whitehot | October 2008, Corin Sworn Interview
Recent work by Corin Sworn courtesy Blanket Gallery
London-born Corin Sworn has been living and working between Vancouver and Glasgow for the past several years. Most recently, she exhibited at Vancouver’s Blanket Gallery with “Back In 5: Accessing the Backstory”.
From utopia to nostalgia, Sworn’s work examines the human desires that influence our respective identities. Examining where these identities form, she questions how they are ultimately perpetuated within society.
ZMP: You received a BA from the University of British Columbia, in both art history and psychology. Why did you decide to pursue these two areas of study?
CS: I suppose I was interested in differences in perception. My father is a cultural anthropologist and my family moved country a lot while I was growing up. This meant that I was often faced with cultural differences in reading mundane reality. It rendered 'reality' and 'common sense' as something that existed through shared agreement and made our perceptions as social subjects appear very flexible. I suppose I thought psychology would be a way of examining the agency individuals had to negotiate those situations.
ZMP: At face value, these may be opposing topics, but in actuality, share a complex relationship that is considered in a lot of your work. From Exponential Futures at the Belkin, to your recent exhibit at Blanket Gallery, how does this relationship seem to manifest itself through the work?'
CS: My practice is research based; I think coming from psychology I do this in a way that attempts to parody the artist as experimenter. I suppose I have some narrative of the artist performing cultural reading in the form of naturalistic observation and then presenting research findings to the viewer to draw conclusions. I am interested in this as a flawed loop. I attempt to produce works that hold the charge of an 'objective,' rigorous, cool presentation as theorized by the scientific method but then I try to render the findings flawed through the emotive, subjective or misreading. This ending is a little awkward, due to a faulty parallel: 'the emotive, subjective, or misreading'. This means that the fractured research findings that I present can't be integrated into a whole. Rather they must be accepted as incomplete, speculative and in flux.
ZMP: The Blanket Gallery website writes that you are "moving slightly aside from a long-standing interest in utopian ideals relating to education and institutionalization…" Was the decision to move away from this subconscious or conscious?
CS: I suppose if I were to interpret it in terms of my practice at the moment I would say that I am interested in institutions presenting cultural microcosms as they frame a particular, agreed upon set of social values. Maybe I am loosening my definition of 'institutional' at the moment and moving away from material definition of the social experience engendered through an office building to exploring the institution of mental sets; the institution of the political lobbyist, the institution of the militant feminist, the institution of the blockbuster film.
In my practice this comes about through a movement away from using references to architecture directly, to looking at aesthetics as a means of negotiating of images and object as they produce an organized shared way of thinking.
ZMP: Ideas of "utopia" have been widely explored by both visual, performance, and musical artists. Why are we so fascinated by the notion of 'utopia', to the point where it has remained at the forefront of art, over several years, through several significant movements?
CS: I think that there is a lot being subsumed in the term 'utopia' at the moment. The ideas concealed by its over-determined use are being argued about in the present day. These might be: the possibility of collective agency; the production of shared social 'good;' readings of egalitarian society as well as the ramifications of fascism and a population manipulated by promise. Our looking back at these ideas is the reverse side of a coin that has as its other side our present political conundrum of the responsibility for producing sound infrastructure versus free capital.
ZMP: A portion of your work involves found objects, and their subsequent relationship to historical and cultural value. How are these values affected by the object's appropriation?
CS: Through appropriating or re-contextualizing these objects I am interested in looking at shifts in meaning based on social context and examining the flexibility of reading. This is a way of opening up a sense of 'knowing' and perhaps finding some pleasure in a mistaken recognition or seeing something again. Or perhaps like the beginning falling in love: when you agree to see the world through another's eyes and take pleasure in the schism between the way you see things and the way a lover does…
Also we live in a world where we are told what everything is through advertising, signage, everything is being named for us and we are reading all the time. There is so much information and I think we have to rely more and more on heuristics, mental short cuts and generalizations. I am interested in the gallery as a place where a this pointed naming can be briefly held at bay as person says What is this? Why is it here? In this form the gallery is not so much a field of inscription but rather a space of enquiry- I suppose this goes back to the model of the experimenter.
ZMP: Nostalgia, at times, can be discussed hand-in-hand with sentimentality, and is often rooted in an individual's past. Do you think it's possible to introduce nostalgia into a work, or is something nostalgic only based upon the viewer's reading of a piece?
CS: I think there can be a collective nostalgia but I think nostalgia is frequently more related to the present than the past. Rather than something that actually existed in the past and left there I see it as related to a sense of lack that we feel today that we project onto an image of the past. This lack maybe something that is unobtainable due to present circumstances, or something that we want but may not be able to articulate. For me this produces a reading of nostalgia that is potentially active and unfolding rather than relegating agency or action to the past.
ZMP: Living in a society that constantly perpetuates meanings, metaphor, and symbols, how do you see art functioning as a way to explore, and possibly work to dismantle them?
CS: I think people today are incredibly good dismantlers. At the moment I’m thinking about our relationship to objects through using a set of objects as a collection of meanings… almost as scenes in a film as much affective or evocative as explicitly readable. I hope to use objects and images as props in a set that the viewer creates the script to. The objects talk about something and hope to engage the viewer in the discussion. Rather than giving a canny piece of information that appears to sublate a multiplicity of readings. I am interested in creating a temporary landscape that contains a possible narrative over narrating a content.