Fascinated by the animal kingdom, alternate folklore and her own internal world of private symbolism, artist and musician Ruby Tingle deconstructs and reworks familiar images, objects, and sounds to assemble new, ambiguous and extraordinary forms. Here we catch up with Tingle to find out how her practice has evolved during the course of her six-week summer residency at PAPER.
A lot of your work is about exploring the liminal: the space between the auditory and the visual, the familiar and the unfamiliar, art and life. What significance does this in-between-space hold for you?
There are fine lines and numerous subtleties in everything we experience, and it’s important for me to reference this delicate balance and the power it holds within my work. Overtime, I feel that I have also developed my own, internal in-between-space, which acts as a kind of filing cabinet of private metaphors and thoughts. I often draw upon this when creating work, using it like a catalogue I can look through in order to find a specific image.
Private symbolism and folklore play an important role in your work. How and when did this internal world develop and can you tell us anything more about it?
Since childhood I began assigning emotional significance to certain happenings, occurrences, symbols and subjects, which I have carried with me ever since. These meanings have developed overtime into a personal language made up of recurring thoughts, dreams, specific words or phrases.
Folklore as a form of storytelling also interests me, particularly because of the way that its narratives are embellished and change over time, being passed along and personalised by each teller. I think expressing ideas in this way mirrors the practice of collage, which in turn has led to how I see collage as something that extends into all areas of life.
I find it easy to externalise particular aesthetics and my ‘internal world’ because it comes from a very natural place and out of a lifelong interest in a sense of ‘otherness’ that I believe I am experiencing.
Your art has a very surrealist quality and strikes me as being deeply preoccupied with the unconscious. What do you think you’ve uncovered through the process of your work?
I have found a way of expressing my unsayable things visually. I find the process of collage itself to be an unconscious sorting process; when practiced, meticulously choosing and assembling imagery is a hypnotic experience. I never remember the process of writing a song once it’s ‘finished’– it’s like coming out of a trance. I think I look to surrealist methods such as collage and automatic drawing because I feel they hold connection with something very real yet intangible.
Can you describe your own understanding of humans’ relationships with animals and what interests you about it?
I often flit between feeling like an animal dressed in clothes, completely connected with the living things that share this planet; to feeling extremely human and separate, proud of our best qualities (such as our ability to philosophise, make art, invent and possess emotional values). Anthropomorphism is prevalent today and often prevents people from finding an interest in or love of beings that they are unable to humanise. I am completely guilty of adhering to and promoting anthropomorphism myself – it’s one of my favorite subjects – but I’m always aware that it is fabrication when dealing with real animals.
Also, as satisfied as I am with the selection of creatures that we share our planet with, I often wonder if there are not more we don’t know about. I like to deconstruct and rework animal imagery to make suggestions about how an alternate natural history of unknown or mythologised animals might look. I like to think I am documenting them in some way. Zoology is wonderful, but so is cryptozoology; a subject that is disappointingly still ridiculed, yet the two should go hand-in-hand.
You’ve recently begun using spectrograms (a method of visually representing the frequencies in a sound or other signal) to explore animal calls during your residency at PAPER. What interests you about this and what did the process reveal?
Spectrograms appealed to me as a kind of visual representation of animal language, much like our written word. They also form interesting patterns and ‘landscapes’, and I wanted to see if automatically drawn responses to music and animal sounds reflected these graphs in some way. Essentially, whether something more biological could be expressed.
I produced a number of pieces in charcoal in response to recorded sound samples (which will also feature in my upcoming album). It was intriguing to see the visual correlation between the graph readings and automatic drawings of a particular sound, without prior observation. The more abstract process has also allowed me to reintroduce mark making within my works on paper, alongside collage, after having previously struggled to express the forms I wanted to figuratively. The drawn elements now have weight to them and are rooted in the subject matter, whilst the technique has also provided a new way of writing music.
I found speaking to visitors during each PAPER gallery open studio event to be a very revealing and valuable experience. The question often arose as to whether I had synesthesia, and perhaps ‘saw’ sound. I do tend to ‘see’ music and take a certain ‘palette’ into consideration when recording my own; with some sounds and instruments not always fitting. It is something that I’ve never considered before, but am now excited at the prospect of developing new work that takes advantage of this ‘sense’.
You often place yourself within your work, both physically and psychologically. Does the same cross-over apply in your everyday life, or is there a clear separation? How would you describe your transition between the two worlds?
There is little or no separation. I place myself within my work to create portraits or scenarios where I feel I can express and document a certain current aspect of myself. It has never really occurred to me not to be or live my artwork, because I feel that it is fundamentally ‘me’. The subjects I deal with are areas of my life that I actually experience, whether consciously or subconsciously. Whether I physically feature within each piece or not, my visual works tend to bare some likeness to how people recognise me – such as how I dress, for example. This applies to my music as well; I am still drawing from something instinctive, regardless of the shift in medium.
You’re now looking into expanding your collage methods sculpturally and working on a larger scale. What prompted this and how do you see your work developing in the future?
Collage can be limiting in terms of scale and I wanted to use my residency at PAPER as an opportunity to expand; photocopying and enlarging, folding and resisting the urge to stick things down! Letting go of a familiar way of working prompted me to make sculptural pieces and form the beginnings of installations. I tried all the things I have previously been too scared to do, and pushed though creative barriers using paper as a core material. I expect the three areas of my practice (works on paper, performance and music) should continue to become more closely entwined as I continue to expand and refine my media. I would like to carry out further investigation into three dimensional ways of working, and envision future collages taking shape as installations on a much larger scale.
Ruby Tingle’s upcoming solo exhibition at PAPER gallery opens on 7 January 2016.
Tingle works as an artist in Manchester after graduating from Manchester School of Art in 2011. An associate artist at PAPER Gallery and Artist in Residence at the Manchester College on the Contemporary Art Practice Degree, she was also awarded runner up in the GM Arts Prize 2016.
Recent exhibitions include sluice___2015; Sound and Vision, PAPER; Manchester Free For Arts 2016 and Utopia: Dystopia as part of Fringe Arts Bath. Along with undertaking the Exploring Paper Residency Programme. She has also recently exhibited at East Street Arts in Leeds and at West Studios in Derbyshire.
Words by Sara Jaspan.