In Conversation: Stephanie Fry / Elizabeth Challinor

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Stephanie Fry is a Billinge-based artist, using a variety of traditional and non-traditional techniques to create artworks focusing on themes of place, history and storytelling. Exploring the local landscape supports the development of her creative ideas, and these responses often occur as a direct result of interaction with a particular place and the objects and landmarks to be found within it. Utilizing film, audio, photography and 2D mixed media to create works which aim to tell some of the more hidden aspects of a local area’s history whilst touching on themes including time passing, decay and renewal.

You can check out her ongoing IB21 work here –

https://independentsbiennial.com/artists/stephanie-fry-2/

Contact details: 

@stephyanne3 (Instagram), s.a.fry@hotmail.co.uk 

When did you first start your work for the Biennial? How did you get involved with IB21?

I have been working on my Threads of History project over the last 18 months or so. Initially it was to be exhibited as part of St Helens Arts Service Arts in Libraries initiative, however due to Covid 19 the exhibition had to close after just a couple of days. One of the main aspects of the original project was the film I made about a Cold War era bunker situated on Billinge Hill, very little evidence of which still remains. Earlier this year, St Helens Arts Service advised that my work may be something that could be put forward for inclusion in the Independents Biennial, and having discussed this later on with Patrick, Threads of History became part of IB 21.

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

The project I have been working on encompasses many different topics such as memory, time passing, human experience, the study of landscape and storytelling, all bound by the overarching theme of place. Prior to my involvement with IB 21  and currently, I have been undertaking research in relation to these things and making work in response to this. Through my experience with IB 21, I hoped to gain a broader understanding of how other artists were working  – their ideas, inspirations, methods etc. – and also how they’ve adapted to different ways of working due to Covid 19. In turn, I felt that these elements would help me understand my own practice better and where it sits in relation to other contemporary artists, as well as helping me strengthen and develop my own creative practice. All of these things have been useful in helping me achieve a clearer direction for my work going forward beyond the festival.

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

My work encompasses a broad range of themes, typically bound together by an initial study of a space or place, with psychogeography playing a key role in the development of ideas to do with a place and my subsequent creative responses to it. My working methods typically involve extensive research into the subject matter – note taking, sketches, photography, and the use of sound and film to capture details, conversations or points of interest. From this research I then build ideas for how my creative practice can best encapsulate my responses to the research and my feelings towards it; sometimes my own views or thoughts are firmly in the background whilst other things take centre stage. This happened to some degree with Threads of History, as although I have personal views and emotional attachment to the landscape being explored, the wider subject matter evolved and grew organically with me in the role of facilitator rather than just artist. Participating in IB 21 has enabled me to spend more time editing and working on the film which is a key part of the Threads of History project; this has resulted in an audio visual work which is more effective and engaging than it originally would have been, and has honed some of my skills with regards to understanding and utilising technology as part of my creative practice. The work completed for IB 21 has definitely marked a departure from my usual methods of working, which had centred around 2D pieces occasionally combining sculptural elements. That said, my first real foray into using sound and video as part of my artistic practice came about in 2019 towards the end of my M A Fine Art studies, as these became methods which seemed to fit well with my explorations into environments, both urban and rural. However, it wasn’t until I began work on Threads of History that I began to develop and further integrate the use of technology within my work. This is definitely something which will be taken forward in the making of current and future creative projects. I am continuing to combine 2D and 3D working methods, as illustration, painting and collage are all important aspects of my creative output. I am also increasingly using found objects within my work, as there is a strong emphasis on reusing and recycling of materials in the pieces that I make.

Did you have plans for your work (& to present it physically) before the festival was moved online? Has the change in platform affected your outcomes in any way?

After finding out that I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in IB 21, and without being sure about exactly what kinds of conditions or restrictions we would be working under due to Covid 19, I initially felt that it would be a good idea to make the film not just the heart of my project, but to make it the sole focal point, and to show it in such a way as to make it the epicentre of the project. I was planning to show the film in a cinema style setting, within a boxed-off room within the wider gallery space , and projected onto a large screen. I felt this would work as the way the film has been put together and the narrative woven throughout would suit a larger scale screen where the overall impact could be felt more fully and immersively. Obviously, when it became clearer IB 21 would be operating under restrictions, it became clear that the change in platform could present new challenges, but ultimately I think that moving my work online has resulted in a positive experience for both myself and viewers of the work. Moving the artworks online has meant that participants and audiences can access these at any given time without the restrictions and constraints of a traditional physical gallery space  (such as fixed opening/closing times, access issues etc.) and although personally speaking, what my film may lose in terms of its immersive impact by being online is certainly made up for in terms of seeing how well it sits alongside all the other artists’ works as part of the festival itself.

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

I have not, and currently am not working as part of a residency, though this is something I would definitely want to do in the near future.

What’s it like (or been like so far) working with the Independents Biennial? Do you get much support from the organisation?

Being part of IB 21 is a wonderfully positive experience, especially given the trying circumstances  of the last 12 months, so it has been a welcome opportunity to showcase my work to a wider audience and learn about all the different artists involved and how they go about their practice. The articles and writings from the contributors have been thought provoking and educational, and these things combined have given me renewed optimism and helped spark fresh creative ideas going forward. The organisations have been helpful and understanding throughout, with the offer of support always readily available if needed.

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