Tamarin Norwood is an artist and writer who takes flight from various stimuli including text, video and sculptural installation to create original work that explores the idea of gesture and pictorial figuration. She is currently artist in residence at Spike Island.

Tamarin studied at The University of Oxford, gaining a Bachelors degree in Medieval Italian and Linguistics, before embarking on an MFA in Art Writing at Goldsmiths in London and finally returning to Oxford where she is currently working on her PhD in Art Practice, titled ‘Drawing: The Point of Contact.’  Her work has been commissioned by the Tate Britain, Modern Art Oxford and the London Word Festival. Tamarin has also authored several books on her art, including the recent olololo publication.

Her current project, titled ‘What the Point is: The End of the Line’ is in residency at Spike Island where Tamarin is working alongside researchers, practitioners, animators. choreographers, 3D print engineers and a sign language translator – to explore how time and three-dimensional space impact upon the form of drawing and writing. Tamarin will be hosting a series of public conversations, presentations and live experiments as her new body of work evolves throughout the year.

Tamarin Norwood ‘What the Point is: The End of the Line’ will be in residency at Spike Island until the end of 2016.  Beginning on 2 April, through to 10 July, Tamarin will be hosting a number of events at Spike Island.  To find out more:  www.pointlinetime.net

Q&A with Tamarin Norwood

It seems that your artwork spans so many disciplines and stimuli — would you say that you take inspiration from all sorts of catalysts?

Yes and no. A couple of years ago I looked around at the artwork I’d been making and realised the stimulus for almost everything in the studio was the point of contact between the pencil and the page. A dot! Without really knowing it, all the questions I’d been asking in my artwork had been about this tiny, ever-moving, myopic point of contact with the page. I’m now thinking more intently about this dot, and I’m learning more about it by feeling my way, almost with my eyes closed, in directions that present themselves as I go along. For instance, I noticed something about the way the hand moves when it draws a figure on the page; this led me to research calligraphy, then dance, then choreography. I read something about the white space of the page in poetry which led me to experiment with 3D printing techniques, in relation to writing but also to drawing. I watched someone translate a dialogue into British Sign Language and something about it made me think about that point of contact with the page. To better understand the connection I was half-seeing, I took a beginners’ course in BSL, learned about sign linguistics, and devised a couple of collaborative performances with deaf poets and actors. From the outside, these all look like different disciplines, but in practice I’ve approached each one from the inside, and from there have tried to persuade all of these ideas, techniques and forms to meet and interact over this little dot—they all occupy in ways that are quite different but also startlingly alike.

Do you aim to produce coherent pieces that feed into one another and have a tangible structure, or do you prefer not to restrict your creativity by having preconceptions?

I don’t tend to work with a plan. I make things that interest me, and I make them by asking questions that interest me, but I don’t tend to know why these particular things and questions capture my attention. An analogy might be a sense of humour: you know what makes you laugh because it arrests you in a certain way, but you couldn’t necessarily explain why. I know an idea is worth pursuing when it arrests me in a certain way. It’s only when I look back over a few years of art-making that I notice the same ideas and interests turning up again and again in different guises. My interest in the point of contact between pencil and page has turned up in videos I’ve made, in drawings, in sculptural assemblages made of funnels, glass tubes, projectors, masking tape, in bits of prose fiction and critical writing. At the time, I might not be thinking about the point of the stylus at all, but in retrospect these works all have something to say about it. I’m sure they speak about other things too, which I haven’t yet noticed, or which only another person could spot.

How does an initial thought or concept develop into a fully fledged piece of artwork, and does the process vary depending on the stimulus?

I have a suspicion that I’m interested in the point of contact between the pencil and the page because it’s emblematic of a certain kind of making process that goes on in my studio. A kind of blind, groping process of making; making decisions based on what’s immediately in front of me at the time; proceeding according to the logic or the practical needs of the materials I’m handling, at the breaking edge of their coming into being. It’s rare that an idea for an artwork occurs to me fully formed, so that all I have to do is create it. More often an idea will develop gradually over days or weeks or months of open-ended experimentation with forms, materials and ideas. As a rule, those few artworks that occur to me fully formed turn out to reveal something unexpected once I’ve actually made them, and then I pull them apart, extract that unexpected thing and use it as raw material for more experimentation.

You studied Medieval Italian & Linguistics at the University of Oxford – do you feel that this shaped the person you are today, and how have you drawn upon these experiences in your artwork?  

Those four years were the first time I’d concentrated on a single discipline for such a long time, and I loved it, I’m sure something of that very focused, research-based approach to working has stayed with me as a result. Thematically too, there’s no question that the work I make involves language, linguistic form and abstraction, even if for me linguistic form need not involve words—it might mean a certain kind of structure or structuring principle, certain agreements among elements of a set, certain ways of thinking about representation across drawing and writing. But after that I went to Central Saint Martins and then Goldsmiths to learn about making art. I’m sure those years at art school, and the studio cultures and communities they brought with them, have had a greater influence on the way I work and my understanding of what it means to do research.

