Kensington and Chelsea Review Interview

Delighted to be interviewed by Claire Coveney for the Art Futures edition of Kensington and Chelsea Review magazine:

Tamsin, last year you took part in an expeditionary residency on a tall ship in the High Arctic where you were able to walk, and work amongst the rapidly changing landscape. What was this experience like, and how is it influencing your current practice?

It was a journey that brought me to my knees in awe every day. I wanted to draw, photograph, film, write and be still – all at once, and all of the time. If only I could have stayed awake 24 hours a day! Before putting my head to much creativity though there were practical things to adapt to: the cold, the routine, safety, and the intensity of actually living in a very small space with a relatively large gang of artists and writers.

The trip left me overwhelmed by what I had seen and the need to respond to it, and with a deep grief about how as a species we are treating this extraordinary planet. When a glacier calves the ice that falls is spellbinding. Resting on the water-surface, the fragments looked like giant ancient crystals. They would stream past our boat for hours, to land on another shoreline and stand like glass sculptures – for days or weeks I presume – slowly shifting shape. Up close, you can see rivers of dust and tiny flecks of rocks caught within the ice for hundreds or thousands of years.

The residency gave me an opportunity to continue my exploration of taking processes that are typically studio bound into the field, as well as making work as a direct response to the physical experience. I worked with monotypes (unique water colour prints) which proved challenging, as they would freeze in the cold and then melt and reshape back in the warmth of the boat – but I enjoy things that disrupt a creative process in this way. I also created ‘motion drawings’ where, like a seismograph, I recorded the motion of the ship in a snowstorm.

I find that subject matter often dictates the medium that I work with. This project has encouraged me to diversify into photography and video, and I have begun using more scientific data in my process.

Indeed, you can see from your work that process is very important to you; is it necessary for you to visit these places and see the impact that man is having on the planet first-hand in order to gauge how you’re going to approach a subject matter?

Drawing from direct experience has always been my preference, and was easy enough with my earlier work, which tended to be more autobiographical or localized. As my focus shifted to broader global concerns however, I became dependent on sourcing reference material from the media, documentaries or other second hand reports. This research is still important, but every story is multifaceted, and you risk being left with a one-dimensional view of things. So when possible, nothing really substitutes first-hand exploration.

I am privileged to have been able to travel so far north. The landscape feels timeless and infinite when you’re there – yet the reality of its vulnerability was with me constantly. We saw glaciers calving – which is what ice and glaciers do, and some seasonal fluctuation in size is expected, but when you study the maps of the coastline, the acceleration of their overall retreat is staggering; and you feel it, standing on land that has only been exposed in the last ten or twenty years – some of which has not even been mapped yet. The impact that we’ve had on our environment in such a brief moment of relative time is beyond comprehension and so disproportionate to the length of our civilizations’ existence.

You were born in South Africa and have visited and worked in many areas around the globe, but you have decided to make London your home; what is it about the city that keeps drawing you back?

 It seems life sometimes makes plans for you behind your back! I certainly wasn’t intending to leave Cape Town for good when I caught that January flight seven years ago, but a few months away turned into a year, which turned into several more, and I was officially hooked.

I did my MA in fine art at City & Guilds of London Art School in 2011, and this gave me an exquisite art network and community. So many opportunities have rolled on from this, and I will be forever grateful for my time there.

London – with it’s wonderful combination of glamour and grit – offers infinite inspiration in terms of art making and curation. It feels engaged in global geo-politics in a way that I think is important for my work right now.

I do miss Cape Town; I miss being able to jump in the ocean twice a day and still get a full days work done in between, and the friendships that I treasure, but it makes sense for me to be here right now. Every day still feels like an adventure.

What are you up to over the coming months?

I have recently returned from a ‘follow-up’ residency with seven of my Arctic shipmates in New York, supported by The Rockefeller Brothers Fund. We used the time to develop ideas for a collaborative exhibition based on our shared experience, which we hope to show in both New York and London.

I’m also taking part in ‘Whispers’, an exhibition that runs from 11th December 2015 at the Ronchini Gallery in Mayfair, as well as starting a new body of work that explores the intricate patterns and conservation of the coral reef.

You can see the full publication here.

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Portrait credited to @ndytookit
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