In special relationships an artist has with their craft, their inspired beginnings often vary. Whether it’s through a musical upbringing or an early interest in performance, there is a connection that is hard to put into words. And once that connection is found, it is hard to ignore and will forever fuel your creative drive. There are many notable up-and-coming artists in the Toronto music scene, and Parris is certainly one of them. We had the opportunity to chat with him about the inspirations behind his writing process and his upcoming project, RoseGold, with which he brings us classic R&B with a twist. Get ready for it.
Kimberley Drapack: How did you first get involved with music?
Parris: My mother used to constantly play great albums in the house while we were cleaning or doing other things like going to the grocery store or even on our way to church. She would play anyone from Michael Jackson to Sade, and ’70s and ’80s new wave & alternative rock. Her catalogue of music is definitely a part of the reason why I’m doing music today. I was always singing all of her favourite songs everywhere we went, but my mother wasn’t one to judge me, even though it must have annoyed her at times. The voice I had then isn’t [like] the voice I have now. My passion to create music was self-induced but my mother’s positive influence over me definitely had an enormous role in the reason why I create music today.
K:What’s has it been like growing up in Toronto and your music developing within this scene?
P: Growing up in Toronto has been a blessing. I’ve met so many great minds living here in the city and built relationships that I know will last my entire lifetime. It is a big city with a tight knit community of creatives. Sometimes people’s egos clash in the music scene but it’s minor given the potential for growth within the city. Making music in the city with my friends is probably the most exciting to me. It fell into place naturally as if it was meant to be.
K: Your upcoming project, Rose Gold is classified as an R&B album. Can you tell us about the project?
P:Rose Gold means the world to me. This is going to be one of my most collaborative works but it’s pretty personal. I don’t want to give it all away just yet, but I’ll let you know that most of the subject matter on it is relationship based. This project is going to be something people will really appreciate because the content isn’t only up with the times, it also has its own unique sound to it.
I’m 23 years old, and before my birthday, which just passed at the beginning of this year, I told myself that I’d be more patient and take a lot more time with the whole process. My previous tape Point Five was pretty solid but it was a bit forced. I don’t regret the way I went about it because I definitely learned what I needed to know now to make Rose Gold a solid piece of art.
K: What inspires your writing process?
P: I used to get writer’s blocks all the time. I have breathing and meditative exercises that not only help me with writing but also help me with life in general. I’m a big believer in Christ and grew up in a Christian home so it all balances out for me in the end. That’s a bit off topic, but it has a lot to do with how I deal with the stresses of having creative blocks. I write best when I’m inspired and as soon as I feel like I’m losing it I walk away and come back to it at another time.
K: What other producers, songwriters and/or artists do you see as your primary inspirations?
P: There are definitely some really hot artists and producers coming out of the city right now who’ve inspired me to do more than I’ve ever done musically [so far]. Artists and producers like Villabeats, DrewHoward, & MaxG have amazing work ethics that I not only admire but try to mimic myself.
K: What are the biggest sacrifices you have had to make for your career, if any?
P: The biggest sacrifice that I’ve made is time with my family and friends. People assume that there isn’t much work and time put into beautiful works of music but once they get into the studio and see the process, their whole concept of the industry changes. I love and think about my family and friends all the time so having them in my mind while I’m creating keeps me fluid.
K: What can we expect from you in 2017?
P: What the world could expect this year is a bunch of smiles and a lot of laughter. My team and I are so blessed to be able to bring beautiful music to the world. There isn’t much else we could ask for. Everyone behind this project seems to be of a really content vibe and that’s what it’s all about.
The music industry is tough enough without certain standards it holds for women. Often, women are expected to look a certain way and live a certain lifestyle, all the while creating consistently good albums and starting a family of four. The music industry — the entertainment industry as a whole — regularly scrutinizes women on a daily basis according to the standards it’s set.
