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From waste to art
by Manjula Ramakrishnan July 21, 2017
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Woven Identities is an exhibition being held at The Project Space: the auxiliary venue of The Art Gallery, NYU Abu Dhabi. Featuring Dubai-based emerging artists, Stephanie Neville and Jeff Scofield, the event showcases modern contemporary installations that express renewable themes in art. The event will be on until July 22.

Here is an exclusive interview with Jeff Scofield.

What is the concept behind Woven Identities?

It was conceived as a duo exhibition involving two installation artists working with sustainable themes and it sets up an intriguing dialogue between them. Neville’s work focuses on the individual’s identity, whereas mine addresses issues about the collective experience. Indeed, our artworks are complementary but not the same.

What are the materials used in your artworks?

I have specialised in up-cycling objects and natural materials to create minimalist sculptures and installation art.  Many of my materials are found on construction sites. Also, I’m experimenting with natural materials to reveal their intrinsic nature in terms of light, texture, colour, movement and space. I mix together metal, wood, sand, plaster, wires, steel cables, grills, fabrics, glass and light.

Can you explain the “transient lifestyle in the UAE’’ that you wish to express through your work?

I am expressing collective issues of a transient society. In Conversations (2015) the community is represented by thousands of torn pages from books, bearing script written in many languages and alphabets in daily use in the UAE. Money Cascade (2017) continues the idea — this time with currency notes collected from across the region and further afield. Tied together with cotton rope, the individual pieces are floating and fluttering, and in essence, they underline the fragility of relationships in an ephemeral community.

As two artists coming together on one platform, what individual strengths do you bring to the table?

Collaboration is relatively easy between like-minded artists, but this is not a very common path. Neville and I gravitated together because we share an interest in sustainable themes, particularly regarding human relationships and social identity. Our work is always based on renewable themes, but we approach the issues in conceptually different ways. I express ephemeral issues by combining delicate natural materials such as paper and light. My speciality is kinetic art installations (artworks that move) as well as large-scale pieces that surround the viewer for greater emotional impact. Neville expresses personal experiences, whereas I tend to evoke more collective concerns. So we complement each other, and we felt a duo show would be stronger because our artistic expressions reinforce each other, but are not the same.

In the following interview, Stephanie Neville speaks about her work in the exhibition.

Can you explain the use of renewable materials in your exhibits?

In Sticks & Stones I have used cut pieces of fabrics from local home decor tailors in Sharjah. The textiles are thus up-cycled. It references environmental sustainability in terms of salvaging waste, and it also connects with the idea of displacement from home. In Here Not Here, I have used recycled empty frames as part of the installation, to signify the loss of memory and absence in relationships.

What is the typical technique that you have adopted for this particular exhibition?

Traditional techniques such as hand-embroidery, crocheting and a combination of hand- and machine stitching are used in all the artworks in the various installations. I am also exploring digital works, specifically the use of selfies in social media.

How much of you resides in your art?

Yes, my art definitely reflects my personality, especially since my work is of autobiographical nature. It is sensitive and daring in the amount of personal information shared, and along with the focus on femininity seen in the materials and techniques used, it has an underlining theme of feminism.

What would you call as your best muse in your creativity?

Personal emotions are my starting point. My work is in general an investigation into my own emotional experiences within everyday life and personal relationships. 

How would you best describe the art scene in the UAE?

It is exciting to see the positive growth in the diverse local art scene, yet it can be a little daunting for an emerging artist to find the correct niche or path to follow. Galleries like the NYUAD Project Space are enormously important within the local communities since they are able to provide the ideal platforms for emerging artists and their support is invaluable in terms of providing the space to exhibit as well as the opportunity for further learning experience and exposure to a wider audience. 

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