Interview: Beki Cowey

Interview: Beki Cowey

Interviews | March 15, 2024 |

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Image courtesy of Beki Cowey

Interview: Beki Cowey
Luca Curci
talks with Beki Cowey during the 13th edition of CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2023, at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello.

Beki Cowey is a contemporary fine art photographer. Her work draws on her own experiences, using creativity to understand life’s loves and losses. Her Rock’N’Roll past mixed with elements of religious iconography and elements of the esoteric. She documents the people and places she encounters along the way on her vintage analogue cameras and also exhibits this gritty street, documentary and landscape images. She works commercially as an editorial portrait and product photographer, always with a keen eye for an interesting project and an understanding of how to breathe life into the images she creates.

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Image courtesy of Beki Cowey

Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Beki Cowey – For me, art is something created to make you think and feel. Of course, it can be beautiful, but it does not have to be. There needs to be a point of impact, to create a reaction somewhere inside, beyond just pleasing the eyes.

LC – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
BC –
I studied fashion design at university but dropped out of my course to go on tour photographing my friends’ bands. I took a lot of pictures backstage and at parties – I’m now working on a book project of that. I think that to this day my work both my commercial photography and my contemporary fine art projects, I maintain this Rock’N’Roll edge through my aesthetics and inspirations. Music plays a big role, my mind soundtracks everything, it sneaks into my work, in ideas, even in the names of pieces. I’ve lived in a few places around the world, and frequently out of a suitcase, but I grew up on the Northeast coast of England. There is a real bleak beauty to the place. I think it encouraged me to really scratch at the underbelly of places in my documentary/street photography. My family was half Catholic and half church of the barroom and bookie. My great aunt on one side had pictures of the saints on the walls and the one on the other side was teaching me how to cheat at cards. This culture-clash influence comes through in the symbolism and ideas I use in my work. My parents, I guess were a mix of punk and hippie…my dad encouraged me to question everything, my mom is very creative, and she has a very artistic eye. We traveled to Greece most summers, usually small islands where I got taken around ruined temples and petrified forests. My favorite bedtime story wasn’t a Disney princess it was the myth of Persephone. Pomegranates often feature in my work. I think my parents would have liked me to be a doctor or a lawyer but really I couldn’t help but be primed to follow the route I have. In one of my last conversations with my dad, before he was killed, he said he didn’t care what I did, so long as I gave it my all.

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Image courtesy of Beki Cowey

LC – What issues do you intend to deal with in the future?
BC –
A lot of my work is inspired by my own life. Loves and losses. My experiences as a woman. Everyday frustrations vs global catastrophes, and the threads that run between them. My documentary work deals a lot with how places I encounter on my travels are in a state of flux and the impact of this change – the processes of gentrification, touristification, and resortification. I will continue with these themes, and the issues that I encounter as my life progresses, I like to turn what I meet into art, it helps me to better understand life.

LC – Is there an unrealised or unrealisable project, even a crazy one, that you would like to work on?
BC –
I think everything is realisable, but it may shape-shift as it develops and grows. My project The Widow is a good example of this. It was intended and shot as a short film inspired by my own experiences after my late partner died, but after 2 hard drives failed in quick succession, I lost too many key scenes to realise as I had intended. I had to rethink it. It became a number of photo series, and I am now planning some bigger installation pieces with some more of the material. Works related to the project have been shown in galleries in Athens, Rome, and Glasgow, and have been selected as a finalist for Best Photo Series at Tirana Photo Festival and for Best Cinematic Image at Waterford International Film Festival. The changing shape of the project became a metaphor for the shifting sands of grief and rebirth. Instead of being abandoned, it became a more interesting project, so much more than the original short film idea had scope to be.

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Image courtesy of Beki Cowey

LC – How is your creative process?
BC –
Each project is different. Some have a great deal of planning and research, they grow over time. Others arrive almost fully formed and ready to realise. I think it’s important not to have too many projects open at the same time. That it’s ok to put one on the shelf til you’re ready to do it justice. It’s important to guard yourself against burnout, and it’s tempting to be drawn into art hermit mode if you’re not too careful. My street and documentary photography helps me to stay in touch with the outside world. Walking with my old analogue camera and keeping my eyes open and my mind fresh. I’m fortunate to have clients and collaborators who not only allow me, but encourage me, to run wild with my ideas, and I’m always looking for more people who are open to work in this way.

LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
BC –
The artwork at this show was an interesting mix. I enjoyed the themes that were highlighted in the exhibition. The piece I brought here from my Nunsploitation (mint in shrink) really connected with the idea of Mixing Identities. I think always some art will impact you more than others, but it’s always great to see such a broad selection of interpretations and to find something new and unexpected that you love. The works that I was most drawn to, I particularly enjoyed the performance piece that Kamila Olesińska and Milena did at the opening event using flamenco, contemporary dance/movement and song/poetry/music, it was hauntingly beautiful and I hope to see it as the full-length theatre piece soon. I liked the boldness of Dilera Topaloglu’s painting and on the other hand the subtle and dark themes of Katarina Myllykoski’s work.

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Image courtesy of Beki Cowey

LC – Can you explain something about the artwork you have in our exhibition?
BC –
I chose to debut darkness // desire // ignorance // wrath, the first piece from my Nunsploitation (mint in shrink) series at Contemporary Venice, having previewed a version of it at Miami Art Week. It seemed the perfect place to fully introduce work which in part draws on religious iconography and renaissance art. Venice has a rich and storied connection to both. The piece is a self-portrait of a modern-day Magdalene, complete with her jar of spikenard oil (I even bought some while shooting this work to smell it so I could transport myself a little more!). Alongside these influences, this project also draws from 70’s Nunsploitation movies, fetish art, and men’s top-shelf magazines, the kind that comes in plastic shrink wrap. It adds a layer of protection, behind which the image becomes enigmatic, and a little hard to grasp. Over time the piece evolves. The fragile barrier is meant to break down. Like ourselves the piece ages, beauty is not permanent. I was inspired by my own experiences and so many conversations with my girlfriends about dating, and how after disappointments we were threatening to lock ourselves in a convent of sorts. “I may as well become a fkn nun!”. The men we meet expect us in our 30s or older to be sexy, to be attractive, but to still be “mint in shrink”, untouched by other hands. Even if they are about as pure as a sewer. This series is my response.

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Image courtesy of Beki Cowey

LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
BC –
Yes, it’s been a great experience, one which I would recommend to other artists.

LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
BC –
My experience has been very good. Lots of clear communication and information, and everyone I’ve spoken to has been super helpful and kind. I already have plans to meet with and to collaborate with some of the artists I met at the opening event, so it was a great introduction to new people too!

LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
BC –
It was a fun evening, warmly hosted, and well-organised. It was great to meet the ITSLIQUID team and to meet some of the other artists and performers on the night. Everything ran smoothly from my pre-event promo video recording (apart from my brain and my mouth getting a divorce at some point – but that’s on me!), through to the event itself. Thank you!

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Image courtesy of Beki Cowey
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Image courtesy of Beki Cowey

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