SHIFT 2015/16 INTERVIEW: SHERVONE NECKLES
Alex Lee & Nick Witchey (EFA Project Space Interns)
How do you think the title NO ATLAS is reflected in your work?
I'm fascinated about how early civilizations charted the stars and developed systems to identify time and space, for navigation and harvesting. The Give and Take series is my continuous effort to channel that innate presence of ancestral memory and power. To weave a new narrative of black womanhood with a matriarchal character that charts and builds her own systems of being.
How did your work develop over the course of the residency?
My initial goal for the residency was to produce and complete an animation that would complement a series of fabric drawings and prints I’d recently produced. It felt like a natural next step to bring the series together through a time-based medium. I chose to begin the animation by creating the storyboards as a series of black and white drawings that were later transferred to digital files, then uploaded to video-editing software. The animation went through three iterations before the final version.
Did you find that your fellow residents greatly influenced your approach and final work?
It was refreshing to have a new set of eyes and perspective responding to the work. Conversations about materials, process, and ways of thinking were extremely helpful, especially while exploring a new medium.
In your artist statement, you note that the animation, which follows a black figure from childhood to motherhood, “is a narrative descendent of the Jab Jab, a Grenadian tradition where masqueraders cover themselves in molasses, burnt cane, or black grease - as a display of racial pride - and march through the streets during Carnival with chains, ropes, and serpents.” For some viewers, this tradition will be familiar, but for others it will be new. What are your thoughts on communicating this specific history to audiences coming from a variety of backgrounds? What audience(s) are you most interested in engaging?
Carnival and festivals are one of the oldest forms of artistic traditions across all cultures. It reminds folks of the presence and significance of oral history in our present-day culture and its ability to transcend ritual and tradition over time. At its core, Carnival is about play and renewal, two concepts that are rich in subject and provide endless possibilities for exploration. Storytelling is the core of my work; Grenadian folklore serves as my source of inspiration and point of departure.
Can you tell us a little about the symbolism in The Give and Take's animation and on the hand-stitched tent?
The symbolism in both the animation and the embroidery work on the canopy reference the West African philosophy of space and time (Sasa period), passages of generations, mythology and power figures from diasporic traditions, thinking patterns/hemispheres of the brain, astrophysics and astronavigation, and the lifecycles in nature.
What is the significance of placing the animation within an interior space? For us, it felt like crossing the threshold into someone’s personal space. Could you elaborate on this?
I do want the viewer to have a personal encounter with the installation. For that reason the canopy only allows one occupant at a time. The audio is intentionally subtle to lure the viewer inside or closer. The fabric trimmings and canopy embellishments were specifically arranged to touch the viewer entering and leaving the enclosed space.
Our viewing experience of your work felt very controlled – we noticed the tent from across the room, walked over to it, admired the elaborate embroidery, walked inside through the black fringe, and finally saw the animation on a television screen. How do you intend viewers to experience your installation?
I have no set system for viewing the installation. I'm more interested in the viewer having a multi-sensory experience with the work.
This is your first experience with animation, correct? How did integrating animation into your artistic practice influence this body of work?
The repetitiveness of the storyboard process brought my attention to specific areas of my drawings that I am currently producing as 3D forms.