BA (Hons) Fine Art, Leeds Arts University, graduating artist Annabelle Richmond-Wright speaks to Joanna Byrne.

Annabelle Richmond-Wright is an artist working with sculpture, installation and performance.

In her sculptural assemblages she explores human relationships with technology under hyper-capitalism: consumption, surveillance, exploitation and colonisation.

Her muse is the fragmented human-computer hybrid of cyberpunk, whose flatpack materiality she uses to peel back the tactile, bodily, and spiritual dimensions of our strange, digital-mediated lives in the post-Covid-19 present.

Can you tell me a little bit about your practice – what are you working on at the moment?

I mainly work through sculpture, installation and performance. My work has always been about the experience of the human condition within a labour context or technology under capitalism – I’m interested in those areas of our daily experience. My current project is about the phenomena of the human condition in a broad sense. I’m interested in the explosion of technology that happened over summer 2020 due to Coronavirus. There was a lot of innovation in all kinds of sectors where businesses were trying to stay alive, like robotics, people working from home and faster internet infrastructure. I was really interested in how we would deal with this as social beings, as conscious beings: not having that physical connection to one another but being forced to have that connection in a digital sense. Coronavirus has impacted my way of thinking as well. The loss of touch in this digital age, and the longing for connection but also being fearful of it as well. People are scared to shake hands or hug one another, to try and avoid being infected. I’m interested in this kind of thinking. I’ve been realising my ideas with metal and casting the body using tactile materials like latex and plaster.

How have you been able to work with these materials and processes through lockdown?

I actually started in the basement of the house that I’m living in. To keep within the restrictions, I started with casting my boyfriend’s face, which I learned how to do from watching YouTube videos. Casting his face led to the bald bust cast (Touch Me I’m Offline, Coffin and Tribal Hazard, all 2021). Continuing to work in my basement, I started casting different bits of my body: my fingers, my arms, then parts of other people’s bodies as well. Before I knew it, I had a collection of different people’s bodies, in fragmented ways that didn’t really match up. That’s how my ideas developed.

I feel like there’s a performativity to your sculptural objects and fragmentary assemblages, for example, The Mouth You Kiss My ***** With and Cyber Transcendence (both 2021), and Alexa, Night Call and Cold Love (all 2020). Can you tell me a bit more about how the body, or performance, plays out in your practice?

I’ve been thinking about this idea of the body as a unit. I’ve been thinking about Amazon, and its warehouses, where there are big blocks that people move, that almost become a part of their bodies. I wanted to think about this idea of a unit, trying to create the body in a very manufactured, non-human way as this thing that you could pull apart, or take apart. I suppose I’m trying to blur what we think of as an object, and what we think of as the body.

Are there any particular writers or philosophers who are important to your thought process?

Mark Fisher (Capitalist Realism, 2009) has always been an interest for me. He says it’s impossible for us to imagine an alternative to capitalism and that really resonates with me, because it kind of isn’t. In New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (2018), James Bridle’s position on technology really resonated with me as well – he talks about the first military computers engineered at Bletchley Park.

Mentioning the ‘ancient history’ of computing made me think about the sculpture you created using giant QWERTY computer keyboard keys (2019), cast in concrete. They are really tactile and uncanny objects – to me they convey a sense of the weight of labour. They feel like the stones from the Pyramids.

Yes, they are really heavy. These were some of the first things I made at university. The Enter key is about 12 times life size and it weighs about five kilogrammes. I was trying to get the sense of the drudgery of office work. Before I came to university to study art I worked as a digital marketing assistant for two years. I used to work in an office, and it was like there were weights on your feet and your body, just sat there typing. I wanted to get across the greyness of the office and the building that I was in.

Your work could be seen as quite pessimistic? What do you think?

I suppose it’s all about perspective and I’m definitely dealing with dark themes. But you know, maybe I’m referencing the struggle before the light. When humanity and consciousness decide to rise, together. Whether that will happen, I don’t know!

So, thinking about the future, where do you think you might go next? Have you tentatively made any plans?

We’ve been advised to prepare for a degree show and envision what our work might look like, within the university space and also online.  I’ve not really got to the stage of envisioning how my work will be presented. I would love to do a Masters in London, but in a couple of years’ time. I want to see what is out there, and what I could do, but I’d like a steady job first so I can save, and work in my studio at home. I’ve applied for a PGCE for next year. But I’m excited to look beyond the degree show, and hopefully exhibit in the summer or in 2022. I’m keeping my options open!

Instagram: @arw.art

Degree Show: Leeds Arts University 2021 Show opens online 5 July 2021. www.leeds-art.ac.uk/

Interview by Joanna Byrne.

Images:
1. Annabelle Richmond-Wright, Touch Me I’m Offline, 2021.
2. Annabelle Richmond-Wright, Alexa, 2020.
3. Annabelle Richmond-Wright in the studio.

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