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Interview with Heap Magazine, 2019

https://www.heapzine.com/home/amy-leigh-bird

 

 

“My cabinet pieces aim to reconnect people with a sense of the past, place, and nature, in a way which they may have lost sight of in a time of rapid change and disposability.”

 

Tell us about your background, where did you grow up and where did you study art?

I come from a working class background. For most of my childhood I lived on a council estate just outside of Farnham in Surrey, which ironically is a very wealthy area, but I lived a pretty polarised existence from the majority of people there. I don’t like using class as a defining feature of myself, but it has undeniably had an impact on my identity and artistic practice.

After my A-Levels I wanted to move as far away as possible, so I went to study at The Glasgow School of Art. Initially I struggled with the transition from small town girl to city dweller, but upon reflection I appreciate having explored my practice whilst transforming from a teenager to an adult. This was quite overwhelming initially but now I have a strong affection for the city. I will always be grateful for the community that stuck by me during my time there, especially the close friendships that I formed with friends and technicians across the school. This has been vital to my practice up until now.

What is your artwork about? Tell us about your subject matter.

This is difficult to answer because I have many concepts which I’m interested in and they all feed into each other in different ways. I am a multidisciplinary artist working in printmaking, painting, sculpture and installation. Nature is one of my main inspirations, and also how that intersects with human society, especially when confronting the terrifying truth of the Anthropocene.

Another main thread in my work is the psychology of collecting, which is a topic I am exploring further in my studio practice. I collect and give life back to objects that have been disregarded or lost. I love using humble and decaying materials. In some ways, I would describe my work as rustic. I play with the juxtaposition between the pristine white cube of an art gallery and the materiality of decay and rust. My work celebrates the mundane, both natural and manmade, and I enjoy displaying my work in a way which feels accessible to people’s everyday lives. The cabinet does this, as we all curate our own lives with the objects that we choose to surround ourselves with. I am interested in art within the domestic setting: memorabilia, collections, and souvenirs.

As part of my MA and current on-going practice I am examining the psychology of collecting. I want to understand why we collect and whether it may have been the first form of art. My work sees collecting as an essential and intrinsic part of the human experience in that it allows the individual to express their identity through the selection and presentation of objects. My cabinet pieces aim to reconnect people with a sense of the past, place, and nature, in a way which they may have lost sight of in a time of rapid change and disposability.

 

How has your practice change over time?

Initially I painted a lot at college. This was partly due to the shape of our curriculum and my perception of what professional art should look like. During my time at GSA I quickly realised that painting was not the medium that worked for me anymore. I started working more with printmaking and here I found my most natural artistic expression: this was chiefly in etching. Photography had always been a passion of mine, but when I learnt that the two mediums could be combined with photo-polymer plates it was an epiphany moment in my practice. I finally started to work with a clearer idea of my artistic process.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you or effected your work?

A hugely influential artist in my practice is the work of Richard Long. When I was 14 years old I went to his retrospective at Tate Modern. This was one of the most revolutionary moments in my artistic outlook as a young girl. Long’s work helped me to understand art as something more than just the traditional forms which I had been educated with. It gave me an insight into creative processes which used different materials. I find his work builds a relatable link between the intimate and primordial aspects of the human condition. His use of these basic materials like mud and rocks struck a chord in me, having spent most of my childhood playing with these same things.

Perhaps this experience simply speaks for the earlier real-life situations that influence my practice. A focal point of my childhood was taking these long walks on the beach near Aberystwyth whilst on holiday with my Dad. The entire time I would be filling a bag with the rocks and pebbles that caught my eye. By the end of our walk he’d be forcing me to lighten the load but I would keep finding more booty on the shore to take home. These two experiences sit side-by-side for me in importance. They inform each other, with the Richard Long exhibition showing how my own childhood fascinations could be translated into a meaningful project.

 

Can you tell us about your approach to a new project? How do you find a starting point?

My work tends to originate from photographing or scanning collected items. I’ll use academic texts to help inform my concepts and then use printmaking to explore visual outcomes.

