The Exhibition Goes to Berlin

I worked closely with Berlin-based gallery director and writer Jan-Philipp Fruehsorge in the months leading up to the exhibition of my work at the Rijksmuseum – we planned that the exhibition would tour to his gallery, Fruehsorge Contemporary Drawing. As one of Europe’s few spaces dedicated to contemporary drawing practice, the idea of staging the show here was of great interest to me. It offered the opportunity for the works to be seen in a totally different context to that of the Rijksmuseum. Whereas the installation in Amsterdam was staged against a backdrop of Old Masters, with adjoining galleries showing works by Rembrandt and Vermeer, the exhibition in Berlin formed part of an international contemporary drawing programme – a programme which attempts to explore/challenge definitions of drawing through collaborative projects with international institutions, curators, critics and artists. And whereas the works at the Rijksmuseum emerged out of darkness, spotlight from a great height in a windowless gallery with almost black blue walls, the gallery in Berlin was the antithesis of this space.

A line of high North facing windows runs down one side of the gallery and the walls and floor were painted white for the exhibition. The sense of light therefore was extraordinary. We decided to show the works without any artificial light – the natural light shifting throughout the day. The backlit works emerged not out of darkness but glowed in the whiteness of the space – the reflective, embossed, pierced surfaces of the works themselves appeared to be in a state of flux as the light moved around the building. The video piece was not shown on a monitor this time – but projected. Somehow this seemed to emphasise the ephemeral nature of its content – the projected image itself appearing more delicate and fragile.

In retrospect I feel that one installation wasn’t any better than the other in terms of conveying the ideas that I have been exploring – but rather that each space emphasised different aspects of the works. There were shifts in nuances. The audience was led to the work from a different departure point….

These are some installation shots of the show:

More on the exhibition ‘Suspending the Ephemeral’ at Fruehsorge Gallery

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

‘Suspending the Ephemeral: Siân Bowen and Nova Zembla’ – The Book

I had always planned that a book would be produced in order to bring together the different threads of the project – and offer different perspectives on the works produced. I also felt that it was important it should include images of the exhibition installed at the Rijksmuseum – so it was decided to produce it during the exhibition period (rather than prior to the opening of the show).

An artist’s monograph or exhibition catalogue is always an incredible amount of work. I was very fortunate to be able to work in close dialogue with the designer of this publication, Marcus Byron, and with its authors, Chris Dorsett (artist), Jan de Hond (Curator of the Nova Zembla Collection), Joel Fisher (artist), Jan-Philipp Fruehsorge (Director of Fruehsorge Contemporary Drawing) and Wim Pijbes (Director of the Rijksmuseum). Photographing the works with their reflective, pierced and embossed surfaces and watermarks requiring backlighting, was a real challenge –again I was very fortunate to be able to work with Staeske Rebers from the Rijksmuseum’s photographic studio on this crucial element of the book.

The book is published by RGAP, a UK publisher which concentrates on art and poetry with a research dimension. It was launched in the Netherlands at the Rijksmuseum and in Scotland at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh. It is distributed and available through Cornerhouse publications:

”Through artworks, accompanying essays, documentary photographs, video stills and texts by the artist, this book traces Bowen’s own ‘journey’ through the project, emphasizing the tactile qualities of her artworks which at the same time employ light, transparency, perforation, reflection and fragility, and consolidate the often fugitive nature of the materials used in their making.”

Order the book ‘Suspending the Ephemeral’ from Cornerhouse

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bringing it Together

Four years after I first learned of the Nova Zembla prints, my exhibition has opened at the Rijksmuseum.

The installation of the show involved working with a large team from the museum. As the exhibitions there need to be installed when the public is not present, we started at 6.00 in the evening – and finished at 4.00 the next morning!

The process was a complex one. The exhibition includes works demanding very different lighting conditions. This was a huge challenge, especially as the lights are positioned at a great height above the gallery. Lighting a combination of the delicately gilded pages of small-scale vellum bound works, backlit “watermark” drawings in light boxes, pinpricked drawings in tarnished silver and a video piece, together with the distressed books and prints from the Nova Zembla collection, needed very particular skills. Luckily Hans, who was in charge of the lighting, has worked for many years on opera productions. At one point I called up to him, “It’s too warm, we need more ice.” Suddenly the whole space was transformed, taking on the cooler temperature that the works require.

wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

Another important aspect of the installation of the works, was the journey that one makes through the space, Two flat glass display cabinets, one containing my twenty five vellum bound works and the other containing the song book and pile of fragments of a nautical map found on Nova Zembla, were placed in order to slow down the route through the gallery The video work in one corner of the space also slows the viewer down – it depicts a journey edging little by little through the frozen icepack. Many of the other works take time to take them in; in part due to the way that the light is reflected off or diffused through the surfaces.

www

wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

In stark contrast to the slow pace of viewing that is encouraged through the installation and nature of the works, the opening night was filled hundreds of visitors moving through the museum. A wonderful evening that also brought together so many of the people that have been involved in the project. Not only was the event to celebrate my exhibition but also that of a further exhibition of objects from Nova Zembla – which included the clock that had froze during the overwintering months because it was so cold, the letter of farewell left by Willem Barentsz and many of the prints that had been painstakingly reconstructed by Peter Poldervaart. Still more interest in the Nova Zembla story, sprung from the fact that Reinout Oerlemans’ feature film “Nova Zembla” the most expensive and first 3-D film to be made in the Netherlands, had been premiered in Amsterdam two days previously.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Drawings to the Ice