This can be a difficult way of life for many, but there is often a light at the end of the tunnel. Artists such as Alexa Durks, otherwise known as Begonia, are working to eradicate this standard. Living her life as true expression of her authentic self, Alexa is a role model for women to look up to. Not only does she have a killer voice, she has a great attitude about life and works hard to achieve her goals.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Alexa to discuss her beginnings in the girl group, Chic Gamine. Continue reading to fall in love with her, just as we have after chatting with her about her life on the road.
Kimberley Drapack: How did your love for music begin?
Alexa Durks: I started pretty young. I was always interested in singing and I was a loud kid, so I was always singing at home. Nobody in my family is a musician besides myself, but everyone was always listening to music or singing. It was instilled in me at a young age.
It was always something that I felt like I wanted to do and I don’t think I felt like I always would understand how or why, but I always felt I was connected to music in an emotional way. I went to church as a kid, sang in church, and was in musicals as a child. It’s a typical start.
K: What was the first CD you ever purchased?
AD: My dad had a Columbia House subscription. I’d always try to mooch off his subscription and get him to get me something. I started listening to the Beatles because my dad liked them. The first CD I bought with my allowance money was in the fourth grade. It was Destiny’s Child, The Writing’s on the Wall. I went crazy.
K: Do you have a favourite Destiny’s Child member?
AD: Well obviously Beyoncé. I was in a girl group, Chic Gamine, I know what that is like. Not in the same sort of way.
K: That’s how you began singing?
AD: I started singing for a gig when I was like sixteen or seventeen. I was still in high school and I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t understand how I could make it a career, but it was something that I wanted to do, and I could make money doing it, so it blew my mind. I started touring with Chic Gamine, when I was nineteen or twenty. It was an early start. I had no idea what was going on, and I sometimes still have no idea what’s going on.
K: Was it exciting in that you were getting out of your hometown and traveling?
AD: It was an adventure. I still have a romanticized view of the road and certain aspects of it. That’s why I still tour, I do it because I love it. I’m going to stop when it stops being fun all together.
That’s kind of what it’s like, you kind of have to be able to get on a stage and enjoy what you are doing, because people can feel that authenticity. You don’t want to do it when you don’t like it anymore, that’s when a lot of bullshit can come in.
K: You describe Begonia as being on a spectrum — with one end that is dark and grievous and the other a petite, elegant flower. What is it like finding the balance between these two sides and how does it relate to your music?
AD: I’m not necessarily what a lot of people would classify as the stereotypical pop star in any sort of sense. If you look at me, there’s meat on my bones, I’m a person that is pretty outspoken in certain ways. I can also be shy and timid, and there are all those sides.
If we’re really going to cut to it, as women, in that age in the industry, you’re supposed to look a certain way and be a certain way, and I struggle with that duality all the time of the person that I want to put out there and the person I really am, which is my authentic self that doesn’t always have my makeup done perfectly or doesn’t necessarily know when or if I’m going to have children. I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life but I know there are women in the industry who do not have specific roles. I feel like that’s where I find myself, in the middle of that, trying to represent the “other.”
K: Do you feel as though you’ve felt pressure in a way to express that women are supposed to be categorized a certain way, or fit a certain look?
AD: I respect it all. If you are being an honest, authentic person, who is representing yourself, you don’t have to look any specific way. There shouldn’t be a standard.
K: Tell us about your EP, Lady in Mind. What stories does it tell? What was the writing process like to produce this work?
AD: It was the culmination of a lot of years of writing songs and kind of shelving them, and not knowing where I was going to put some of these songs. I was in a band for so long where we had a really collaborative writing process, so I would write some of these songs on my own and not really know where they would fit.
Over the course of the years, it just encapsulated so many different topics. Being in my mid-twenties and trying to understand where I fit in as a woman in the industry, trying to understand my own female fragility. I got out of a really bad relationship at the time that was pretty emotionally abusive, that played a part in some of these songs, but I think the common thread in the content is trying to find the power within yourself in the dark moments. Each song has a realness to it because I’m just talking about my authentic experience. Anyone could possibly relate to it if they’ve ever gone through shit.
It’s about the relationship within yourself, a relationship with the same or opposite sex, and the world around you.
K: What genres would you describe your music to be in between? Do you find the label of a certain type of genre can be limiting?
