Chambre Fluide - Hello Georgie, let’s start talking about what intrigues you, such as the impact of socio-political conditions on ecosystems and environmental changes influencing human life. What was the trigger of your interest in these topics?
Georgie Brinkman - If I were to pinpoint a specific time, I would say it was when I was living in Australia, the year after I graduated from my BA. I became so in awe of the beautiful birds there and unbelievable bird calls. This led me on a path to researching bird extinction, and a terrible realisation of the impact of British colonial activity in Australia on avian populations. In particular, I undertook a residency (as part of collaborative duo ZOOX) at Culture at Work in Sydney that allowed me to make a field trip to Norfolk Island. This tiny Pacific island has one of the worst rates of bird extinction on the planet, largely due to the implementation of British penal colonies there. This project was really the trigger of now five years of research into the impact of human activity on animal and plant extinction.
CF: Where do your works rise from and how do they develop? Where do you take inspiration from?
GB: I suppose you would say that most of my works take their point of departure from scientific studies or news events. From these sources I collect lists of what I deem to be interesting ‘facts’ or snippets of information. This could be something like: leeches have 32 brains. These ideas can then sometimes merge together, or somehow influence the structure of a work. This normally develops in a narrative way. So, the leech with 32 brains might make an appearance as a character somewhere in my work, or it might influence a poem about leeches that has 32 lines, one for each brain.
In recent years during my MA I have been making more material investigations to develop my works. Take, for example, All was Ocean! All was Joy! (Or, How the Humans Broke the Ocean’s Heart). I knew I wanted to make a work about sea slugs, and whilst the script and storyline was still developing I spent time making models and props that were influenced by the characteristics of sea slugs. In trying to replicate their soft, translucent, gelatinous bodies I ended up making gummy sweet versions of the slugs from sugar and agar agar. This then leads to a moment in the film where the sea slugs are eaten by humans. So this material investigation led directly in the structuring of the work.
CF: Tell us about your work All was Ocean! All was Joy! (Or, How the Humans Broke the Ocean’s Heart).
GB: Well, it was a project of quite intense labour where I took on a number of roles. I went filming on location to the Oosterscheldekering (a Dutch storm surge barrier) by myself which was quite an intense experience, but one that helped me to carry out my aim to make a film where not simply about the North Sea, but with the North Sea. I approached the filming with no script and no storyboard, simply taking the props and characters I had made to the environment and letting this interaction shape the subsequent narrative. Luckily, back in Scheveningen, where I live, I was able to get my partner to film the scenes that I was present in.
The aim of the film was to continue my ongoing exploration into how multi-species storytelling can result in more sustainable ecological living. I am quite convinced that nurturing empathetic relationships with other animals is one of the ways that we as humans can rethink our understandings of the planet, and make some headway in slowing down the catastrophic damage we impart. I believe that storytelling is the best way to foster empathy and understanding.
Perhaps a short synopsis of the film might be useful here…
Through a dreamt conversation with the North Sea, in a world that exists in the mind's eye, the barrier is revealed as not only a physical but an allegorical divide erected by humanity in order to separate Fact from Fiction. Here, stories live in the salty depths of the ocean and are filtered through The Fact Checker (AKA the Oosterscheldekering) until the hard truths are revealed and solidified as rock deposits in the freshwater. However, reality is called into question when a group of otherworldly sea slugs become entangled with the story of Nehalennia, the ancient Goddess of the North Sea.
CF: Georgie, you are from London, but you are currently living in The Netherlands. Does this new place influence your artistic research, opening it to new possibilities of growth?
GB: Yes, I think being in a new environment is always a stimulant for artistic growth as it allows you to be in a place where everything feels fresh. This always generates new feelings and new knowledge. In particular I have found this country’s management of water really fascinating, which I believe is a common (maybe even clichéd!) observation from newcomers. For someone who makes work from an ecological perspective I have found it very influential to see the measures that the Dutch go to in order to control the sea from flooding the land. It has resulted in me questioning my perceptions about what constitutes a living being, and learning about ways that natural entities like rivers and oceans are attributed personhood in both social and legal frameworks.
I moved here to study MA Artistic Research at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, and this has facilitated a huge amount of growth in my practice. Being in an environment with artists from all parts of the globe (in a cohort of 10 we came from 8 different countries) has been invaluable for widening my understanding and perspectives on art-making.
Georgie Brinkman is a British artist and researcher whose work treads a precarious ground between science-fiction and science-fact (and the muddy sludge in between), to ask what it means to be human in the age of extinction. By casting other-than-humans as leading protagonists in her films, writing and installations she seeks to pull apart the anthropocentric perception of a division between nature and culture.
She recently graduated from MA Artistic Research at The Royal Academy, The Hague where she was supported through a scholarship from the Leverhulme Trust. Alongside her individual practice she works as part of collaborative duo ZOOX, and founded artist residency The New Flesh, for artists working at the intersection of costume and moving image.
All was Ocean! All was Joy! (Or, How the Humans Broke the Ocean’s Heart), 32:9 video, 17:58 mins
Installation view - All was Ocean! All was Joy! (Or, How the Humans Broke the Ocean’s Heart), 32:9 video, 17:58 mins
All images © Georgie Brinkman