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Tending My Fangs

Nina Royle

Nina Royle, exhibition text

In 2019, Nina Royle presented her exhibition Tending My Fangs at ALPS (the Art Licks Project Space), Camberwell, London. The following exhibition text was printed as a pamphlet for visitors to take home with them.

Holly’s flat feels like a confessional space that is close to the earth. In Tending My Fangs, I wanted this perception to simmer through in a density of language and materials that cook together, with no singular rationale connecting any one thing to another. A thinking for domestic spaces and compost heaps. For Tending My Fangs, I also wanted to use an intimate, vulnerable voice that problematies the question about what is private and what is public. What of ourselves do we choose to reveal to the world, what do we bury and what is impossible to conceal? What also is the scaffolding that makes us, us, and what is structured by the people and places that touch us?

Through the generosity of friendship, I’ve come to know Holly and her flat well. She lets me stay here when I come to London and as a result, I feel at ease in her home. This is not my home however, so I’m aware of myself treading her territory and I’m aware now of how my work occupies her space. In these disclosures and edits there is a question posed that I can’t wholly answer, about what I give and hold back of myself under the guise of poetic licence and how this is influenced by the dynamic I share with Holly. 

I find writing exhibition texts difficult, so I asked Holly what to include in this. Her text message back was open – ‘your approach to the exhibition and inhabiting the flat’. The space in this answer struck me. She wasn’t interested in pin-pointing a what, but more a method of making and being.

Thank God, I thought. My writing can be unkempt.

As one starting point, I thought about places I’ve titled ‘home,’ and imaged them as sites of weight that accrue and let metabolise into personal narratives, the emotional and material substance of lived days. Joys, pains, loves, failed loves, fears, jealousies, the given, the bought, the functional: they all compact into homes. 

This idea of density resonates through my experience of living with art in a domestic setting. I’ve been incredibly privileged in growing-up with images saturating my childhood homes and a sensibility loosely filtered through values inherited from the arts and crafts movement. If I can achieve anything through my own making, it is to pass this richness on, along with a belief in the importance of living with art.

\\\ On a Mexican yellow wall I remember mum’s placement of a reproduction of a William Blake engraving hung above the toilet /// A postcard of Brancusi’s rock grasping ‘The Kiss,’ was pinned on cork in front of dad’s desk \\\ At mum’s house, a poster of Samuel Palmer’s ‘The Magic Apple’ was positioned above the hot pink covers of her bed. She’s a prodigious knitter and the sheep that pack tightly around the shepherd in this picture, remind me of her unwinding her spools of wool ///

One image I haven’t given much thinking-time to lately, is a painting at dad’s house by his friend Jerry. It’s a large, turgid, 1980’s style painting, which makes liberal use of bright viridian greens and cadmium reds and yellows. The painting depicts a blonde-bobbed lady, naked and smoking. She inhabits a room, Alice in Wonderland-style, with a landscape behind. The image isn’t erotic; more surreal. Revisiting it with adult eyes, I’ve been forced to concede that it’s a good painting. It vexed me for years though. With pubescent breasts budding, I used to fixate, horrified and embarrassed on the woman’s green-red drooping boobs and purple shaded nipples. I never liked the taste of melons, (another thing that has changed with age) and these were melons that slung over my conscious as I watched the Simpsons. 

These images – all in equal measure, I find hard to think about critically, as they’re blended into the soup of growing. Their presence however, forms part of the fundamental bedrock to my personal landscape. And from time to time I recognise their influences percolating through the gesso grounds of my painting. 

If the house is understood as a dense nexus for personal narratives, then the idea fascinates me that a home – quite often imagined as a safe, private, sacred space of retreat from the world outside – is shot through uncontrollably by the baggage, residue and presence of other lives and other times. Walls – extensions of our skin – are porous. They never fall under our full jurisdiction. For one, the voraciousness of nature’s ever-present bite is always biting in. 

