Artist Interview: Rupert Norfolk
Wysing Arts Centre Residency Programme 2013: Convention T
Interview by Beth Bramich
Over the last five years Wysing Arts Centre has experimented with different programmatic structures in order to support artists to make new work. During 2013 they will be further exploring how structures, some visible and others implied, might be used to uncover meaning, narrative, paradox or indeed certainty through their prestigious residency programme. This year there will be two sets of residents, the second group is made up of artists-in-residence James Beckett, Cécile B. Evans, Michael Dean, Seb Patane and maker-in-residence Rupert Norfolk. The programme title, ‘Convention T’, refers to logician, mathematician and philosopher Alfred Tarski (1901-1983) who applied logic to sentence structure in order to make the truth visible through language. Tarski created a structure, a meta-language, that could be applied to real, everyday, language in order to generate true statements, known as T sentences - ‘A and B’ is true if and only if A is true and B is true translates as Snow is white if and only if snow is white.
Maker-in-residence Rupert Norfolk utilises a wide range of processes, such as drawing, tapestry weaving, stone carving, airbrushing, casting and computer aided technologies. His work involves investigations into the perceptual and conceptual possibilities of concrete and depicted things. He lives and works in London.
You have come to Wysing as the first ever ‘maker in residence’. Why did you apply for this role’
I’d not heard the phrase ‘maker in residence’ before and the call for applications didn’t really explain exactly what that was. Making is so central to my practice, I saw the opportunity and thought that the role, which was focused on making but open to how that manifested, seemed to fit my approach.
What does ‘Convention T’ and its connection to logician, mathematician and philosopher Alfred Tarski mean to you’
I had never come across Tarski before and I’m certainly no logician, but what struck me about his ‘Snow is white if and only if snow is white’ phrase is how abstract it is, how the material world has been drained out of that formula - snow has nothing to do with it. As an artist I am interested in how human beings relate to objects and this sentence seems to have no interest in human beings or objects. But at the same time this tautology resonated with a structure of thinking that I am involved in with my work: a double consciousness, thinking one way and then thinking another slightly different more removed way. That an image of something can be used to test or verify it, this seemed to resonate with many different aspects of my work.
There was a day of academic talks and artists’ screenings that launched your residency. Did you find anything shown or discussed particularly useful or relevant’
There was an interesting list of guest speakers. A logician from Cambridge University came to explain Tarski’s formula and obviously it’s extremely esoteric and unless you are au fait with these paradoxes I don’t think it makes a lot of sense, but he articulated it in a way that made it accessible, at the time at least. We also looked at deciphering ancient scripts and hieroglyphs, which related for me with pictograms I have been developing. The day was nicely put together and invited associations between disparate disciplines like semiology, maths and music.
Was your aim for the residency to produce a new work or to develop a more open investigation’
I would say I have taken a more open approach. I almost see my work here as a challenge to the abstract logic of Tarski’s language game. One thing that I am working on is a series of drawings that resemble pictograms and which might come to form a very rudimentary lexicon, but they are inclined towards opening rather than narrowing interpretation.
You took part in a retreat, ‘How We Make and How We Might Make’ at Wysing shortly before your residency. Are you still working with any of the ideas you explored with that group’
The retreat was very intense and there was a great mixture of artists and curators. Everybody brought something interesting to the table around the subject of making in relation to the ‘How We Live’ essay by William Morris. We took part in lots of workshops and discussions, and were in constant dialogue around making, which naturally interested me. In the ceramics workshop I am a complete beginner but I was introduced to it during the retreat by one of the artists who is based at Wysing. For his workshop we did some clay experiments and since I have returned he has been showing me the ropes of firing and glazing so that I can start working in there on my own.
The residency allows you to work closely alongside four other artists during an intensive period. What are the benefits of taking part in a group residency’
We all had an opportunity to present our work to each other and it was fascinating. You could immediately see connections and also how distinct everybody’s practice was. I think everyone has made observations about each others’ work, and some of these have been very insightful.
An event that took place during your residency, a talk by Liz Davies, Curator at St Neots Museum looked at how our ancestors tried to understand the world around them before the industrial revolution and the development of modern scientific theories, through witchcraft and the magical powers of moles and hares. Did you attend the event and did anything discussed impact on the work you are currently making’
The talk was fascinating. For the most part it was completely new material to me. It brought in local history and the crossover between folklore, magic, religion and medicine. One factor that really struck me was the extent to which belief was invested in material things. For example, in early prescriptions you would be instructed to carry an specific object or hold part of an animal to your chest. There was no evidence that this would necessarily result in a cure but it was thought that doing something physical would make a difference. That idea kept coming back in different situations: that this impulse to interact with the material world is vital.
What has this residency allowed you to do that you would not normally have been able to’
I think having the time to commit full-time and be away from the distractions of ordinary life, that focus is extremely useful. What’s been great is to have the capacity to work across several projects at once. I don’t really work with preconceived ideas, but there are a number of interests I have been wanting to pursue for a while now. Here I have 3 or 4 things that I am investigating without necessarily expecting any of them to resolve themselves.
Also I’ve been reading Robinson Crusoe, which is of course very much about making from scratch with what is at hand - picking fruit, making bread, firing pots, learning how to do all of these things. It’s hardly a castaway situation here in Bourne, but it has set the tone a bit for me, slowing things down and thinking about how things are structured at a basic level.
How would you compare your time at Wysing with your experience of other residencies’
In my experience residencies usually either have no formal structure at all or they demand specific outcomes. Both can be useful, but it is nice here not to feel that something has to be produced immediately and at the same time have input and support to feed off. Having the time to research and generate material, to reflect and meet other artists, it all seems very constructive to me.
To finish your residency you will be taking part in a closing event on 9th November. Is there anything you are currently working towards which you are interested in presenting to the public’
I’m interested to try to make a film using the media facilities here. I’ve no experience with filming or editing so we’ll see what happens. We’ve watched a couple of films together and talked about films a lot too, so its something I’ve been thinking about. I’d like to try to use film to disrupt the logic pattern of an object.