Interview: Dorothea Magonet
Luca Curci talks with Dorothea Magonet during THE BODY LANGUAGE 2022, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Dorothea’s love for making sculptures began with stone and wood carving. Now she works with all sorts of media, often exploring the tension between traditional materials and a variety of ‘lowly’ everyday or found stuff. Her installations point towards architectural, historical, and environmental concerns. She creates sculptures, re-evaluating the human form and investigating our contemporary engagement with the body and identity, and in relation to current events. In other works, either the material qualities drive the theme of a work, or the material is chosen to fit the concept, inquiry, issue, and observation. Inspired by her frequent travels to Japan, Dorothea makes assemblages on paper and on traditional Japanese scrolls, experiments with woodblock printing, and etching. She has also designed book covers. She has a studio practice at Queensrollahouse, West London, and has exhibited through Suffolk and Kingsgate Workshops Open Studios as well as in a group, solo, and online shows in London. In addition, since 1984 Dorothea, initially trained as a physiotherapist, has been teaching the Alexander Technique to music students at the Royal Academy of Music and in her private practice in London and abroad.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Dorothea Magonet – Having grown up in a region of forests, ubiquitous stone, and limestone quarries, and as a latecomer to art, I was initially attracted to working with stone and wood. I am a maker and interested in materials, and always curious about how I can use and incorporate all sorts of other mundane stuff and media into making sculptures and installations to enhance the ideas. My indirect influences come from my long experience of hands-on work with individuals as a wholistic body-mind practitioner and educator. I am interested in the materiality of the human body and want to explore the relationship between our physicality and identity, how we reveal our internal world and connect with the external environment. Experiences of power, weakness, fragility, pain, and tenderness are explored through tactile sculptures and installations.
LC – Which subject are you working on?
DM – Over the last two years, during COVID 19 and lockdowns, I have been preoccupied with the experience of social/physical distancing and isolation. I am working with screens, thinking of veils, masks, and screens; the tension or enticement between the hidden and the revealed, the caged and uncaged, exposure and safety. Coincidentally, this idea was stimulated by the discovery of new ecologically friendly packing materials. I have manipulated this paper into screens, cages, forms, and installations. While it is still a work in progress, part of the installation has been used as an element in collaborative work with a video artist, made and shown during lockdown online.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
DM – In general, as a mature latecomer to art, I decided not to put myself under pressure to be successful and competitive, rather stay true to my inner need to spend time in my studio and do the work for my and its own sake. Once work is ready to be shown, I am happy to deal with this aspect. During the COVID restrictions on the one hand I very much enjoyed more undivided and uninterrupted time for being in the studio and making work, yet I missed company and exchange with other artists. I am looking forward to working in less isolation, being able to visit colleagues, exhibitions, and galleries. I am eager to show and share my work with other artists in person, and for the discourse, this may generate again.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
DM – Spending time in my studio, pottering long enough trying to get hold of something that may or may not express an emotion or a feeling of what is going on in the world, and turn it into a piece of concrete work, can be as much an exciting as a vexing experience. At times the question arises whether or not there will ever be another piece of work. In general, three-dimensional work is my preferred form of finding expression for aspects of my internal world and trying to make some sense of external events. However, at times I do resort to drawing, painting, printing, and collage.
LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
DM – I love being right in the middle of the process of making work once I get a sense of where it is taking me and hate when it seems to come towards completion. It’s like going into mourning, and often, I dislike my work at his point. It is only after some distance of time that I can see it for what it is. Also, experiencing the work in a different space and context, like in a gallery/exhibition, someone’s home, or even photographed, separates the work from my process of making it and seems to give the work its own authority or place in the world. I can then see it with new eyes and discover elements in it that I hadn’t noticed before. At times, I also see that it doesn’t work and why – a sobering moment!
LC – What do you think about the concept of this exhibition? How did it inspire you?
DM – In a way, the title of this show is close to my heart and experience, as it links in closely with my other work. In addition, it resonated with me with a previous exhibition of mine entitled ‘dis-em-bodied’, 2014. There were different works I could have shown, but they were no longer available to be exhibited. As ‘Bella donna’ was made in Italy, I rather thought that it would interesting to see her exhibited there.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this event? How is it connected to the theme of the entire exhibition?
DM – In a way I feel more ambivalent about this sculpture than of any of my other works. ‘Bella donna’ harks back to traditional carving skills in a traditional material of a female torso, and it was done in a very male industrial environment. At the time I was struggling with coming to terms with radical gynaecological surgery and my clay maquette showed much more vulnerability which the hard marble resisted. Limited to the basic language every male artist in the carving studio called her ‘Bella donna’. My inner feminist critic had a hard time with this admiration – and I could not ignore my association to ‘belladonna’, a deadly poisonous plant, which is also used as a homoeopathic remedy to support the heart, lungs, blood vessels, and the nervous processes. There was a need to protect her from the male gaze and I started to veil her with diaphanous plastic sheeting. This became part of the work, and yet she stands there with pride and self-confidence while being ready to turn away. So, there is ambiguity in her ‘body language’. I am not sure I have a particular message at this point. I hope that the viewer can find their own resonance in this work.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
DM – I don’ really know enough about the ITSLIQUID Platform. So far, I am very impressed. It is great to be able to show one’s work internationally in this way.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us? Would you suggest it?
DM – Yes, so far I feel very supported by your organization. It would be good to have more information about what collaboration with your organization entails in the short and long term.