A Closer Look at the 54th Venice Biennale | Welsh artist Erin Rickard
I first met Erin Rickard on the steps of a bridge along the Venice waterfront, in the midst of her public interaction performance. She holds a life-sized poster of her boyfriend in her hand, asking passers-by politely for their assistance in folding the poster into her wallet. Titled ‘I Need You Near Me’, her project is an endeavor to hold onto loved ones in wearing times of separation. Tourists walk past; not many stop to help. But there are several that do, and it is clear that not all are aware that this is a performance. Before them is a woman who desperately wants to keep the person she loves as close as she can.
At Erin’s prompting, the last group of people who participate (unknowingly perhaps, that their reactions will be observed) in her project decide to tear the poster up, and allow her to keep only the parts of her boyfriend’s body that they feel are important: his head, feet, hands and crotch. What interested me was the public’s initial hesitation to rip the poster up—which suggests that they treat the picture with the same respect as they would a real person, because of what he meant to her. Another interesting aspect of this project was the final selective nature required—which body parts a person would suggest Erin keep, and which she should throw away.
Erin is one of the emerging artists selected to represent Wales in the 54th Venice Biennale. Their stay in Venice not only includes curating the Welsh Exhibit, but to involve themselves in a range of creative processes including: research, developing, planning, showcasing and creating.
What were the themes being explored in the project, “I Need You Near Me”?
Erin: “I Need You Near Me” is a project with the exploration of memory at its core. I find that the wallet is a great physical representation of the mind; it is something we carry with us nearly always and holds all of those things that we need to function, perhaps, most importantly the passport-sized photos of our loved ones. Producing a life-sized photograph meant that it would need to be ripped to pieces and discarded, in order to be able to keep them with you always.
There is a belief that your reflection is your soul, so a photograph acting as a permanent and portable reflection is in fact a part of your soul. Many would disagree, denying it was true. However nearly everyone who I came across refused to tear up the life-sized photo of my boyfriend, Sean. They said they would feel guilty; the way they acted seemed to suggest that they were somehow hurting Sean in the process. I found that really interesting.
Did the public’s reaction meet your expectations, disappoint or give you hope?
Erin: It’s hard to take something so important to you and hand the responsibility over to strangers. It’s easy to judge and dismiss people, which I thought people would do to me, so my expectations were low. However I left each of the performances feeling very hopeful. I could never have predicted the moving responses from the public. I have a refreshed outlook on humanity—I feel that empathy is a very beautiful connection we all have.
What do you have planned for your next project?
Erin: I’ve also been working on a project in Venice called “Paper Padlocks”, which is a response to all the padlocks locked onto bridges in Venice by lovers as a symbol of their everlasting love. I’ve spent time casting these padlocks and creating paper versions of them – to highlight the fragility of relationships and how important it is to care for and be delicate with them.
Once I return to Wales I will be preparing for my first solo exhibition. You can keep an eye-out for more information on my website www.erinrickard.co.uk
Your projects seem personal, and yet is clearly influenced by the city of Venice. How does living in this city influence your work?
Erin: This was a challenge for me, my projects are all very personal, and bringing out parts of you that are usually very secret and protected into an environment that you don’t know – is risky and makes you feel vulnerable. These five months apart have been the longest time I’ve not seen him. Being surrounded by couples enjoying the romance of Venice, and seeing their happiness was a large spark for “I Need You Near Me”. It was a hard thing to ignore. But it wasn’t just about me and him, it was about all of us and how we deal with missing someone or even a certain part of our lives that we’ve had to leave behind.
I feel that wherever I go there will be something that speaks to me, but that also depends on my mindset, what I am interested in and how I feel about life at that point in time. So the city influences what direction my projects take, and the personal aspect comes from me experiencing the city.
– Natalie Chin
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