News, happenings and goings on from the Old Fire Station, Oxford
All the Familiar Landmarks is an intensely beautiful, and exhilaratingly though-provoking, exhibition at the Gallery at The Old Fire Station from 21st February to 29th March. The painting, printing, and sculpture of Emma Moxey evolves naturally to provide a picture of exploration. Her work is at once extremely deep, with reference to philosophical considerations, but is also playful, personal, exploratory, and inviting.
The evening of Friday 21st saw Emma Moxey’s wonderful new exhibition aired for the first time in a cheerily attended private view.
I was able to ask her a few questions before the opening of the show:
Thoughts on Conception, and Conception itself
Sam: Do you tend to plan the works, with a set end image in mind, or are they freer, going with the movement of the mind at the time?
Emma: No, I don’t plan the images and really have very little idea as to where they will be going.
I work in series, one image at a time, with the work picking up, developing or dropping themes as it journeys through the series. I take a sample from a preceding image, selected at random, I transmute it digitally, through rotation and inversion, in order to loosen or cut its ties to the original, and then I re-approach it, with a new eye and a new set of rules. This sequential development effects a visual palimpsest in which ideas and workings are layered; defined and redefined, or eroded and erased. I see this as akin to a geological process, in which the artist’s hand represents the ravages of time: building, growing, developing and destroying.
In line with this, and as is also the case in the physical biological chemical universe, the development of the work and it’s place-scapes is governed by a set of rules, and it is these rules that dictate the eventual image. This is is dualistic relationship however: I am not claiming to be absent in the work. I concede that it is a balance between my ideas, my moods, my thinking and the dictates of the image, and although I do not allow my choices to be directed solely by aesthetics, I acknowledge that there will always be a consideration of this in an approach to visual image making. Even work that is acutely anti-aesthetic must still consider its aesthetics, if only to oppose it!
(Emma’s own question): So what directs these rules?
Emma: Well, there are various factors or forces…the principle force is the theme or ideas present. These will govern the strands that I wish to pull out in the image, and therefore my structuring of the rules. The second is a reaction to the initial starting point…it’s colours, it’s shapes, it’s flows…all of these will suggest an approach and attached to the approach is a set of rules. Finally, some of the rules must evolve in dialogue with the work, and in some sense this is an aesthetic or anti aesthetic consideration. For example; I try not to balance the work compositionally or adhere to the traditional compositional rules. My own rules therefore, will take this into consideration and be selected for this purpose. My reasoning is not based on a desire to be anti order or anti aesthetic: instead it results from the force of a theme, which in this example is to exaggerate the attached-ness of the image to a larger whole: By drawing our attention to the borders and the cropping its relatedness to its exterior can be highlighted, as a map relates to its wider environ.
Alongside the rules, there is also a coding. This builds and redirects itself as the serial works translate from one another. A key goal in my artistic process is to develop a thematic language that we can loosely understand: a slightly ambiguous language that gets under our skin: a language that we absorb and almost feel like we remember, without being too literal or simplistic. For this, certain visual codes, signs and symbols, are used which (I hope) enables the viewer to find an entry point into the work, some familiar ground so to speak. Elements that might be found on maps, or in diagrams, are therefore used to hint at the ideas behind the work. I am happy however, that these visual suggestions are slightly ambiguous and open to interpretation. I want to highlight the viewer’s role in the production of an artwork. Production is my role. Reading or interpretation is down to the individual viewer, who brings to the image a package of memories, stories, reflections and interests, and all of these have a place in my work, they are invited in.
Those Familiar Landmarks
Sam: How far, if at all, do you feel there is a correlation between the landscape of your work, with the ‘landscape’ of your locality?
Emma: My answer to this is in two parts. The first deals with the memories and stories in my head. The second deals with the wider themes and concepts that drive the work.
Relating to the first, I bear in mind two landscapes when I produce the work. One is my childhood place… A post-glacial finger of moorland surrounded by an inaccessible bog set in the New Forest, the other is a local landscape known as Wittenham Clumps, just south of Oxford. Both landscapes connect to the past, present and future, both absorb and somatically ground us, while also connecting us, through wide skies and far reaching views, through stories and myths, through memories and connections, to the hugeness of our being-in-the-world. Through this many of my themes come into sight, carried by a landscape into the minds eye. And in effect, many of my ways of working are also born out in my interaction with the sites; my traverse along paths etched into the ground, circling features and walking rings around areas of topographic or historical significance, reappears in the work as paths either floating through spaces in search of anchor points around which they can adhere or firmly attached and rooted to their features, so dictating the focal points to the artworks. Loosely these also feed into my wider themes, which originate in my move to Oxford 5 years ago.