AD: It’s a limiting question, but you have to kind of know. I do feel as though I have a pop sensibility to my writing but it is more on the alternative side. It’s not necessarily the type that would play on the Top 40 radio, and I know that.
There’s some R&B underpinnings, there’s some soul underpinnings. I draw inspiration from so many different places, but if you really have to put it down to what it is, it would probably be pop alternative music.
K: What did it feel like when your single Juniper, from your new five-song EP, Lady in Mind, reached number one on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20?
AD: It was super cool. I wasn’t expecting it. We just put the song out there to launch the project a year ago, and when CBC picked it up, it was a nice moment. It was a validating moment where people wanted to hear what I do, people are interested in what I’m doing.
I would have done it either way, but it’s one of those moments where you’re thankful. Hearing your song on the radio at any time is a pretty exciting thing. My mom would look up on the website when it would play.
K: Are your parents your biggest cheerleaders?
AD: They come to all my gigs. Since when I was a kid to when I was a teenager playing in shitty bars, they would come to every gig I ever played. When I quit my full time job right out of high school and said I was going on the road, they didn’t necessarily understand what that meant — I didn’t understand what that meant. They thought, “that’s cool, but you are still living at home, how are you going to make money?” I didn’t even know. Once I got more of a handle on the industry and kind of figured out what I was doing then they could understand it better, but they’ve always been super supportive.
K: For those not in the industry, they can see your line of work as more of a hobby than a job until you get a certain validation of playing a big festival. Can that be frustrating?
AD: I’m used to it, that’s part of it. When you are a small potato like me, you do have to prove yourself and whether I like it or not, that’s part of the game. I know it, and I’m just going to go out there and do what I do no matter what.
K: What can we expect from you in the future?
AD: I’m touring right now and this summer. I’m working on a new album and I’m going to be in the studio in the fall, so hopefully by next year you are going to hear some new stuff.
Trying to find up-and-coming artists can be time consuming, unless you are like me with not much of a life and all the time in the world to keep an eye out for new talent. With an abundance of music coming out each month, we can sometimes get lost in the mix. Who can blame you? With websites constantly posting, articles like “Top 10 Artists You Need To Keep an Eye On” almost every other week, it can be a lot. And who’s to say that their choices are worthy?
While I may seem contradictory, I have carefully selected a list of 6 artists who you will want to add to your Spotify playlist to impress your cool friend Devon at the next kickback. Or they are a great bunch of artists to listen to on your 30+ minute commute to work on the TTC. So pick up your phone or your laptop, click away, and come along for the ride.
This self-proclaimed All-American Boyband managed to pull out one of the summer’s best albums in under a month. This group is made up of Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, JOBA, Ameer Vann and Rodney Tenor and moved to LA just one year ago. On June 6th, the group dropped their second mixtape, Saturation, and set a whole new standard for a quick turnaround in lyric writing and music production.
Toronto-born artist Jessie Reyez has the ultimate response to a cheating ex: write a song about him. Debuting in August of 2016, the song, Figures, has over 5,676,499 views, and is still climbing. Jessie is thankful for Toronto’s eclectic music scene, for allowing her to create the music we are so grateful that she is sharing. Jessie released her debut EP, Kiddo, this past April.
Deem Spencer is a 21-year-old artist hailing from Queens. Mixing influences of pop, R&B, and soul, he creates a fusion of sounds that make up a flawless soundscape. In October 2016, he released his EP, sunflower, that weaves together emotional lyrics with a hopeful optimism. We see great things up-and-coming for this youngster, and we urge you to keep an eye out.
This rising R&B singer is a Miami native who now calls L.A. home. In March 2017, she released her EP, Confidently Lost, written exclusively by herself, that discusses heartbreaks and revivals that any young adult can relate to. Along with the story told through her lyrics, Sabrina works hard to express a story through her expressive videos, revealing complementary aesthetics that blend in with her melodic voice.
