Imagine an artist studio. What comes to mind? Perhaps a solitary artist, rummaging through tins of paint and brushes, their endless canvases and easels lined up on the floor like soldiers ready for battle? Or a group of artists exchanging ideas and feedback with a cup of coffee before returning to their own worlds – desks with different sketches, books and materials?
One of the key findings in Understanding the Value of Artists Studios, published in April 2022 by Acme, the largest provider of permanent affordable artist studios in England, emphasises that studio space is central to the artist's sense of identity and well-being. The report underscores the often-underappreciated importance of affordable artist studio spaces. After all, it’s a dedicated space for work where magic happens – almost a sacred space. In addition to other crucial factors, such as having a room – literally and figuratively – for growth and improvement, a significant part of this self-actualisation in a studio stems from being close to fellow artists.
Ahead of their upcoming exhibition, Nectere, at Kupfer – which concludes their year-long residency – I caught up with the Acme Early Career Awards recipients, MARIA, Hannah Morgan, Ding Ruyi and Sabīne Šnē, to chat about their experience sharing a studio and the importance of such spaces.
Nastia Svarevska: Hannah, Sabīne, Ruyi, and MARIA, congratulations on your upcoming exhibition at Kupfer. I’m interested in the title, Nectere, which means 'to attach, bind, connect' in Latin. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind it? And how does it relate to the themes explored in your individual practices?
Hannah: Fundamentally, we seek links and uncover unseen spaces within our research and work. Finding ourselves in a shared studio that became such an easy and open space, we developed common ground – from daily routines to shared knowledge: books, articles, exhibitions, etc. This sharing and open mentality continued throughout the year, and we noticed many crossovers in our works. It was an interconnected worlding of sorts – thinking about virtual, speculative, and actual networks grounded with experience of human, non-human, and material expression.
The works originated from seeking connections inside and outside our bubbles while maintaining the identity of our individual practices. In particular, we were looking at soil, under earth, financial, extractive, and political. The idea of ‘nectere’ embodies our practices and, at the same time, reveals the importance of shared space and connections as well as new knowledge and links that arise from that.
Sabīne: Yes. The meaning of ‘nectere’ describes what we've experienced while sharing the space and developing various new works next to each other.
So it’s a double signifier, representing your process of working together as well as your individual works and the crossovers between them. How do they coexist in the exhibition space?
Sabīne: The exhibition is the final point of a twelve-month residency. Essentially, it's about four artists with very distinct points of view engaging with each other and the different systems we inhabit. The works look into the natural world that shapes all of us and the capitalistic systems that impact it. We're investigating current global issues through personal experiences influenced by our upbringing, immediate and chosen families, and other aspects.
It starts on the ground floor with the tech gadget installation by Ruyi, who questions the understanding of value and aesthetics by looking at art and work as historically opposing conceptions. Maria’s sculpture and multi-channel video essay explore the intersections between pain, chronic illness, rage, and love. On the upper floor, we explore the world beneath our feet. Hannah created carvings in English Alabaster as well as metal and wood sculptures with a video piece that investigates mines and underground ecologies. Finally, my videos and 3D animations, digital drawings, and sculptures look into the soil and the diversity of organisms that sustain all life on the earth.
Sabīne Šnē, Subsurface Kin, video still, part of mixed-media installation Terrain We Traverse, 2024. Image courtesy of the artist
MARIA, YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE, video still, 2024. Image courtesy of the artist
Hannah Morgan, Animula: mud time fissures (detail), Mixed media installation, shown at Xxijra Hii Gallery, 2023
The diversity of the research is very intriguing. As artists from different backgrounds – artistic and cultural – have your ideas and practices evolved or been influenced by the proximity to each other's work?
Ruyi: Yes, definitely. As an artist from East Asia with professional experience in the financial sector, my artistic practices, interests, and materials I use are very different. However, these differences allow us to absorb, integrate, and learn from each other, like our title, Nectere. For example, my working space was next to Sabīne, and I've learnt a lot from her about the spirit and attitude that a professional artist should possess. I've also received a lot of advice on materials and methods from Maria and Hannah, which has allowed me to think more critically about my work and helped me grow a lot.
Maria: Absolutely. There are many material choices I wouldn't have made otherwise, and thanks to them, I've become aware of new artists and ways to pursue research.
I do believe that we grow and learn the most in collaborative environments that encourage mutual support. How does the experience of sharing a studio space differ from having one of your own?
Maria: Developing a sense of mutual trust, openness, and honesty with feedback is really important. It's been a significant part of us supporting and getting to know each other over the past year and having a good home base to work from. We know how to have fun together but also when to be serious and get our asses in gear while staying focused and honest with each other. We've been so supportive of each other and workshopped so many solutions; being yourself in the company of others while also creating work makes a difference.
In an individual space, I know that I would've felt lost without this support system. I work much better in a communal environment where we all bounce ideas off each other, exchanging, talking, laughing, and commiserating. Being an artist is hard work, and knowing I was coming to work in a space where we could joke, play around and hone our strengths together made the experience completely worth it. Without this, I think it would've felt lonely, especially post-grad. Knowing that we have each other's back is powerful.
Ruyi Ding and MARIA working in the ACME Warton House studio, 2023
Sabīne: The four of us successfully fostered a healthy and pleasant working environment; unfortunately, this is not always the case in the art world.
Can you elaborate on that?
Sabīne: It's the elitism and toxicity of some of the art circles with too much focus on privilege, class, and race, to name a few. Surrounding yourself with empathetic people who care about you is essential. Competitiveness is crucial, but so is a supportive community capable of providing subjective opinions and valuable insights. More and more initiatives and people advocate for inclusivity and care and show others how to set boundaries when necessary, which is helpful.
Community support seems to be the only way to navigate these precarious times characterised by inadequate support for the arts. As an organisation, Acme has been leading by example by providing affordable studio spaces and creative development opportunities for fine artists since 1972. How has being part of it impacted your artistic journey and practice?
Maria: Without residency, I wouldn't have been able to make so much of the work I've created in the past year, focus on research, or push myself into a new phase of work, programming, and fun!
Sabīne: I moved to London after receiving the residency award, which has impacted me and my practice on many different levels. However, Acme provided time for research and experiments and a safe space for mistakes, which has resulted in a much clearer vision of what I want to do and how I want to do it. It's crucial that there are organisations that support artists at different stages of their careers, and there should be more of them.
Ruyi: I'd say that without this support, I couldn't persist on this path until today. Especially under the current economic decline and the depressed art industry, this means a lot to all of us.
Hannah: With the underfunding of the arts by the central government over the last 15 years, practical and community support post-grad is a rarity in this country. Acme helps to fill this gap. On a personal level, I'm beyond grateful that I've been able to explore and experiment with my work in a way I wouldn't have been able to without the support and space. Mostly, I feel so lucky to have been pulled together with these amazing humans.
Maria, Ruyi Ding, Sabīne Šnē, and Hannah Morgan in the ACME Warton House studio, 2023
Nectere is on view at Kupfer from 26th January to 10th February 2024.
Opening: 25 January 2024, 6 – 9 pm
Nastia Svarevska is a London-based curator, editor and writer from Latvia. She holds an MA in Curating Art and Public Programmes from Whitechapel Gallery and London South Bank University and writes for an artist-run magazine, Doris Press. Her poetry has been featured in Ink Sweat & Tears, the Crank and MONO Fiction. You can find her on Instagram @ana11sva and her website anasva.com.