Intersections: ‘Connecting and disconnecting the dots’

A lecture by artist Helen Rousseau

Rousseau’s work is a fascinating conversation between different elements, including mixed media, installation and sculpture. In describing it she referred to creating ‘a language that allows my own work to be revealed to me’. This negotiation seems central to her work with the starting point always being MAKING. She referred to exploring with the status of things in relation to time (e.g paused, in waiting etc) and experienced in space. Rousseau discussed a variety of quotes including this from Jan Verwoert:

“the decisions about how to start and conclude are choices that shape the very identity of a piece. It is only by concluding in a particular way that the piece establishes its own standards of completion and demonstrates why it had to be the way it is.”

Rousseau shared with us her views about how her ideas are constantly shifting; a network of ideas in a non-linear framework – always utilising the option to change and reconsider, to explore the possibility that her emphasis had been in the wrong place and that her opinions only need to be temporary. This really struck me as being something very relevant to explore. There is a sense that work in progress must follow a certain path from conception to completion. That deviating on this journey might otherwise damage the integrity of the original idea. However, this made me reflect on whether I allow my opinions to be ‘temporary’ – both in art and in life.

helen rousseau 1

H Rousseau

Rousseau referred to Valere Mrejen’s writing on preparing to start work in her studio:

  1. First, listen to the news on the radio.

  2. Prepare a cup of tea and drink it standing at the window. You see people walking in the street, cars, shops, it’s fascinating.

  3. Wash the cup because you hate starting to work when there’s something dirty in the sink.

  4. Make one or two phone calls.

  5. Clean your table.

  6. Go to the post office to get a registered letter. Wait half an hour.

  7. Take cash from an automat

  8. Buy a magazine.

  9. When you’re back home, have a quick look at it. Read the main articles

  10.  Drink a glass of water, eat a plum.

  11. The phone rings. Answer and talk.

  12. You suddenly remember that you need to make a call.

  13. The mobile rings. It’s a friend: chat.

  14. Check your emails again, in case you received any new ones

  15. It’s almost lunchtime: you start feeling hungry. You need strength before you start working, so go to the market and shop.

That sense of procrastination and of building towards and pushing back the start of making; of always finding distractions, but perhaps needing to build towards a mental place of clarity in order to engage fully in the work, is probably familiar to most artists. Embracing the ‘not knowing’ the ‘boredom’, returning to ‘obsessions’ or where feelings and thoughts can be ‘accumulated and picked up’. Rousseau referred to ‘returning to and preoccupation with things that haunt our practice’. This resonated with me. There are so many things which ‘haunt’ my practice and which I perhaps need to register and reconsider; deciding whether to allow them to continue to influence the work I produce – on either a conscious or sub-conscious level. Rousseau refers to the work she produces almost as though it is human, with a personality and voice; perhaps a child that needs to be encouraged and reassured but that has autonomy. She described a ‘drawing out’ and ‘trying to see what will appear’, whilst being sensitive to the materials and ‘accepting what arrives without wanting to dismiss it’. Rousseau states that she works ‘in parallel with materials, rather than in control’. This description of a way of working in a relationship with her materials and of describing sculptural works as ‘props for verbalisation’ gave the MA cohort much to think about.

helen rousseau2

H Rousseau

In group discussions we were looking at a variety of different issues relating to the question: what is sculpture? The most interesting element of this discussion and feedback was Rousseau’s fascinating views on how artists using different media (including photography) are extracting and in a relationship with three dimensional forms, light, reproduction, as well as the placement of the imagery in spaces and how this affects the behaviour of the audience.

Beyond the exploration of Rousseau’s work it was extremely interesting to reflect on my current practice – of how I use my time, and space; of the distractions I am aware of and the restrictions I put on my work because of the things that ‘haunt my practice’. Extraordinarily eye-opening. Like reading a fascinating book and going away with fresh eyes.

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