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Q&A with artist Camilla Brendon about her Hertford Union Canal residency

Camilla Brendon is an artist currently in residence at Chisenhale Studios. Her project, which focuses on materials and plant life found in and around the Hertford Union Canal, will culminate in a summer residency show from 8-10 August. She will also be giving a free meet the artist talk on Thursday 1 August. The works Brendon makes are partly or wholly made out of found objects in the environment she’s studying. We caught up with her to hear how she’s found working beside East London canals.

To put your residency into context, can you share a little about your Coast series and how Hertford Union fits into it?

Coast is an ongoing series which I began a couple of years ago, after working with found objects for my whole career. Through Coast I explore coastlines and all water systems. I then use my work as a tool for dialogue, awareness, and activism in the area of conservation.  

The works are made partly or entirely with found objects and then altered, painted on, and shaped to resemble natural forms. Inspired by patterns found in nature I draw attention to sustainability by using stunning beauty found in water systems and coast lines. 

When I saw that Chisenhale was offering a summer residency and that Studio 4 looked out over the Hertford Union Canal I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get to know this corner of London and make work that directly interacts with the canal below. 

How have you found working in studio 4, overlooking the Hertford Union Canal and Victoria Park?

It’s very fitting to my current working practice. I’m interested in how man-made and natural things co-exist, or struggle to. By looking out over the canal I’m able to consider making a large scale installation that flows out of my windows and down to the canal below. It’s brilliant because I can stop and look at the movement of the duckweed on the water and goslings resting on the wall and water lilies opening and shutting below depending on the time of day. The evening sky is also very captivating and the colours this throws out also inform my work.

This is your first time incorporating plant life into your work, correct? How has that impacted the process for you?

Yes, it is the first time that I’ve incorporated plant life into my work. I’ve used forms based on nature, photos, photocopies, and everything else linkable to nature, so having the living plants was a natural progression and adds a new layer to the intertwining of man-made and natural that you see through out my work. I’m just at the beginning of this process and have ideas to go on to make natural, yet unnatural worlds and to make permanent fixed living installations.

What’s been your favourite aspect of the residency so far?

There have been so many! Let’s see…

Studio 4 is the most incredible space. It’s large with a high ceiling, an old factory in fact. I’ve been given the space to push myself and stretch the process to the next level size wise and so far I’ve been making the most of this. 

I’ve long enjoyed altering public spaces with installation and here having the body of water that I’m investigating below is allowing me to let the work go back to the water from which it came. This also lets the work escape the white wall gallery or studio setting and be viewed by passers by on the towpath or in boats, sparking the question, what is that? I love the idea of art reaching those who aren’t looking for it. 

What do you hope visitors get out of coming to your residency show?

I always make art that I hope will spark thought and dialogue. I make work with simple forms taken from nature and bold, inviting colours that are pleasing to look at. In doing this I hope to make complex and sometimes overwhelming topics approachable and to give viewers ideas and even tools to act on the subject matter that I’m visualising.

I also work with materials that are found, donated, and cheap. I hope that this will encourage more budding artists to try their hand at it and not have to worry about funds or making something ‘good’. 

What will happen to the pieces you make? Are they available for purchase?

The work that I make is for sale and 20% of my profits from work made during the residency will go to The Lower Regents Coalition, who have supported me throughout this. I will also be donating a piece of art to the Lower Regents Coalition, to be put on a towpath wall near the Ragged School Museum.

 If you are interested in an existing or bespoke piece of living or non-living art please come and see me at studio 4 for my artist talk this Thursday 1 August, form 7-8pm, (doors 6.30pm) or to my work in progress Coast-Hertford Union Canal Show, August 8th 6-9pm and 10/11th August 12-8pm. Alternatively get in touch to arrange an appointment. Unsold works will be kept safe in a friendly garden before being toured at other art and science venues. 

Visit Camilla Brendon’s website for more information the upcoming open studio. You can also follow her progress on Instagram at @camillabrendon

If you enjoyed this piece you may like reading our interview with Bow’s canal heritage superwoman Carolyn Clark

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Frederick O'Brien

Fred is a writer and researcher with a background in sustainable development. His research has featured in The Independent, the Evening Standard, and the New York Post, among others.

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