airtime is a site-specific spatial intervention that is a continuation of Ferguson’s recent interest in exploring the potential of material. Through the cutting and manipulation of vinyl and linoleum flooring products, Ferguson makes sculptures and installations that work with the material’s versatile physical capabilities, and reveal its capacity for simultaneous structure and textile-like drapery. No effort is made to disguise this vernacular and familiar matter, which speaks to Ferguson’s interest in the ability of her sculptural work to transcend its materiality while also staying true to it.
In many of Ferguson’s recent smaller scale works, the draping and positioning of the vinyl or linoleum evokes the spectre of an absent body. Constructed form and volume suggest the potential of clothing, are reminiscent of internal or external skeletal structures, or of mimicry in classical art historical forms, such as cloth rendered in marble. airtime enlarges the scale of these past projects to inhabit and fill the entire interior of the Project Space. This generates a new sense of physicality for Ferguson’s forms: the occupation of an interior void or cavity. This room-sized installation of overlapping and interconnected vinyl swaths is suggestive of a corporeal space inhabited by connective tissues. The presence of the abstracted body resides here, and we are left to consider the possibility that synthetic materials can indeed find common ground with the natural world.
Svea Ferguson is an emerging Calgary-based artist who recently obtained a BFA in Drawing at the Alberta College of Art + Design, Calgary. Ferguson’s work has been shown in major community based pre-demolition projects Wreck City and Phantom Wing (both 2013), and was recently included in group shows at Barbara Edwards Contemporary (2014) and Stride Gallery (2015), both in Calgary. In 2014 she co-curated navigation(s): the spaces that form us, an exhibition of interdisciplinary student work at TRUCK Contemporary Art Gallery, Calgary.
Interview with Svea Ferguson
Elizabeth Diggon: Much of your work suggests a highly intuitive and intrinsic understanding of the physicality of your chosen materials – your vinyl work especially, as well as your earlier sculptural work with furniture. What informs your approach to selecting and utilizing particular materials or objects?
Svea Ferguson: My material choices often begin with what is readily available to me, something that I find or that is being given away. In the case of vinyl flooring, the first time I used it as an art material was the result of another student leaving it behind in their studio at the end of the semester. I have always been attracted to domestic and industrial objects, which remains true with using vinyl — a nice marriage of the two. The fact that these objects (particularly in the past when I was working with couches and chairs) reference a body or a person without a body present is attractive to me. Alluding to something that is absent remains a current interest in my work.
ED: You’ve said in the past that vinyl often surprises you as you work with it. Did any surprises emerge mid-process as you installed airtime?
SF: I am happy to say that the installation of airtime went quite smoothly, with minimal surprises. I often view the unpredictability in my materials as a positive, serendipitous element, but with such a short installation period I wanted to ensure that the outcome for this piece would be quite predictable. That being said there were a couple of unexpected moments, like the vinyl buckling in certain areas when I was draping it. The initial plan was to have each strip hung in one continuous loop, but if you look closely, you can see that where the tops connect to the wall, the material is cut and flipped over; the strips are not continuous. The buckling was so distracting that I decided it was necessary to cut the strips and hang them in two pieces. Also I hadn’t considered the fact that I wouldn’t be able to install the strips all the way to the back of the space, because I had to be standing on a ladder in the exact place that I wanted to hang the work. In the end I did some tricky ladder manoeuvring and made it almost to the back of the space — but not quite!
ED: I’m curious about the title of the installation, airtime. What led you to this title, and to what it means to you?
SF: This title came from a saying of a professor I had at ACAD, Don Kottmann. He would often talk about the space that was engaged around and within the work: its potential ‘airtime’. When I was planning out this piece I really wanted to activate the breadth of the gallery, to show that what isn’t there is engaged, and that the absence is equally relevant to the presence.
ED: We often ask our exhibiting artists to suggest a few book titles that have influenced their thinking around their work – you had mentioned a medical terminology textbook. Could you speak a bit to the connection between the textbook and your work?
SF: While I was conceiving this piece for the project space I was taking a Medical Terminology course, which meant studying the entire human anatomy and all the microbiology within our bodies. This area of study came into play on a fairly subconscious level as I was planning out and building maquettes for airtime. The form of the work isn’t based on a specific body structure, but it references the skeletal system and connective tissues, as well as some microscopic forms like bacteria structures or DNA strands, taking the micro to macro. It was hard to predict what the overall effect of the work would be when finished, but I approached the installation with the intent to create a new kind of space within a space; a cavity, which I think was successful.
ED: You’ve suggested that your work is often representative of an abstracted body – indeed, the weight and the drape of the vinyl lends itself especially well to referencing the corporeal. There’s an interesting tension present in your evocation of the human body via synthetic materials – am I misplaced in identifying this tension? Could you expand on your interest in referencing the body in your work?
SF: I am glad that you mentioned the tension between the material and the formal, organic references. I am continuously amazed at how a completely synthetic, manufactured material can be so bodily, so skin-like. And even beyond referencing the body, the vinyl very directly references other elements in nature — wood, marble, granite, through its printed surface. My references to the body have always circled around postures and gestures. I was looking quite a bit at Classical and Renaissance sculpture, and admired the draping quality that was rendered so convincingly in marble. Michelangelo’s Pieta was one of the first (and only) specific Renaissance sculptures I have referenced, albeit quite abstractly, drawing inspiration from the posture of Jesus’ body draped over Mary’s arms. This was the beginning of when I truly tuned into the corporeal potential of my materials. The body references also make sense to me because these are very physically demanding works for me to produce, and I am constantly at odds with my own physical capabilities when working with vinyl, particularly on a larger scale. I often find that the work references my specific body, such as my height and arm span, working within the confines of my own physicality.