25 August 2020

FLOORR Magazine interview with Candida Powell-Williams by by Sonja Teszler


Interview by Sonja Teszler

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?

I did a BA in Fine Art at the Slade followed by an MA in Sculpture at the Royal College. Except for a year in Rome and a few months in Paris I’ve always lived in London but I’m always talking about leaving.

Your stage-like installations and works are inherently performative and mix a variety of rich spiritual references in a way that is still playful and non-didactic. Could you talk a bit about these references and what drew you to your subject matter? 

Like most children I loved fairytales and myths and lucky charms. I grew up in the late 80s and 90s, well after the New Age heyday but a lot of the paraphernalia surrounding it was circulating in pop culture. There was a shop by my school where we would buy mood rings and crystals and Mystic Meg was on the National Lottery programme! So I was surrounded by quite a broad notion of spirituality and maybe as a result I’ve always been really fascinated by how esoteric objects are animated by us physically and in the mind how we perceive meaning in them. My sculptural works are representations of the process of interpreting the material world particularly artefacts and how they might symbolises and promise something like luck but don’t provide any clue as to how it might do this thing. For example in Vernacular History of the Golden Rhubarb (2017) all the sculptures were made to describe the way the artefacts in Rome are used by a tourists for wishes and lucky charms or to reveal their true selves. I think of what I’m doing as mapping a philosophical journey through the world of stuff. I suppose my work is playful perhaps because what it is dealing with is absurdity. The candy colours also make it playful and animate the stationary works. I think of my works as caricatures – a reduced form of an idea or representation which in it’s reduction gets closer to a true depiction. By using a language of approximations my sculptures often become emblematic. In general I think emblems can seem esoteric and have a kind of pseudo spirituality imbued into them because they are so confusing and self-assured.

Candida Powell-Williams, Boredom & its Acid Touch, 2017, Frieze Live

Performance is a key element to your practice- are you interested in both the autonomous architecture of the installations as well as the narrative added to them by the performers and the audience?

Certainly. I am very interested in formal sculptural qualities but I always return to this idea of objects as a live event even when they aren’t animated. When I’m making a show I think about how to ‘stage’ the sculptures in space so that they are always dynamic because the majority of the time the installation is inert. I want take the viewer somewhere else the moment they walk into it- whether that be to a known place like a Roman courtyard or some kind of alternative reality.  I worked in theatre for over 10 years; throughout A levels, further and higher education so it played a consistent influence during formative years. I’ve always been interested in the suspension of disbelief (which is basically the opposite of how viewers approach art in a gallery), and theatrical simulacra- by which I mean representation of something that is constrained by the limits of the stage or the required theatrical function and the illusion and trickery of it all. One of the things I always loved was seeing the empty sets and all the mechanics behind the artifice.

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

It was incredible to see the William Blake works in the flesh. These tiny powerful, imaginative works felt so relevant today. Shana Moulton has a big installation at Zabludowicz Collection in London which is spectacular. The works are dealing with contemporary anxiety and the wellness industry- yoga, crystal healing, saunas etc. Her avatar Cynthia is constantly trapped; trapped inside a weird bedroom, then inside a screen, which is then inside an object, all of which is terrifying. I’ve also just come back from Venice and Laure Provost’s work for the French pavilion will stay with me for a long time.

Read the full article here.