Amy Ash is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice incorporates curatorial projects, socially engaged outreach, installation, collage and other forms of making. Her work, shaped by the stories we are told us and by those we remember, demonstrates an interest in the relationship between collective and personal memories.
Here vintage found photographs work as triggers of nostalgia, a memory-object that helps Ash to build up narratives that make us reflect upon our own past. This makes me think of Roland Barthes and his Camera Lucida when talking about family photographs he claims that the images we see of others do not have the same meaning or familiarity for us. It is just to the intended audience of family and friends that the significance is understandable. We are external to their stories, we cannot feel them in the same way, we cannot long for them, so photographs about others are just a mere curiosity for future viewers. But for Ash is in this crossroad where we recognize that our most private experiences are something universal. The stories you tell yourself, the secrets you decide to keep, the memories you inevitable remember, are not so different from the others’.
Originally from Atlantic Canada, Ash holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University (CA) and a Bachelor of Education from the University of New Brunswick (CA). She has exhibited and curated programs in Canada, Japan, and the UK. Amy Ash has been granted residencies in Canada (The Banff Centre for the Arts, 2015), Wales (Stiwdio Maelor, 2016) and London (Gerald Moore Gallery, 2017) and her projects have been awarded the support of groups and funds including: The Sheila Hugh MacKay Foundation (Canada), The Peter McKendrick Endowment Fund for Visual Artists (Canada), Arts Council England (UK) and The Canada Council for the Arts (Canada).
Amy currently lives in London, UK, where she is an artist in residence with Cubitt Arts in their Mildmay community studio.
What can we learn about ourselves through art?
I think that art affords us an opportunity to notice something that might otherwise have been missed. It also allows us a glimpse into our own meaning-making process, which can foster self-awareness. In turn, it allows us to make meaning without being shepherded to a specific reading of the world, which nurtures autonomy.
What kind of feelings, ideas, or emotions do you wish to communicate with your artworks?
The ideas I hope to communicate through my work shift, depending on the project or piece I am working on. However, I do always aim to present opportunities for autonomy among those viewing/participating in the work. I hope to leave certain ideas unresolved, loose ends which can be re-tied in a million different ways, depending on the situated knowledge of the person engaging with the work.
The use of old found photographs and the construction of new narratives through them is something we can find in your work. What does the emotion of nostalgia and the concept of memory mean to you?
I see memory and nostalgia as pathways we can trace to help us understand more about ourselves and our communities. Likewise, disrupting or drawing attention to these pathways can reveal some of the stagings which support our ideas of identity and belonging.
I am attracted to found photographs and other ephemera because they are traces of human experience and they are widely understood as objectified memory. The cultural value of memory is so fascinating and I collect and use these objects within my studio practice to make links between the individual and the collective. To encourage people to engage with the collective memory through their own associations and, in some ways, to open a channel to the memory framework which dictates a person’s sense of nostalgia.
Who or what inspires you?
Making connections. Learning—especially experiential, tangential, play and incidental learning. The personal and the collective. Situated Knowledge. Pedagogy. Serendipity. Traces of experience and, above all, listening to people and their stories.
Could you describe your artistic process?
My process is fairly intuitive and also varied, but it usually follows this pattern…
I start with an idea, experience, object, memory or question and branch out from there with research, collecting information and related objects, stories, hearsay. I am a huge fan of a sprawling mind-map and of post-its, highlighters, lists, and sketches to get me started. I mine through the poetics, metaphors, etymology, and history of the catalyst. I always go way beyond what I think I will need in terms of research and support material, as sometimes there are serendipitous connections just on the periphery of the idea. Once I’ve done this, I reconfigure the elements—rewriting the ‘narrative’ to different ends. Sometimes the narrative is a community engagement project and sometimes it is a cyanotype, drawing or an installation. Doing the research and making the connections is best as a slow process, which I prefer not to rush. Sometimes, of course, I have to put these steps on fast forward to make deadlines, but I still follow a similar approach. I am working on being better at accepting the moments when I have to rush—it doesn’t come naturally.
I’ve been focussing a lot on developing certain aspects of my practice. I’ve been working on a few collaborative projects which are very close to my heart. I recently finished a month-long residency and exhibition with the artist, Emma Finn, in London. The project, Muscle Wire, which was commissioned by Gerald Moore Gallery, allowed us to use the formal white wall gallery as a workspace to research, make/build and facilitate events and instances for making meaning. We invited a group of fourteen young people from three south London schools to participate fully in the residency as researchers and artists. Together we built an archive of collaborative research surrounding the future of memory. An experiment in collaboration and pedagogy, using shape memory alloys and the body as a living archive, Muscle Wire, presented a layered dialogue about meaning making and the storage, reconciliation, and recall of information.
I also recently completed a project called Bound Together: tracing roots for Orleans House Gallery, also in London. Here I worked with a community of individuals who, like me, are from other parts of the world but now live in London. Together we looked to the non-native flora which can now be found in and around London to trace evidence of human migration.
With the support of Cubitt Arts, who have commissioned thematic outreach projects for their annual Islington Summer Social, I am also working on a project which will layer personal stories with imagery of birds migrating to negotiate ideas of journeys with an elderly community in North London.
In addition to these projects, I am working, as ever, through ideas in the studio — specifically I am working on a series of materially driven works, which explore the links between copper and memory.
All images courtesy of the artist.