'Integral'  

Elizabeth Ann Day talks with Kirsty Russell about transforming the home into the studio. Within the prerequisite of equally balancing all portions of life, what can be gained from considering even the unremarkable parts art?

Artist: Kirsty Russell

Editor: Elizabeth Ann Day

Photo by Laura Hindmarsh

Ten matching glasses of cool, crisp water sit on a small coffee table. Reams of bubble wrap and foil are strewn from the ceiling. A rabbit cage sits on the floor, forced into the corner to make room. This is the Aberdeen home of artist Kirsty Russell, and the site of Underpinning

 

Launched in 2018, Russell built Underpinning from her then studio at The Anatomy Rooms, a creative hub in Aberdeen’s city centre. Wishing to create a discursive platform, the project shares artists' processes through workshops and events, helping Russell explore hosting as a tool within her own work. It’s a space where working relationships between practitioners can be developed and nurtured. In moving Underpinning to Russell’s own flat, each participating artist dwells in a much more intimate space, using this traditionally domestic area as a residency site. The home is transformed into the studio. 

The flat’s hall is full of people. The space appears warm and welcoming, as if the viewers have been invited to a friends for lunch and a catch-up. To be in an environment such as this for an art gathering seems a little off-kilter, but it is a concept that Russell is passionate about. Yet, within the community of emerging contemporary artists there is a prerequisite to balance art, work and life, to keep each area separated from the next. Underpinning looks to address this trichotomy; why shouldn’t we bring a practice into the home? What can be gained from considering all aspects of being, even the unremarkable parts, art? 

Russell is known for working with a series of frequent collaborators, be them studio friends or those met further afield through residencies and projects. These artists are a network and support system, creating rich and empathetic conversations that encourage collaboration. One of these collaborators is British Australian artist Laura Hindmarsh. The pair met whilst undertaking the Arts Council England funded Syllabus IV, an alternative learning programme which Russell cites as a great encouragement for her practice. “[It helped me realise that] this is possible for me” she tells me as we talk online. It seems the relationships and, importantly, friendships Russell has established throughout her career are not only great notes of inspiration within the development of her artwork, but are generally uplifting and confidence boosting. 

Photo by Grant Anderson

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