Whitehot Magazine

London's Echo: Cecilia Fiona: Weaving Time Spinning Spine

Author Lara Pan and artist Cecilia Fiona. Courtesy of the author.

By LARA PAN January 7, 2024 

When approaching the review of an exhibition, writers often navigate two distinct perspectives – one for those who will witness the exhibition firsthand and another for those who will experience it vicariously through the writer's portrayal. This dualistic approach necessitates a nuanced exploration, catering to both immediate observers and those reliant on the writer's skill in conveying the exhibition's essence from a distance.

I am thrilled to announce an upcoming exhibition that I will have the privilege of attending. It features the work of a young artist from Denmark, Cecila Fiona, titled "Weaving Time Spinning Spine." The exhibition is scheduled to take place from the 18th of January at the renowned Vitrine in London, situated in the Fritzovia neighborhood.

Cecilia Fiona, Answers from Angels (look at the old, look at the young, look at our shrine, look at our time), 150x120cm, photographer Kavian Borhani. Courtesy VITRINE and the artist.

My first introduction to Cecila Fiona's work was through Vitrine in NYC during her participation at the Independent Art Fair, where she presented a solo exhibition and performance that even garnered a mention in the New York Times. This exposure piqued my curiosity to delve into her complex universe, marked by a not so obvious scientific approach to her creative process. Our discussions revealed a maturity uncommon among many young artists.

During our shared visit to the astonishing exhibition by Wangechi Mutu at the New Museum, I was captivated by Cecilia's keen powers of observation and her ability to decipher the messages embedded in artworks – a rare trait among emerging artists. Her fully developed approach to art, life, nature, and various life forms immediately drew me into her artistic process.

As Cecilia Fiona often emphasizes, this interview serves as a connection between the past, present, and future. I must express my anticipation for the future, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to witness the robust creative universe crafted by this young artist endowed with multiple talents.

LP: How does the interplay of your intuitive and performative approach, coupled with the significant role of research, contribute to the inspiration behind this exhibition?

CF: The first work I made for this exhibition was ‘Weaving time, spinning spine’. I got the idea for this work after having a conversation with a quantum physicist I met. In the painting a horizontal spine is growing out of the canvas. Spinning around the spine are threads of nerves connecting the past and present, weaving the future. The spine could be described as a timeline of the universe.

Maybe we are out in space, maybe we are inside a body, maybe both things at the same time.

Another inspiration for the exhibition has been the scientific ideas about our microbiome and how our bodies somehow are a galaxy or cosmos to the microorganisms living inside us, some of which originate from the very beginning of life, meaning we are carrying around creatures from the past inside us.

I think it’s a fascinating idea to look at our bodies as galaxies, because in that way we are no longer closed containers, but always inhabited by other creatures and always connected and living in symbiosis. 

Cecilia Fiona, Pools of Prayers (all intertwined), photographer Kavian Borhani. Courtesy VITRINE and the artist.

That’s another recurring theme in the works: coexistence and connectivity. For example in the painting ‘Answers from Angels (look at the young, look at the old, look at our shrine, look at our time)’. We see three birds or angels flying towards something. Their tails are a landscape full of pools where creatures are living.

When you delve into nature and science, the world becomes more magical and mysterious.

The way the works are created are very intuitive, meditative and very often the research comes after the work is done, because it’s when the work is done I start to realize what is going on.

In ‘From her Shell’ I realized a long time after it was done, that the composition had a strong resemblance with a cut through of a  flower’s reproductive organs.

Nothing is planned in advance, I rarely do sketches and never know how a work is turning out. It grows organically from one point, one work at a time and is a constant interplay between my own dreams and visions, meditations, reading, remembering, listening, looking. 

LP: In the fusion of materials, why opt for a blend with older techniques, and what significance do these choices hold in the context of your creative expression?

CF: I’m painting with rabbit-skin glue and pigments. My paintings, costumes and sculptures are all painted with this technique. It’s a very old painting technique used before oil paint was invented, so it has a prehistorical and slow quality as you make the paint from scratch.

One of the reasons painters shifted to oil paint around the renaissance was because of oil paints ability to correct and erase previous layers. With glue paint (which is what I use) that is not an option, because the paint is so transparent you can always see the layers behind. In the old days that meant you had to be sure of the sketch before beginning a work with glue. The thing is, I’m not using a sketch, so everything in my process is happening intuitively on the canvas while working. I guess I like to jump into chaos. 