Your CV is incredibly vast and quite intimidating to the onlooker!  What would you say is the biggest achievement and the one which you feel most proud of?

I hope it isn’t intimidating! There’s one thing that keeps coming up time and again when I look back over the work I’ve done so far—it turns up in every talk I give, no matter what aspect of my artwork I’m talking about. In 2012 I did a short artist residency at Modern Art Oxford. While I was there I made a two-screen video installation called ‘Keeping Time,’ and as a partner piece to the video I worked with Book Works Studio in London to make a limited edition artist book called ‘olololo’. These two pieces manage to pin down this elusive ‘dot’ more eloquently than I’ve ever managed in words. Last year I had a solo exhibition at SE8 Gallery in London, called ‘What the Point is: The End of the Line’. I put a great deal of care into a new body of detailed work, and the work, the working process and my conversations with the curators have been hugely important to the way I’ve come to see my practice. My son was born while I was preparing for the show and I was really happy to see the exhibition neatly finished and installed in good time as if everything were under control!

What do you appreciate most about working in Bristol working at Spike Island?  How has Bristol’s artistic community acted as inspiration for your work?

Every time I visit Bristol I imagine moving here, for those very reasons. A few of the collaborators I’m working with live in Bristol or have ties to the city, and through the residency I’ve begun to make links with local groups and institutions to exchange ideas and share resources. Being part of Spike Island has been a fantastic way to meet other artists, wander around studios and talk about the way we’re working. It’s been great to discover how many other artists in the building are exploring drawing in parallel ways, and I’m looking forward to continuing some of these conversations when I move back into the studio.

Meanwhile my daily walk along the harbourside became quite important to the way I worked. On my way home each evening I’d record my thoughts about what had happened in the studio that day, and I’d listen back to the recording on my way back the following morning. I’ve never worked like this before, and I think it occurred to me because of something about the busy-ness of the Harbourside—how it’s always in movement even when there’s nobody about, with the waterways, bridges, footpaths, roads, slipways and disused tracks weaving through one another’s paths in a way that feels both meandering and deliberate, a bit like the way I work in the studio. I’ve no doubt the waterways have contributed thematically to the work I’ve been making too. I’m beginning to research connections between navigating through water and the process of drawing, and when I’m back in spring I hope to get out onto the water to learn more about how anchors and rudders and tillers work.

Your current residency at Spike Island, ‘Point Line Time’ continues until the end of the year. How long has this been in process for, and what is the experience of collaborating with various domains bringing to your work?

That’s right. It runs for twelve months throughout 2016, and I’m spending the time finding out about the space and time that hovers around the page while drawing is happening. The title of the residency, Point Line Time, is a play on the geometric rules surrounding the point, the line and the plane, and it’s an invitation to imagine the point and the line being drawn against the surface of time rather than the surface of the page.

The residency began in January with an intensive three weeks’ work in the Spike Island residency studio, and I’ll return to the studio in April and again in July. When I’m not in Bristol I’m continuing to work on the project in my Oxford studio, and I’m also in contact with a handful of researchers and practitioners across a range of disciplines. Through spring and summer I’m inviting them to Spike for a series of public discussions, presentations and performances. These contributions, some of which are very collaborative, are bringing not just new bodies of knowledge but also new working methods and ways of thinking. There’s something about working alongside another practitioner, ideas and processes meeting and diverging over and over again like all the paths and tracks on the harbourside, that can be immensely productive in completely unexpected ways.

Your real-time blog on your residency website enables us to follow your thoughts and insights to your own work – do you feel that this is a significant reflective process that enables you to develop your work? In what ways will you use this to propel your next venture?

When I was working in studio in January I tried to post something on the blog every day or two. Quite often I’d post partial transcripts of those recordings I’d been making along the harbourside; there were also videos, photos and descriptions of what was happening in the studio, and some things I wanted specific collaborators to see as part of our ongoing conversations. Since leaving Bristol I’ve continued to post notes, photos, links and some more carefully researched bits of writing. The important thing about the blog is that these are all scraps, all partial and unfinished, and generally posted quite spontaneously, without trying to read too much into them at the time. This spontaneity is another way of trying to let the project progress somewhat blindly, feeling its way like the tip of a pencil on paper, only able to see the matter in hand—and now and again I will be stepping back from the page, so to speak, and reading through the whole blog to see what kind of picture is emerging. That picture will gradually turn into a new book I’ll be developing with Spike Island to conclude the residency, and I’m sure it will continue to inform my artwork long after the year’s end.