Having encountered Robyn Woolston as one of the visual artists at last weekend’s Threshold X Festival, we figured it was a good time to fire off 13 Questions.
Robyn Woolston is a visual artist who works across installation, photography, moving image and print. Often working in non-gallery spaces, across community settings and within archives or sites of listed significance.
Her practice generates frameworks for climate-based reflection; focussing upon developing structures for ecological and emotional recovery via public realm interventions, socially engaged practice and site-specific responses.
‘Robyn often examines issues that others shy away from, from difficult emotions to consumer waste. In so doing, she seeks to make visible that which is forgotten, left behind and discarded.‘
Ann Bukantas, Head of Fine Art. National Museums Liverpool
Previous installations have included 132,000 plastic knives and forks, 7500 ice-cream containers, 45,000 carrier bags, a selection of trees from Ash to Silver Birch as well as a reproduction Las Vegas sign.
Previous locations have included Fort George, National Trust Acorn Bank, National Trust Penrhyn Castle, Edge Hill railway station, Hull railway station, the Walker Art Gallery, Holst Birthplace Museum, Edge Hill University, an empty shop unit in Blackburn town centre and a grove of trees on Ullswater in the Lake District (UK).
Where are you and what are you doing?
I’m on the edge of the Cairngorm National Park and I’m missing sitting in an urban coffee house, with great pastries, that’s connected to a contemporary art space (anywhere else in the world!)
What is your favourite view?
Tough question – difficult to choose but probably…
The views from the top of the Dolomites, the top of the Altino Arantes Building (also known as the Banespa Building) an Art Deco skyscraper located in São Paulo, the pavement traffic on a warm summer afternoon at The Quarter in Liverpool or the Venetian Lagoon from the Lido.
We know you as an image and video maker. Is there anything in particular you try to convey, or to say, with your work? Who are you appealing to?
I sometimes work in site-responsive ways in archives or sites of listed significance. In those contexts I’m often reaching out to a very wide demographic of people from a geographical, socioeconomic and cultural perspective.
When working within a more defined Eco Art context I’m questioning material use within our consumer based paradigm, species extinction and environmental degradation. These works are often found within gallery settings but also within non-traditional spaces. Ultimately I’m navigating, investigating and interrogating the climate crisis & its impacts.
You were recently heavily involved with Threshold Festival in Liverpool. It’s a mixed art event, combining music, theatre as well as visual arts. 2021 was the last iteration of Threshold, but do you see a market for mixing up the different art genres?
Life is a multi-media, immersive, construct of sensory delights! There’s no reason why our creative endeavours can’t mirror this in a more embodied way.
Is there an image, or other piece of art, you wish you were the one who had created it? Which one?
‘Lilith’, Anselm Kiefer, 1987–9
It’s a vast cityscape spread across 2 canvases that’s been created using oil paint, ash and copper wire. The content is mesmerising; the view-point high, overlooking a vast and sprawling city.
It was created after the artist spent 3 days photographing São Paulo from a helicopter. It’s organic yet utterly man-made, complex and deeply layered. Lilith is a figure from Hebrew folklore, often represented as Adam’s first wife, who refused to join him in the Garden of Eden. Instead, she chose to live at the edge of the Red Sea.
If you could go to a show (art, music, play or whatever) right now, anywhere in the world, which artist would you see? And in which venue?
There are two shows I’d love to see this year…
Slavery – Ten True Stories at The Rijksmuseum. The exhibition will cover over 250 years of colonial history and span 4 continents by accessing personal stories, objects, paintings and archival documents as well as focusing upon oral histories.
‘Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You, I Mean Me, I Mean You’ at the Art Institute of Chicago. The show will cover over 40 decades of the artists work:
‘Using direct address as a rhetorical strategy to undermine and expose the power dynamics underscoring identity construction, desire, and consumer-ism, Kruger’s rigorous interrogations of social relations and the cruel con-stancy of stereotypes are imbued with humour and empathy.’
Who are your artistic influences?
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, Eve Arnold, Rauschenberg, Donna J. Haraway, Lucy R. Lippard, Joanna Macy, Primo Levi, Gabor Maté, Peter A. Levine.
What’s for breakfast in your place? Who would you invite to share it with you?
I love toast with Marmite, rocket, sun-dried tomatoes, slices of avocado, drizzled with balsamic and a poached egg – the other half likes ham and eggs on toast with black pudding! Balance in all things.
I’d invite Frida Kahlo.
Tell us something we don’t know.
I recently took a DNA test and I’m only 26.5% English … the rest of me is genetically made up from Ashkenazi Jewish, North/West European and West Asian stock which goes some way towards explaining my nomadic disposition.
Which city do you recommend we visit – and why?
God, I love New York. I visited for the first time back in 2018 thanks to an A-N Professional Development Funding bursary and I absolutely loved it. I felt totally ‘at home’ with the dense layering of cultures, the pace, the people and the zeitgeist.
What’s your drink of choice?
What’s next for Robyn Woolston?
I’ve been working on an interdisciplinary residency exploring Eco Grief and climate anxiety within the extraction-rich geographical environment of Texas, USA. Borne out of a collaboration between The Art Galleries at TCU (Texas Christian University), the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Environmental Studies. The project will culminate in a programme of socially engaged practice, an installation and a site-responsive Artists’ Film in 2022
Curation: Sara-Jayne Parsons, Director, The Art Galleries at TCU
Do you have anything else to declare?
Yes – I’d like to share a film recommendation:
‘Nostalgia for the Light’ is a 2010 documentary film by Patricio Guzmán that focuses upon the impacts of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. It places in parallel the work of astronomers in the Atacama, searching for the origins of human life in the night sky and a group of Chilean women, searching for the remains of their loved ones in the dust of the desert, decades after their execution during the dictatorship.