Artist’s Blog: Amy Leung England’s Creative Coast Commission
Posted on 28/04/2021
What personal objects are you most connected to? Would they be an artefact of 2021, reflective of a personal history lived in the 21st century or have they travelled with generations already? Do you have any lucky charms, amulets or a talisman that protects you? How have they been made and what journeys might have they taken? What makes these things special and significant to you?
In my practice, objects, materials and our relationships with them inform my sculptures, drawings and workshops. In February 2021, as part of Towner Eastbourne’s England Creative Coast’s engagement programme, I started working with young people from Eastbourne’s YMCA LGBTQ+ group. The above questions kick-started a series of Zoom workshops together alongside some Anglo Saxon grave finds discovered in an archaeological dig on St Anne’s Hill, Eastbourne in 1997. These finds have also inspired artist Mariana Castillo Deball’s offsite artwork, opening in Spring 2021.
These workshops were an opportunity to meet with a local group and connect in a time of physical distance during lockdown. Through conversation, experimenting with making and drawing, we shared our objects, experiences, and stories that connected each of us to Eastbourne. Together we collected ideas, shapes, forms and values to inform design elements for a series of sculptural forms, to be used as geocaches, that I would make afterwards.
Reflecting on the workshops, in a time where we were so distanced from each other, connecting over Zoom on a Friday evening was a bit of an experiment. How could we work together mediated by a screen in a virtual space when all our activities relied on sculptural processes and objects occupying physical space? These initial concerns soon fell away as the physical elements of the workshops began to ground the digital experience, and conversations with the young people helped me gain a unique insight into the local area and their evolving relationship with it.
We mapped out the journeys of our chosen objects in zines, remodelled aspects in plasticine, paper and tape, played around with experimental drawing and waste mould casting with clay and plaster; creating impressions with our objects resulting in fragments of forms. We acknowledged the unusual lockdown situation we had found ourselves in, speculated about the Anglo Saxon individual and their special objects and spent time looking at the grave finds; in particular the ornate brooches and hairpins with their ‘zoomorphic’ animal qualities.
Realising many of our own objects related to animals and creatures, was a turning point and we explored this coincidence further through drawing collaboratively our own animal salads on the zoom whiteboard enjoying curious combinations of animals (an animal salad being an Anglo Saxon design technique which we thought resonated with the drawing game exquisite corpse). As with our objects (jewellery: rings in the form of snakes and an octopus, a unicorn lamp, pet cobras, fish and turtle keyrings to name a few), we chose our own symbolic animals (snakes, octopi, turtles, pigs, horses, robins, guinea pigs and dogs) and inspired by ‘Anglo Saxon hero values’, generated our own 2021 values influenced by the challenging lockdown we found ourselves in. We identified our special values of care, thoughtfulness, community, hope, patience, protection, equality, respect and trust. We then created symbols and chose colours for the ones that resonated with us the most. The young people have been integral in developing the design and ideas; generously allowing us to incorporate elements from their objects, drawings and suggestions for the geocaches.
Following on from the workshops and the group’s design suggestions, I started sketching and making forms out of clay. Settling on three designs, I made casts out of silicone rubber and guided by the young people’s colour choices, I am currently casting using a mixture of pigmented jesmonite. As much as the forms take a cue from the animal salad arrangements of Anglo Saxons and the young people’s marks, symbols and imagery, new connections have emerged from the making stage: the colours and poured effect are reminiscent of histomaps and glimpses of animal parts form a relationship with your hands when you handle the object. Your hand might slot into a part of an animal’s claw or rest on the arch of a rainbow – a symbol a young person chose for hope. The tactile nature of the pieces are inspired by the young people’s approach to their plaster casts, drawing into clay and enjoying the material contact.
Making these sculpted forms inspired by their objects, drawings and choices have been an exciting and responsive way of working, creating an unpredicted artefact to be discovered and enjoyed by members of the public.