Jelani Aryeh is a 17-year old from a small town in San Diego who is inspired by the likes of Brockhampton and Frank Ocean. Released about a month ago, his debut EP, Suburban Destinesia, is inspired by his suburban upbringing and the banalities it may hold. Destinesia is described as the following sensation: “when you get to where you were intending to go, you forget why you were going there in the first place.”
Dua Lipa has gained exposure across the globe with her her self-titled debut album released earlier this year. This UK native has climbed her way up the charts producing bangers after bangers. She is the perfect addition to any summer playlist. Not only are we at Novella giving her the stamp of approval, but big artists like Lorde have tweeted out words of praise for her video, New Rules.
The first time I went on Julia Monson’s Instagram to look at her work, I laughed out loud. It was a picture of a drone that did it, one that had “send nudes” written on the side. I just about lost in on a streetcar.
Monson’s work is unexpected. It’s light but can easily be deconstructed as commentary on today’s society. Monson’s colour palette is pretty and feminine but the humour is dry and crude. I was so enamoured with her illustrations that I was excited to pick her brain for an afternoon, a task made easier by Monson’s open and lighthearted disposition.
We sat down in her studio, tucked in the back of her Toronto apartment, to talk creativity, Instagram, and fidget spinners.
Natasha Grodzinski: Thank you so much for inviting me into your space! To start off, tell me about your artistic background — did you study it in school? Was it always a passion you had?
Julia Monson: I went to OCAD for criticism and curatorial, which is far form what I’m doing now. I’m not curating and I’m not in criticism [laughs]. But that’s fine, at the time I wasn’t ready to fully commit myself to making or creating. I was more interested in a critical aspect. I minored in painting and drawing in my last two years. It took me six years to get out of OCAD. I took a break for a little bit, and it wasn’t until maybe last year that I thought, “I’m just going to illustrate, I’m just going to do that,” and now that’s what I’m doing.
NG: How did that transition come about, to get to illustrating as a job?
JM: I think I’m just a creative person — I like to make things. It was just a feeling, like I need to make something, to put something out into the world that’s mine. I think a lot of my artwork comes from my comedic voice, so I feel like there’s an urge to get that out. I though, I’m not going to be a standup comedian. I can draw, so I guess I can just do both simultaneously.
NG: I noticed that, looking at your work. There’s a level of humour to it, very tongue-in-cheek.
JM: It’s very observational and very personal too. I think that’s always been a way of coping with those urges. You know, I really want to get this out, but I’m not sure the level of seriousness I want to go with it or have attached to it. I’m not going to start a YouTube channel and just rant, but I will for sure draw some funny drawings that I think convey the same message with how I’m feeling.
NG:Do you do a lot of reflections on current society in your work?
JM: Most of it is attached to technology. I really like the iPhone in a lot of my stuff. A lot of it I liked to be attached to Toronto. I don’t know why, maybe because everything that’s personal to me is also form here. I just draw from what I know.
NG: Did you grow up here?
JM: No, I grew up in Hamilton, but I’ve been here for 10 years now. I moved when I came to OCAD. I found an independence here and I’m attached to it. It’s very dear to me.
NG: When you really began working on your illustrations, did you still consider it a hobby or did you think, “This is something I can do.”
JM: I think I’m in that transitional period now. I do waitress on weekends because rent is ridiculous. Unfortunately I can’t be freelance illustrating full-time. There are months where I definitely could have, but it’s the fear of, what if I don’t make enough one month? Or what if I can’t live up to that standard and it takes the fun out of it? A lot of it is doubt, but the dream is that one day I could. Anything to do with art, I’d like to be working in that field. Right now, it’s still a bit slower.
NG: What’s your freelancing experience been like?
JM: It’s been a big learning curve in terms of pricing my work and understanding the value of my time. There are some companies I absolutely love working with like Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Recently I just did a bunch of drawings for them and that was so fun because they approached me in a way that was, “We already love your work and we love your voice.” I’ve also done logo work where I thought, “This is a nightmare. This is nowhere close to what I want. I’m not going to use any of this in my portfolio.” I’ve also learned how to deal with people. That is not something you typically think of when you sell your work. Choosing a client has been a huge moment and learning experience for me.
NG: What’s that process like?
