It’s not just my Graeme’s birthday today ;). It’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a day to demonstrate support for environmental protection, and so to mark it I caught up with Somerset artist, Fiona Campbell. Fiona’s work reflects some of the key issues facing our world and she’s recently won an exciting global award for it, so I thought I’d ask her four questions you might like to know the answers to – including a secret no-one else knows, of course!
Can you share some of the inspiration behind the environmental themes in your work?
Nature is a constant source of inspiration to me. At the core of my work is the idea that everything is connected - we’re part of a complex web of rhizomic connections from micro to macro. I’m interested in life’s cyclical persistence, energy, transformation, tentacularity (‘Life lived along lines… a series of interlaced trails’, Donna Haraway).
I want to create work that is relevant and speaks universally and I’ve become increasingly focused on concerns about human exploitation of nature, and our capitalist society. Provoked by unethical factory farming, the meat trade, abuse of wildlife and our plastic oceans, my work has become more ‘artivist’.
My use of recycled and found materials relates to waste. I collect materials from what’s around me - industrial and organic, and the labour-intensive process of binding and stitch is a form of suturing material as message.
Two of my projects last year were linked to incarceration - a chance to test some new ideas. For my residency in the Cells, Town Hall Arts, alongside a giant imprisoned Tongue, I created some rickety ladders. Originally inspired by a book Planet of Slums (Mike Davis) about precarious lives, and the notion of spiritual ascension and escape, the ladders evolved over the year into a large-scale piece ‘Snakes and Ladders’ at B-Wing, Shepton Mallet Prison.
Interacting with the massive prison space, 4-7 metres long hand-crafted ladders made from found wood and paper, spanned 3 floors. One, suspended from the ceiling, was reminiscent of flight and extinct animals hung in museums. `In contrast, soft sculptural entrail forms dangled from the ladders. Snakes and Ladders alludes to the human cycle of striving, greed, suffering and hope.
Glut, made in 2018, has a relevance to the Covid19 epidemic - a result of cruel incarceration and trading of wildlife as meat. The work is relates to my concerns about consumerism, waste, our plastic oceans, factory farming, mass extinctions - and the loss of my dog. Bodily forms made from found and recycled materials suggest entrails, abject yet seductive.
During this quiet time of isolation and back-to-nature, I’m also considering how to combine despair with hope.
Can you tell us a little bit about the global arts award you’ve just won from Red Line Art Works and its significance?
The annual award is for art works dealing with big global concerns (such as the climate and ecological emergency, inequality, poverty, patriarchy, bad leaders, etc). Curated by Chris Greenwood, Red Line Art Works has a global audience and I’m really delighted to have won the award, especially from an ethical arts organisation. I totally align with its aim for artists to help raise awareness and make bold statements about our environment and other important global issues. Art can emotionalise the facts that might help affect change.
I’m only the third UK artist to have won it - Luke Jerram being the first, so I’m in great company! With the 50th anniversary of Earth Day taking place today, it’s also a timely award.
If you could create a new piece with any other global artist, who would you choose to collaborate with & why?
I’d love to work with Phyllida Barlow. She’s brave, lovely, wise and genuine, and I admire her work, which is incredible in scale and ambition. She uses everyday, expendable materials in a playful way and also has the most enormous fabulous studio. I’d love to be able to work on something in there with her!
Tell us a secret about you or your work that no-one else knows.
The idea of interconnectedness and threads weaving through all things was inspired by the film Avatar, which I watched over and over with my (then) young son Jack!
Well, here's a huge congratulations to Fiona on her award and I, for one, can’t wait to see what she creates next. Fiona’s work always pushes boundaries and challenges perceptions and I might have to go and rewatch Avatar too... I think I was a bit too obsessed with the blueness of it all at the time! ;)