Victoria Adam’s work invites the viewer to experience it intimately, and often with some anxiety. The work is frank in its engagement with the body – works feature residues of makeup and discarded cherry stones – and often precarious in its display. Materially, the work hovers between clean, polished surfaces and tactile, handled forms, giving it a sensual depth that seems to reflect the dichotomous ways that humans engage with the world in private and public capacities. Here, Adam discusses her work with Susie Pentelow.
A lot of the objects you use in your work - like lenses, cotton wool, and sponges - are things used in personal grooming. What is it about this group of objects in particular that interests you?
I recently saw some pomanders at the V&A; tiny metal containers historically worn about the body to ward against miasmic air that was thought to cause plague or illness. The pomanders were perfumed or held sponges soaked in vinegar so presumably, it was necessary to hold them close to the face in order to sniff them effectively enough.
All the ingredients you mention above talk about intimate private moments, personal grooming rituals, gentle applications that cover up messy, smelly or visceral bodily functions - experiences common and familiar but experienced privately. They are a shortcut to feelings and emotions I’m interested in: a shared sense of privacy, intimacy, shame, obligation, desire, dissatisfaction, anxieties. Something like thinking of a fluffy cotton bud primes you also to think of earwax or ‘linen-fresh’ deodorant also triggers the idea of sweat and body odour.
There is a sense of tenuous balance in a lot of your works - like in ‘Lost and sad (Diana)’, where it seems that the necklace could slip to the ground, and in works like ‘You but better (2)’ and ‘Mermaid Oil plumage crease’, which feel like they could topple at any moment. Is this precarity something that you deliberately put into your work?
I’m drawn to artworks that somehow make you aware of your body and physicality and maybe precarity is an aspect of this. I recently made some works that look like metal stalks, 3 meters tall but 6 millimeters thick: trembly, shaky things topped with metal casts so the whole stalk bends into an arch. Walking around, you’re aware of taking care not to knock or lean on them. There’s something about a small, quiet or slight object being demanding; asking you to come close, almost breathing on it to see it, or works that incite a feeling of being clumsy or careful in the body of the viewer.
Your work ‘Lost and sad (Diana)’ hints at a character - I found myself wondering about her and her backstory. Is this an element of the work that you are interested in?
An archetypal, classical version of Diana: Diana the huntress, Diana an old goddess who is probably a bit forgotten, buried under contemporary anxieties…
I am intrigued by the contrast in your work between very clean, polished surfaces - like plastic, jesmonite and resin - and materials that seem coarser, and are perishable - beans, wheat, cherry stones. Is this distinction important?
I find hands-on making very enjoyable: polishing, sanding, mushing clay. In a very straightforward way, I love the grubby, messy tactility of these processes and the idea that this tactility translates - maybe the viewer’s fingertips can sense it and want to touch in response. There’s a sensual residue. An invitation of sorts, albeit one that fails to live up to its promise.
Ironically, it’s the polished metal, jesmonite or cement surfaces (the materials that you’d source for a more ‘industrial’ application) that require more laboured processes and are more handled and touched in order to remove the marks of the grubby, wonky hand-madeness. Whereas ceramics, clay that’s prodded and squished is probably less handled, but the marks are retained. The certain category of things - like beans and pips and whatnot - are always a shortcut to a feeling: an emotion, a bodily familiarity, a taste. The smell of someone.
What do the next few months look like for you?
I spent the summer drying out ingredients for a show that has just opened at Milieu, an artist-run-space in Bern. Underneath some arched wheat stalk shapes and aligned with a home-made compass, I’m showing some bowls of potpourri - combinations of socks, whisky, dried herbs, dried bergamots and other ingredients in combinations inspired by Paracelsus’s writing on bodily humors and healing balance. In the cellar underneath the gallery, a crystal is growing for the duration of the exhibition.
I’m also showing small sculptures infused with herbal blends at Marian Cramer Projects in Amsterdam. They’re quite grubby and sensual at the same time and sit within a domestic space (the gallery is also Marian’s house) - with the aim of inviting people in closer.
In the New Year, I’m looking forward to starting work on a collaborative research residency with artists Anna Hughes and Wanda Wieser. It’s focused on alignments; sculptural, psycho-geographic, bodily and we intend to go for lots of walks following ley-lines.
You can see Victoria Adam’s work in ‘chaperones’, until 7 Jan 2017 at Milieu, Bern, Switzerland; ‘Femocracy’ until 28 Jan 2017 at Marian Cramer Projects, Amsterdam and Bloomberg New Contemporaries, until 22 Jan 2017 at the ICA, London.
For more on Victoria Adam’s work, visit http://www.victoriaadam.co.uk.