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Fife Contemporary at StAnza 2023

Sunday 12th March saw Fife Contemporary taking part in the final of three days of poetry, discussion and performance at StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival which takes place annually in St Andrews.

Fife Contemporary have partnered with StAnza, to produce thematically tied exhibitions as part of the festival for over 15 years, since our days at the Crawford Art Centre. This year provided an opportunity for us to expand the partnership. We worked with two artists to create complementary exhibitions connected to this year’s festival theme Wild: Forms of Resistance. “Wild” recalls both the natural environment and wilderness, but also connotes rage, anger or something out-of-control; or perhaps simply the unconventional. All these associations, combined with the notion of resistance, recalled the work of two artists, Juliana Capes and Rebecca Boyle, whose work at first appearance could not be more different; both of whom we were delighted to invite to exhibit.

As well as exhibitions of their work, we hosted two events which provided an opportunity to delve more deeply into their diverse practices. This is my personal experience of that invigorating and stimulating day.  

Rebecca Boyle  

Rebecca Boyle’s exhibition, Connecting Through Form, was open at the St Andrews Heritage Museum from Friday 3 March to Sunday 19 March 2023. We hosted a ‘Meet the Artist’ event with Rebecca in the exhibition space, on 12 March.  

Rebecca Boyle is an early career artist and designer, producing wearable metalwork pieces and jewellery. She came to my attention when we travelled to see her work at the DJCAD degree show in Summer 2022, so it was wonderful to be able to offer Rebecca her first public exhibition opportunity since graduation. We have also welcomed her to this year’s cohort of artists participating in our Materialise graduate programme – so we will be able to feature her work again in next year’s online exhibition, Materialise 6. (By the way – you can see the current Materialise exhibition here.)

Meanwhile, StAnza provided the chance to show Rebecca’s work to a new audience, including at the ‘Meet the Artist’ event. The festival’s subheading “Forms of Resistance” acts as a perfect descriptor for what her pieces represent. Rebecca takes slogans and protest signs as her starting point and gives these words literal form by embedding them into her structural jewellery pieces. Although she doesn’t classify herself as a jeweller, her pieces are still designed to be wearable and useable, and to facilitate conversation and debate between those who interact with them – and with each other because of them. They also have an intense and assured physical presence which was particularly evident when they were shown within the busy exhibition space at St Andrews Heritage Museum.  

Their purpose as a facilitator of discussion and interaction was explored in greater depth when we were able to bring the pieces out of the cases at the ‘Meet the Artist’ event. Rebecca was very keen that her large rings, which feature laser-engraved Lino stamps created from her slogan designs, should be accessible and used during the event. So, the group who turned up to meet her had loads of hands-on experience with her pieces; printing using water soluble inks from two of the large rings, and then rubbing using wax crayons from her necklace pieces. The joy of handling works designed for wearing and interaction was feeling the weight and balance of the pieces, as well as the difference in texture between the finished and powder coated coppers, or the difference in weight between the true metal and 3D printed copper filament pieces.  

My favourite piece to handle was Rebecca’s pure copper Lino-print ring. The industrial, brutalist-inspired design fits perfectly with the heft of the ring as it sinks down onto the paper, forming a permanent, printed mark and emblem of protest and resistance. The long tradition of using block printing and rubbing to share subversive messaging is quoted powerfully throughout Boyle’s work.  

Juliana Capes 

After the tactile experience of printing and rubbing with Rebecca Boyle’s wearable, sculptural tools of dissent, I hot-footed it over to The Byre Theatre to meet the group about to engage in Juliana Capes’s eye opening and expansive, descriptive walk.  

Where Rebecca’s resistance was solid, tactile and provocative, Juliana’s work invited not slogan driven protest, but a quieter resistance to the usual frenetic interaction with everyday surroundings. Through a talk and walk that encouraged deep looking, and dexterous verbal and visual comparison in unexpected corners of St Andrews, Juliana achieved this with her insistent focus on slow and concentrated description. The experience brought us all deeper into the aesthetic observations and creative thought patterns of the artist; as she continued to engage in her ongoing pursuit to ‘describe the indescribable’.

Some of Juliana’s observations

“There is an insane smattering of windows, some are together, some are friends. Others are resolutely apart”

“The size of the tree is like a hug around a child, and there is a great eye looking at us”

“This boulangerie of bricks, bloomers and focaccia”

“Like an eye crying one rusty tear”

“The gridlocked pattern of the paving has been softened by the green moss”

The impact of this deep-looking exercise on the part of the participants was related back to Juliana in the many responses gathered at the end of the 1-hour walk – during which the group had travelled just 300 metres. Some of the comments left floating in the air at the end resonated with me as much as the walk experience itself; that it makes you sure that “you’ve got to stop and look”, that it was an exploration of “literacy in something else”, or simply that it was an act of observation that was “truly inspiring”. Everyone who attended was left searching for the words to fully describe their experience, but hopefully took away an understanding that simply spending that time searching had its own value. 

Kate Grenyer – Fife Contemporary Director 

April 2023 

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