1 October – 11 December 2022
CAMPLE LINE, in South West Scotland, is pleased to announce an exhibition of new work by Nottingham-based artist Yelena Popova, entitled Made Ground, which will open on 1 October. For her exhibition this autumn, Yelena Popova has produced a new series of paintings, for which she has used soil and rock that she collected locally to Cample. In addition to her painting installation, Yelena also presents two textiles works in the downstairs spaces of the gallery. The first of those references the extensive coniferous plantations that are a major feature of the working landscape in Dumfriesshire, producing as it does 30% of Scotland’s annual timber harvest.
Yelena Popova works across a range of media, including painting, tapestry, video and installation. There is a stress placed upon the notion of balance within her work, whether political, aesthetic or metaphysical. Reflecting her upbringing in the USSR, she is influenced by the tenets of Russian Constructivism, while often seeking to discuss the constant development of industrialism and the landscape of contemporary capitalism.
A new substantial painting installation, it continues and extends a wider body of work that Yelena calls ‘post-petrochemical paintings’, which she began in 2017 during a residency at Girton College,Cambridge, where she worked with gathered materials and natural pigments for the first time. Yelena has said: ‘the soil and the rocks are something that represent the landscape for me…that piece of soil you find under your feet when you walk. This is the landscape. There is, I think, a Chinese tradition where they see the larger landscape in a small rock.’ Installed by Yelena in our upstairs space, the paintings are to date her most sustained exploration of a place through soil, stone, pigment, gesture and colour.
Made Ground, the exhibition’s title, is the term used to refer to land where natural and undisturbed soils have largely been replaced by man-made or artificial materials. In developing her work for Cample, Yelena has drawn upon her interest in the relationship between geological depository and the kinds of artificial deposits or changes to land surface that are a legacy of local industries such as mining, particularly in agricultural landscapes such as Dumfries & Galloway’s. Mining for materials and mineral resources have happened across the region over centuries and while some remnants of this industrial activity are evident on the land and especially through the built environment, other traces remain hidden from view underground in the soil.
An interest in land use, in our industrial activities and heritage is often central to Yelena’s work. Whilst at Cample, she visited several former local sandstone quarries whose faces, for all their subsequent reclamation by natural forces, continue to expose registers of deep time alongside more recent human histories of extraction. A large ornamental carved sandstone fruit bowl in the grounds of nearby Drumlanrig Castle, overgrown with moss, fascinated her for the way in which the moss will slowly turn the stone back into earth. Walking in the area, often by the river, she was drawn to an iron-rich rock, which ‘bled’ a deep terracotta pigment. The landscape resonated deeply for the artist in remembering familiar experiences of being by rivers and forests as a child growing up in the Urals.
‘That pink glow noticeable on the hills ahead in a sunny day…It’s there and not there, but for me it was such a distinct and memorable feature of this landscape. I wanted to find it, to refine it, to make sure I was not imagining it, to hold on to it.’
Yelena gathered soils, pieces of red sandstone and terracotta brick fragments from a number of locations, including Kings Quarry from which the stone for Drumlanrig Castle was extracted, and from the rivers Scaur and Nith. Seeking to distill these experiences of the landscape and to bring them to the canvas, she then ground the samples by hand into pigments in her studio, a process she has previously described as ‘an attempt to revisit medieval painting recipes and materials, but also an eco-conscious decision not to use products of the petrochemical industry in my work’.
The resulting pigments comprise an array of richly varied reds, pinks and browns, directly reflecting the geology of the area whilst also evoking many other things for the artist – ‘meat, blood, red wine, cocoa…’ Working on canvases of varying scales and shapes, she applies the earthen-coloured pigments in thin washes of colour in softly curved, sweeping and swirling abstract gestures: the ‘sensory experiences of walking, noticing, picking, grinding, sieving, mixing, touching, stroking… brought to their surfaces. Yelena describes the ‘performance of materiality’ and physicality of this process: ‘it’s something quite physical, quite uncontrollable… the physicality of that particular human movement of a gesture or handwriting…’
Yelena often presents her work propping works on various found objects, sometimes precariously, but always carefully balanced. Upstairs at CAMPLE LINE, she has installed the works in response to the space itself. A small circle is held by a branch from a tree, another is propped on a brick – a river find – a remnant of a former brickworks industry in nearby Sanquhar, carried and eroded by the water. She describes the language of Modernist abstraction as being the language of industrialisation and she uses this language to reflect on these processes and practices with which we effect and work the land.
Struck by dominant presence of the plantations in the landscape, as by the calming, cool and mossy shade of the trees in contrast to the aggressive, machine-driven process of their extraction as timber, Yelena has produced a monochromatic textile work shown downstairs that features an abstracted Spruce tree as its central motif.
Measuring 100x120cm, it has been hand-knitted for Yelena by knitter Irina Miloserdova, using a variation of Sanquhar Knit, a distinctive geometric knitting pattern that originated in the town of Sanquhar in Dumfries & Galloway in the 17th century, when hand-knitting was a thriving cottage industry there, and which continues today through the concerted efforts of A’ The Airts and an active community initiative to revive the industry and safeguard the tradition.
Alongside this, Yelena has also included a limited edition jacquard woven throw. Titled Hunting Scene with a Ray Cat (2022), the design is taken from her initial sketch for a large jacquard woven stage curtain for Solway Hall community centre in Whitehaven, produced as part of a new public art commissions programme ‘Deep Time: Commissions for the Lake District Coast’. Taking inspiration from a 16th-century millefleurs tapestry ‘Hunting Scene with a Unicorn’ held in the V&A collection in London, the mythological Ray Cat (representing a proposition by the philosophers Françoise Bastide and Paolo Fabbri that a DNA-altered domestic cat could warn of nuclear waste in the future through changing colour when exposed to radiation) plays amidst a post-industrial landscape, which includes the remains of UK’s first nuclear facility and references the Cumbrian mountains and the sea through merging zig-zag and wavy lines.
About CAMPLE LINE
Located in South West Scotland, CAMPLE LINE is an independent arts organization dedicated to presenting thought-provoking international contemporary art and film for residents of the region and visitors from further afield.