02/06/18Image: Cos Ahmet 'Memory Threads II', 2016. Photograph by Yeshen Venema
Inspirational Magazine Issue 15
Interview conducted by John Hopper
Launched May 2018
Cos Ahmet’s work revolves around the human body. Around it’s feelings. Parameters, understandings and projections of what it is to be human, what it is to be alive. Cos and his work first featured in Inspirational Issue 9.
Creatively, the representation of the human body in all its ideas and references is important to you. Why is that?
For me, the human body is a carrier of our inner most thoughts, secrets, memories, emotions, fears and sexual desires. Wrapped up in a bundle and deposited in a reliquary of ourselves for us to chance upon and unearth like a Pandora’s Box. In essence we all have an archive that we are constantly excavating. I tend to play on this idea that we still don’t understand everything there is about ourselves, but am mindful in keeping some of the mystery. Francis Bacon once said, “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery”.
I have used the body for as long as I can remember. The body within my work has not always been represented as something that we all recognise and are familiar with, and is sometimes presented as an abstract – an organic or sexual object, a symbolic bodily form or gesture, anything that is not of our perceived idea of what a human body looks like, but links to being human.
So is there an element of your work where you and your body are part of this exploration?
Yes. I have always entertained the use of casts from my own body in my work. These only go so far as the hands, head or face at the moment. The mask entered my work many years ago, and has stuck with me as this ghostly entity, the other side. Both are important emotive features in my work. The hands are the creators, the gesture makers; the head/face is for thought, sight and memory. Both are my channels in creating. The head/face and hand will always be part of my creations. I have suggested other parts of my body in certain works, and would like to explore the suggested body and the sexual body in my work, which were present in early works when I was dealing with my sexuality. I see my sexuality and my body differently now, and exploring this avenue once more would be interesting.
Your work is haunting. It asks us so many questions about what it is to be physically and mentally present. What do you think it is to be human?
We are really complex beings, so I think being human is something really challenging. A lot of the time it is about dealing with how you perceive yourself and are perceived by others. Who are we? The works I create are occupied with finding out ‘who’ I am. Alter egos, or as I like to refer to them ‘altered states’ are one of my ways of dealing with these issues. I tend to appear in my works in a variety of guises, with more recent works, bearing more physical self-representation, but still act out other parts through my own being. I guess I haunt my own works and haunt the places that I show them. This is probably most evident in my largest exhibition to date: Points of Juncture, set in a 17th century Jacobean manor house called Forty Hall, and these are the works I present in this issue.
What drew you as an artist to work within the textile field?
Textiles surrounded my childhood, mainly the female family members either sewing, knitting or making clothes, but it never crossed your mind as a medium to work with until I went to study at college. I really wanted to go into 3-D and sculpture, but was always told I was more ‘textile based’. As soon as I started exploring textiles and especially weaving, things changed and fell into place. I suddenly realised that this would be the medium that I could eventually make objects and sculptural work from. Weaving was a new thing to me back then. When I went on to do my degree, woven tapestry stood out from all the rest. It was so fresh, different, versatile, sculptural, but such a primitive way of creating – one of the oldest methods of weaving, which was another draw; making something contemporary and fresh with an ancient method. Typically, I wanted to push the limits of this medium, and did exactly that, and even more so when I was being forced to conform to a more traditional way of working, that just wasn’t me!
What connects you to your work, and your work to you?
There is only one simple and short explanation: I am my work and my work is me. I love this quote from Louise Bourgeois: “I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands”.
Everyone has a unique perspective on life. What is yours, and how is it reflected in your work?
Life is a constant evolving and unfinished commentary of self. I guess I reflect this in my work as an ongoing sequence of events. As I said before, we do not give up all our secrets at once, and this is what intrigues me to make works that address these very questions about identity.
What brings you joy in being a creative artist?
Firstly, being able to express myself through a creative process and see something grow, and come to life. Secondly, it gives me immense pleasure to watch somebody connect to my work and to take something unique from that experience. That’s why I love being an artist. We are the storytellers, the thought provokers and the healers.
How has your work developed since Inspirational originally featured you (Inspirational 9: March 2016)?
