Interview: Sally Annett
Luca Curci talks with Sally Annett during ANIMA MUNDI FESTIVAL 2019 – CONSCIOUSNESS at Palazzo Ca’ Zanardi.
Sally Annett is an artist and curator/producer based in France.
Her work is concerned with the intersections between science, art and religion, focusing on consciousness through ritual, play, pilgrimage, contemplation, and language. She is particularly interested in inquiry led collaboration and postdisciplinary practice; using the human body as an artistic mediator alongside the written work and contemporary and traditional inscriptive practices. Material artworks include printmaking, photography, painting, text, performance and film, used in an interventionist manner. Annett is best siting contemporary artworks in public spaces. As a producer Annett has developed sustainable collaborative and curational projects.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Sally Annett – I am a British – European born artist living and working in La Vienne, France. My back ground is in Fine Arts, training in Painting, Printmaking and Photography with a degree from Bretton Hall UK, the home of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (which no longer exists as an arts college) and was awarded the 1990 print scholarship, an Etching and lithography masterclass, with RCA printmaker Oscar Romp (MA RCA). I then moved to the New Town of Milton Keynes where I worked to establish several organisations, ‘The Gallery’, Westbury Farm Studios and FRINGEMK and was lucky enough to work with and be mentored by curators and artists such as Stephen Snoddy and the late Mike Stanley. I specialized in making and commissioning temporary and site specific, contemporary artworks in public spaces notably thecentre:mk. My work is led by research and inquiry into the worlds we inhabit, is often collaborative and post/trans-disciplinary. The Atelier Melusine is my latest project and is focusing on international research and collaboration. I have been lucky enough to have had both my artistic and curatorial works supported by the Arts Council England since 1991 and my 2012 project ‘Snakes and Ladders’, which explores the relationship between art, science and religion, produced so much research and semiotic/culturally bound data that I decided to turn it into a Master’s Degree, this time in Intercultural Communication, I wanted to step back and contextualise my arts practice from a social science, academic background. My PhD studies are in based in ‘Worldmaking and Tourism’, the overarching field which includes arts and heritage globally (even though this statement is sometimes unpopular). My chief areas of investigations are consciousness, alphabet and meta-representation. My biggest life influences have been my children and my health. I have three children who are central to my life and who assist in the documentation and production of my works, my son works as my archivist and my eldest daughter has a degree in film; my children and my work are intertwined deeply. My greatest tool is my imagination, mediated through the word and image. My children are my teachers, they are mixed race and are my daily proof that humanity is one thing, not a collection of separate races and people – we are one – and I strive to bring this through in my work. My health is gendered; I have endometriosis and trigeminal neuralgia and so my world has been one of trying to deal with the mess and pain my body creates, I am also rhesus negative blood type which means my body kills any fetus which does not share the same blood group as myself, so out of twelve pregnancies, only three made it full term. The endometriosis was not diagnosed until my internal organs began rupturing and I had immediate surgery, this went wrong, and so further major surgery was needed to try to put me back together correctly. A lot of my life has been about managing pain. Pain and facing death alter your perception of life entirely and so I find utter joy in being alive, in almost all its aspects especially in nature and contemplation. I love my life! I love to learn. My surgery has left with me with a body which does not work as I want, so I have had to learn to like, love and live with my new body in the second half of my life. It has also allowed me, again and again to remember that, whilst we like to think that we are cerebral creatures, with our minds in control of bodies, we are not – we are in fact flesh and blood animals, a mass of bio-chemicals and electrical impulses which so how generate a capacity to think, speak, act, remember and invent, but that this ‘conscious’ process is entirely reliant on and generated by our animal, physical selves. And that our consciousness is a product of our physiognomy which is reliant on food, water and air; carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, absorption of which changes continually. ‘The Uncertainty Principle’ Heisenberg 1927. The only constant thing in life is change.
LC – What are you currently working on?
SA – The last exhibition in Atelier Melusine ‘Temporal Traces Magical Manuscripts’ was a collaborative work with the Coptic Magical Papyri Project, the Universities of Madrid and Wurzburg, Luis Calero, Robert McMillan, Serge Arnoux, William Blake and myself with artefacts and artworks which spanned over two millennia and included ancient Coptic manuscripts and spells. The piece shown here in Venice, ‘The Tree of Life’ is one of the pieces I made for this exhibition, which demonstrates the enormity of cultural exchange and transmission that has taken place throughout recorded history and how certain themes seem to be ‘hardwired’ into our physical bodies and then manifest as collective or shared conscious, ideas and symbols. The previous two years have been spent working with Bletchley Park Museum, English Heritage and Arts Council England on my project ‘Systems of Philosophy’ Wall(paper)s of Mind’ which compared and contrasted two completely different collections of paper, one military encryption and the other wallpapers, with historical and cultural significance to the UK, which concentrated on encryption and for which I invented a novel print technique ‘rose petal transfer engraving’.
I spend a lot of my time writing. I am currently preparing for several large shows,including that of Liquid Painting Prize 2019 winner Day Bowman, who will show her work in Atelier Melusine from 5th September. All works in the Atelier Melusine in 2020 will be based around environment, environmental issues and collaborations about water, women and time.
