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From Venice to Hawick: The Biennale artists showing at Alchemy

Last year, Scotland’s exhibition at the 57th Venice Biennale (May – November 2017) was curated by Alchemy Film & Arts. In a hugely successful offering, Rachel Maclean's solo show, Spite Your Face, was presented at the prestigious international festival.

Alongside Maclean's work, 14 art students from six Scottish art colleges were selected for the Professional Development Programme. This opportunity gave the emerging artists a unique opportunity to live and work in Venice, where they could operate alongside like-minded artists, and experience the distinctive Italian setting in order to expand their own practice. 

Now, Alchemy Film Festival is showcasing some of the work created during the programme.

Three students - Dawn Berry, Fenella Gabrysch and Florence Richardson will exhibit moving image work at Alchemy. We spoke to Fenella and Florence to find out more about their time in Venice, and what they're hoping audiences will take away from their work at the festival.

What is your background as an artist, and what kind of work do you create?

Fenella: My practice often sporadically rotates within the varied mediums of performance, film, sound and text. Focusing on the connections within, rather than limited discourse of separations between, my work looks to review and challenge the dominant discourse that creates borders between all bodies of human and non-human forms, as a method to disrupt our collective pool of future thought.

Florence: I am a MA Fine Art student at the University of Edinburgh. My practice incorporates film, digital illustration, animation, sound and textile print to form multimedia installations. I am particularly interested in exploring the dichotomies between the organic and technological realms of contemporary society. These ideas are conceptualised through an aesthetic lens inspired by magic realism, speculative fiction and post-internet subcultures.

Tell us about the work you were involved in at Scotland + Venice

Fenella: Through the Scotland + Venice development programme, I took on the role of an exhibitions assistant within the Scottish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, whilst undertaking research that would feed my own practice. The role within the Pavilion both looked to sustain the space and invigilate, but also to engage with visitors that came to the Pavilion.

I think one of the real highlights of working within the Pavilion was the discussions that arose with visitors after they had seen Rachel’s work. More recently, the programme has organised opportunities for all of the participants on the programme to come back together to discuss and share the works we were both creating and influenced by during this time.

Throughout my time in Venice, I was also able to experience both the curatorial and social engagements within the Biennale- Florence Richardson

Florence: I was lucky to experience working as an exhibition assistant to Rachel Maclean’s Spite Your Face exhibition at La Biennale Di Venezia 2017 – serving as both an exhibition assistant while also providing our own creative online content for Scotland + Venice.

Maclean is an artist who greatly inspired me throughout my time at Edinburgh College of Art, so it was an awe-inspiring honour to represent her work on an international platform. Throughout my time in Venice, I was also able to experience both the curatorial and social engagements within the Biennale - expanding my network of international artists and art world piers – as well as seeing a remarkable collection of contemporary multimedia art.

How did it inform your work at Alchemy?

Fenella: I think the time I spent in Venice became incredibly important within the defining areas of my current research. Living by, travelling on and working next to the water became a fundamentally influential period of reflection to the rhythms that sustain our existence, yet are an expanse so treacherous and inaccessible to so many.

With every storm that came, the buildings would tilt, but with that came a heightened awareness of the cycles that we so often fall out of time with. The water, both in us and around us, is continually passed between, is a shared body, that holds our more distant memories and more recent pasts. The water, and its presence in Venice, began to bring up a whole body of thoughts, that have come back around to root the work at Alchemy within their ebbs and flows.

Florence: Working within the ancient, history-steeped surroundings of Venice that felt so fragile in the wake of ever-increasing climate threat, I found myself thinking a lot about the rifts between human society and nature. It was particularly surreal to experience certain high-tech, digital Biennale art installations within olden, brick-exposed Venetian architecture surrounded by lagoon water.

It was this duality between our digitally created worlds and delicate physical biosphere that initially inspired me to research Scotland’s own natural history within my own digital-based practice.

What are you hoping audiences will take away from your work at Alchemy?

Fenella: I guess in many ways, what people take will always be subject to their own experiences of existence, of their and their families journeys and their roots. Whether these roots are placed in this land, or trace between, I would hope in some ways, if anything, perhaps the work would provoke some sort of consideration to our current moments and movements.

To the borders created and the hostility that seeps beyond the natural divides of the land and the water, that impacts the existence of so many and their families, that have made their homes here on this land, upon which we stand.

Florence: My film takes a fragmentary, collage approach to explore the mythos, research and historical legacy surrounding an ancient species of giant deer once native for Scotland, which is now undergoing scientific experimentation to clone its DNA.

Merging found footage of science experiments, gothic fantasy video games and my own illustration, I wanted these themes of the environmental mysticism against the terror of contemporary science to be explored through a digitalised, unnerving aesthetic. As my work is fairly nonrepresentational rather than linear narrative, I mainly hope people are able to respond emotionally to the sensory experience of the work.

See Installation: Scotland + Venice at Hawick Library, Thursday 3 - Sunday 6 May 2018, as part of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival.

This article was published on 25 Apr 2018