Tell us a little bit about yourself—your background, major program of study, reasons for taking this trip, and anything else interesting you want to share (maybe something people might not know about you).
Hi! My name is Melanie and I’m a 3rd year Fine Arts student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Within the last few years creating I’ve gravitated to photography, print media, and video art. I’ve always liked to explore the idea of collectivity and challenging the truths in our daily lives through the ideas all of us see everyday in society and popular culture. I have received the amazing opportunity to study abroad next year at Leeds Arts University for Fine Arts where I’ll be representing KPU. Approaching my final years in an art community like this university, and knowing I wouldn’t see all my friends that become family in classes for a whole year, I knew that the trip of a lifetime would be ahead of me (and to learn and travel with those very people would be an experience I would never get to do again).
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a creative and with that I knew I wanted to travel around the world. I’m highly influenced by fashion, magazine culture, and the avant-garde - all of which London has an incredible history with. Throughout the years, I’ve discovered that I love to learn about art history just as much as I like to create ; for me, a semester isn’t a fun, fulfilling and full semester without at least one ARTH course. I am pretty much an open book and would say I’m a charismatic person so if you want to get to know me more, don’t hesitate to walk up and say hi! :)
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about London (or Venice) so far?
I arrived in London two days before the group flight landed, I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how sunny and well the weather behaved during that time. Our first full day as a group was beautiful, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. I think that what has just met my expectations would be the hostel; the common areas are a great space to hangout and meet people, the staff are nice, the facilities are clean but the rooms are more or less just average. I think I didn’t have too high expectations for the hostel because I knew that I would like to go out and want to experience London as a city rather than stay in every night. That being said, I am very happy with how close we are to two main metro stations and local restaurants, coffee shops and drug-stores. I like the flexibility to be able to grab a cappuccino in the morning or stop by Waitrose for a quick protein bar. This is not the first time I’ve traveled to London, but every time I come back I am reminded why I’m attracted to this city.
Give us some insight into your assigned artwork from the Tate Modern. After seeing the work in person in London (and any other related art from the same artist or art movement associated with the assigned work), what struck you most about it and/or how did the artwork’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it.
The artwork I was given at the Tate Modern was Helga Paris’ Women at the Treff-Modelle Clothing Factory (1964). It was in their “Workers” section from a larger exhibition called Artist and Society. When I first was assigned this piece, I was looking at it too literally. I was only seeing the subject of white, working class woman. The more I sat down and really looked at the piece, the more I saw what was being said about herself and the society around her. At home, I saw the series swiping through the files on my computer, therefore, when I got to see them in person it definitely changed how I experienced the content.
In the Tate Modern, Paris’ Women at the Treff-Modelle Clothing Factory showed all nine photographs together in three rows of three. I had never seen the photographs arranged like that before, and now that I’ve seen it in that orientation I wouldn’t change anything. Having the photographs grouped together gave me a feeling of community or belonging; each separate photograph was a portrait of just one woman, which brought a broader sense of individuality within the people. Paris’ work captures details about the women in the photograph that are in direct conversation with their surroundings but with also the familiar surroundings of their co-workers. When seeing the photographs together I felt like I could tell that these women were all comfortable with each other, and it became a more personal piece after that.
Another characteristic of its form that is a metaphor for the community itself was its size. The individual photographs were not a size that was large for a standard photo, but when all nine photographs are placed next to each other it develops into a much larger, much more captivating visual. I think there is a lot more than what meets the eye to all of Paris’ work. For her content and context are a very important element for her work to reach the audience on a deeper level than just simply working-class women. Now that doesn’t mean that fact isn’t valid, in fact that is probably the element that attracts (or repels) a larger range of people. Sometimes, especially in a gallery full of modern art that doesn’t make complete sense, it’s the artwork that we can all immediately understand on some basic level, even if that level is purely visual, that we need to ground us and remind us where we are in the world (see Melanie’s response piece to Helga Paris in gallery below).
How did you approach the creative task of responding to your assigned artists in studio? What were your challenges as an artist to be in dialogue with the artwork and artist? Would you do anything differently now that you have seen the work in person?
The artist I was assigned at the Tate Britain was Monster Chetwynd. Chetwynd is primarily a performance artist and at first I thought that her and I were complete opposites in all aspects. I think one of the biggest challenges for myself was finding something that I would feel as a positive connection to her as an artist. I still think that my favourite piece of hers is Crazy Bat Lady, which was evidently the artwork I was assigned. Crazy Bat Lady (2018) is a blown-up print of another, much smaller collaged self-portrait which also incorporated scanned images from history textbooks and old magazines.
When I saw her image I initially thought it was just a portrait of a woman with a crown on, but then I soon realized the soft edges I was seeing were the impression of her cut and pasting different images on top of others. I wanted to use this idea of believing what your eye initially sees and then having to question what you’re actually looking at. After I completed the photoshoot I took the images and used Photoshop’s liquefy filters to alter/morph his body to look grotesque and odd but still look like a boy sitting on a chair. I think that my piece may not look as if it is in direct conversation with Chetwynd’s, but the under layers of the piece do run parallel to hers.
I’m not sure if I would change anything from my final product because I was very happy with it. Since she was a performance artist, I thought about doing a performance but I wasn’t sure exactly what I would do that would relate to my practice. So when I received my second artist, Helga Paris, I do think I challenged myself in a performative way by videotaping myself asking strangers in various places in Vancouver if I could take their photograph. For that piece I thought it was in an interesting conversation with both artists. Nonetheless, I think a performative quality to my art will be in the future.
Today’s activity was located at the Tate Britain followed by a visit to The London Eye and a cruise down the Thames river. What were your impressions? What will you take away of the experiences of this day? What are the most memorable moments for you?
June 3rd was our very first day out as a group in London and it was jam-packed with activities. First, we traveled to the Tate Britain and most of us got to see the artwork we’ve been individually learning about for weeks. I thought seeing Crazy Bat Lady in person for the first time was a highlight of my trip so far because I wasn’t aware on how big the scale was nor was I aware that it was directly to my right when I walked around the corner. Seeing artwork you personally know a lot of information about in person changes the way you see the piece as a whole and gravitated me towards it more than I thought it would.
After the Tate Britain we walked back to the hostel and rested for a little while (which might not have been the best idea for some of us jet lagged Canadians like myself, but that’s what we did). We eventually woke ourselves up and traveled to the main tourist area of London where we rode the London Eye and saw London from a whole new perspective! I have done observational attractions before but I think this one was specifically the most impactful to see how tight-knit and compact London truly is as a city. After the cruise we took a very windy boat ride down the Thames River where we had a very funny tour guide who made the whole boat ride ten times better, in my opinion. I think what I enjoyed most about the day was being in a group environment with my fellow friends and classmates because before they had arrived I was alone in this big city. Even though I had tons to do while I waited for them to arrive there was something electric about having the other 22 people to vibe off of and to finally experience the things we were learning about for the past couple weeks. Our first day was spent with great people underneath picturesque weather in an inspiring city - what more could you ask for!?