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.

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Edgework Artist Profile #1: Layla Curtis

Newcastle Gateshead, 2005 by Layla Curtis

Newcastle Gateshead, 2005 by Layla Curtis

As part of our collaboration with Edgework an artist-led cross-disciplinary journal and store with an emphasis on place, we are running a series of monthly profiles of the artists here on Elsewhere. Where better to start than with Layla Curtis, founder of Edgework and previous contributor to our blog:

Layla Curtis’ practice has a focus on place, landscape and mapping and often examines the attempts we make to chart the earth, how we locate ourselves, navigate space and represent terrain. 

Polar Wandering, 2006 by Layla Curtis

Polar Wandering, 2006 by Layla Curtis

 Layla’s works include Trespass, an app for iphone which maps an oral history of a northern English edgeland and tempts the user to trespass in order to access the work (and which we featured here on the Elsewhere blog); Polar Wandering, a 27,856 mile long interactive online drawing charting her journey to Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, exhibited in solo shows at New Art Gallery Walsall, and Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast; and Tong Tana, a moving image work made while trekking with nomadic hunter-gathers in the Borneo Rainforest and exhibited at Matt's Gallery, London. 

 As well as featuring in international collections including the Tate Collection and Government Art Collection forthcoming projects and exhibitions include the collaged map The United Kingdom, currently on display in Ideas Depot at Tate Liverpool, UK (until 21 July).

Tong Tana production still, 2012.

Tong Tana production still, 2012.

A documentation of Trespass will also be included in the forthcoming exhibition This Land is Our Land at PAPER, Manchester, UK (curated by Edgework contributor, and PAPER curator Simon Woolham) from 29 June - 3 August 2019. Curtis is currently working on a series of new commissions for Tate shop to be launched later this year.

Layla Curtis on Edgework
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