Catherine Borowski and Lee Baker are artists – they are showing their first collaboration as Skip Gallery latest work, Na, I Don’t Want None of That Again. Skip Gallery remains open in Hoxton Square next weekend until Sunday 2 April 2017.
What inspired the Skip Gallery idea – it sounds distinctly unglamorous and hard to fathom. Why a skip?
Catherine: Skips are part of our everyday lives, providing the means with which we voraciously dismantle and renew our urban environment. They are so prevalent that we barely notice them. Yet they are imbued with the ideas of memory and discard. They represent that which we want to jettison, to forget about. There is a profound irony in the creation of artistic works, housed in a skip. I loved the idea that we turn this around and turn the skip into something of value, of creative value.
Lee: For so many artists one of the biggest issues is finding a space to show their work in, especially in London where space is a premium. Catherine had an epiphany when she was trying to think of a way to have a presence during Frieze, and when coming up against the usual brick walls she realised that as artists we could apply for a skip permit parking permission and create a space for art inside a skip. From there we have developed the concept together to bring it to fruition, as well as working on some fantastic plans for the future.
Catherine, tell us about yourself
Catherine: Well, I’m London born and bred. I grew up in North London. We didn’t have much money, and my mum had a full time job at UCL. I grew up, studied as an artist and subsequently started a creative agency alongside my artistic career. I run Produce UK, and we create places and events for client, so the two are not un-similar. In one I’m using my creativity for others, and in my own practice, it for the stories I want to tell.
And what’s your artistic work about?
Catherine: Love, life, death. It’s true that my mum had such a strong influence on me, she was such an immense and unusual woman, working full time to support us.
It must have been hard, growing up with a mum so different.
Catherine: When I was a child, and she first converted to Islam, and started wearing a headscarf, and then a hijab, I was ashamed and embarrassed. This was back in the ‘80s, and you didn’t see that many Muslims then, at least not in our neighbourhood. She was so different to the other mums in my street. But as I grew older I realised that her religion centred her, that she needed it, and it made her happy. I think she felt protected by Islam and sought comfort in the structure of religion.
Is it easier as an artist working with a collaborator? Do you challenge each other or is quite symbiotic?
Lee: I think that since we’ve known each other we have constantly challenged each other as individual artists. Catherine has questioned me on the rigour of my work conceptually and I have challenged her work aesthetically. As collaborators we’ve pushed each other to very knew places and I think we are both more ambitious together. Let’s just say art discussions can get pretty heated!
Catherine, how does the work tell your mothers story?
Catherine: My professional career enabled me to support my mother, and every year I paid for her to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Artistically this show centres around my mother, her untimely and unexpected death, and the frustration of not being able to go to her grave. As non Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, all I have are some co-ordinates of the grave on a scrap of paper.
This new work, with Lee, is an installation in a skip. The work uses the skip as a marker, casting a shadow over hundreds of spindles, marking both the shadow of my mother’s death, and referencing unmarked graves. The spindles are no more than 19cm high, taking reference from the Islamic tradition of graves being no more than a hand’s height.
Lee, talk us through the creation of the environment - or the soundscape in this instance. What’s the process for you, and what’s the motivation for you in this element?
Lee: The artwork is so strongly focused on Catherine’s mum’s death and her response, that it was a challenge for me to find my voice within that narrative. But, there are so many similarities in our upbringing and lives that, while Catherine’s story is told outside the skip, I wanted to speak about my experience from inside the skip.
Both our mothers are/were Muslim and my father was also from a working class background, this coincidence is unusual in itself but there are other (difficult) aspects to our upbringings that correlate and so I think it is possible for us to both see the world from a similar vantage point. This viewpoint came more focused when Aliya died because not only have we gone through the experience together, but my mum stepped in as a surrogate Grandmother (in the UK) for Catherine’s son Loris and they have really bonded.
Even though the skip interior remains dark, raw and harsh I wanted to generate a feeling of positivity, renewal and rebirth through an abstract performance and soundscape. I have been a composer for moving image for about 20 years now, but I have never felt the urge to use music in my art until now. I think it will help the audience immerse themselves in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the skip and the contrast will emphasise the pathos of the narrative. Even though Aliya’s death was tragic, and we wish she was still with us, the experience has created positivity and has actually brought me and Catherine closer to my own family.
Lee, It’s very far from your usual work - your Japanese inspired paintings in particular - what appeals to you about this new direction?
Lee: The aspects of Japanese aesthetics that I’m most interested in are the concepts of Mono No Aware and Wabi Sabi. Mono No Aware is the pathos of things, the simultaneous happiness and sadness you might feel from a beautiful flower that you know will not last forever. Wabi Sabi is the acceptance of imperfection. With this in mind, i’m fascinated by the accidental beauty of derelict buildings, ageing concrete, junk in the street or in skips. Primarily i’m a painter, and my paintings include these elements, but I have never restricted myself to that medium if I felt that the particular exhibition warranted a new direction. I’ve created numerous installation pieces as well as performance works and in this instance I knew that a performance piece within the skip would be appropriate.
Text by Abigail Stuart-Menteth