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Procedures & Materials: An Interview with artist Scarlett Bowman
June 5, 2017
Repurposing the recycled waste of contemporary culture, Scarlett Bowman’s artworks revisit the Duchampian readymade. Brightly hued fragments of discarded materials appear to hover over the off-white composite, as the semi-abstract forms they create develop an autonomous and distinctive visual language. Eschewing their preconceived utilitarian value, the pieces transcend into the symbolic realm. Through the artist’s re-appropriation of humdrum objects, the compositions simultaneously convey familiarity and strangeness, as well as completeness and provisionality. Candid Magazine’s Ariane Belisle sat down with Scarlett to talk about her practice, in light of the Procedures & Materials exhibition at Collectionair, until 24th July 2017.
Ariane Belisle: Your abstract reliefs ‘Fragments’ address the materiality that forms contemporary commodity culture. By reappropriating objects from everyday life, utilitarian items become symbolic. How is this idea expressed in your work?
Scarlett Bowman: I have always used readymade utilitarian (often recycled) materials designed for use such as sponges, cellulose cloths, microfiber cloths, stainless steel scourers, ratchet straps, removal blankets, etc. as a way of exploring our material culture. I like to juxtapose the old with the new so for example the recycled ratchet straps which are almost black with dirt stitched together with a brand new neon pink microfiber cloth reeks not only of commercialism, excess and production but also a sense of nostalgia and history. A material that has already had its journey versus a material that is about to embark on its own. By repurposing the selected material from its natural habitat I want to address our dependence on everyday materials and the various modes of production we rely so heavily upon. From online material acquisition to the final work, our daily environment is conditioned and shaped by the efficiency of industrial processes that are hidden from the consumer.
AB: In your earlier body of work, you playfully rearrange and cast sustainable materials – namely, plastics, latex, composites and textiles – in composite. Could you talk about your process? Does the facture process become the art itself, or are the two distinct?
SB: It always starts with sourcing and acquiring the materials as these essentially dictate the form of the work. In contrast to using readymade material I like to employ traditional craft based processes to explore the physical experience of handling these materials, such as assemblage, collage, casting, and stitch. The medium I suppose dictates which process I will use, some materials can’t be stitched, and some can’t be cast so it’s a case of trial and error. I like the approach to be playful and there is a sense of humour in the way that materials that are designed for high absorbency or extreme weight are totally stripped of their primary function once you remove the selected material from its natural habitat, thus enabling the audience to view it purely as a material.
AB: How important to you is the viewer, as the receiver of your work?
SB: The viewer is always important as they complete the work in a sense. As the maker its often much harder to remove yourself from the work and look at it with completely fresh eyes, but the audience can do this no problem.
AB: Your works seep art historical references, from Arte Povera, to Outsider art, and Collage and Assemblage. Are there any artists you draw inspiration from?
SB: Phyllida Barlow, Sterling Ruby, Sheila Hicks, Eva Hesse.
AB: Your body of work entitled ‘Tapestries’ continues to explore your fascination with materiality. What triggered the shift from composite to textiles?
SB: I had already started casting these fabrics into the composite so removing the composite felt like a natural next step. I wanted to see how the soft materials would hold the space on their own and so increasing the work in scale made sense when working with textiles. Also from a practical point of view they are much easier to store in my studio, which as an artist with a studio-based practice does present its boundaries.
By Ariane Belisle
Scarlett Bowman’s ‘Fragments’ are currently on display in the Procedures & Materials exhibition at Collectionair.