Creative Constellations – Marie-Chantal Hamrock

The first in a new series of posts, Creative Constellations looks at how we engage with artists.

Carried out as a reflective exercise, we asked a number of artists from our past, present and future programmes to share their thoughts on what it is like to work with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art. We’re sharing these conversations to celebrate these relationships, to inform future working practices and to demystify the experience for other artists.

Existing as a project funded organisation often necessitates new relationships and as an artist led organisation we can be excited by new themes and new lines of enquiry. However, we recognise the value of our deep roots and have established a rhythmical and intentional process of developing ongoing relationships with artists to work in new capacities across multiple programmes, nurturing practices in a mutually beneficial manner whilst growing the Fermynwoods family.

Our first Creative Constellations artist is Marie-Chantal Hamrock. For her film There is Something in the Ground, There is Something in the Sky, Marie references the verb “to slew”, meaning to turn about a fixed point. We have interpreted this term as a metaphor for artists constellating in Fermynwoods orbit

What I see I’ll never tell, Marie-Chantal Hamrock, 2023

Can you provide a brief overview of your artistic practice?

I’m a visual artist and writer based in Aberdeen. Blurring the line between the real and the imagined, my work explores themes of extractivism, folk tradition, and esoteric practices through speculative fiction. I’m a practice based PhD student at Gray’s School of Art, looking at maritime communities in the north-east of Scotland. I’m particularly interested in how speculative fictions can emerge from both industrial and post-industrial places and communities. Her works are often poetic tributes to hidden histories. These semi fictional narratives are activated through props, performances and video.

What were your impressions of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art before working with us?

I was aware of Fermynwoods because I had been part of a study trip to visit Corby when I was in my second year at Gray’s School of Art, and my tutor David Blyth had been working there.

As a budding artist who had only scratched the surface of what art ‘could be’ I was moved by the ethos of Fermynwoods and their active engagement with vulnerable people. At the time, I had not before considered how important it is to make art accessible to wider audiences, and Fermynwoods seemed to be an organisation that contributed greatly to communities of people who needed the powers of art most.

I felt delighted to be able to work with Fermynwoods after I graduated in 2020.

How did you first become involved with Fermynwoods?

Just after submitting my final work at Gray’s School of Art, which Fermynwoods Director James Steventon had been the External Examiner for, I was encouraged to apply for Fermynwoods’ 2020 Triple Harvest commission: remixing Corby heritage films to create new narratives through the extraction of archival film material.

This was my first time being commissioned by anyone or any organisation and paid to make work.

There is Something in the Ground, There is Something in the Sky - Marie-Chantal Hamrock

How did Fermynwoods support you in the first instance?

Fermynwoods were incredibly supportive. As this was the first instance of my work being commissioned I was not very confident in many aspects of being paid as a professional artist. The Fermynwoods team were always available if I had any questions, even with regards to how to draft my first invoice. I saw that same generous glimmer of what I had witnessed in my undergraduate visit in 2018. I was treated with care and patience as a young professional who still required guidance – without ever being patronised or spoken down to.

How has Fermynwoods contributed to your artistic growth and development since then?

Fermynwoods has continued to work with me, which has made a huge contribution to my artistic growth and development both professionally but also within my own practice.

I have been given so much wonderful working opportunities through Fermynwoods, which have been hugely beneficial for my professional development and my growing portfolio.

I have spoken before about the strong links that connect Corby and Aberdeen, and the magical mirroring that occurs between my practice that was so shaped by my studies in Aberdeen, and the industrial histories of Corby. I feel I have found somewhat of a Kindred Spirit that has pushed me to work in new and exciting ways.

Were there any specific skills or knowledge that you gained through working with the organisation?

I know this may seem like something small, but it has meant so much to me – I previously mentioned the invoices that James showed me how to draft. Not only did James show me something practical, but he also showed me how they could be an artwork in themselves which has brought joy into a bureaucratic task!

Through working on Triple Harvest and later an original Fermynwoods Podcast commission I was able to gain confidence in my emerging voice as an artist – and realising that I did have something worthy to contribute to the field.

And specifically throughout the last couple of years working on the Xylophobia season of the Podcast, I have become more confident in my broadcasting and interviewing skills, while also working in a critical and analytical way with other artists who often teach me valuable things about how and why they make the work they do.

I must also stress that being able to write the introduction for each artist or coming up with questions to ask them is perhaps one of my favourite tasks and I try to relish every moment of it!

How else have you worked with Fermynwoods since the original commission?

Since my original commission I have continued to work with Fermynwoods in various ways. I did an Instagram takeover after the physical Triple Harvest – The Archives exhibition, which itself followed the online Triple Harvest show.

I was then commissioned to produce a sound work for the first season of the Fermynwoods Contemporary Art Podcast – a continuation of the work I made for the original commission.

I was also kindly asked to produce an image for the Breathing In Art project during the global pandemic – producing a facemask inspired by a Walt Whitman poem.

Most recently, I have continued to work for Fermynwoods on a regular basis through SUBTERRA, by curating the Fermynwoods Podcast throughout the Xylophobia and now Love + Light programmes.

Pluto-scope, Marie-Chantal Hamrock, 2020

What advice would you give to other artists considering working with Fermynwoods?

I would definitely encourage other artists to work with Fermynwoods, and this is because I know first hand that they will be treated with respect and be paid fairly for the work that they create.

It feels like a safe place to work that will fully support you and be open to your ideas. Most of all, I think it is hard to find arts organisations that are as transparent with their goals and always aim to be as inclusive as possible whilst working towards them.

I would also advise, as I do with most artists, to ask for help when you need it. I advise this knowing full well that Fermynwoods will endeavour to do whatever they can to help in any way possible.

How would you like to work with Fermynwoods in future?

I really enjoy my role as the Podcast Curator, which I share with Astrid Bjorklund and I look forward to future work that may come out of this.

Aside from the Podcast, I’d really love to do a residency down in Northamptonshire for a period of time.

I feel like I am part of the community Fermynwoods have built and I would love to take that in physically as it has contributed to and enriched my artistic practice in many ways. There is something magical happening down there, in that place where Pluto is the Core.