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A Basement Kingdom

February 16, 2011

Artists have engraved, drawn and painted animals that are of a mythical, biblical or scientific interest for thousands of years. I have created a series of drawings, paintings and objects entitled Kingdom which are inspired by the myths of the Leviathan and the Behemoth, the Voyages of Discovery of the 17th-19th centuries and Arctic Exploration through the ages.

Currently installed in Edel Assanti’s basement project space is Clara Drummond’s Kingdom, an installation consisting of large scale drawings, bell jar sculptures and a white hut filled with notes and sketches relating to the natural world. Drummond’s piece is an ongoing project that fuses writing, intricate drawing, and literary and scientific text to attempt a return to a time of greater innocence, when parts of nature remained unknown but people longed to understand them. Stepping down into the basement is like entering a naturalist’s studio; entering the warm glow of the hut to examine the items within gives an intimate sense of interrupting a scholar at his or her work.

Central to this highly personal exploration is the artist herself. Celia White caught up with Clara to ask about the work’s genesis, its progression, and its potential end.

Could you begin by telling us a little about your project, Kingdom, as you perceive it?

The nature of Kingdom is constantly shifting and evolving because essentially it is created in the spirit of exploration. It is inspired by the early explorers and the voyages of discovery that were made from the 1500s onwards, in particular the first expeditions to the arctic, but also by literature, most significantly Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I like to describe it as a museum of drawings and artefacts that I have created, they are fragments and the viewer is invited to imagine the rest.

How did the project come about?

For a long time I have been reading about journeys of discovery, early botanists, polar exploration, natural science, whaling, all sorts of things; they have always interested me so I wanted to find a way to make work about them, to somehow transfer literature and ideas into drawings and paintings. It felt as though there was too much to contain in a painting, a drawing, an exhibition and so instead an ongoing project of drawings and writings began, a sort of collection that will continue to grow in the way that a museum collection evolves and grows but always with a common thread weaving everything together.

There’s an incredible level of detail here: the drawings, the ideas, the process revealed through the installation – it’s almost academic. What inspired this?

I was fascinated by the engravings that illustrated history books and encyclopedias, as well as the collections of paintings and drawings made by artists and natural scientists who went on the early sea voyages. They had a naive sort of wonder, because often they were illustrating animals that Europeans had never seen before, or the artist had not seen the animal themselves and so was imagining what it would look like based on descriptions. The large drawings are inspired by these.

The interior of the cabin is supposed to convey the process of research and discovery; the gathering, observing, recording. The drawings in here are mainly done from observation; I collected plants and things during residencies in Iceland and Ireland and brought them back to my studio to draw. I work in this way because I believe that when you observe something from nature closely it transforms before your eyes, surprising you always with its infinite intricacies. I always see things differently after concentrated periods of drawing from observation, everything comes sharply into focus.

An early scientist once said that to observe nature is to walk each day in wonder, so I suppose the whole exhibition is installed as a homage to ‘looking closely’, to studying, to being amazed by the process of discovery.

In light of this, would you say the work is as much about process as it is about the final piece?

Yes, it is not a finished piece by any means, it is a journey and the viewer is invited on this chapter of the voyage. The work will never be finished as this particular journey, the pursuit of knowledge, cannot be finite.

How does the blog feed into your work? Is there a conflict between the concrete and grounded (installation) and the virtual and continually updated (blog)?

The blog is intended to be a vessel for all the tangents and ephemera that I collect along the way, it is not central to the work, more of a notebook of things that inspire me.

Kingdom is at Edel Assanti Project Space until 12th March 2011

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