My PhD studies are an investigation into the contemporary interpretations of (the) Melusine, an ancient Indo-European Goddess, this is the name of my studio/gallery/atelier, ‘Atelier Melusine’. She (Melusine) remains especially topical this year with the controversy around the Disney re-make of ‘The Little Mermaid’ who is herself a contemporary interpretation of (lost) female entities/deities represented by the Melusine; Mermaids, Nymphs, Gorgons, Medusa, Dryads, Pythia, Naga, Selkies, Morgan Le Fay and all chimeric/hybrid/serpentine/water spirits. I am currently reading Dr Margaret Baker’s ‘The Mother of God’, which looks at the removal of the female ‘god’ from the Hebrew, Greek and Christian scriptures from c.630 BCE, and Stephen Pope’s ‘Patterns of Creation’ which addresses the mis-translations of the Hebrew Scriptures via the Septaguint, into the Bible via ancient Hebrew into Greek, Latin and then English and the absolute transformation of meaning from an internal psychological relationship with the laws of the universe in much more secular terms than the traditional highly, anthropomorphized, political dogma of the current Abrahamic faith systems. These systems are still creating impacts, conflicts and governance pertaining to women’s access to public spaces, autonomy through denial of access to health care and contraception of grounds of ‘original sin’.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
SA – I think it is as it ever was, there are stereotypically, several kinds of artists: those who are obsessive, suffering and/or mad and who have to make art to contextualise the everchanging world and their place in it; the Van Gogh’s, Kahlo’s; those who are polymaths and can be successfully, business (wo)man, architect, artist and politician/magician all at once, the Da Vinci’s, Hirst’s, Kapoor’s, Ai Wei Weis and Abramovich’s. The privileged; those who have either made or inherited enough money to be able to make the work they wish and live comfortably, those who are overtly political and challenge the dominant social narratives (arguably all art is political) e.g feminist art; Cindy Sherman, The Guerilla Girls, Adrian Piper, socio/political art, perhaps Banksy. There are also those who are commodified at very many levels and paid to make images, the creative industries house artistic genius too; so graphic designers, film makers, actors, writers, philosophers, coders and programmers. What is new at this time are the new MEDIUMS available, so the mediums of film, photography combined with digital, AI, Genetics, Web.tec-based and Internet art and the speed with which ideas can travel. This is the transformative aspect of art today; the novelty of the medium, science driven.
LC – Do visitors’ suggestions enrich yourself and your art?
SA – Yes – they offer perspectives and insights to what you had not always understood or formalized in your work, they have a very particular impression of what you are doing, they remind you that you are doing this to communicate, that you are always able to learn, find a different perspective and it is a wonderful thing to open doors in the imaginations of others.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
SA – I am surprised at the continuity of ideas throughout my work, I work across mediums so that they (the objects and artefacts made) can be very different materially, but the subject stays very aligned with my particular ways of dividing space, rhythms and mark making, perspectives, patterns and themes. I want to understand and improve, aesthetically and psychologically, my environ and I have a very specific method of doing this and this comes through. My painted works can be quite difficult in that they are often not very subtle, they can be very intensely patterned and colourful combining literal and technical elements alongside abstraction and colourist elements – they can be wild, bold and tasteless at times, I am not a ‘feeble painter’. But my print and large exterior works have a much more constrained presence largely often black and white, or with muted palettes, they operate in a much more reflective and considered fashion, as the process of editing and execution allows. Grey is a wonderfully complex thing. The urge to make and interact with our environ and try to explain it is aeons old; pre-writing. However, again it is the environmental crisis in which we live which is critical to address as artists and our own relationship to the earth and the universe, so any medium may be used skillfully to describe, embody and communicate. Like magic it is all about intention. In my painted works I always write underneath the painted surface. The words are sometimes entirely obliterated, sometimes not, but the intentions are always there, just underneath the surface. My specific interests also remain constant; consciousness, alphabet, semiotics, gender and race – the philosophical and political issues at the intersection of science and religion.
LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the festival’s theme?
SA – The mezzotint, ‘The Tree of Life’, relates directly to the theme of consciousness as it is taken from the ancient philosophical systems of Kabbalah and Natural Magic and it is intended to be (partially) a diagram which explains the creation and the flow of unmanifest consciousness from the Universe in its Macro scale down to the Micro cosmic and atomic levels. It holds ‘mankind’ central to and reflecting its structure and our own manifest consciousness. It is a diagram which attempts to explain the huge complexities which create the way consciousness comes about, using the old maxim ‘as above so below’ which should encourage us to look at our physical, material evolution as much as the distant stars. It is not related to the systems of Kabbalah to which Madonna subscribes, but to older Judaeo/Christian systems of oral and esoteric knowledge.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? In which way did it inspire you?
SA – I am disappointed not to have been able to visit the event due this year, but I very much enjoy the platform and network it provides. Linking artists and concepts, curating, reviewing and promoting individual artists online is hugely important and relevant for most contemporary artists. It is the way to reach international audiences and ITSLIQUID does this very well. The website works very well.
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP?
SA – ITSLIQUID provides real opportunities in the real and visual world for artists working across all mediums. It links international artists with critical themes, the works on environ and consciousness this year 2019 at the Venice Biennale have been fascinating, hard hitting and beautiful. It has a skilled team, who do their jobs very well and is building a brand with a solid reach. It is especially good at marketing and promotion.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
SA – I like its aesthetic, it has very clear curatorial vision which suits my practice and it deals with artists clearly and directly.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
SA – Yes, I am delighted to have my work in Venice this year.