As we collectively stay at home during these turbulent times, how are artists coping, and what are they brewing up at home? Artists @ Home is a series of email interviews with artists where we find out what they’ve been up to as all of us, voluntarily or not, embrace the home as work and studio space.
Merryn Trevethan is an Australian visual artist who is based in Singapore. Her vibrant, multimedia works play on the uncertainty of perception, and draw attention to the act of looking itself. In this interview, we talk to her about how the pandemic affects the way she makes art, and how ideas about art conversely affect the way she looks at the pandemic.
What’s different about working from home rather than from the studio?
Not that much has changed – it has always been a bit tricky juggling the amount of work I produce with the amount of space I have, so I am used to running out of room and rearranging things constantly. I’ve had a small studio space in the lounge room of our one-bedroom apartment since my partner and I moved to Singapore in 2014. Since the circuit breaker period began, my partner has been working from home too, so I have relocated to a pared-down space in the corner of the bedroom. I’ve decided to treat this period of time like a mini residency, using only materials that I already have in my home studio.
It’s cosy, and sometimes feels a bit like I am back in high school or undergrad. But I have a nice view, and can still take a quick trip to my main studio in River Valley to grab what I need, or leave things there to dry. With our current arrangement, it’s pretty easy for my partner and I to stay out of each other’s way, although it took a little adjusting at first. I am very grateful I have a space to work. In some ways, it means that I’ve now taken over even more space in the apartment… it’s basically 80% studio!
What art (or non-art related things) are you working on right now?
One afternoon when I was feeling particularly anxious, I pulled out the hot glue gun and started creating structures. By early evening, I had 6 of them. The next day, I got to adding colour, and I am still working on them. Before the circuit breaker rules came into effect, I took a couple of them out on location. They started me thinking about our changing relationship to being outside, and also the acute awareness of space that social distancing has brought about.
I am also working on a series using handmade mulberry paper I had bought in Uzbekistan, titled #untilfurthernotice. They are very minimal, and meditative to make. I am also working on acrylic panels and boxes that were to be included in an exhibition that has been postponed for now.
I also made a duvet cover and pillows from Marimekko fabric that I had bought in Finland, face masks for family and friends made with fabric I screen-printed, and other non-art related projects all using things I already had at home – and of course iso-baking (Editor’s note: an Aussie abbreviation for baking in isolation)!
What’s one thing (poem, artwork, song, movie etc) that’s been on your mind and why?
One of my favourite books is Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees by Lawrence Weschler, which captures the author’s conversations with American installation artist Robert Irwin. I’ve been re-reading this book, and consequently thinking about perception and presence as it relates to our current times. Irwin’s works are contingent on the viewer being present, and they act on one’s perception in unpredictable ways that cannot be experienced fully through photographs. They make me ponder how this time of physical isolation and doing everything – from socialising to seeing art to even working out – online might alter our experience of the real world, when we are allowed to go outside again.
How do you think your own responses might change, personally?
It’s so hard to speculate, really. I think that after at least another 5 weeks of the circuit breaker restrictions, our collective psychology might be affected in really weird and unpredictable ways. I already find that when I go out for a walk, I want to leave my device behind and just enjoy being outside again. I make sure to appreciate the changing quality of light and to remember to look around. I do think that social distancing guidelines have caused most of us to be more acutely aware of our personal space while in public. Not only do I crave the outside, but I crave space – big, wide-open spaces. Ideally ones that aren’t crowded with people; I never was big on crowds of people.
Tell us more about the works that you’ve brought out to the forest and the sea – what themes are you exploring?
In a sense, these structures act as invaders in spaces where they don’t belong. I am choosing locations where human impact on nature is visible in some way. For example, at East Coast Park, a tight crop would make an image look like a serene beach scene – but pull the camera back slightly, and the viewer is confronted by a fleet of container ships. That said, the work is really new and I am still unpacking the themes. I like to allow room for the unpredictable to emerge during the process of making.
Do you see the works’ inhabitation of the external context as necessary to their completion? Why or why not?
I do see the act of taking the sculptures outside as an integral part of the process, but not necessarily an act of completion in itself. I plan to incorporate documentation – both stills and video, along with the objects, into immersive spatial installations at some stage in the future. The act of taking these works outside explores my responses to #selfisolation and my changing feelings towards both public and private spaces, but it is also a project that I had been thinking about for a while.
How might you be developing these works further?
In addition to fleshing out installation outcomes as mentioned earlier, I plan to eventually make more, larger structures from recycled or reclaimed materials found in the urban environment. This current group was made from materials that I had collected in my studio, but I would like to find ways to minimise the environmental footprint of my work in future projects. I will also be exploring other locations and clusters of works when the circuit breaker restrictions are lifted.
All images courtesy of the artist.