JM: It’s a lot of emails. It’s a lot of, “Hey, I’m thinking this, now I’m thinking this, now we want that.” There have been moments where I’ve had to take a step back, whereI’ve thought I shouldn’t have taken that client. It’s another reason why I don’t mind bartending on weekends, because it means I get to make the art that I want to make.
NG: Let’s talk more about your illustrations. Do you primarily work in watercolours?
JM: It’s gouache that I water down and ink. I should probably get into watercolours but I’m so obsessed with my colour palette right now and I’m a slave to it. I don’t really stray away from it, but I would like to work with water colours soon. I also did a screen printing class about a month ago. That blew my mind and I had so much fun doing it. Working in inks and acrylics is really fun.
NG:So you have a piece of the Venus de Milo that I really like.
NG: And I love how you take essentially millennial stereotypes and make fun of them.
JM: Yeah, I enjoy that. I like to make fun of everything. I don’t want to be taken too seriously and I think that’s reflected in the medium. It’s just paper and colour, ink. These are typically cheap materials and I actually like that.
NG: It’s about keeping that lightness, right?
JM: Exactly! Light is a good word. Just easy and casual, but funny.
NG:In your freelancing experiences have you ever come across a client that’s saying, “We want serious art?”
JM: When it gets a bit more stiff, I get these alarms going off in my head. I don’t know if they’ll let me do me. With Her Majesty’s Pleasure it was great because I think they pushed me more than I pushed them in some moments. They understood my aesthetic and the ell of crudeness I was coming from. I would love to keep doing stuff like what I did for them, that’s a bit more edgy and less conservative.
NG: Are you doing a lot of shows lately?
JM: I did a group show at Northern Contemporary which was a lot of fun.They’re an illustrator gallery and that’s awesome. I met the curator at the Artist Project I did back in March. That was interesting. I don’t know if I’d do it again but it was a cool experience, to have so many other people look at your art. I want to do more shows in the future, I think, because it’s so great to be able to talk about your work with other artists and with any type of viewer. That’s why I think I love Instagram so much. Someone in Turkey or someone in Italy can see my stuff. It’s such a great suppository for my work especially given the nature of my work. It’s this daily feed of nonsense and it’s great. As a graduate of curatorial practices, Instagram is the best thing ever. It just makes so much sense. I really try to hone down on that and use it for my artwork.
NG:Looking on your Instagram, it seems like there is a lot of interest and lots of people you can engage with about your work who you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
JM: And it’s going back to the humour thing, too. Is this working or is it not? Is this funny? It’s so instant, you can get that validating right away, like okay, what I was thinking is funny.
NG: Where do you get your inspiration from? Does it happen instantly on the street, where you see something and think it’s funny and know it‘ll work?
JM: Every time it’s happened I’ve been on the street. Laughs. I’ll take these long walks sometimes. It takes me 40 minutes to walk to work and I don’t do it often, but when I do I’m constantly writing notes in my phone and constantly getting ideas. Most of them start off as captions or they start off with, “Okay, today I saw a girl on her phone walking six dogs.” I did this series one about every girl in Toronto, then trends of fashion and what they’re wearing, what they’re doing. A lot of it has to do with technology. Selfies with an iPad. That’s hilarious. I need to draw it. The fidget spinner, I think it hilarious. I have one at my desk now because I’m trying to think of more ways to incorporate it anatomy drawings. I love observing females, not in a judgemental way, but just to observe. I’ve always admired females.
NG: Toronto’s so big and weird that you can see a lot.
JM: Yeah! In a 40-minute walk I have enough material for the week. Some ideas take longer to manifest. It’ll start out as something small and end up getting bigger. I really enjoy drawing and making fun of the LCBO. I thought of doing this merchandise line based on LCBO apparel, but that’s a small idea that can get bigger.
NG: Love that idea!
JM: It’s so intrinsically Ontario, so specific to the area. It’s something we all deal with. Again, it’s super millennial, kind of personal but also more relatable.
NG: But the millennial humour is relatable. It’s dry, it’s sarcastic, it’s pretty dark.
