Q&A with Willow Rowlands

By: Lucy Harvey


Manchester based artist Willow Rowlands was selected for the Bankley Open 2013 for her two process led photographic pieces. She is currently studying BA (Hons) Visual Arts at Salford University and was the sole undergraduate artist in the final shortlist for the Bankley Open. We ask her about her use of process and polarity, and what open exhibitions offer to both students and graduates.

Catch her work in the remaining week of the exhibition, open this week Thursday 24th and Friday 25th from 12-4pm, or at our wrap party this Saturday night from 6-9pm.


Lucy Harvey: Your work involves drawn out process and you say you develop the work in response to formal limitations, could you expand on how these limitations come about and inform your work? 

Willow Rowlands: Total subjective experience exceeds the capacity of every communicative form, so a proportion of primary content is inevitably lost in translation. What remains is compromised by superfluous noise. Be it lexical, computational, pictorial or paralinguistic, each system exhibits specific characteristics, which impress upon the information passing through. Content is worn by noise and pocked with omissions. These are the formal limitations I referred to.

I work through a succession of media formats, chosen for their lack of relative consonance. The steeper the translation, the greater the effect it has on content. I plot each stage based upon the outcome of the previous action. For example, the Untitled series (of which I & II were selected for the Bankley Open Exhibition) began with a canvas bag. When photographed in soft focus at close range, the woven fabric translated as a mottled blur. I responded to this lack of definition by overlaying a sharp, digital drawing of an icosahedron net.

It’s about identifying the missing element and grafting an approximation. Yet the work is never whole, as every attribute gained represents an attribute lost. Because modes of communication offer a reduced palette, it’s easier to express difference in polarity than nuanced gradients. My affection for this funny condition influences the way I play with limitations.


LH: This polarity is particularly clear in the pieces in the Bankley open which manage to weave together both analogue and digital processes, three dimensional and two dimensional states, with organic and geometric forms. What initially inspired your exploration of absence through such complex juxtaposition?

WR: When two communicative forms are boldly dissimilar, accurate translation of content from one to the other involves a kind of reassembly. For example, the Turkish word for ‘snail’ is ‘sümüklüböcek’, which translates directly as ‘snot bug’. In order for this sentiment to survive translation, the word requires an aside or a footnote; it has to be reassembled. While the notion of a ‘snot bug’ can be Anglicised, the cultural implications of a lexically enshrined consensus are impossible to translate.

My process could be analogised as a series of direct translations between incompatible languages. For example, it’s possible to mould an object from a two dimensional image, but it’s third dimension is likely to be discontinuous.

The dissonance caused by switching between irreconcilable formats, makes clear that something has been lost in translation. The subjective content at the core of every process is inexpressible, but if something can be lost, then it exists. That’s why I think an exaggerated incompatibility with communicative forms, is the only way to define something that’s indefinable.

Alternating between media helps me to visualise the translation process, but it’s also a strategy for avoiding specialism. The more familiar I become with a range of practices, the less sense they make to me in isolation. The weight of sculpture is only relative to the frailty of pencil marks. The remoteness of sound software is relative to the physicality of audio tape.

I don’t think about where my curiosities come from when I’m in the studio. Although I can detect a concept like polarity when I stand back, my experience of making is pretty wordless. Above and beyond any theoretical underpinning, I’m engaging with an emotional, tactile process.


LH: I wondered what your thoughts were on revealing the extensive processes behind your work to your audience? Do you see this way of working as a journey or an editing process?

It’s possible to curate a project as a journey. At times, I’ve presented work in the form of an illustrated catalogue of actions. Intricate documentation of process, appeals most to viewers with technical sensibilities.

But the encryption of subjectivity is a mysterious thing. For every technical mind, there’s a cinephile seeking a controlled, theatrical revelation. The curation plan for this section of the audience is necessarily editorial.

I’m currently working towards a holistic means of presentation. Communication is both an art and a science; two fields which at first glance, imply distinct methodologies. Yet the dividing line is more fluid than ever. I may yet identify a strategy for integrating the methodical with the intangible.


LH: We’re interested to explore the role of open call exhibitions for artists at all stages of their career, including those in formal education. What does your selection for the open mean to you in terms of your final year at university and your practice?

WR: I’m working towards the degree show in June, so my availability to curate projects is almost non existent at the moment. Having my work accepted for the open call has meant being able to keep my CV moving, without taking time out from the workshop.

Being linked with established artists has increased the traffic for my website and blog, which in turn has led to new people taking an interest in the work. Taking part in Bankley Open Exhibition has brought a measure of professional validation, and that’s worth a great deal to students and recent graduates. So, thank you for that.

full projection scene

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