Svea Ferguson

Svea’s work and Svea herself have been around me for sometime, she’s part of the community, and like myself, she’s equally present in a number of different ways, she’s often at the music shows but also very much part of the visual arts community. I’ve been lucky enough to get closer to her and her work during several of the Wreck City projects, where her unconventional approach to materials and space really stuck me. Her work has the ability to be both monumental in appearance while the same time suggesting something more gestural and spontaneous, sculptures that are weighty but also surprisingly supple.

I visited Svea’s new studio in what was then early spring, but as this year has been unseasonably warm, the big garage door was rolled right up to let both sunlight and warmth in. In behind a tiny vacant house in the process of being renovated is the two car garage which she shares with fellow artist Collin Brown, it’s surprisingly spacious. On the stoop is a cyanotype being exposed in the sun, on the walls the beginnings of a new sculpture with a series of suture-like fastenings is beginning to take shape.

She currently has works on display at the Herringer Kiss Gallery, they’re up until tomorrow if you’d like to see them in person.

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Q: You mentioned when we met that you didn’t initially plan on going into the visual arts, and yet both of your parents are professional artists and instructors at ACAD, how did you find yourself attending art school? What might you have gone into if you didn’t end up pursuing art.

A: For most of my adolescence I had planned to study dance in college, but once I finished high school and took a couple of years off, my routine fell off track and I realized it wasn’t the career path for me. My parents have always been very supportive of both my sister and I in whatever we chose to do, my sister is a nurse, so far from the arts. I was in a transitional stage, I traveled for a while after high school, but then wasn’t sure what to do. My parents encouraged me to take some credited extended studies classes at ACAD. I did that for three semesters and then decided to apply for full-time. I had always enjoyed art classes growing up as a child, but for whatever reason never thought that would be my path until I experienced it for myself.

Q: Do you think that your training in dance has influences the aesthetic and the work ethic you apply to your visual art? Is the idea of choreography something that has influenced your composition?

A: That is a good question, I have certainly thought about how my history with dance has influenced my artwork, but haven’t considered the idea of choreography specifically. I see the connection in my artistic interest in the body, in depicting the body in an abstracted way, which I suppose is also similar to choreography and movement; abstracting your body to relay some kind of message or emotion. I sometimes feel that while I’m in the midst of making work that it is choreographic, the process is quite physical. I really try to tune out my mind and tune into my body, to allow my physicality to connect and react to the physicality of the materials, without letting the analytic, critical mind interfere.

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Q: You recently completed your undergrad but are already doing really well with shows, awards and selling your work, which is great.

A: Yeah, I have been keeping quite busy since graduation. I attribute this to a few things- first is that I took almost 7 years to complete my undergrad, which gave me plenty of time to explore different modes of working and allowed me to dig really deep into my work. By the time I was finishing my fourth year courses, I had been at it for a long time and the transition from student to non-student was very smooth. Second is that I force myself to apply for as many opportunities as I can, so along with a handful of rejection letters are hopefully a couple of acceptance. I actually need to stop applying to things because I’m overloading myself.

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Q: That’s super great advice for emerging artists. I’m curious, on average, how many things are you applying for per month, what is your main source of information when you are looking for opportunities?

A: It varies for sure. On average I would say there is one thing per month that I am applying to, but often application seasons happens all at one time! Or at least it feels that way. I have checked out some of the big arts residency websites in the past (resartis.org) to look for opportunities, but mostly it is word of mouth. I am going to the Vermont Studio Centre at the end of this summer for a month, and that was a program that I heard about from some artists I met in Banff. Most of the programs/galleries I have been applying to have been in Calgary or close by, so now I am trying to move further geographically. I just try to talk to people all the time about things they’ve done and places they’ve been and see if they have any suggestions of where I should be applying.

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Q: It’s also created a bit of a funding gap for you right? You’re not able to apply for some of the Canadian grants that would support your travel, even to places you have confirmed shows, because there is this stipulation about a “professional” artist being out of school for a number of years.

A: Yes, that has proven to be a bit difficult, although I haven’t tried to fund any major projects (yet), so applying through some of the smaller streams has sufficed for now. It will be great once I can get into the CC granting stream.

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Q: We spoke a bit about how you ended up working with what has become your primary material, what is the most appealing thing about working with the linoleum and vinyl? What materials would you really like to get into working with if you had the chance?

A: Vinyl and linoleum are so resilient. I think that is my number one attractant. I have a clean aesthetic but I am not a tidy person, so on a practical level the linoleum is amazing. With really large pieces I walk around on it, and then I can just wipe it down with soapy water and it’s like new again. Beyond the practical are many other things; its likeness to skin, its weight, its ability to wholly react to gravity. I see it as an extension of myself, or rather I feel it’s an extension of myself. It feels natural for me to be working with it, from the first moment it just clicked. It is an ultra synthetic material that is mimicking natural materials like wood and stone. It’s all about the faux veneer of luxury or something, even though it is cheap and disposable. I sometimes feel that reflects our state of being; putting on a shiny exterior to mask whatever is underneath. I could go on and on. It has endless possibilities.

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Q: So you’re working with all of these stone-textured things that are kind of made for durability, but they are often are behaving in a mostly not utilitarian , and also you just starting to work with some actual marble. Your works are often draped and folded and tied mostly in a very un-stone-like fashion. There is the tension of something that is flexible, and yet appears to be made of something that should not be.

A: Yes I think so. Using real marble is still very new to me and I’m learning a lot each time I start cutting and carving. A new piece I’m working on with the linoleum is actually quite structured and geometric in its form, but is ‘sewn’ together like fabric. I’m interested to see the effect when it’s finished.

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Q: So you might be going to Greece?

A: Yes, some of my work will be going to an Art Fair in Athens this May with AKA Artist Run Centre from Saskatoon, and I am applying for a grant to travel along with the work.

Q: I think that super interesting, since there is obviously a relationship to classical art both with the draped and stone textured aspects of your work.

A: Yes, the opportunity to go to Greece would be amazing for my research. There is only so much looking you can do in a book before you have to go and see the real thing.

Q: What are you most excited to look at, in the works of antiquity and in contemporary art?

A:  There are so many museums in Athens it has been overwhelming to research online. I want to do all the regular stops like the Acropolis Museum and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, but there are also lots of smaller contemporary galleries I want to check out, as well as some of the ethnographic and historical museums. There is a contemporary gallery called the Museum Alex Mylonas that I really want to visit.

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Q: You’ve been doing there really lovely 2D photographic documentations of your sculptures that have turned into a whole other body of work. How have the two dimensional pieces influenced the sculptures and vice versa?

A: The photographs are quite new to me, I started working on them this past fall, so it is a bit hard to articulate how they may be currently influencing my sculptural work. The influence of my sculpture on the photography is much more straight-forward though. I did a cyanotype workshop at the Banff Centre which lead to me taking documentation-style photographs of my sculptures to print as transparencies for cyanotypes. I became much more interested in the quality of the transparencies themselves. I was layering the negatives and positives and rephotographing them, and digitally manipulating some of them. They are very x-ray like and frame the sculpture in a more literal bodily/skeletal space.

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Q:What does an ideal day in the studio look like for you?

A: If the sun is out I’m happy. I’m a day-working person, and because I’m in a garage I’ll take any natural light I can get. I dedicate a couple of days a week to be fully in the studio, so I try to be as productive as possible when I’m there, because I can’t make it every day.

Sometimes I listen to music, but often not. I get lost in my own thoughts easily and don’t notice the silence, just get in a meditative groove and keep cutting away. I made a neighborhood cat friend and I like when he comes to visit, he reminds me to take breaks.

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