JM: It is dark! It’s getting really dark! I like that. I think we should embrace it. Everything is meme culture or can be explained in emoticons. We’re all mirrors of how we were raised, I guess, and as much as I like to seriously delve into it I also like to make fun of how not serious it is. Anything to do with school debt, or I cant buy a house, you know? These are things we’re all dealing with. It’s the reality of our situation. I think I was also fed this fallacy of, “Do what you want, you can make a career out of it and be happy,” but I don’t think that’s the path everyone was fortunate enough to take. I think I’m feeling that a lot now. I’ve always been creative but I don’t know if it’s something I necessarily need to make money off of — it can be a way of life I stay true to. If money comes along with it, that’s amazing. If I can make a lifestyle of it, that’s another thing. But I don’t think I’m there quite yet.
NG: As you said, you’re transitioning.
JM: I like to think so! I’m still relatively new to it. I’m still learning what works, what doesn’t work. I’m not 100 per-cent on my philosophy for it. It all comes from a personal level right now.
NG: All of your pieces are your babies, but is there one piece you have that really represents your style?
JM: I love the Venus de Milo one with the selfie. I did two still lifes recently and I like the idea that things can describe us. That was really interesting, to juxtapose this still life of my studio. I’m actually more attached to the idea. The way I feel about the drawings is one thing, but the way I think about where they came from and how they transpired is what I’m obsessed with. I wouldn’t say there’s one particular one that makes me say, “That’s me.” They’re all a collection of my thoughts and how I’m feeling.
NG: Like journalling?
JM: For sure. I like to look at it that way and then I’m not too previous with my ideas. This day is happening now, I can work with this idea, then tomorrow there’s another idea.
NG:A real stream of creativity, then.
JM: When you don’t get so previous with them, you just get them out and it keeps you going. It’s kind of lame but there was this quote on Chef’s Table. There was this dude who as amazing. He was killing it in his restaurant and then he went, “I’m leaving to start my own.” The owner said, “If you leave, the dish you made here is going to be ours.” The chef says, “Don’t worry, I’m going to make more.” I thought that was so cool. We can’t be too previous with these ideas or thesespmrts of brilliance. We need to move on. That’s why I love working with paper. They’re just pieces of paper. I get it out of my mind and I’m done. What’s next? It keeps me in a cool frame of mind when I’m walking down the street. I’m not too tied to one focus. I’m constantly moving. I’ve actually never thought of it that way but that is how I work. I’m building my philosophy now.
Multimedia artist Kelly Richardson is by now a household name in the visual art world. Her hyper-real landscapes created with digital technology have garnered international recognition. Her work has been called “otherworldly,”“absorbingly apocalyptic” and has been shown in over 90 group and solo exhibitions. Born in Burlington, Ontario, Richardson now resides in the U.K. and lectures in fine arts at Newcastle University. Richardson was also one of the notable artists who showcased their works at this year’s Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision, a major fundraiser for public exhibitions and programs and an immersive contemporary art exhibition/party.
I had the chance to ask Richardson a few questions about selling caricatures, exploring technology, and the Apocalyptic Sublime.
Natasha Grodzinski: You are such a widely known artist and have shown works internationally. Does it feel the same to show in Canada or do you feel differently about showing your work in the country you were born in?
Kelly Richardson: I have lived in England for the past 14 years and during this time I have been fortunate enough to establish my practice internationally, which I’m incredibly grateful for. However, it has meant a great deal to me personally and professionally to maintain a presence in Canada, so it’s always a pleasure to return to exhibit my work. In fact, very shortly I will be returning permanently to teach at UVic (University of Victoria) which I am extremely excited about.
NG: Have you always been an artistic person? Or is there an “Aha” moment where you realized this was a way to express your passion and ideas?
KR: I have been a maker for as long as I can remember. Instead of setting up a lemonade stand as a kid, I set up a curb-side caricature stand. Portraits were 25 cents each. A bargain, even if they were awful!
NG: You’re described as an artist working in digital technologies. You work with film, but can you go deeper into what kind of digital technologies you’re engaging with?
