For our latest submissions call we’re asking artists to consider what it means to be a nomad and how anything from wandering and wanderlust to a sense of displacement or breaking of ties can be conveyed through art.
To get you thinking, we asked all the sins contributor (Issues 11 and 8) and conceptual artist Quin de la Mer to talk to us about her work. As you will read, our theme is woven into the fabric of Quin’s work and that to be a nomadic artist is to be deeply rooted in a sense of time and place, even if that time and place is always shifting. And with the climate crisis literally changing the physical spaces around us, there is a real sense of urgency to Quin’s interest in how art can speak for those that can’t, such as nature and animals.
We hope our conversation with Quin proves inspirational. Send us your journeys, your wanders near and far, your encounters with people, places and nature. Take us away or bring us near to you. Engage with place, movement and the spaces between.
Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis but we’ll stop reading for this theme on 19 March 2020.
You write on your website that ‘the practice of Artist as Nomad provides the background world for the visual narratives I create.’ – Can you tell us a bit more about what that phrase ‘artist as nomad’ means to you and how it informs your work?
Aura is something that connects by dissolving conceived borders that separate the tangible and the unseen. I describe it as the anatomy of the atmosphere. It is the essence of a thing or place that allows contiguous realities to co-mingle. As I connect with place, I have the experience of being breathed. It is engaged connection with the presence of the absent that informs the work I create.
I see permanence as a series of broken frames. For me, the idea of being settled creates boundaries that must be torn down in order to engage with an ever-evolving field of possibilities. The attachment that comes with rootedness is to my experience of existence itself.
How does that nomadic spirit show up in the way you practise your art?
I lean into the idea that making place-related work is a form of praktognosia, where every part of engaging physically with the natural world translates into a change in perception of this world. And then the artworks themselves form part of the perception. Ultimately, when the viewer encounters them in a different setting, they are out of their original context but provide a different function; to ask the viewer to stop, think, reflect…. and possibly continue to reflect on their reflection as time passes into days, weeks, years.
In your new work, Dragons, you talk about using materials that are both natural and human made – do you look for materials that are of the place or are you always collecting and sifting based on what the work requires at the time?
It’s a bit of both. Place definitely provides an abundance of materials that I incorporate into the work being created. A bit of mudlarking is inevitable and careful inspection will likely reveal treasures found and assimilated. When I’m between places, former locales continue to inspire me. For example, Dragons are an ongoing series inspired by memories of experiences and my own reflections regarding the tremendous contrast between human impact and natural beauty. In this making process I have collected objects such as heirloom garden seeds considered necessary for survival, and single use plastic.
How important is sense of place within your work? Thinking about the word place in all its senses – geographical, liminal, seen and unseen…
Traveling to different locations is essential to my making process. I am compelled to go to areas on the front lines of ecological crisis and listen to the natural world communicate its experience of the Anthropocene. Bridging the gap between two worlds, the physical and spiritual, is possible during the creative process. The artworks themselves become the vehicle that takes viewers on the journey.
When you move into a new space do you have an idea for work in mind, or do you let it speak to you first?
I choose a location based on a deeply emotional response to the environment and the conditions imposed upon that landscape. So, I enter the new space with a sensory-emotional connection that is the driving force for what is to come. Remarkably, entering the point transforms preconceived notions; the place becomes a cosmos and time stands still. As I listen, it reveals its story. When I step back, the entire experience becomes the background world for the visual work I aim to achieve.
Are there certain themes or elements that a place has to have in order for it to connect with you and your work?
The contrast between human induced catastrophe and beauty. Through the gathering of unfamiliar experiences, I make note of beauty that bleeds through the interstices of ordinary reality spontaneously healing rips and tears, wounds and separations. I experience beauty as a warrior dispelling disparity, giving hope, providing understanding, instilling courage to act, and fueling desire to make change. In my opinion beauty is transgressive by nature, intentionally violating human impact causing ecological crisis.
Are there places and spaces that you return to regularly and if so what is it about them that draws you back?
I do return to some places and long to return to others. They continue to speak to me, new ideas develop, and I want to go back and make additional work. I’m not sure that it is any one thing that draws me back. It’s more of the feeling that we aren’t finished with each other.
The word nomad conjures images of a wanderer, which is close in sound to wonderment – how important do you think it is that artists open themselves up to different spaces in order to find the wonder in their work?
Yes. Nomad, wanderer, wonderment, wonder – and I would add the power of awe. New experiences lead to unexpected encounters with the unfamiliar and the wonder-filled possibility of getting lost. And once you are lost there is only one option… to find yourself. I can think of no better way for an artist to find the wonder in their work.
Your work also seems to explore the idea of nomadic life in response to crisis – I’m thinking about Nomads in Exile as a response to the impact of climate change. Can you tell us a bit more about that work – what role do you think art can play in responding to the climate emergency?
Art is a powerful disseminator of information. Historically, artists have created profound changes in culture, beliefs, and consciousness. There is so much information out there concerning climate change and sadly there is no noticeable change that might stop the imminent mass extinction. I’m interested in connecting people to ecological crisis through an aesthetic feeling awareness so compelling they change their actions without needing to be cognizant of their actions changing. I think the answer lies in the power of meta-reflection and its ability to make changes in an individual’s inner-emotional landscape.
In 2018 I conceptualized a framework titled Nomads in Exile integrating site specific, research inclusive, contextually based methods to create artworks focusing on climate change impacts on biodiversity. The first series, Mother Love, concerns the deadly impact of Red Tide in the Gulf of Mexico. As terrestrial and marine mammals and birds die at an alarming rate, Mother Love joins the efforts to raise awareness. Rising water levels and increasing temperatures allow the algae to reproduce without limit. I find the correlation between human population explosion and excessive reproduction by the toxic algae particularly interesting which leads me to the question “Is the natural world using metaphor to communicate?” I created fresco paintings to look like otherworldly topography; refuge for the animals impaired by the persistence of the red algae. Titles adopt elements of cultures in diverse locations, a subliminal message that climate crisis is a global phenomenon crossing human imagined borders.
And what about language? Looking at the Text as Medium section of your portfolio, particularly in Postcards and Newsprint, where the words themselves seem wander off the page, it seems as though you see language as something nomadic, too. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
The restrictive nature of text feels more like a rule that asks me to break it. When I created the Postcards and Newsprint series, I utilized cutup technique to break up conventional patterns and to evoke changes in perception. Using deconstruction, reconstruction, and repetition the artwork holds the possibility to reveal hidden truths. It is as though the only gravity holding the message together is the page it is printed on, and even that is a momentarily captured elusive form.