THE SIX FOOT GALLERY INTERVIEW: Andrew Henderson and Mirren Pope

Hi Andrew and Mirren, thank you for exhibiting with us and taking the time to answer some questions!

How did you come to work together?
Andrew: We had both exhibited at an event organised by the Rabbit Council (an arts collective in Edinburgh), and I thought Mirren’s work was superb, so when my original co-exhibitor had to drop out I got in touch and asked if she’d take his place, and happily she agreed. So, this is really our first collaboration!

Mirren: We met recently through an artist collective based in Edinburgh actually, we were exhibiting work beside each other and found each other’s work intriguing. A lucky way the world works! 

How did your artistic journey start?
Andrew: For me, my work in sculpture started in therapy, only about ten years ago. When we were starting out, my therapist asked me to come up with a sort of internal “calm space” which I could visualise to mitigate panic, and suggested various techniques other people use to do so, such as collages and mood boards and so forth. I decided, basically on a whim, to instead make a model. I’d done a lot of model-making when I was younger, so I just applied those techniques to this and put together a piece which I later titled Lacuna Axis Mundi (the space in the centre of the world). Once it was made, I discovered that the piece told me things about my thinking that hadn’t occurred to me before, and it became quite useful therapeutically! From there, I tried applying the same technique to the actual problems I was having; trying to visualise the feelings as an environment, and exploring that environment to learn something about where those feelings came from and what they actually meant.

This led to me making the series of pieces which became What End (pieces from which are included in this exhibition), which made it easier for me to ask myself questions about the sources of my depression, and how that condition coloured my perception of the world.

Mirren: For as long as my memory dates back art has been one of the tools of expression. Drawings date back to as soon as my grip was tight enough to hold a pencil. Growing up I loved cameras and images, stealing cameras from my father and taking pictures of things I deemed important to my toddler mind, my mother ironing, my bedroom, and toys in rows. The possibility of immortalising a moment of time was one I found baffling and enticing. And in truth still do to this day. How has your practice changed over time? Originally, I painted more than I would take photos, however as school continued and academic pressures piled on, I stopped all art. Having no expressive hobby drove me up the wall. Luckily, I re-discovered photography as a way to express myself in a way that is less time-consuming than most traditional mediums, but still as fulfilling for someone with the need to create. 

How does collaborating with another artist differ from working alone? Has it required you to change aspects of your practice? 
Mirren: For me it has added to a thoughtfulness in the process of selecting images, trying to look into Andrews’s art, seeking structures and moods to then match with the photos I choose. Hopefully resulting in a well-rounded collection that ties into each other.

What’s your favourite piece in the exhibition?
Andrew: I think my favourite piece here is Out Of That Which Pains Me. It’s a very personal work about the difficulty of breaking free from an earlier way of being; from the supports and restraints we place on ourselves to cope. We tend to create structures in our lives to deal with feelings and situations we don’t really want to face, and while these things hold us together in the short term, they inevitably become restrictive and harmful. However, pulling free from them is extremely difficult, because they can seem to be all that holds us together. This piece explores that paradox. The title comes from a Polish saying; “I grow, not from soil, nor from salt, but out of that which pains me”.

Mirren: My favourite piece in the exhibition is Andrews’s Sculpture To What End, I find the shape almost nightmarish, with the two skeletal figures watching the woman in the doorway hauntingly disturbing. Allowing your imagination to decide what is taking place inside the hostile structure. To add to that the familiarity of the building makes it look like a place you’ve seen before, giving the whole scene an eerie feel. 

Can you walk us through your creative process?
Andrew: In some respects, the process is pretty simple, though it’s difficult to explain! Basically what I do is make a lot of components: bits of buildings, trees, figures, background landscapes etc. since I’m working essentially as a surrealist, each of these parts takes on a symbolic function; it’s not actually a model of a real thing, it’s what that thing represents. This is sort of what’s happening in your mind when you’re dreaming; the things you see aren’t actual things but what those things mean to you. Then I combine those parts to create a kind of dialogue in the form of an environment, in a technique not dissimilar to mise-en-scène in film and theatre. 

How do you overcome creative blocks?
Andrew: I actually have a system for this: I typically work on something like five or six projects simultaneously, so that when I get stuck on one I can switch over to another. I find it near impossible to force a project to completion (and it usually weakens the final work to do so), so if I’m not seeing where I’m supposed to go with one piece I can put it aside and work on something else, and quite often the second work will give me some insight into the first. 

Mirren: When I struggle for ideas for set photoshoots the most helpful thing for me is to grab my camera, (and in this season some gloves!) and go for a long walk taking pictures of anything that catches my eye, without setting myself to a strict theme. This usually leads me all over the city taking pictures relentlessly. Additionally, always having a bank of ideas to come back to is something I find helpful in re-inspiring me. 

Who influences you? Which other artists work do you love? 
Andrew: I draw a lot of influence from music and film, but primarily I take it directly from my environment, particularly from things like architecture, scaffolding, graffiti and industrial structures. I find it really useful to just walk around spaces in the city and try to read them as meaningful, as though the environment I’m in is telling me a story.

Mirren: I draw a lot of photography inspiration from Cinema, I will be watching a film and mentally noting stills that I find utterly gorgeous. I find it helpful at quickly sparking up thoughts that one can then play with. Some examples of films where almost every second is a visually stimulating delight are Aftersun (directed by Charlotte Wells) and Betty Blue (Jean-Jacques Beineix). 

What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
Andrew: Don’t assume that the medium you’re working in now will be the right one for you in the future! I started out as a filmmaker, went into costume and prop-making, tried acting, and right now I’m a sculptor, but that could change. I think it’s easy to get stuck trying to make things in a form that doesn’t necessarily suit you as well as you think it should, and it can seem too difficult to change course, but it’s always possible!

Mirren: It’s easy to put off starting for fear of being a beginner, but everyone starts somewhere, and a skill set is built up overtime, no one is born talented. Better to try something new, maybe even doing it badly for a short while! Then to never have even attempted a new art form and always wish you had.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about the exhibition or your experiences as an artist?
Andrew: There’s a deliberately formed narrative within all of my works, but the one you read from it will almost certainly be different from mine, so I like to tell people to approach my work as though it’s a dream that you’re having. Everything in it means something, but that meaning comes from you; it’s only my arrangement of the symbols that guide the story. Tell yourself the story you think you see, then look at it from another angle and see how that story changes!

Mirren: My section of The Exhibition Hostile Architecture is a big mixture of images from various collections of mine. Each one holds individual elements that are hostile in their own specific way. The three in black and white are all taken in Edinburgh’s Waverley train station. During a rainy day and I was taking shelter in the bizarre half glass half brick mish mash and begun to see patterns that resembled the human body. The pieces titled vertebrae and snaking along very much reminded me of the curvature of the spine which I believe to be both anatomically beautiful and, in another sense, challengingly hostile. Meanwhile, the images titled stairway, pillars, building shell, bloodshed and cramped were all taken during my time in Greece this summer and reflect an unwelcoming and uncomfortable atmosphere that lingers in each frame. The dry arid undertones of the images build to the inhospitable environment with the details of each image holding their own harsh elements, building on the theme of hostile architecture. 

Hostile Architecture runs at Six Foot Gallery until 9th November.

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