Wow, is it already 2 years ago? I seem to remember presenting a huge array of works from my practice, almost like an overview of my practice. As you know, ‘textiles’ is not the only discipline that I use, so I guess I was trying to show a breadth of work. Since then and in the run-up to that issue being published my work was already developing and changing. It has become more solid in its conception and execution. Also, sculpture and installation had become an important part for presenting my works. I feel more resolved in myself and with the new work. It has grown and I have grown with it.
Last Summer I was commissioned by Forty Hall Estate to make a site-specific work to sit alongside existing works for my one-man exhibition ‘Points of Juncture’. It was my response to the identity of this 17th century Jacobean manor house, its history and the legacy that was left behind by its former owner and creator Sir Nicholas Rainton. Forty Hall was built upon a textile legacy – a wealth that Rainton had amassed as a textile mercer. My response was a installation piece called ‘Building A Legacy’ (2017). Comprising a series of open hand casts as the central motif, holding a bobbin (known as a pirn), wound with yarns and threads sitting in each palm.
These hands symbolised: the hand that made the cloth (the weaver), the hand of the creator (the artist, as well as Rainton). They also allude to a flotilla of ships importing these textiles (the mercer) – the casts mimic a ship, the pirn the ship’s mast, but also its cargo. They also suggested the shuttles in the weaving process – known as ‘boat shuttles’, these objects house the bobbin that carries the fine yarn through the warps on the looms.
When it came to making the hands, I tried to imagine myself in this vast play, acting out the various characters, each with their hand in making history. All the hands are individual and cast from my own. I invested time with them, got to know them intimately - and although they all seem quite similar, each has its own identity, but all part of one fleet.
What are you working on at the moment?
Over that past few months I have been working on a publication that documents my recent three month long one-man exhibition ‘Points of Juncture’ at Forty Hall Estate. The idea is to create a legacy out of the works and the exhibition. The launch will be some time this Summer, almost exactly a year after the exhibition was staged.
Where do you see you and your work going next?
That is a hard question to give a definitive answer to. I like to go about creating in a very organic way, and tend to let things fall into place of their own accord. It is more interesting for me to me to listen to the work and not control it. It is strange really, as it is completely opposite to how I conduct the rest of my life. I guess the creative side is a good foil and a place for me to be free.
I am taking a sabbatical to research into new projects and start experimenting again in the studio, taking works I created over that last couple of years and developing them further.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or events through 2018 that you’d like to tell us about?
at Sloe Gallery, Manchester.
19 May to 23 June 2018
‘Chromophobia’ is a group exhibition presented by SLOE Gallery, featuring work by Cos Ahmet, Alexandra Francis, Sadie Hennessy, Asuf Ishaq, Amy Mizrahi, Robin Sukatorn and Alistair Woods, exploring the theme of 'chromophobia' - the fear of, or the aversion to, colour. I will be showing one of my soft sculptures ‘My Tears Form Structure’.
Book / Publication Launches:
Yuck ‘n Yum Compendium
Back in 2013, I was invited to be Cover Artist-in-Residence for Yuck 'n Yum, designing four covers for their quarterly zine. After a period of rest, 2018 saw the return of Yuck 'n Yum, and this May they published a compendium of all their zines and projects since 2008. The Compendium contains over 600 pages and celebrates every zine ever published along with flyers, interviews, photography and assorted miscellany, showcasing its various cover artists and contributing artists from each issue. The Compendium was launched simultaneously at Generator Projects in Dundee and at SOIL Gallery in Seattle, in conjunction with Yuck 'n Yum's new exhibition 'Interregnum'.
‘Points of Juncture: An Exhibition by Cos Ahmet’ Book Launch
The past few months I have been working alongside Forty Hall Estate and designers Gale + Hayes, on my long awaited publication ‘Points of Juncture’. Following my one-man exhibition at Forty Hall Estate in 2017, this forthcoming publication celebrates the exhibition's connections with the artist, the works that inhabited Forty Hall, and the legacy left behind by its former owner and creator Sir Nicholas Rainton. To compliment the installation views taken during the exhibition (photography by Yeshen Venema), this book contains texts and essays written by Hatice Abdullah (Forty Hall Manager), Liz Cooper (Curator), and Cos Ahmet (the artist). This project, exhibition and publication would not have been possible without the generous support of Arts Council England.
Read the article online here