Artists in Residence: Sophie Robinson & Bettina von Zwehl

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Video Transcript


Sophie Robinson:


It sounded like an amazing opportunity and one that doesn’t come up that much for writers.  I think I’m the first non-visual artist they have had here in terms of doing poetry, but the idea of being able to work with space is really exciting.  Just having a studio and be able to make enormous texts and experiment with how I present the poetry, just automatically being here makes me feel like I want to get something really great done.



Bettina von Zwehl:


Part of our residency proposal was to make a body of work which is inspired by the collection.  So basically the work which you see on these walls is inspired by the miniature paintings here in the galleries. 



Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs:


What is interesting is from what I have seen of your work and from what is in the collection is that the scale is so different, it’s so intimate, it’s very interesting - it feels that you are not particularly looking at photographs in the collections, but other things to inform the photography. 



Sophie Robinson:


‘A repeated pattern,

Each piece a seal for keeping feeling-

Measured to the end of trying

And no edges to push off from.’


When people come in sometimes they see me, and they are here to see the photography but they will stop off and they will say ‘I don’t know anything about poetry, tell me something about poetry.’


Working with the public has been a new thing for me because writing is often in isolation.  When people come in to contact with your work it is because they have chosen to buy your book and it’s made me re-consider how I think about my own work, because I’ve had to talk about it to a non-specialized audience.


Another really nice thing about this residency is that there are two practitioners next door to each other who are working in very different mediums: I’m a poet and Bettina is a photographer.



Bettina von Zwehl:


I call it ‘Sophia’, this project.  It’s a kind of experiment, I’m not sure if it’s even going to work or not because it is something I haven’t done before.  I haven’t photographed a person over a period of time


Martin Barnes:


What kind of dialogue is there between you and the person in your photograph?



Bettina von Zwehl:


We start off as complete strangers, but already sort of nine weeks into the project, we are not strangers any more. 



Sophia Birikorang:


I’ve got an interest in photography but I lost interest in people until I met Bettina, and now I’m going back to taking photographs of people. 



Martin Barnes:


So you’ve been looking at photographing this lady in the same place, every day?



Bettina von Zwehl:


Three times a week.



Martin Barnes:


Do you do it at the same time every day?



Bettina von Zwehl:


Yes, we meet every morning before she starts her shift.



Sophia Birikorang:


This programme has brought out the creative side in me.  Sometimes you put things on the shelf and after starting this project I’m taking some things I put on the shelf back off the shelf and letting my creative side come out.



Sophie Robinson:


My initial proposals were to do with specific collections, and there were definitely specific objects and collections that I wanted to work with, but once I got here I became increasingly interested in the structure of the museum, so I’m not working with specific collections anymore, I’m responding organically to the idea of the museum as a whole, and trying to recreate the museum in the form of little poems.



Bettina von Zwehl:


I definitely have settled in, yeah.  I can’t actually imagine ever leaving at the moment.  I’ve connected with so many parts of the museum and so many people, I just really feel part of it.  Part of my job is to engage with diverse audiences, so I’ve been involved in a workshop with autistic school-children, and I’m going to be doing a workshop with partially-sighted people and I am going to run it together with a partially-sighted photographer.



Sophie Robinson:


‘With years to still heel

Purple bruises at the soft joints of her

As she, is variously showing me all of this

And the sun is at the window of the room

And of the soft edges of this body I wish to tidy’


My most recent book ‘She’ is exploring the figure of the lesbian in culture. 

Whilst some of it is autobiographical, there is a lot of research that goes into it, and that is something very useful that I’ve been able to carry over into my work at the V&A.


I suppose my approach to my project, because it’s so organic, I’ve tried to go with the surprises and sort of roll with it, and let the people that I meet and the objects that I encounter here kind of guide the project, so I’m trying to be open to the surprises.


The innovative Museum Residency Programme at the V&A gives designers, writers, makers, musicians and artists of all kinds the opportunity to have a studio in the museum for six months.

This film looks at the V&A's Residency Programme following a 'day in the life' of Poetry Resident Sophie Robinson and Photography Resident Bettina von Zwehl (January - June 2011).