As an illustration of this, I wanted to talk about the folding screen at the centre of this exhibition, which I carved at my dad and step-mum’s house in Newlyn, Cornwall. Recently, two dowsers came there for tea and proclaimed that the entwined Saint Michael’s and Saint Mary’s ley-lines cut through the house. According to the dowsers, (verified by two more and felt by friend Lucy, whose opinion I always trust in matters like this) the ley-lines have become blocked by the stairs and a gaping hole has pooled under one of the rooms. We’ve all been speculating as to whether a filled-in doorway in the wall opposite the stairs is the cause. 

I’m unsure what to think about ley-lines but the finding confirms a feeling that I’ve always had about Guy and Debbie’s house – that a strong energy charges it. Harnessed, I see it as an immensely creative place to be; a place to wield power-tools and make brute carvings. Alone and unhinged in the dead of night, I know I could feel wild there, imagining hands pulling me into that gaping hole. I get a similar feeling at nearby Sancreed Well, where a hawthorn tree tied with ribbons manifesting peoples’ wishes, stoops over moss and granite steps leading down to a spring. 

Returning to the folding screen, the black gesso applied to the carved side, cracked uncontrollably during its drying. The cracks made me snarl at nature and feel shame at the possibility of myself presenting the unintended happening. I wanted to plug the error. I still do, but unless I completely remake the screen, the cracks will return. Their ragged teeth remind me of the ley-lines. 

In reference both to the enclosure of a walled house, or the wider landscapes we call our homes, we dwell in palimpsests of the before and everything present is set to change. Holly lives in Pilgrims Cloisters, a former charitable Almshouse that sheltered the aged in the close of life. The Victorian construct sits in a forest of houses and suburban groves, whose place-names channel former woods and a marshy, spring-soaked terrain. Pilgrims Cloisters has something of a revitalising well about it. Perhaps this was always a place where people escaped to, in order to broach their fallibilities.  

Reading List:

Below is short list of books that scraped across by bedside table in the process of making this exhibition. In direct and indirect ways, ideas and modes of address presented in them, have digested into the logic of my own work.  

Maggie Nelson. ‘Jane: A Murder.’

For Nelson’s confessional style, the probing of her life through somebody else’s life and her commitment to poetry as a medium to question ideas about truth. 

Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray. ‘Through Vegetal Being: Two Philosphical Perspectives.’

For the descriptions of porosity and the book’s intent to understand philosophical language through the body.

Ithell Colquhoun. ‘The Living Stones’

For the rich tapestry of musings that dwell on a living relationship shared between Colquhoun, her home, ‘Vow Cave’ and the landscape of Penwith, which held them.

Lisa Robertson. ‘Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture.’

For a methodology to think about architecture. 

Marilynne Robinson. ‘Housekeeping’

For its descriptions of disorder standing against order and a sense of loneliness that washes through the entire book. My friend Josie Cockram recommended Housekeeping to me and I read it whilst staying in Holly’s flat at the start of summer. One image in particular of alone-ness that lodged with me, is a passage about a woman picking potatoes, crouched down in the earthy furrows of a ploughed field. Her hand is described as reaching under the soil, to rest on the underneath of a potato. The point of touch is charged with emotion. 

Isabelle Anscombe.‘Omega and After: Bloomsbury and the Decorative Arts.’ For visual reference and harnessing opinions on my own relation to this country’s Arts and Crafts movements.

Hazel Berriman. ‘Crysede: Unique textile Designs of Alec Walker.’ 

Discovered through the artwork of my friend Kath Schwab, Crysede was a textile printing company based in St Ives, Cornwall. The transfer into pattern of specific locations in the Cornish landscape and their fusion with international styles fascinates me. 

John and Margaret Cannon. ‘Dye Plants and Dyeing.’

A cookbook for plant dyes

Nina Royle, Tending My Fangs, 23/09/19 – 05/10/19

Read the exhibition feature, and a recent interview with Nina as part of our From the Archive series.

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