Five Questions for... Vanessa Berry

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Interview by Sara Bellini:

We love zines, maps, psychogeography and archives, which is why we really wanted to speak to Vanessa Berry. She started making zines in the 1990s and is the creator of the long-running Disposable Camera, the last issue of which was published a few days ago. Besides making zines Vanessa writes a psychogeography blog Mirror Sydney, exploring “the marginal places and details of the city of Sydney” and in 2017 she also published a collection of essays and hand-drawn maps with the omonimous title.

Vanessa’s work is equally autobiographical and historical, exploring her personal relationship with place and memory as well as the stories that belong to a specific place. In the case of Australia where the pre-colonial memory of the island has been highly disregarded, Vanessa always writes “with acknowledgement of the Aboriginal lands”, reminding us that we should always be respectful of spaces that we share with others and that many others before us have respectfully preserved.

Vanessa’s newest project is a book of essays on place, memory and relationships with animals and the 20th anniversary issue of her other zine I am a Camera.

What does home mean to you?

My connection to the physical environment is strong and deeply-felt and always has been. I attribute this to being a quiet and introspective person, an observer who has always felt a kinship with the environment around me - its objects, creatures, details, changes, daily rhythms - as much as with other people. I do a lot of work at home, in a small and cluttered room amid piles of books and papers, and this is probably where I feel most at home. Although writing is also a kind of home for me, if you see me with a notebook open and I'm writing in it, know that this is when I feel most connected with the world. Perhaps that's what home means to me: feeling connected to where I am, wherever that be.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

My mental map of Sydney is made up of many such places I feel a special connection to. Generally they fall under the categories of anomalies, places of respite and places of solace. In the latter category there's a particular headland overlooking the Pacific Ocean that I go to at times of significance or difficulty. The city's eastern edge is a long stretch of coastline, scalloped into bays and beaches between sandstone cliffs. The approach to this particular headland is a stretch of parkland which rises up to a rocky outcrop. I sit on the grass and watch the magpies which patrol it. A group of them live here, and whenever I am there I see them moving across the lawn, heads cocked, listening for insects under the soil. One time, when I was sitting on the rocks, they assembled in front of me and all started singing, which felt like a gift from them and from this place, which never fails to make my spirit feel lighter.

What is beyond your front door?

Having lived in the same house for almost a decade, this scene is now permanently established in my mind's eye and I could describe it to the utmost detail, however I will keep it brief: a low brick fence with a crooked front gate made of wrought iron shaped into hearts and curls. Beyond this, lining the street, is a row of native fig trees. Directly across from the house is an olive-green metal box a few metres long which I like to imagine holds the street's secrets, but is actually an electricity substation. At the corner of the yard is a hibiscus tree which is often in flower. People like to pick them as they walk past and I don't have the heart to tell them that once you do, the flowers close up very quickly.

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

I am writing this answer on a plane which is flying over a scene below where the land meets the sea in an outline of bays and rivers, and the sun has dispersed to an orange glow on the horizon. I'm listening to the new Gwenno album, Le Kov. Tucked into the seat pocket in front of me is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee and an issue of Elementum. My watching, for now, is all out the oval frame of the plane window, thinking about the ocean below, the atmosphere above, and how it feels to be suspended in between.

Vanessa Berry's blog
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In Profile: Edgework – Journal & Store

TJENTISTE – Andy Day

TJENTISTE – Andy Day

Here at Elsewhere we have long been proud of our collaboration with Edgework, an artist-led, cross-disciplinary journal and online store with a focus on place founded by the artist (and Elsewhere contributor) Layla Curtis. The journal gives space for artists and professionals from a range of disciplines and allows them to give readers an insight into their extended research, fieldwork and working methods. The online store then promotes their work, specialising in editional artworks on paper, publications, posters, postcards and also the work of independent publishers who share their ethos and emphasis on place… including us!

WORLD POLITICAL (Detail) – Layla Curtis

WORLD POLITICAL (Detail) – Layla Curtis

‘Edgework contributors take risks; conduct deep explorations of our cities' overlooked, forgotten and forbidden spaces; misuse, reclaim or appropriate architecture; test the boundaries of access; subvert surveillance technologies and pick apart cartography. They explore the margins of our urban spaces examining how we inhabit them, move through them and establish a sense of place. They are overland wanderers or remote viewers who reflect upon our relationship with nature and landscape.’ – Layla Curtis, founder of Edgework

Artists whose editioned work can be found in the Edgework online shop include Susan Collins, Layla Curtis, Andy Day, Alec Finlay, Joy Gerrard, Lucinda Grange, Graham Gussin, Nicky Hirst, Lee Maelzer, Simon Woolham and George Shaw, and over the coming months we will be profiling them here on the Elsewhere blog. At the same time, we would encourage our readers to explore the different posts, essays and articles on the Edgework journal pages. Recent articles we have enjoyed include ‘The Walking Library for a Wild City’ by Dee Heddon & Misha Myers, and ‘Mapping the Wild City, Fiadh-Bhaile, Orasul Salbatic’ by Alec Finlay.

PROTEST CROWD (NO BREXIT PEOPLE’S VOTE MARCH PARLIAMENT SQUARE, LONDON, 2018) – Joy Gerrard

PROTEST CROWD (NO BREXIT PEOPLE’S VOTE MARCH PARLIAMENT SQUARE, LONDON, 2018) – Joy Gerrard

Another aspect of the project that we have especially enjoyed over recent months is the series of Instagram Takeovers on the Edgework feed. Here, they have invited artists to post images onto the Edgework account over a period of time, highlighting a specific project or body of work and it is well worth checking out. We are really looking forward to showcasing the talents of the artists involved in the Edgework project, and we especially like the opportunity that Edgework offers to connect directly with artists, purchase their work and support what they do.

Edgework artists whose work appears in this post:
Andy Day
Layla Curtis
Joy Gerrard