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INTERVIEW: Jane Walker

Bonavista based artist Jane Walker speaks about her current exhibition, her time in Glasgow, and her exciting collaborative project!

In your practice, you use unusual materials in a traditional technique. What draws you to steel wool as a rug hooking material, and what is the significance of it for you? Are you drawn to any other unusual materials?

When I think about the history of rug hooking -- as a textile practice that comes from using whatever is available -- I often consider using materials that put ideas about resourcefulness into question. I've worked with some other unusual materials, primarily old man's beard lichen that I have preserved with glycerin. I first started experimenting with steel wool rug hooking because found some extra extra fine steel wool at a hardware store nearby where I was living. It was so soft. Using a material that is thought to be harsh and strong but that is actually very soft and fragile is something I thought about a lot while making this body of work. I think it's an appropriate juxtaposition to making any piece of domestic textile work, this ever-present push and pull between softness and hardness.

What does an average day in the studio look like? Do you have a set routine, a preferred time to work, or anything that helps you get in the zone?

I made most of this work in the nighttime throughout the winter. It became a very methodical process, I knew how long it took me to hook a square and so I would set deadlines for my progress. I have always worked well with deadlines so I found that helped me stay on track. Other areas of my studio practice develops in stints, but this work was very much a marathon.

Can you tell us why you chose the title "Main Lands and Long Winters" for your current exhibition at The Rooms?

Over the past couple of years I have considered relationships between places and how we understand distance in between places. Something that kept coming up for me was the peripheral ideas about Newfoundland (and other island places) in relation to a mainland. I thought about Newfoundland's relationship to and history with mainlands of power. The more I thought about the word "mainland" the more I thought about what makes a land "main"(or not) and what makes a place "central" (or not). I spent a lot of time writing over the winter while I was making this body of work. One piece of writing, which is titled "Main Lands and Long Winters", accompanies the work in the exhibition.

You recently completed a masters degree at The Glasgow School of Art. Can you tell us a little bit about your masters project and how that program affected your practice?

So I finished my Masters of Research in Creative Practices in September 2016 and moved back to Newfoundland that fall. The programme was unique in that it offered a rigorous academic environment that was complemented by studio practice. I conducted a research project on art practice in rural contexts which compared experiences of a sample of practitioners and facilitators in Newfoundland and Scotland. The purpose of the research was to assess accessibility to contemporary art as well as to identify and compare challenges/opportunities within the research participants' communities. I'll spare you from copying and pasting my dissertation, but a natural step for me upon my return to NL was to continue my research with a heavier focus on my studio practice.

This exhibition is in the city of St. John's, but why do you feel you, or any artist, can benefit from having a creative practice in a rural location like your current base of Bonavista?

I think for me, living and working in Bonavista is like a gift that keeps giving. As an artist who works with domestic textile practices, I am surrounded by experts. I love chatting about what I'm doing with my friends at sewing or WI because there's a given commonality between what I'm doing and the projects that they are working on, even if my materials are unusual. I learn so much from people within my community and I think that open dialogue is so important. I'm also pretty shy and living in a smaller community works well for me, I feel comfortable and supported here.

Another part I love about living here is that it's so beautiful. It might be cliché but I will never tire of the cliffs, the waves, and the woods. It makes the hardest days easier.

How do you balance your independent practice with the collaborative "islandness" project recently on display at Eastern Edge Gallery? What are the main similarities and differences between them?

It was an intense year for balancing those two projects. Short answer would be that they were in ways very intertwined and considered many of the same questions about place but with separate methodology. The main difference is that islandness is a project that was developed with Vivian Ross-Smith (Shetland) as a means of connecting our home islands and exploring relationships between life and creative practices within those places. Vivian and I will be taking the project to Shetland next year and building islandness programming that is place-specific to Shetland. I think of islandness as a never-ending research project that came together as an exhibition of in-progress ideas at Eastern Edge, but it is very much ongoing work. In contrast, Main Lands and Long Winters is a finished body of work.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I'm not sure if I believe in 'talent', but I really love to sing. I'm a painfully shy performer though so maybe that will be my thing in another life.

View Jane's exhibition "Main Lands, Long Winters" on level three of The Rooms until January 7, 2018 and check out her website and instagram for more images of her work! Click here to learn more about her islandness project.

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