‘Portals in the Past and Future’: Artists soaking their works in the swamps of Britain | art

For 26 year old artist Tanoa SasarakuComing of age at Plymouth had its challenges. As a fraternal, gay teenager, few people resembled her, and her desire for romantic love went unanswered. Instead, he found kinship not with a person, but with a forest. “I constantly imagined that, if I got out of Plymouth, I’d find this intangible thing,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what it would be like, but reaching out to the rural landscape helped me understand what it might feel like.”

At the age of 13, Sasaraku joined the RAF Air Cadets and discovered the Moors, “an unexpected place”, where he saw animals spawning or drowning in swamps, where the fog suddenly falls and the horizon bursts into flames. can change into. This deeply personal engagement with rural Britain – its ancient sites, burial history and lore – fuels an innovative art practice that is rapidly gaining acclaim. last year he won Arts Foundation Futures Award And this month in Bristol’s Spike Island, she opened her first major solo exhibition, teratypes,

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Teratypes are what Sasaraku calls a unique hybrid of print-making, textile processes, painting and sculpture. They are made from multiple sheets of thin newsprint, which she stencils and colors by hand, sews together and then reveals layers of pigments and patterns. She describes it as “subtractive painting, tearing away by gesture”. I have to be very precise. There is no turning back now.” In the end, his works are soaked in a river, sea or swamp: a transformative test that makes them stronger and denser.

Their excavated layers suggest memory and a journey into the Earth that has recently taken on a literal dimension. Her latest teratypes’ deep blues, rusty ochers and granite grays have been eroded by millions of year-old pigments ejected from riverbeds and the land around Dartmoor, the Jurassic Coast and the Isle of Skye. She credits the process with bringing about “some kind of peace or reconciliation” with her formative years. Scotland also now holds a special place for an artist whose partner is from there. “With him I am able to take a leap to the highlands and fulfill the desire I had as a child,” she says.

This is part of a shift for Sasaraku from broad commentary to a more intimate realm. In previous projects, the artist explored his West African heritage and the ghosts of colonialism. Earlier banners made from newsprint referenced Asfo flags made by the Fante people of Ghana’s central coast, while his acclaimed film O’Pierrot satirized racist satire. Lately, though, she’s been pursuing something that feels “very present, not in the context of Britain’s past in the historical sense. It’s from a very private place.”

For example, a constellation of teratypes forming the shape of a horse’s head was inspired by a childhood encounter on the moor. Wandering his way in the mist, the artist fell into a swamp and came face to face with a dead horse. It is a scene worthy of a Gothic novel, but Sasaraku wanted to “respect the horse and other animals that die alone in these insects”. Above his monument will be new sculptures erected at the site from the remains of teratypes and reminiscent of the standing stones he first saw on Dartmoor. While those mysterious totems embody long-standing fantasies about British heritage, for the artist they became “markers of new feelings I was experiencing in terms of identity.”

The lithographs are “weird portals to the past and the future, a bit like sci-fi”, she says. In fact, the likelihood of the relevance of these ancient sites now speaks most clearly to his works.

Tanoa Sasaraku: Teratype is at Spike Island, Bristol as of 17 July.

natural beauty: Four Major Works by Tanoa Sasaraku

teratype Soaked in the Slligchan River, Sky (2022, above)
Sasraku’s stenciled geometric prints are partly influenced by tartan and lead to her “first real homosexual relationship” with her Scottish partner. Cloth has long been of interest: her father was a Ghanaian fashion designer, Kofi Ansah, who was an intermittently glamorous figure in her childhood after her parents separated. She says: “I feel like I am talking to my dad when I am sewing.”

Blue Gate, 2022.
Photograph: Image courtesy Andy Keete

Blue Gate (2022)
After making workshops in a psychiatric unit in Torbay the artist was moved to work with ultramarine and intense red paint. “I wanted a more optimistic color palette,” she says. “I soaked the teratypes then
A body of water, Plymouth Sound. It felt like one last formal act. ,

Gray Wet-Cell and Red Wet-Cell, 2022.
Photograph: Image courtesy Andy Keete

Gray Wet-Cell and Red Wet-Cell (2022)
Sasraku envisions his bronze batteries as the power cell of his exhibition. They are inspired by the Baghdad battery, an ancient rudimentary form of battery made of pottery, iron and copper rods found in Iraq, which may have been intended to raise the dead.

O'Pierrot, 2019, 8mm film still.
Photo: Picture Courtesy Artist

O’ Pierrot, 2019
In Sasaraku’s previous film O’ Pierrot, she plays the gloomy clown “to give license to black melancholy”. In Jim Crow-era depictions, the emotions of black people were portrayed as anger, stupidity, and sycophancy. The antagonistic villain, Harlequin Jack, is “a dark black man who is obsessed with his search for British acceptance in white society.”

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