This interview with John Beadle, one of the exhibiting artists in We Suffer to Remain, at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, until 29 July 2018, discusses how he uses found objects and different types of materials in his work.
Why do you use found objects in your work?
Found objects are pre-loaded with a narrative, a history, an energy. They can make a new artwork more substantial.
I use objects with textures and patinas that are affected by the weather. I also find it very interesting to juxtapose objects fashioned by my hand with found objects.
Do you look for specific objects to fit an idea, or do you find objects and then develop the artwork?
I do both, depending on the project. I look for specific objects when I think the history of the found piece is important to the story I want to tell. There are times when I am unable to find the specific item. In those instances, I fashion the item and add a patina to give a sense of belonging to the past. I have used, soil, beeswax, twigs, vines and in making art, and friends and acquaintances at times have given me material.
We have connected found metal, copper, tubing and vine wood of the same diameter to one another to form a closed form, mounted this to a plywood cut out of its cast shadow. We have also used old newspaper advertisements; ”help wanted: handyman/gardener needed” along with used, soil encrusted machetes to interrogate the exploitation of illegal migrants workers as farm labourers.
When we couldn’t find a specific object, we would fashion a loose facsimile. We needed a wheeled cart of sorts, something that felt out of place in time. Not having the knowing as to where to buy or the time to scout, we built the object out of square metal tubes, sheet metal and black iron rods, ground down the metal to encourage the development of a patina and there, we now had an object that would work to add flesh to the narrative.
How do you decide if an object is suitable for artwork?
It must add to the story in a meaningful way. If it distracts from the central idea, disturbs the composition or intuitively doesn't feel right, it’s not suitable.
An example of this, from my own practice is where I used soil to write “4 sale” on the ground around a compound and beyond. Soil on top of soil, earth on top of earth...using different colours and shade for contrast.
In a discussion we were having, the subject of gentrification came up. At the time I was in Zambia at a residency. I thought it was interesting this discussion was happening in this space because this very discussion was also happening back at home...I had to participate in a more profound way by making art that addressed the issue.
Are there any legal or ethical issues that apply to using found objects that would not apply when using other objects in artwork?
Using someone else’s property, intellectual or otherwise, without consent would be an issue.
The most hard and fast way of avoiding this is to not use objects, texts...materials that are specific to some other legal entity or simply obtain permission. Beyond this I really don’t know.
You used a cowbell in ‘Cuffed: Held in Check’. How did that object affect or change the entire artwork?
Cowbells were used as an implement of shame and a device for locating a runaway slave, who would have been fitted with a bell device after an attempted escape.
My take was to relate the cowbell used as musical instrument in the festival Junkanoo, with the history of slavery. The addition, links the two experiences and I think, further galvanizes the idea the one being in direct relation to the other.
The Junkanoo festival is a transplant...cargo brought to the Caribbean, the Americas in the bellies and hearts of the enslaved African who were shipped here as workers.
Can you give us an example of a found object that you have used in an artwork?
A few examples would be wooden planks, sail material and an oar salvaged from an illegal migrant boat.
What practical advice can you give to artists who want to use found objects in their work?
Run the risk of being different, and personal in your utterance, use whatever material best lends texture and substance to that voice. Consider the meaning of the word “material” then think of it as being elastic. How far can you stretch this meaning in bringing your particular voice to the art space? Concerning found object in particular...an object, already loaded with history, textures, colour; added to your way of seeing, has the potential to amplify any utterance you make in very interesting and exciting ways.