Caroline Burraway is announced as the first Prize-winner of the 2018 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize for her poignant charcoal drawing Eden. Part of the Aesthetica Art Prize alumni, Burraway discusses her shortlisted works and the capacity of drawing to mediate the three-way interface between image, viewer and artist.
A: Congratulations on having two works shortlisted for this year’s Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize, formerly Jerwood Drawing Prize. The large-scale charcoal drawings, are incredibly powerful – can you give some background to the subjects?
CB: Eden and Samuel, both Eritrean, lived between the Jungle in Calais and a small camp in Isbergues with no sanitation, no water. Samuel, the oldest person I met in the camps was in charge of a number of other refugees. He introduced me to Eden who was living in a cramped tent with three other people, including a heavily pregnant woman.
In keeping with the ethnographic imperative that runs through all my projects, I spent time with them to build a bedrock of trust before asking them to be involved in the project. In more ways than one, my work is the material embodiment of this tension between intimacy and objectification. It is my sincere hope that that the former proportionally outweighs the latter.
A: What are you looking to convey in these images and how important is the role of the viewer?
CB: These images are, in many ways, a form of protest and a call to arms. They are a counterforce to the new wave of right-wing populists making headway in Europe. These images are part of a radically different political imperative, a different sociality. They are a face-to-face, both in the literal sense but also in the spirit intended by Emmanuel Levinas – namely that the face-to-face encounter is underwritten by a deep ethical responsibility to acknowledge the Other as a living, breathing presence, not an expendable object.
The role of the viewer in the works is paramount insofar as the work is an attempt to set up a conversation between the viewer and the viewed, calling for a humanistic response to problems of displacement.
A: You are also a filmmaker – why, for these works, did you opt to draw your subjects as opposed to capturing them in moving image?
CB: All too often, the speed at which the moving image unfolds pulls us into the space before we have a chance to take a breath – like a black hole it drowns us with its sheer gravity. Accordingly, we are not given the time to step back and reflect, the relentless physicality of the moving image creating a reality that lives on the borderline of endurance. And so, we turn away or allow our minds to wander. The power of the moving image is now so ubiquitous that we have developed sophisticated shields to these dangerous realities.
I believe that drawings have the capacity to break down these defences in ways that other mediums do not, in large part due to the fact that the lived physicality of the artist – the elbow grease, the smudges, the erasures, the trace lines, the smell of sweat on the canvas – mediates the three-way interface between image, viewer, and artist.
A: Why have you chosen to produce the works in charcoal?
CB: The content of my project is explored and realised through its form – through the materiality of drawing. At some point, I put my charcoal down, but I am never really finished. Charcoal is dynamic in ways that paint is not; it is malleable, responsive to all kinds of instruments, both bodily and not. It allows for my fingerprints to be all over it, and yet at the same time absorbing my identity into the paper, into the lived trajectory of the image, forever stretching the boundary between self and the other.
A: Do you feel artists have a responsibility to communicate the issues of our times through their work?
CB: Art has an important role in reporting on the condition of humanity and in a manner which is knowable to its own time. It should speak to us, make us think, make us ask questions of it and of ourselves. My work lies in the interval where art and life rub together. It is found on the streets; in the banal everyday lived experience of the marginal individual and their relationship with the world they inhabit. We need to be challenged with anything that makes us feel something.
The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize exhibition will be on display at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London from 29 September – 17 October 2018 (closed 6 & 12 October). This will be followed by a national tour to TheGallery at Arts University Bournemouth (22 November 2018-10 January 2019); the Royal Drawing School in Shoreditch (2-22 February 2019); Drawing Projects UK, Wiltshire (2 March–26 April 2019); and Chapel Gallery in Lancashire (4 May–6 July 2019).
1. Caroline Burraway, Eden, The Jungle Calais 2016 (2017), charcoal on paper, 160 x 135cm.