In Conversation: Sorrell Kerrison / Elizabeth Challinor

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Sorrell Kerrison is an artist working in many different mediums, including film, sound, and print. Sorrell is most known for her complex fauvist style hand embroidery portraiture, has had exhibitions in the UK and USA, and has four portraits as part of the permanent collections at Bolton Museum, Greater Manchester which are also part of the ArtUK National Art Heritage archive.

You can check out her ongoing IB21 project here –

https://independentsbiennial.com/artists/sorrell-kerrison/

 Contact details:

@sorrellck (Instagram) @sorrellkerrison (twitter) / https://www.sorrellkerrison.co.uk/ / sorrellkerrison@gmail.com 

When did you first start your residency? How did you get involved with IB21?

I was initially supposed to start my residency in March 2020… but obviously that didn’t go ahead. So, it was reinstated from Feb 2021. I am in residency at Metal in Edge Hill Station until August 2021.

What are you working towards during this residency/what are you looking to achieve with your experience here? 

I’m currently working on my project called ‘Otherhood Mixtapes’ about the procreative journey and the various nuances within that often go undocumented in the art world. We are often split into the binary experience of having or not having children. Where there are so many more different twists and turns in that journey. 

I am really enjoying having the space to spread out and work on a much larger scale in my residency. I am hoping to complete 3 quilts and some sound installation work within my residency period.

What is your practise about generally & what processes/methods do you typically use? How has your work that you’re doing for the residency/biennial evolved from this? Is there a big difference between this specific body of work & the work that you usually do? 

I generally use textiles and embroidery as my main method of work. I have used this time and space as an opportunity to expand into quilt making techniques, dyeing and sewing fabric using different methods. I also have some clay and some resin which I was hoping to get to grips with at some point. I’m using my residency to explore scale, new mediums and general bits of experimentation which I don’t usually have the chance to.

Did you have plans for your work (& to present it physically) before the festival was moved online? Did this change in platform affect you (& your work) much, or has it always been suited to being available digitally?

My initial ideas for my project was to have it exhibited as a walk through with triggered sound installations. I had a few other pieces of physical pieces in mind in which I wanted the audience to interact with. Since it has moved digitally I have reset my approach to the thing as a whole. I’m still making physical work however I have since been learning how to apply digital aspects such as animation and surround sound on headphones so that I can send my intended exhibition out digitally. I have also been onboarded to an NFT art gallery platform called Known Origin and I shall be dropping my works for viewing and bidding through their site when everything has been completed. 

Have you been working as part of your residency prior to the launch, or have you only just started your working? 

As my residency was supposed to start in 2020 I started on what I could. I researched and played with materials at home. I also started some private WhatsApp groups and had a few Zoom meets with women about their own experiences with the procreative journey. I am currently in the process of creating anonymous scheduling to record the ‘interviews’ with those women which I will use for a sound scape to go with the physical and digitised pieces.

What’s it like (or been like so far) working with the Independents Biennial and Metal? Do you get much support from both of the organisations?

I’ve enjoyed working with everyone so far. It has obviously been a really weird time and I do miss having the opportunity to mingle in person and have a relaxed cup of coffee and a chat. However, I have had some Zoom meets and some safe catch ups with individuals. They are a great teams and have been supportive an understanding in equal measure.

How did you get into making textile work/embroidery? Are the materials/techniques you use important to your work (in regards to like context/themes etc)/is there any relationship between the two aspects?

I have worked in a LOAD of different mediums before I found my stride with embroidery and textiles. I really love tactile art. I’m not very good at standing behind the velvet rope at art exhibitions and I want to be able to smell and touch the art. Textiles is also utilitarian in its essence. I like my art to be useful as a blanket or a piece of clothing. It is both beautiful and useful. I find that there is a bit of a gap between ‘crafts’ and ‘fine art’. Textiles is definitely a medium that is seen as lesser than and relegated to “women’s work” in a demeaning way. Therefore, in a round about way, my themes of the procreation journey and the nuances of women’s unseen lives has a lot to do with my medium of choice. Pregnancy, birthing, post birth, Motherhood, choosing not to have children, endometriosis, puberty, periods, miscarriage, PND…. I mean a lot of these things are brushed under the carpet in one homogenous lump and not dealt with out in the open, often leading to feeling of guilt and shame on the light end of the spectrum and inbuilt darkness, PTSD, mental and physical health issues on the other end. I feel that the tactility of the work, the medium and method and subject matter all tie in together.

