Sovay Berriman’s Entertaining at the Dust Lounge is currently at the Exeter Phoenix Gallery, and she is giving a talk about her work and practice at the gallery tomorrow (Saturday, April 24). We caught up with her beforehand to find out her work, which considers collective imagination, optimism and symbolism
Your influences include ‘movie sets from 1930s Hollywood musicals, science fiction, entertainment lounge decor and the social environments created by civic planning’. How do you reconcile the diverse nature of these influences and is there a common strand running through them?
I suppose I don’t think of it as reconciling the differences but more considering the elements of those things that interest me, and, there are similarities to be found. Moderne (latterly known as Art Deco) had a very futurist feel, it’s geometrics and clean lines were inspired by growing mass-production and the finish that mechanical production made; it’s only a small step away from machines being used by humans to them being able to power themselves, and very quickly you have sci-fi.
My interest in civic planning and social environments is inline with the stage sets, how the dancers are choreographed to move with and around the set and how urban planners and architects envisage the public’s use of any space they are producing. There are also similarities with curating an exhibition or producing an installation, again there is the consideration, or not, of people moving about a space.
You’re work takes reference to a Golden Age of cinema. Are those ideas of escapism and facade more, or less relevant today?
I think they’ll always be relevant. What excites me is our collective imagination, whatever we have, as a species almost, we still envisage and imagine more.
It is also our imagination that gets us through hard times. The depression era musicals offered a distraction from everyday hardships, and encouraged an attitude of working through the hardship to find a better place. I find this kind of positive attitude inspirational.
The title of your work, Entertaining at the Dust Lounge, brings to mind the line, ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ from TS Eliot’s Waste Land. How far does your work strip back optimism?
I’m not quite sure what you mean by strip back. I think the line from The Waste Land that you mention talks about fear with regard to the immenseness of the universe and the smallness of us as individuals within it. I don’t consider this unoptimistic, rather scary in its awesomeness. In an Edmund Burke kind of way. I don’t think the work in general lacks optimism, but it does seek a fuller picture of the state of things, this picture can appear quite doom-like, but it holds much potential; to see that potential and walk towards it takes, I think, an optimism.
In your new body of work ‘symbolic motifs have been repeatedly reworked’, what are these symbols, and how important are symbolic motifs in mass culture, such as Hollywood musical music sets?
I’m afraid I don’t have the knowledge to answer the latter part of your question. The symbols that I have been working with recently and that are part of the ancestry of this show developed over a period of time from existing forms and ideas that I had been working with over many years. I began with the Symbol that I use for Symbol Archive. They then grew into the symbols found in Cabin Tactics, the piece I made for North Cabin. I’m interested in them as drawings and compositions on a page, but also for their enigmatic quality. They suggest a communication of something, but unless you have the means of deciphering the sign it means nothing, or something entirely different. Again it’s the potential of this communication that is intriguing, the possibilities of what it may hold.
How they are presented also affects their meaning/reading. I’ve made some into limited edition badges, these can be seen as an emblem for an elitist members club simply because of the form of presentation and that there’s a limited amount of them. However, the reasons behind this may also be that I only had the budget for a certain amount and that they’re a good promotional tool.
How does Entertaining at the Dust Lounge fit into your body of work?
If I see the work I’ve been producing over the past few years as almost an epic written in chapters and presented in volumns, then Entertaining at the Dust Lounge is a mid point. It is the culmination of some ideas and production methods, and the beginning of others. My practice is ongoing in its research, one discovery or answer leads to the next question.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just thank you for some interesting questions.
Sovay Berriman, many thanks
(Image: Cruise Lounge, 2010, pencil on paper, by Sovay Berriman)
• Entertaining at the Dust Lounge is at the Exeter Phoenix Gallery until Sunday, May 2
There will be an artist’s talk with Soavy Berrimen where she will discuss the exhibition and her practice at the Exeter Phoenix on Saturday, April 24 at 2.30pm
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