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Autumn 21
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Phoebe Cummings

Phoebe Cummings works with raw clay to produce ephemeral pieces that reflect the passage of time. For Autumn 21, we asked her to respond to the same place that inspired this fragrance - Ruan Lanihorne, Cornwall. Phoebe's sculpture echoes the abundant water that runs through this landscape, its mutability embracing the seasonal changes that inform Ffern fragrance making.

Season:Autumn 21
Date Created:2021-07-06
Medium:Raw clay

How would you describe your work?

The work exists as a form of material performance. It is always durational,made directly from raw clay and changes over the course of an exhibition. Botanical forms and decorative ornament are often combined in lush arrangements, embracing the ephemerality of nature and the potential for clay to be endlessly made, dissolved and reformed.

First thoughts when Ffern approached you about responding to a fragrance?

I loved the idea of a fragrance that connects with the seasons, there is a briefness and fluidity to it, an uncovering of the pleasure and beauty in all that changes. The autumn 21 fragrance took inspiration from Ruan Lanihorne in Cornwall. My first introduction to the fragrance was through words, it was an evocative description of place and time. Words are often a starting point for my work. I love how written language can create a vivid sensory experience,it feels so similar to working with clay.

How did you approach the project?

I was working on a show in St Ives, so I visited Ruan Lanihorne. It had a real sense of the land, water and air intertwining, a place where the borders between those elements seem unfixed. The grasses, rushes and iris had their feet in the water but the air was filled with the sound of itself moving between them. This fed into the piece I made, which is based on no particular species but more a feeling of the water meadows. I experimented with a few pieces, and took them to a stream where I often walk close to home. There are rich banks of clay there and it felt important for the work to reconnect with a source of water and earth.

What is it about unfired clay that inspires you?

Clay is so immediate, it responds to every touch. It has different states and capabilities as it breathes and transforms. I find its instability both a challenge and exciting. There is a very direct relationship between the body and clay, and there is such a deep connection throughout time between humans and this material. It’s there in myth as well as the objects made from it. I am drawn to the way it is an amalgam of place; rocks, the weather, plant matter, it seems a way of physically touching another time.

Clay has a wonderful, earthy, damp smell; would you say there’s an olfactory element to your work?

I am very interested in the atmosphere of sculpture, and how our experience of it is more than just visual. We feel it on our skin, it alters acoustics, we might smell it. I have made a number of works in enclosed humid environments, and also worked more recently with reproducing these through a combination of text and atmospheric conditions. How can language and atmospheric traces produce a new experience of sculpture beyond the object? Smell is such a powerful part of memory.

Where else do you find your inspiration?

I spend a lot of time looking at plants, observing how they grow, their structures and patterns. I read a lot too, fiction and poetry always feed into the work. Virginia Woolf, Alice Oswald and Sappho I return to again and again . There are so many artists that inspire me, Georgia O’Keefe, Agnes Martin, Ana Mendieta, Shelagh Wakely to name a few. I also look a lot at decorative arts, particularly Baroque and Rococo design.

Can you describe your favourite scent?

I love jasmine, and how the perfume of many flowers becomes stronger in the evening. Dawn and dusk are such magical hours of the day; between times.

What are you working on next?

This week I am finishing installing a piece at Compton Verney in Warwickshire for an exhibition that marks the tercentenary of wood-carver Grinling Gibbons. I am also working towards an exhibition in Naples in January 2022 and enjoying researching the plants depicted in frescos.

What is the best advice you could pass on?

Pay attention, care, take your time

Phoebe is the fifth artist to work with us on the Ffern Artists series. You can read about the others here.

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