Where did the inspiration for “Otherhood Mixtapes” come from? How’s the project & the residency going so far? Did the delay in starting your residency affect or change your work in any way?

I had a very tough pregnancy, 20 weeks of sickness followed by 20 weeks of gestational diabetes where I had to take blood 4 times a day to monitor my health, go to the hospital once a week for two hours, monitor my food and get exercise… then I got SPD which is where the tendons at the top of your legs feel like they are on fire. So I couldn’t really walk or eat or sleep properly for about 6 months. Then I was induced (which I wasn’t happy about) and I ended up hemorrhaging and rushed for an emergency caesarean section. Post birth healing was tough and I was suffering from PTSD from the trauma. I couldn’t sleep properly because of the pain and I was offered to be part of a show in a San Francisco gallery called Modern Eden. So I spent 2 months of sewing about 5 hours every night to get 3 pieces finished for that show. They were based on the last photo I took before I gave birth, the first photo with my baby post birth and a fictional piece called “Headless Relief’ which was meant to depict me decapitating myself as I wanted to detach my thoughts and emotions from my body as I felt so totally exhausted. 

(‘Headless Relief’ has since been animated and minted as an NFT for the Graffiti Queens exhibition in Decentraland which launched on April 3rd 2021)

After all those experience (and a previous miscarriage) I realised how little is told to pregnant women. How we are all expecting this beautiful Vessel of Life experience where we GLOW and feel like the Virgin Mary. When in fact I’ve never felt so ill and depressed in all my life. THis has no bearing on my son whatsoever, he is an absolute blessing. Yet, that is another thing. Women are made to feel guilty for expressing difficulty or dissatisfaction with Motherhood. I decided that if I could help other women by talking with them, getting their stories and using elements of them for my work then I would be able to hopefully, create a much needed realistic reflection of the various experiences and then we wouldn’t feel like we had failed if we don’t have that beautiful butterfly coming out of a cocoon moment that we are all expecting. 

Having the residency delayed has actually been really helpful. I just carried on with the research portion and I built some WhatApp groups where I invited women to talk with each other and share their experiences. Also to create a bit of a network in this odd time.

How do you feel about having to adapt your work digitally? Do you think given the opportunity (and assuming everything was open again like normally) you’d still want to present the work with the sound installation? Is this something you’re still planning to do once all the restrictions have gone? How you expect your audience will interact with the work now that it can only be accessed digitally?

It’s been a bit of a leap to figure out how I can have my work interacted with on a digital level. As I said previously, I want people to touch and smell my work and now this option has been taken out of my hands… so I had to start to think laterally about the whole thing. I’ve always wanted to present my work with a sound installation and my original plan had work that attendees to a physical gallery could walk through and trigger. However, I have since been learning how to create and build in a digital forum. I have met some truly awesome people through the NFT world in cryptoart and I have been welcomed with open arms. I am now working with a digital gallery called Known Origin and that is where my work from the biennial show will be available to buy. THe pieces will be in their gallery in Decentraland (which is a VR digital space in which you can walk virtually around the galleries to see different art works) and the sound installation will still be able to be experienced from home on headphones.

How are your conversations & interviews feeding into your work? Are they informing your practise in any way?

The conversations for Otherhood have been great. So many insights and different views so that my work doesn’t become selfcentric and actually reflects the experiences of others too. I am in the process of scheduling actual, more formally recorded interviews which I will edit down into sound scapes. I may even create a more straight forward, journalistic rendition of them so that people can listen to them as if they were listening to episodes of a podcast.

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