Cecilia Fiona, detail, Pools of Prayers, photographer Kavian Borhani. Courtesy VITRINE and the artist.

LP: The titles of your works, like "Pools of Prayers" “From her Shell” and "Weaving Time," hold a special place in this exhibition. They evoke spiritual themes and celebrate the feminine aspect. Can you share more about the inspiration behind these titles and how they relate to your art?

The sculpture ‘Pools of Prayers’ explores coexistence, symbiosis and life cycles. Small faces are resting in the pools on the bird's tail. Every time I look at it I’m wondering: Is the bird their mother or their cosmos or both? Where is she flying towards? And who are these creatures in the pools: Prehistoric beings or future species? The creatures in the pools are living in symbiosis with the bird like during a pregnancy. Her body is their landscape. During the performance at the opening of the show an even bigger winged creature will carry them all to another cosmos. 

I think both in my creative process and in the works I’m exploring, trusting the process, trusting the weaving of time, letting go of fear and trusting you’re not alone (which you literally are not, because you are carrying around many millions of microorganisms). Like the faces in the pools have nothing to fear, because the bird is taking care of them. 

In the painting ‘From her Shell’ we see new creatures being born from the mouth of a female face on the ground. Many of my works are full of containers, vessels, shells, wombs where new things can grow from, where transformations can take place and ecosystems evolve. As mentioned before, I’m very fascinated by the idea of our bodies as open containers always inhabited by other creatures, which I guess is also an aspect closely related to the feminine. 

An idea I believe is very difficult to grasp mentally, because we are so used to seeing ourselves as individuals, separated from the natural world around us. But through imagination and dreams it’s possible to become the flower in your garden. That’s what I love about painting, you are free to transform into something else through imagination, you’re no longer limited by your shape.

Like in Ursula Le Guin’s theory about the carrier bag the container is a place full of  entangled stories, nutrition and shared existence. 

In ‘Weaving time‘ nerve-threads are spinning around a big spine or timeline. In old northern mythology three women called The Norns were weaving time and controlling every human's faith. The names of the three Norns were: Past, Present and Future.

If they cut your thread with a scissor you would die.

The act of weaving is interesting. It’s the act of merging not yet connected lines into a web, where things suddenly are connected - not only linear - but in many different directions.

Detail, Pools of Prayers, photographer Kavian Borhani

LP: You are still a very young artist do you have any role models?

CF: I am drawn to the artists who explore the invisible, imaginary and leave room for the spiritual. The ones that link worlds together.

There is a long list of artists I admire. At the moment one of my absolute favorite artists is Wangechi Mutu. I saw her solo show at the New Museum in New York last spring, and it was such an inspiring and important experience to me.

I also have to mention Emma Talbot and Laure Prouvost. I also want to mention Hilma af Klint, William Blake, Ovartaci, Hildegard von Bingen and Leonora Carrington.

LP: In your art there are crossovers. I'd love to hear more about how the interplay between invisible spiritual forces and nature influences your work.

CF: To me the two are not opposites, but closely connected. There is still so much we don’t understand yet about nature, so many mysteries, so many magical discoveries almost too unbelievable to fully grasp like the image of our bodies as galaxies, the underground web of mushrooms or quantum physics.

The more I read about nature, the more magical and spiritual the world becomes.

In my performance there is yet another crossover: the interplay between imagination and physical reality. Which somehow also is the interplay between invisible spiritual forces and nature the way I see it. 

When the performers are wearing the painted and sewed suits they make the paintings come alive, they manifest the imaginary in the physical world by mirroring the movements in the paintings. 

Pools of Prayers (all intertwined) 2, photographer Kavian Borhani

LP: As you embark on your inaugural solo exhibition at the Vitrine gallery in London, could you share insights into your upcoming projects?

CF: In addition to some further exhibitions, I’m working on a bigger performance piece ‘Ghost flower rituals’ together with Danish Composer Sophie Soes Meyer and the Athelas Ensemble, which is a very exciting development from the performance I'll be presenting at Vitrine.

LP: In the end one silly question for you: do you happen to have a favorite piece from this exhibition, and if so, what captivates you about it?"

CF: The painting ‘Weaving time, spinning spine’ is very dear to me. It was the first work I made in this new series and for this show, and every time I look at it I see a new story, a new meaning, a new mystery.

When a painting has a breath, when it’s vibrating, moving, ever changing it captivates me. WM


Lara Pan

Lara Pan is an independent curator,writer and researcher based in New York. Her research focuses on the intersection between art, science, technology and paranormal phenomena.

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