I like to use my 35mm camera to document objects. The process behind developing an image is nearly as complex as creating a print. I quite like labouring over one image and exploring all it’s avenues. Because I’ve never been a particularly strong drawer, I find within print that I can translate my ideas through the initial inspiration of photography. I have never really worked with a sketchbook and I am much more hands-on, consistently looking for an immediate end product. In a way, my practice always starts with collecting, and I have no set space or place or time limit to this. I like to explore a specific landscape and collect objects which catch my eye, a bit like a magpie.

Tell us about your studio and your routine?

As an emerging artist who is not from a financially stable background, my time in the studio is dependant on when I have the money. I pay an open access rate at Thames-side Print studio and I try my best to get in once every week or fortnightly. I will manoeuvre between etching and screen-printing normally alternating each week. During my degree I was able to use the print studio constantly, spending almost every day in there. But luckily, my practice also revolves around being outdoors and collecting from my local environment. I could never be entirely sure if this has arisen from my financial needs or from a natural inclination, but it helps to have some kind of an output whenever I can’t access the studio or the resources that I need to.

 

Name some artists you’re inspired by, and why?

As I’ve already mentioned, Richard Long is a consistent influence.

Mark Dion and his project ‘The Thames Dig 1999’ has been influential and holds many parallels with my own work. I love the fusion between art, science and archaeology which is something that Dion embodies.

I could list off hundreds, but a few to name are: Cornelia Parker, Michael Landy, Eva Hesse, Rachel Whiteread, contemporary artist Shaun Fraser, Olafur Eliasson, Jannis Kounellis and Kurt Schwitters.

Do you have any news, projects or shows coming up?

Yes! I have two solo shows coming up this July. The first will be held in my hometown of Aldershot at The West End Centre on the 1st of July and the other on the 23rd of July at the Anise Gallery in Shad Thames.

The first exhibition involves me revisiting the work I made for my degree show and exploring it further. Expect a lot of rusty etchings. My second exhibition will feature works made about objects I have collected from the River Thames. It will explore the psychology behind collecting as both a hobby and an obsession.

 


 

 

Muir is Tir. Outer Hebrides. 2017

Muir is Tir. Artist Residency. 2017

 

 

In 2017, very shortly after graduating, I took part in a Residency co-hosted by Sail Britain and An Lanntair. ‘Muir is Tìr’ was a ten-day programme exploring the cultural heritage and identity of the Outer Hebrides, and the extraordinary beauty of the island landscape from land and sea. Muir is Tìr uses the land and seascapes as a venue and research arena, offering a window into the language and culture of the islands through an involved and participatory approach.

For the first five out of ten days we worked together closely while learning to sail. This was a new way of working for me and, of course, exploring the coastline and islands of Scotland. It was an extraordinary experience that gave me time for reflection, observation and contemplation in a unique environment. Sailing on a boat with five other artists who you don’t know is a definite way to challenge yourself, but I thrived off of the experience and was able to collect valuable rare objects, take a variety of pictures and make drawings whilst on the sea and land. At the end of it, not only had I experienced a wonderful ten days of meeting new like-minded artists, but I had also travelled around the coastline of some of the most beautiful corners of our earth. I felt liberated free and refreshed. In September 2018, we put on a group exhibition at An Lanntair, which was on show between 1st September – 6th October. To read more about my time at sea, please follow the link to my feature in Oceanographic Magazine:

https://www.oceanographicmagazine.com/features/outer-hebrides-artists-eyes/

 


 

 

Grinding pigment. Tuscany. 2018

Artist In Italy. Residency. 2018

 

Being awarded the ‘Artist in Italy’ residency was a fantastic experience for me. I had the opportunity to explore a new country, a new landscape and create work that was out of my comfort zone. I found myself overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape, the colours, the textures. In particular, there was a field of sunflowers, which sat just underneath our villa. I admired their tall, gnarly, textured presence: it got a hold on me. I spent the remainder of my time collecting sunflowers, drying them out, and playing with the sienna soil as painting materials. I also collected rocks from around the local area to make homemade pigments. You can see from my image above the process I used. This was a memorable experience, one which set me up with a show in Edinburgh Art Fair. I would like to thank both Aon and Julian for having me stay. Artist in Italy provided me with an opportunity to explore new concepts in my work whilst taking a break from my normal projects. It was a beautiful and fulfilling experience.

