Q&A with Platform Nominee Rachel Atkinson
Phoenix Art Space is delighted to be taking part in the Platform Graduate Award for the first time. Established in 2012, the Award is designed by CVAN South East to support emerging graduate artistic talent, and to help further their practice following graduation.
We are excited to announce that our selected nominee is Rachel Atkinson. She was chosen by a panel consisting of Executive Director Sarah Davies and three Phoenix studio artist members: Fergus Heron, Geoff Hands and Anna Dumitriu. It was Rachel’s level of experimentation and playfulness alongside witty social commentary that stood out for the panel.
Can you tell us a little about what you are exhibiting at Phoenix Art Space?
The work I am exhibiting is titled Exit, Stage Left. It explores old and new media, green screen and the physical stage, performance and static props. All these conflicts create a work which fails in each individual endeavour. It reflects on ideas of failure and suspension of belief. Throughout the history of illusion what is often asked of the audience is a suspension of disbelief. The audience is asked to disregard their doubts and their understanding that what they’re seeing is, in actuality, a trick. Exit, Stage Left explores this element by pushing what an audience will believe. Asking the question: What are you willing to look past to be fooled?
I had hoped my work to be something quite immersive as you enter the space, for the lines to become blurred between audience and art piece. It was important for me to create something that is viewed from all angles, in this way the audience feels as if they are back stage, on stage, and in-front of the stage all at once. It is really important to me that the audience feels they are almost disturbing a strange and fantastical amateur dramatics group, and that now they have done so they must be a part of the scene, hop on stage and improv something equally strange.
It has a particular emphasis on loss. Having just graduated in the strangest and most uncertain time. I don’t think I could help but reflect how much the loss of my graduate show and that precious time at university has affected me. It’s found its way into this work, I have tried to create this final fantastical send off to the props and characters who have sat waiting in the wings for all these months.
Your work combines two quite distinct media; woodwork and film. How do these two media inform one another?
I have always wanted my work to become a combination of theatre and the screen. I am influenced by old theatre props and mechanics, Shakespeare, modern CGI technology, old school film, green screen, motion capture, and behind the scenes footage; so I feel like the combination of woodwork and film help marry these two ideas together. I was influenced heavily by the ideology of my BA course. Whilst we were a sculpture course, everyone was creatively free; I worked alongside painters, film makers, and photographers and I can see how all of these art forms are connected and compliment each other. I owe so much to the amazing tutors and technicians at the university. Film has also been a great way to keep working creatively whilst I am not in the place to afford a studio to make my large scale sculptures.
Tell us about the green screen and the role it plays within your practice.
There is something quite special about green screen footage. Even after it has been edited, you can always tell that it is a fake. Either the editing is so terrible you are taken totally out of whatever you are watching, or the footage is so fantastical that you know it could never have been filmed in real life. Either way, the director of the film is asking the audience to suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to be fooled by the imagery. To me, it is like a modern magic show.
In this way I found green screen to be incredibly influential in my work. Green screen footage holds so much potential. There are endless possibilities for where or what something can be. I don’t often edit my green screen to fulfil this potential because I am more intrigued by the unused potential, and the strange irony of asking the audience to imagine. I found my initial interest in green screen because I have always found it humorous, especially behind the scenes footage of actors in green morph suits. The green I use is also not a traditional ‘chroma key’, I use slightly more fluorescent fabrics in my screens and props. I was heavily influenced by the writing of David Batchelor in The Luminous and the Grey. He writes that “luminous colours, however old they are, appear to have a particular relationship with the world around them and with their beholders that is unlike that of other colours…” It is a wonderful book which I would definitely recommend.
What have you been working on these last few months? Have you managed to stay creative?
I have managed to stay incredibly active over the lockdown, working mostly with film and photography. My practice had changed quite a bit now that I am without my fabulous studio and workshop. When I had a chance to come back to university and spend a few days I was lucky to be able to make the wonderful stage you can see in the images of the show. I hope to be able to afford a studio soon but for now I am fitting in any work where I can. It has been a big struggle for me to have lost so much time in the studio due to the lockdown, and I know it has been the same for so many other graduates of 2020. I think in some ways it has made me even more determined to keep going forward with my art practice.