Interview: Sophie Hoyle | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary was set up in 2001 in memory of sculptor Adam Reynolds and designed to support mid-career disable artists looking to develop their practice as well as building their profile. From 19th July BALTIC 39,  in collaboration with Shape Arts, will feature work from Bursary shortlist and this year’s recipient, Sophie Hoylean artist and writer whose practice explores an intersectional approach to post-colonial, queer, feminist, anti-psychiatry and disability issues. We caught up with Sophie to find out more about the bursary, artistic inspirations and the upcoming exhibition. 

How did it feel to be the recipient of the 2019 Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary? 
It was a surprise, as all the artists on the shortlist—Leah Clements, Laura Lulika, Amy Rosa, Romily Alice Walden—all have really great, critical, experimental, and radical practices. So it was really daunting but exciting. 

How important are grants and bursaries like this for disabled artists?
Extremely important, especially given austerity cuts impacting multiple dimensions of our lives: both healthcare services as well as arts funding. So any kind of support to give time and space away from paid work or parenting or caring, to allow you the time and space to concentrate on your practice, allows you to survive and your practice to grow.

Unequal access to healthcare often intersects with other social inequalities, along lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, so there may be multiple social barriers and pressures on your health, life and practice.

Which artists inspired you to become an artist? 
I think was inspired to make art for a long time, with possibly too many artists to mention; but artists that have helped me to express experiences of illness, disability and mental health have been through friends and peers, like Nicola Woodham, as well as the other artists on shortlist.

What real-life situations have inspired you?
I draw from personal experiences of mental health conditions, illness, medical institutions, which I wouldn’t say have ‘inspired’ me as much as a given me a sense of urgency to express and convey these aspects of life, and to question the sociopolitical dynamics around them.

What work do you most enjoy doing?
Some types of work— like shooting footage, editing, drawing, writing— I enjoy doing by myself and getting into the processes and details. But other times I enjoy working with other artists, musicians, and art organisations in a way that’s more collaborative, relational and outward-looking. So a bit of everything!

Can you tell us more about your work that will feature in the BALTIC 39 exhibition? 
I will be making a multi-channel video installation, ‘Excoriate,’ that touches on some of the things I was exploring throughout the residency—mental health, transcultural mental health and sustainable or community-based forms of treatment and healthcare. 

For example, The Comfrey Project offers horticultural therapy to people seeking asylum, on their allotments in Gateshead and Newcastle. NHS mental health services have been affected by austerity, especially specialised services including transcultural therapy and language translators. The UK government redistributes communities refugees and asylum-seekers across the UK, to specific regions e..g to the North-East. However there is a lack of specialised therapy services, so people look towards other, perhaps more sustainable, forms of treatment, including horticultural therapy or gardening as self-care and collective care.

Another is a ‘biohacking’ workshop with queer performance collective Quimera Rosa, which seeks to reclaim scientific knowledge and bodily autonomy from medical experts and institutions. In the workshop we used laboratory equipment— microscopes, petri dishes—as well as DIY versions and adaptations, and learned techniques like sterilisation so we could create our own labs in the future.  We then combined plant cells and human hormones as an experiment in cross-species hybridity.

Another video explores methods or techniques for overcoming self-harming behaviours, including compulsive skin picking, called Dermatillomania or Excoriation Disorder (which is what the work is titled after), by using a rubber band or drawing with pen instead of picking or cutting the skin.  

A soundtrack is composed of binaural beats including beta and theta waves, used to treat anxiety and trauma and sleep disorders through ‘neuroacoustics’.  


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