Lockdowns Continue… Sally de Courcy.
In May my Lockdown Diary was published in Deviation Street. The UK had a policy of shielding people who were extremely vulnerable to COVID 19 and as an immunocompromised artist, I fell into this group. I was confined to my home from March to the end of July.
I had been a GP as an interest in social justice led me away from art into a career in medicine. Early in my training, whilst working in the developing world, I was exposed to the suffering of refugees from a genocidal regime. These images stayed with me when I returned back to the UK. My future seemed comfortable until serious illness catapulted me into early retirement. No longer able to do the job I turned back to art and to art school and left the University of creative Arts in 2016 with a master’s in fine Art.
My artistic practice began by repeating cast simple shapes and arranging them to create more complex forms, pursuing the well-trodden path of abstract repetition, and the magnifying repetition of imperfection, as a means of representing a physical evolution.
At art school I was challenged to make the abstract more personal, to bring more of myself into the piece. I started using repeated contextually linked cast objects that when re-assembled formed a narrative. My work is frequently decorative but often hides darker and sinister subjects that when revealed create dissonance. My work is not autobiographical in the figurative sense, but like many artists explores the space between conscious representation and unconscious influence. In my case it meant revisiting my experience as a witness of human suffering and resulted in a series of work about Human Rights which was informed by wider reading particularly philosophers Butler and Zizek.
I consider myself lucky
Sally de Courcy.
Lockdown 1, inspired me as observer and participant, as past practitioner and patient, shielded during lockdown. I made a body of autobiographical work that shared the experience of extreme social isolation by using cast objects that related to the pandemic. The work had the same restrictions as myself and I only used materials available to me at the point of lockdown. I consider myself lucky as my studio is a small shed in my garden, so I could continue my creative practice during these months.
My starting point was driftwood that I had collected from a beach before lockdown. It was symbolic of feeling beached, stranded in my own home and driftwood like the virus returns in waves.
Bones often appear in my work
I added surreal faces that represented feeling depersonalised by isolation. The driftwood was combined with bones, both vestigial remains. Bones often appear in my work; they connect to my medical past but also are emblematic of our collective vulnerability and mortality. Cast arms and hands reflected the inability to embrace and the repeated washing of hands. Bound into a COVID 19 formation by bandages- symbolic of Florence Nightingale, Nightingale hospitals and the NHS- the sculptures are invaded by bats the alleged vector.
The first work Beached above is rendered meat- like to signify the wet markets. Red is often the colour artificially given to COVID 19 in electron microscope images- it is in fact colourless as it is too small to absorb or reflect light. Despite its size it has harmed humanity reflected in the bloody bandages. Red is also symbolic of danger.
The second work Dream or Nightmare? Is rendered to look like bone – white, in many cultures represents death.
Dream or Nigthmare
Bound by clean bandages it is symbolic of healing and a reference to the artists medical past and mixed identity as a patient and hope for a healed post pandemic world. Deliberately decorative, it reveals the dark aspects of the pandemic. The sum becomes a surreal optical puzzle, oscillating between dream and nightmare.
Lockdown has presented a challenge for galleries and artists and I have used Instagram (@decourcysally) as a way to communicate with the art world. Through Zoom I have presented both the human rights and pandemic series. Galleries have adapted to on- line exhibitions and both these sculptures have been exhibited. During the small windows of freedom Beached was exhibited in the Borders exhibition Venice https://www.itsliquid.com/interview-sally-de-courcy.html It is currently stranded due to lockdown at the TY Pawb Open exhibition in Wales, although the exhibition is available on-line. https://www.typawb.wales/exhibitions/ty-pawb-open/ Dream or Nightmare? was exhibited in October in the Espacio Gallery London and is now also stranded in the D31 Gallery, Doncaster!
It is easy to forget during the pandemic other tragedies that are occurring which normally would have more media attention. Before the March lockdown I had volunteered for Care for Calais but because of shielding never contributed. I am increasingly disturbed by the refugee crisis and the loss of life in crossing the English Channel. I have been reflecting on previous work called Precarious Lives made in 2016 about my earlier work experiences of the suffering of refugees after a genocidal regime.
Precarious Lives used bones, weapons and sex toys rendered like bone to metaphorically represent aspects of war atrocities as in the UN and House of Lords definition and is arranged as an ironic mandala. Sex toys when viewed with weapons represent sexual violence which although acknowledged as a weapon of genocide has still not been updated in the UN treaty 1021 of genocide written in 1948 and was only recently officially recognised as a war crime in the UK in 2016.
During the current lockdown I am revisiting this work to reflect the continued loss of life in the English channel. The objects used to construct the 2021 mandala are different to reflect the change in narrative and I am using driftwood in conjunction with bones but these now take on a different context. It will keep me busy there are nearly 500 objects to cast and I’m looking forward to vaccination so that I can see it at the Fresh Air Sculpture Exhibition, Gloucestershire, from 13th June to 4th July 2021 – fingers crossed!
All images © Sally de Courcy