When I moved here from Bristol, I felt very uprooted. I did not know the area at all and was slightly restricted by the fact that I had a 2-week old baby. This resulted in an obsession with maps; an easy means of escape, unobstructed by difficult buggy-proof terrain or stiles. So through these kitchen table, OS based adventures, I gained a slightly warped view of my location, detached from its actual reality, and I became fascinated by the existence of these places in the mind rather than as physical or real entities. To this distancing, I brought a question that I had been exploring in previous works…what is it that defines a place, and how does a place differ from space? This is a big question, but to be short, it is the stories and relation to its inhabitants that sets it apart. Places are selected for their purpose and these places then build over time to form places that are layered and complex. Within my work, I mimic this when I pick out areas to be points of focus or when I start to infest the image with growing constructions. This thinking has then taken me into the far reaches of the cosmos, into moments of cosmological genesis, to the beginning of time and it’s interaction with the measurement of space, and into the microscopic world of cellular division and growth, from the birth of coral reefs to the birth of stars and back again! Along the way, I map my habitation and lay down trails.
Sam: To what extent do you feel that your works form a type of virtual landscape?
Emma: The word virtual always confuses me. An abstract landscape…yes. An imagined landscape…yes. A nearly landscape…yes. A quasi landscape…yes. But I also hope that they are something more than landscape, and it is the presence of this otherness that keeps them alive and maintains their dialogue with us.
Influences and Techniques
Sam: Your work seems very poetic. Are you influenced by any writers in particular?
Emma: I am particularly interested in philosophical writing regarding land, place and perception. I tend to pick up on a few lines from a text, and then allow these to be interpreted into my work. For example, the exhibition title and some of the image titles relate to Michel Foucault’s writing. I am not an expert on him however. It might be that certain phrases simply act as triggers for new approaches to the work, or act in bolstering current approaches.
“.. All the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we tame the wild profusion of existing things.” Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Pantheon, 1970).
These influences are not drawn exclusively from high brow difficult to read texts. Sometimes they are drawn from lines that float around in my head and their original sources can be quite surprising. For instance: in my gallery ‘spiel’, I include a poetic approach which starts “there is a place not far from here”. I could not for the life of me find where I had got this from, but it had been in my head for some time. I was surprised therefore, having included it in my gallery information to find that it was the opening line to Mr Bloom’s Nursery, a ‘CBeebies’ programme that my youngest daughter had been watching!
Sam: How do you feel that your choice of materials and techniques allows you to fully explore your ideas?
Emma: My choice of material and technique is open to change and each technique brings its own set of inferred meanings and readings-whether these be related to the material itself or to the visual effects that can be achieved.
Life and Future
Sam: How does this exhibition fit in with your overall turnout? What areas of exploration might you delve into in the future?
Emma: The work is getting bigger, and I want to build on this. I am currently trying to find a way for the work to be effective at different viewing points. You will see in the exhibition that there is an enlargement of forms and marks in the later work and this allows the work to be viewed both at a distance and in detail, while the smaller works can only really be properly viewed close up. I also intend to extend my cartographic language through further research into historical maps and would like to work alongside a musician in a bid to map and interpret sound into two dimensions, perhaps in a two-way collaboration in which my work is interpreted musically or as a sound-scape, and this is then reinterpreted as a visual and so on.
Sam: How would you describe a general day of your artistic practice? Is this your day job? (pardon the term)
Emma: I hardly ever have a day of artistic practice. I have two young children and so during the day I am a full time mum! I also lecture part time in Art and Design at Abingdon and Witney College. So, my artistic day starts when the children are tucked up in bed and generally extends late into the night! The candle is very definitely being burned at both ends, but it’s otherwise impossible to be creative, and I would be miserable if I couldn’t paint!
On Saturday, the day after the private view, Emma hosted a family workshop, Playtime!, in which children and parents collaborated in full force, working around and through her ideas, and forging some charmingly engrossing wire structures that now inhabit the Gallery floor. The immediate complexity of Emma’s work benefits greatly from her openly approachable nature. Good fun was had by all who attended, with the kids also taking the time to remove their shoes and have a wee run around.
Check back on the blog for more deets on the upcoming Pop-Up Studio event, on March 15th, when Emma will once more be in residence at the Gallery at The Old Fire Station, but this time bringing her studio with her. You can see her techniques in action, check out any work in progress, and even just have a chat.
This Blog Post has been penned by Samuel Stensland, with interview answers attained via email from the artist.