KR: The kinds of technologies used is very much determined by what is needed to produce each work. I always start with an idea from which lengthy research and development is undertaken to produce it.
In terms of production, this usually means involving various specialist software packages typically used in the film and gaming industries. I’ve also employed sophisticated digital installation methods to challenge established moving image formats to produce seamless panoramic vistas three times the width of high definition and more recently, a 10-screen synced 4k installation.
Currently I am researching how I might employ real-time video for one particular work and for another, I’m simply trying to force available software to make a series of works possible. The technical challenges are always significant, but I need to stress that they are always used as a means to an end. The work is first and foremost about the ideas.
NG: The landscapes you create are a mix of the natural and unnatural, the organic and technologic. What made you want to explore these contradictions?
KR: That’s a difficult question to answer really, as I think my initial interest in those contradictions came by way of numerous angles in my thinking. Much of this work came out of an interest in the Apocalyptic Sublime, a sub-genre of Romanticism where artists, poets and writers shared a preoccupation with notions of the apocalypse in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a great deal of speculation as to what the influences of the genre were exactly but one significant one was the birth of the Industrial Revolution which played heavily on the minds of creative practitioners at the time. Roughly 200 years on, the natural world (ourselves included of course) is now facing severe consequences from relentless industrialization. In short, I’m interested in that relationship, which is evident in many ways in the work.
NG: For example, you digitally created a hypothetical landscape in Mariner 9, but then show footage of a very real one in Leviathan. What is it that draws you to these landscapes?
KR: The landscapes chosen for each work, whether digitally created or filmed and then manipulated, are quite specific. Mariner 9 presents Mars as littered with the rusting remains from various missions to the planet. Despite its suggested abandoned state, several of the spacecraft continue to partially function, looking for signs of life and possibly transmitting the data back to no one. That search for life—to know that we’re not alone in the universe—is fascinating on many levels, but it’s also a beautiful, endearing endeavour, particularly for us as a species. We are destroying much of life as we know it, literally consuming our planet at a truly alarming rate. I’m interested in that contradiction at this critical time in history when current predictions for our future are not just unsettling, but terrifying.
I produced Leviathan during a residency at Artpace in San Antonio. Prior to arriving the BP oil spill (Deepwater Horizon) had just occurred in the Gulf. Taking that environmental disaster as a starting point of interest/concern, through research I discovered Caddo Lake on the east side of Texas on the Louisiana border, which has the dubious claim of being the first site for underwater oil extraction in human history. The location, therefore, could not have been more suitable from which to make work that is concerned with the repercussions of large-scale, unchecked industry. Caddo Lake is a significant landscape from which the modern world was forged.
NG: Would Mariner 9 be considered a cautionary tale?
KR: It depends on the viewer’s interpretation. On the one hand, yes, absolutely. I am deeply concerned about where we are heading as a species. But I’m also hopeful. In Mariner 9, whatever interest we had in the planet has long ceased, but it’s not clear why. We might be witnessing machines attempting in their own futile, semi-functioning way to communicate with a planet where no one is left to receive the data. Or perhaps our focus has shifted elsewhere.
Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in the way science fiction allows us to experience what life might be like in the coming century. Scientists and futurologists can speculate on what the future might look like, but artists are capable of visualising those futures, making them tangible. If hindsight is always 20/20, experiencing these potential futures offers us a window through which we can view our present time and the direction we are headed in with some measure of clarity.
NG: Now that you’re lecturing at Newcastle University, has your experience as a teacher changed your perspective on visual art?
KR: I wouldn’t say that it has changed my perspective on visual art, but I do find that it’s an enriching experience to teach. Arguably (and this sounds like a cliché) I get as much from it as the students do.
NG: If you had to describe your work to someone who knew absolutely nothing about art and had no interest in it, how would you do it?
KR: Most people have an interest in TV and film, so when faced with someone who isn’t interested in art I tend to talk about it in relation to that. The works act as immersive “set extensions” (to borrow a term from film) into another time and place within which the viewer becomes the main character. However, we frame it, it is that experience and what happens internally within the viewer which is important.
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