively making it and often more than not, being the spokespeople for it as well. As someone who both works as an artist and is engaged in the critical discussion of it, Andrea has a lot of interesting things to say. She has contributed in a very real and constructive way to how these discussions play out in our city, and her work has been published both locally, nationally and internationally. Next September she will be attending Goldsmiths University to pursue her Masters degree in Fine Arts- enjoy a treasure while you have it friends!

She has an upcoming show at Pith Gallery, you can find out more about her work on her Artists Website, and of course, you should read her writing  blog at Stomachs Speak Louder Than Words too.

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Jennifer: I know that your personal practice involves equal parts visual art work and critical theory, is there a relationship between the social relationships suggested in the subject matter of your work, and the conversations you have been fostering through your writing activities and the Critical Theory book Club?

Andrea: Yes, and I think it is important to make these kinds of core connections between one’s various activities because once you open up those relational pathways they can really feed into each other, and life doesn’t feel as scattered. I really appreciate the social nature of the reading group, and I hope other people do too. I’m not a very social person although obviously we all need connections. Its my anxiety around and intense desire for connections that drives my depictions of interrelated bodies, hybrid selves and seamlessly coalesced individuals. However, there’s also a question of whether this is an opening up of the self to others or the opposite, the projection of the self onto others. So I guess its a question of narcissism and schizophrenia, to the degree that we all experience them in the processes of psycho-social identification.

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J: With that in mind, what are you currently reading that is really making your mind spin or feeding your work?

A: Well if listening to speeches on youtube counts as “reading” then Derrida’s discussion of his book “Circumfession” is occupying my mind, as he always does. He’s able to talk about all these contradicting self-images we all have while we think, pray, talk- the multiple voices and social influences that make up this illusion of “self”- so concisely. I think philosophy and art share the ability to keep questions open and contradictions open while still saying something.

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J: We talked at some point about you being an introvert, and yet many of your works depict groups of people?

A: Yes, I suppose I’m fascinated by social networks and the idea of self because I find these things so difficult and complex. So art becomes that space for me where I can play around with various desires for social harmony and self-expression. I know this motivation seems obvious but I think I only realized this recently.

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J: You make really beautiful marbled paper and fabrics, which has turned into a bit of an etsy industry for you.  More recently I have seen that marbling work find its way into your drawings and painting. Can you tell me a bit about the process of making marbling and what attracted you to it?

A: It’s a magical process and for the most part left to chance, or the interactions of the pigments with each other on a fluid surface. Initially I was drawn to the marble effect because the pattern looked like other patterns like a starry sky or blemished face and of course a piece of marble rock, and what I liked about these interchangeable surfaces was the aspect of camouflage or disruptive patterning that could hide borders between things. The aspect of blending in or camouflage leads back to the idea of being related to others around you or the environment around you.

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J: What interests you about celebrity culture?

A: Well I’m interested in it because I think it is culture, the extent of culture today, at least from my perspective. I suppose you can go to lengths to shut out the influx of not so newsworthy Kardashian news or Katy Perry on the radio but since it feels so insidious, I feel I have to confront it and the all out attempts on the part of the media to infiltrate my consciousness and instill foreign/familiar desires in me. There’s been the conjecture by observers of my recent work that perhaps I actually do love these celebrities, but I prefer to think that it is dealing with that threat and making it personal in some way, and thereby destroying it from within. But I still can’t decide if my work is only a slight step away from fan (fanatic) culture or worlds apart from it. Perhaps it’s both.

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J: Your treatment of the subject matter has the quality of a kind of shrine. Faux marble silhouettes, shimmering masks and vessels suggest a greek or roman temple perhaps? What is it about combining the very shallow world of celebrity with images that suggest worship or religious devotion?

A: Obviously it’s hard or actually impossible nowadays to discern a difference between the worship of celebrity as ideals and that of religious ideals or even the worship of art. The technology used by all three “cults” to create their own scriptures and communicate is the same. The difference is I think in the complexity of the story being told and so I’m trying to add a complexity to what Bernard Stiegler calls the proletarianization of culture- the canalized social sculpture or language. How? I’m not sure, but I think by revealing the apparatus of mystification as a great shell or cover for what you call a very shallow world, and by investing these ideals or surfaces with more complex stories and depth, I can have greater connections to them.

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