Cynthia Cousens profiles Anne Brodie, who uses film, photography and glass, discussing her career development and fellowship to Antarctica in 2006/7.
Since gaining an MA in Glass at the Royal College of Art, Anne Brodies practice has gradually moved away from a single material transcending discipline in its concern with the objectification of questions. She now sees herself as an artist who sometimes uses film, sometimes photography and sometimes, within a sculptural context, is drawn to working in glass.
Brodie engages with concepts around the human notion of movement and transience, and what it is to be human in this precarious world. To capture these fleeting experiences, she uses a range of media: glass, photography, direct scanning, sound, video and other forms of mark making by the object itself.
Brodie comments about her earlier work, where the act of making forms part of the subject matter, that the moments of decision and hesitancy made by the maker, are all to me as exciting and as relevant as the resulting piece of finished glass. The momentous experience of the Antarctica Fellowship moved her thinking forward: my work in the glass studio had been concerned with the pre-object-making and Antarctica was the other end, the thumbprint of the result of object-making.
Brodies career path reflects this cross-disciplinary thinking: coming from a science background, taking a BSc in Biology at Stirling University 1983, and spending a year working in salmon farm husbandry in Argyll, before moving into the arts. She studied Ceramics at City Lit, London before reaching the RCA in 2001. The divide between science and art is not significant to her: The questions are more important than whichever camp you happen to ask questions in.
Reflecting the breadth of her approach, Brodie presents her work in a range of art forms and venues. She has exhibited glasswork in Snow Domes, National Glass Centre Sunderland, presented film at the George Polke Gallery London 2008 and worked collaboratively on Roker Breakfast shown at the 700IS Reindeerland Film Festival. Recently she has made an installation in the V&A Silver galleries and was invited to speak at the interdisciplinary symposium Polar, organised by the Open University, Arts Catalyst and the British Library in 2007.
Her work has been highly acclaimed: in 2005 she was joint winner of the international Bombay Sapphire Prize, in a film collaboration with Dupre and Gilbert-Scott, and in 2007 she was short listed for the Man Group Photographic Prize.
A pivotal experience for Anne Brodie occurred in her first project at City Lit. She suddenly saw a different way of approaching the world, gaining the freedom to step back and question rather than unreservedly accept the given brief or premise. Her science background had fostered an approach within tight parameters, and it is now this free questioning outside boundaries, across disciplines and traditions, which is both the driver and definer of Brodies practice.
Another significant moment came in the first year at RCA through looking at an exhibit in the Imperial War Museum: a rusty sardine can, which had been brought back as a battlefield memento from the Spanish Civil War, and placed with a photograph of a lost soldier. This embodied Brodies developing thoughts on the role of objects and our perception of them over time, reflecting: How we perceive an object changes... its that impossibility of trying to pin down an object for any length of time because they are changing, fleeting.
The success that Brodie has achieved in major prizes does not appear to have had a direct impact on her practice, yet she acknowledges that they have served to get work seen and cumulatively to support applications for funding, essential to allow the work to happen. Brodie is clear that she is not about selling, not about product,; the closest she gets is through photographic images, which could be an accessible way for people to buy my work.
Brodie insists that risk-taking in her practice is really important, you have got to do it and it doesnt matter if you fail the more risks I have taken, the more I realise what the advantages of it are you always learn something, you always get something unexpected. She took most risks at the RCA where she played and pushed the material to the very, very limit and more recently in the Antarctica: What more of a risky environment can you be in as a human? I was pushed to my extremes and the environment was my material.
Anne Brodie spent nearly three months on an International Artists Fellowship in Rothera and the Sky Blue depot, Antarctica, funded by the British Antarctica Survey and Arts Council, in 2006/7. She applied with a proposal to explore the dynamic and transient nature of the Antarctic environment, through films, sound recordings, temporary installations and glass, using a self-built furnace and the waste glass from the base.
Brodie was glad to have a project, a mission; everyone was there with a reason, not just the scientists, but the chef, the electrician, the boatman, the plumber... it grounded me. Initially, she found it an overwhelmingly difficult place in which to be a human, never mind an artist... the environment does everything so effortlessly itself... the most exciting, spontaneous landscape, great blue slashes, mark-making, on these great white plains... how do you approach this as an artist?
In response to these experiences, Brodie started the residency by entering into a little cog of the community helping with the daily chores of survival. As she felt part of the community and more at ease, she was happier to play, aware that through experimentation and play creative things happen. She explored with available materials: blocks of translucent plastic; giant bubble wrap, interested in the air it contained, transported from elsewhere; and the ice itself. The work came to be about how people work together and how they respond to being in such an extreme place.
The residency had a huge impact, it has ricocheted through my life a moment in life that Brodie knows might never be repeated. Its effects on recent work are only just unravelling. A ninety kilo block of Antarctica ice lies in the freezer in Cambridge, alongside the scientists samples for data collection, while Brodie contemplates presenting its alternative human significance. She has acquired such a wealth of information about our place in the world, particularly in the polar region and how we deal with what I feel its an unanswered question that it will still be informing my work ten years from now.
Support and networks
Anne Brodie values conversation with people and continually initiates personal networks: Im a great believer in just approaching people and picking up phones and going to see people... In fact I cant stop myself going to see people. She is part of an informal discussion group with her neighbours, which includes the artists Heather Ackroyd, Dan Harvey, and Amanda Loomes. The George Polke Gallery held a Salon, alongside her exhibition with Laura Morrison, with the aim of initiating dialogue about the two contrasting artists work. Brodie also realises the importance of attending conferences, such as Skinterface at fact in Liverpool, to challenge her thinking and relate it to the broader critical discourse.
Networks have also developed with the amazingly supportive scientists from the British Antarctica Survey, Cambridge and with the University of Surrey, where she is collaborating with Professor John Watt and Dr Simon Park, a microbiologist who is helping to grow bioluminescent bacteria her latest material. She values the strength of collaboration: I might mention an idea or concept and Simon takes the ball and runs with it, and at times its the other way around. I feel that in this case the sum is truly greater than the parts.
The residency in the Antarctica provided Anne Brodie with rich experiences and new directions, and despite acknowledging that I am feeling my way with it all at the moment, work is beginning to emerge and opportunities realised. Brodie was recently approached by the V&A to participate in a Friday Late event.
One of her interventions involves covering up the Silver Collections with sheets of tracing paper, lit from inside casting only shadows of the silver. As with Antarctica, the sensory experience of being in the silver galleries is completely overwhelming, sometimes we see more when its taken away from us.
Brodies gentle and ethereal video, of an iceberg having toppled over and spending the next hour moving backs and forward, re-finding its balance, is currently being exhibited at the George Polke Gallery London. Arts Catalyst have also commissioned her to work on a project concerning ice, to coincide with the June 2008 launch of the publication Bipolar which will include work by Brodie and fellow participants of the Polar interdisciplinary symposium.
Brodie is contemplating looking for a place to ask questions with some degree of support perhaps within the framework of a residency, doctorate study or research fellowship a place where she can have the freedom to make tangible the phenomenal impact of the Antarctica.
Cynthia Cousens is a jeweller, researcher and lecturer at the University of Brighton.
First published: a-n.co.uk June 2008
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