In the summer of 2019, the first iteration of the writers’ and artists’ residency Conversations Across Place was hosted in Rye, East Sussex. The project brought together six established and emerging artists and writers from the United Kingdom, South Africa, United States and Germany, into meaningful collaboration with each other and the landscape.
Conversations hoped to investigate the generative possibilities of this celebrated historic location, as participants were encouraged to explore contact points of their own work and biographies with this new environment and reflect on the ‘fictioning of place’ and ‘production of space’ in this landscape and beyond.
As a coastal town looking out over the English Channel towards Europe, Rye is the perfect site to reflect upon the collision of landscapes, both real and imaginary. The East Sussex and Kentish coast sticks out from the rest of England, pulled by the sea towards Europe. In the middle ages, Rye was one of the Cinque Ports, drawing trade and people from across the globe. However, this landscape is also defensive: Martello towers, built to defend the South and East of England from Napoleon, dot the coastline, whilst in nearby Dungeness three concrete ‘listening ears’ acted as an early-warning device before the advent of radar.
Looking out across the English Channel now is to feel more distant from the continent than in a long time. The suspiciousness and defensiveness of the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been revived by the Brexit campaign, and confirmed again in the recent general election. At stake in these votes, more than any bureaucratic independence or national pride, was the issue of migration.
There was a deep-seated desire for Britain to remain totally separate, an un-breached island, safe in its watery quarantine zone. But as Derek Jarman reminds us in Modern Nature, his corner of England is connected to the rest of the world by rising tides and swelling tempests. The worsening climate crisis only brings more swells, both of people and waters.
During the course of the workshop, ‘Conversations Across Place’ welcomed the public to join a series of discussions between the residents. These conversations will form the basis of the residency's first publication. The focus is on ruined landscapes, bringing sites as disparate as mine dumps in South Africa, Sabine Moritz’s nuclear wastelands, and John Ruskin’s factory path into dialogue with each other.
Lipika Pelham is an author, reporter and documentary filmmaker. In her early twenties, she joined the BBC World Service, working in the newsroom for over a decade and reporting from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. In 2005–13, she lived in Jerusalem, where she learnt Hebrew, made award-winning films and wrote a memoir, 'The Unlikely Settler'. Her most recent book 'Jerusalem on the Amstel: The Quest for Zion in the Dutch Republic' was published in 2019 by Hurst. Pelham’s broader themes explore the ideas of migration, nationhood and performing identity in relationship to place.
Peter Coffin is a conceptual artist based in New York City. After completing his studies at the University of California, he went on to receive an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. Coffin has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at The Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, the MoMA in New York, and Le Confort Moderne in Poitiers.
Solveig Lønmo is an art historian and curator at the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum (National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design) in Trondheim, Norway. Lønmo recently curated The Hannah Ryggen Triennial ‘New Land’ (2019) that places the Swedish-Norwegian artist’s political tapestries in dialogue with six international contemporary artists. She also curated The Logic of the Local. Norwegian and Polish Contemporary Design in 2017. Before Lønmo’s institutional affiliation in 2014, she worked as a freelance writer and art critic.
Frances Whorrall-Campbell is a writer and artist based in Oxford, and currently the inaugural Cliff Davies Graduate Scholar in History at Oxford University. Her critical and creative writing has been published by Art Monthly, Another Gaze, Curating the Contemporary, and she has worked with the Tate Modern in London, and TBA-21 Academy in Vienna. She is interested in alternative publishing formats, particularly those offered by the hijacking of online platforms, and is currently working with Banner Repeater on an open-source archive of their artists’ publications.
Lorenzo Nassimbeni is a South African architect and artist, based in Johannesburg and Cape Town. He taught in the Department of Architecture at both WITS and UJ, Johannesburg. He has exhibited at the 54th Venice Biennale, the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, and the New Biennial for Art and Architecture in Stockholm. In 2018, Nassimbeni had a significant solo exhibition entitled ‘Polygraph’ at David Krut Projects in Johannesburg.
Elisa Schaar is an art historian and curator. Her articles have appeared in publications by the Pinakothek der Moderne and Tel Aviv Art Museum, and in journals such as ArtForum, Art History and American Art. Among her recent curatorial projects are Do I Have To Draw You A Picture? at Cambridge University’s Heong Gallery, and Foerg in Venice, a collateral event at the Venice Biennale 2019.