Rebecca Moss: conversation and dialogue in practice

Rebecca Moss talks about the importance of conversations and dialogue for her practice, both within the the art world and beyond.

Recently, I have really come to value my relationships and conversations with particular individuals, who feed my art practice in often surprising ways. Art school is convenient in that essentially there is a ready-made peer group to thrash ideas out with, plus of course, tutors and visiting artists. However, I’ve actually found that since graduating, the scope of my relationships has dramatically broadened in some exciting and unexpected ways.

In the Lifeboat studio, I can clearly see why the four of us were chosen – there are lots of overarching themes and interests which are conducive to good conversations. However, without University breaking up time in the studio, I still feel like I am often working in quiet isolation a lot of the time. I’m in the studio by day and then working in a library as an assistant by night. This time spent alone with my thoughts is super valuable in that I’ve been able to reflect on the nub and gist of what I want my art to do. But, I’ve also found that it’s useful to have another person to throw a conversational hand grenade into my thoughts sometimes to shake them up a bit.

Since graduating, I’ve been talking to an architect, a PhD student researching medieval history, an anthropologist specialising in rock art studies and an aeronautical engineer. These people not only have technical know-how, but more excitingly, they approach similar conceptual territories to me from vastly different perspectives. Without the existent structures of art school, I’ve had to be particularly motivated to form my own unique framework and context, arranging them as I wish around my individual practice. The conversations can start at any time: some are more intentional than others. I work alone for four hours a day with the PhD student, so it helps to find them interesting, whereas others are chance encounters. The rock art specialist approached me outside the Whipple library last summer and asked to go for coffee to take a break from writing their book. Rather than the relationships having the formality of professional contacts, I see these individuals foremost as friends, meaning that it doesn’t feel like work for either of us to be chatting – there’s no pressure when an email dings into my inbox.

In my work, I’ve been interested for some time in mapping my local coastal environments in Essex. My current body of work was triggered in part by a conversation with the architect, where we discussed coastal architecture, including  WW2 defences that have fallen over receding cliffs. A cycle emerges within the local material that was mixed in to concrete to make these structures. The material is temporarily contrived from the beach to then return forcefully when the huge lumps of concrete and shingle fall over the edge. Through these conversations I have gained clarity in how I can map these situations sculpturally, pushing what I understand about a relationship between form, material and concept.

The issue I’ve always had with the term ‘collaborative’ is that it implies a literal working together from a work’s inception towards a common goal. It puts a bit of a rubber band around something that can just happen through sharing a space and having a cup of tea together. I think that what I have come to realise and value about my relationships with these particular individuals is that our conversations are collaborative, but in an organic, open sense. There isn’t necessarily a particular goal in mind, but the process of turning ideas over in our hands, and often wildly disagreeing, is very useful to understanding my own perspective. I like to not be aware that I am collaborating.

There are also some existent relationships that, to my surprise, I have come to artistically value. I have two younger brothers, both of whom are bemused and bewildered by a lot of the stuff I make, yet still help me gain clarity with their refreshing non-artiness. They are able to interact and play with my materials in a free way that is unadulterated by an anxiety of whether something is ‘good.’ I’ve found myself interacting with water pistols and mini helicopters recently, which could be because of the Museum of Childhood being just around the corner, but is more likely their influence. I’ve found myself being far less precious and more playful about things since I opened my work up to them.

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