SIÂN LESTER: Installation – Symbiosis ‘living together’
At Studio Cennen, Ffairfach, Llandeilo
19 July to 14 August 2021
“The initial meaning of work is increasingly lost, as it becomes a commodity or a product, reflected by its monetary value. This presents creatives with a moral dilemma. Art is more than a commodity; it is a movement, it is expression, it is power.” (Editors’ Letter, Gatekeeper, issue 01, Autumn 2020)
For convenience and convention, Siân Lester might be described as a textile artist but as a freelance textile designer, who finds her practice segueing from applied design to fine art via post-graduate study at Swansea College of Art, a less specific labelling might be ‘visual creative’, with functional distinctions being irrelevant or outmoded. From a fine art perspective there is nothing unusual, especially nowadays, for the painter or sculptor to develop their practice from a particular discipline (painting might be the obvious one) into the ‘expanded field’. Hence terms such as the un-monumental (re-sculpture), the ephemeral (a development of performance and the ‘happening’) and a celebration of non-hierarchical materialism (explored in Modernism as the objet trouvé, the collage, the Combine and the Readymade – leading to Conceptualism) where all and any media are worthy of the message they impart. This expansion of the artist’s role would also include curatorship, most especially into the domain of the ‘installation’ where project and praxis combines theory with materiality as event as much as for object production.
In the current world-wide political and economic climate that at long last is starting to consider environmentalism seriously, and slowly but surely questioning the way we all live with industrial and post-industrial technologies, we notice the visual arts community externally thinking things through in their various choices of materials, processes and outcomes with explorative vigour. Lester has identified that her local environment has much to offer up in the form of oak bark, fallen lichen, gorse flowers, nettles, madder root and birch leaves; she also utilises a knack for gathering, carefully manipulating and presenting her materials, including match boxes, artefacts such as string, matchsticks and woven materials in a variety of simple vessels. There are seed heads, dried flowers and other fibrous materials too – even a small Bosch saw blade. Her gatherings accept an environment’s history and character, whether from inside or out. She ‘goes with’ the selected materials as if it was a two way process where she has invited the remnants of her environment to participate.
In this comfortably sized space for the installation at Studio Cennen, situated underneath the main gallery housing the Borrowed Landscape exhibition, Brigid Loizou, gallery founder and curator, has given Lester free reign to organise and display her symbiotic samples where the spider webs have been left on display by the artist with her various examples of dyed cloths and natural objects (free gifts) placed carefully into small circular vessels made from packing sourced from her kitchen. Many of the offerings are placed on a central tabletop with other items lined up on a long shelf-like construction or the window shelf. Opposite the windows a line of botanically dyed woven samples are suspended from a piece of rope to suggest a washing line. These domestic suggestions are enhanced rather than disrupted by a sense of a place of worship in which relics have been stored and placed for the visitor to appreciate in relaxed reverence. Symbiosis might be seen as an installation that forms a hybrid configuration of temple and garden shed as a display case to walk into. This could be a secular place of worship that marries the natural environment with the human dwelling; or the holy shrine with the everyday stuff we seldom notice as a celebration of a form of Wabi-Sabi – the Japanese aesthetic of acknowledging the everyday, especially the transient and imperfect.
This ostensible storage area has been transformed into what may come across as a tidied up workshop wherein collections or categories of object and matter are neatly displayed. The visitor might walk around as if in Fortnum and Mason’s, enjoying the visual and textural delights of lots of goodies on display. Some are identifiable, other not so straightforward. Some content is pure (seeds and shells), whilst others are processed (especially string and twine) to prompt a sense of awe and reverence or even humour. The installation can be viewed as a diorama of sorts but the engagement is best explored as a visual journey to be taken by inspecting the parts that make up the whole. The temptation to touch is mitigated by the simple arrangement of material content that is a pleasure to observe. Some items line up or bunch together, whilst others act alone. The vessels may invite the viewer to pick up, even to shake or pour, but a sense of stillness pervades that slows the viewer down, edging towards meditation. Observation is ideally performed in silence, despite the road traffic outside, and the material objectness of the display goes beyond commodity offering the viewer an experience to ponder the world beyond the individual sense of self as observer in the direction of an opportunity to appreciate plant-type material whose historical ancestry started 500 million years ago – and will probably continue long after the humans have gone.
In the meantime, if you have the chance to visit Studio Cennen before mid-August you will not be disappointed.
Studio Cennen – https://studiocennen.com
Sian Lester – http://www.sianlester.com/art/
Gatekeeper – https://gatekeepermagazine.com
Natural Dyeing publications – Jenny Dean https://www.jennydean.co.uk/publications/
Note: Sian is completing the Textiles – Contemporary Dialogues MA at UWTSD: Swansea College of Art – https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/ma-textiles/
“Textile is distinct, offering a unique opportunity to consider both the material and immaterial.
As part of the MA Contemporary Dialogues portfolio, you will be encouraged to engage with contemporary issues and material investigation, including critical and theoretical dialogues as fundamental to your progression and individual practice.
We offer workshops across disciplines, including photography, glass, ceramics, surface pattern and textiles, encouraging you to develop an interdisciplinary approach, involving those traditionally associated with textile practice and beyond. Hand-made as well as digital processes can be considered, as can writing and text as forms of textile making and thinking.”