http://www.easelandlens.com/artist-in-italy-about/

 

 

 


 

 

Surface Collection. River Kelvin.  2017

 

In the lead up towards my degree show I collaborated with a group of archeologists from The University of Glasgow. When I realised the personal significance of the river Kelvin for me, and the work I was making, I reached out to the archeology department at Glasgow to see if they could provide me with more historical information on why there was such an abundance of material in the river and where it might have come from. I was astonished to find that they, in fact, did not know anything about the river treasures I had been collecting and so a friendship and collaborative project exchange was born. I ran a three day surface collection. The students of GU helped me find a methodology to my obsessive random collecting and in turn they collected hours of field research needed in order to pass their semester. It was a win win situation. I not only had help in gathering more than double the objects I had been able to on my own, but I had constructed a process of finding, marking and categorising them as well. Running the surface collection with the students taught me the importance of cross disciplinary work. How collaboration can make your own practice and ideas flourish. In turn, they were inspired by a creative approach to a subject which is fascinating but at times is heavily repetitive and self-reflexive. A massive thank you to Kenneth Brophy for your support and guidance throughout this project. I look forward to returning to it at some point in the near future.

 

 

 

‘Topophilia, An Archeology’, The Glasgow School of Art Degree Show, 2017.

 

Topophilia, An Archeology.

 

 

Yi Fu Tuan’s explorations of Topophilia provided me with a framework for experiencing and appreciating the aesthetics of nature:

‘Nature yields delectable sensations to the child, with his openness of mind, carelessness of person, and lack of concern for the accepted canons of beauty. An adult must learn to be yielding and careless like a child if he were to enjoy nature polymorphously. He needs to slip into old clothes so that he can feel free…

This prompted me to explore the concept of Topophilia – the love of place or aspects of a given place – providing me with a theoretical basis for my practical work. Through prolonged periods of my time spent by the Kelvin River, I discovered what it was to become attached to a place, to appreciate the various, and especially overlooked aspects of the beauty of that place and to experience the therapeutic benefits of having done so.

I discovered over the course of this project that my creativity is led from a deep-rooted desire to collect. This drove me to research the various uses and forms of curiosity cabinets. I am interested in both the exhibiting of collections and exploring the reasons why people enjoy the art of collecting in both an artistic and a hobbyist sense.

In my methodology and use of materials, I aimed to recreate a sense of place that was unique to my experiences. I explored the idea of ‘artefactualization’ as the process of transforming something found in situ into ‘something that is a natural object [but] might nevertheless not be in a natural state’.  I used this technique with manmade objects I had found, leading me to redefine this process of artefactualization with my resin pieces. I researched methods of categorisation used by archaeologists in the field by incorporating systematic recordings of GPS locations and their cataloguing techniques in my work.

One of the focal points of my degree show exhibition was a large display cabinet which was inspired by the work of Mark Dion. His piece ‘The Thames Dig’ is displayed in the form of a Wunderkammer or Curiosity cabinet. I made three different cabinets in pursuing this form of display. The piece that I used in my exhibition is an amalgamation of all the influences and different prototypes that I had for a Curiosity cabinet. The hinged doors of this final cabinet create the dynamic of revealing a collection of objects from the Kelvin giving the impression of rediscovering hidden aspects of this place. This was directly inspired by a display of Hogarth paintings at the John Soane museum in which the paintings are revealed from behind closed doors on regular intervals throughout the day.

‘Renaissance wunderkammer were private spaces, created and formed around a deeply held belief that all things were linked to one another through either visible or invisible similarities. People believed that by detecting those visible and invisible signs and by recognizing the similarities between objects, they would be brought to an understanding of how the world functioned, and what humanity’s place in it was’.