I have now made two visits to Northern Russia to Arkhangelsk where the other main collection of objects found on Nova Zembla is held. Invited by Arkhangelsk Museum and the Dutch Embassy in Moscow, I gave a presentation on the current project with the Rijksmuseum as part of the International Barents Forum, 2011. This brought together scientists, curators, conservators, polar experts and archaeologists. Working with curators and polar experts in Arkhangelsk I aim to explore drawing in relation to sites of refuge and preservation. As part of the development of this new project, three hundred of my small drawings have been taken on board a Russian research vessel and buried in the ice on Nova Zembla. I hope to be able to join an expedition that will retrieve them in 2013. They will form the basis for new works.

Drawings to the Ice

Drawings to the Ice

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On Creativity and Damage

For some years I’ve been interested in the space where creativity and damage meet. This interest has been explored through a number of means. In 2000, during a residency at Villa Romana, Florence, I repetitively burnt finger-print sized ovals out of a series of found letters. The shadows cast through the apertures created a further “drawing” onto a layer on Japanese paper behind. Over the past decade the apertures and indentations created by burning, singeing and piercing through the paper support, have become more and more minute.

"Soundpiece"

"Soundpiece"

At Kyoto Art Centre, Japan, the large-scale installation, “Shift”, consisted of nine works suspended from the ceiling. Images of Japanese paper teahouses being folded and folded, were singed into and through the surface of the semi-translucent paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
The process of pin pricking through paper began during my residency at the V&A, London, in 2006. Backlighting was integral to these pieces, the light revealing the drawing. I also employed laser cutting, another form of burning, another form of damage.

V&A Residency, "Gaze"

V&A Residency, "Gaze"

For several years, I have been interested in investigating the relationship between the two sides of a drawing. In 2001 a large-scale work, “Soundpiece”, (Jerwood Drawing Prizewinner), was repetitively singed from the underside of the work.  The later installation “Shift”, invited viewers to walk around and between the works. The heavier paper that I’ve been employing for the last two years, means that the pinpricking “damages” or “disturbs” the surface of the paper in a three dimensional manner. The shadows that were cast through the apertures of earlier works, are now cast by indentations out of, or into the paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Business curated by Chris Dorsett at Wallington Hall, Northumberland, is an exhibition that I am currently taking part in. (See: unfinishedbusinessatwallington.weebly.com.)The three drawings that I am showing, explore the hemp paper support as if it were a membrane – with the pierced image emerging out of the paper, on the paper or into the paper.

During the current project, notions of damage are fundamental, both in terms of the models that the Nova Zembla prints provide and the way that my drawings have been made. Detailed drawings of the fragmented icepack reflected in a small mirror were repeatedly pierced through to a layer of paper beneath. The first drawings were therefore “sacrificed” in order to make the new ones. Below are details from the series, “Silent Freeze: Mirrored” that will form part of the forthcoming show. Watermarks of the handwritten navigational guide found on Nova Zembla, also form the ground for these works.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In Progress

The final stage of making the twenty five vellum bound works is now in progress. The approach that I am taking is very open-ended. Images are repeated and retranslated using a range of materials and processes. The work is very time consuming and labour-intensive. The end results engage light and surface in different ways. Images are drawn in response to what already exists in, and on, the pages – that is to say, what I had already drawn, embossed, watermarked or gilded onto the pages before the works were bound.

Each work operates individually. However I am also approaching the process as though each is a composite part of the group as a whole – a large complex drawing so to speak. Themes and images are repeated and revisited by pricking the surface of the paper and dusting powdered tarnished silver and palladium through the pinpricks. Five themes are being explored: journal, journey, refuge, relic, site. Reference material includes documentation of the journey to the site and of the site itself where the Nova Zembla prints were discovered – video stills of the icepack, 17th century etchings and photographic documentation from 20th scientific expeditions.

Below are examples of the works in progress:

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

“Descriptions True and Perfect”, pinpricks and powdered gold, tarnished silver and mica on hemp paper bound with vellum, 2010-11

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Temporary Bindings Again

I wrote in a previous posting that I have been working with Albert Ames, Senior Book Conservator at the Rijksmuseum to develop a series of unique artists books. Through discussions with Albert and Idelette van Leeuwen, Head of Paper Conservation, the twenty-five works have now been bound with a semi-limp vellum binding. The binding and choice of materials is a response to the examples of 16th century temporary bindings that I documented in the earlier posting. The binding is also the “entry point”, both visual and material, to the various modes of drawing on the pages – and which relate to themes of fragmentation, repetition and states of flux.

Albert Ames at work: sewing the quires

Albert has recently retired after some forty years of conserving and binding books at the museum and I am extremely indebted to him for sharing his time and expertise with me in order to develop this part of the project. During a week that I spent with him in the conservation studios I took a series of images which shows the particularity of the work involved in the binding. The overall sense of the works is of great simplicity, which belies the skill and intricacy involved in the process.

Click here to view the complete series of images

The finished work

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized