Russell and Robert meet artist Ro Robertson on the eve of their new exhibition 'Subterrane' at Maximilian William gallery in London. The Cornwall based artist works in sculpture, photography, drawing and performance to explore the boundaries of the human body and its environment. Capturing moments, schisms and shifts, their work often explores negative natural spaces to create expanded representations of the figure. Their first solo exhibition has just opened coinciding with Frieze London art fair.
We discuss Robertson’s ongoing body of work titled Stone (Butch) which explores the terrain of the Queer body in the landscape. The term ‘stone butch’ is taken from the lesbian and trans activist Leslie Feinberg’s 1993 novel Stone Butch Blues in which the oppression of lesbian, trans, butch and femme identities is laid bare. Through an interest in terrain, Robertson elucidates upon Feinberg’s metaphoric ‘raincoat layer,’ the layer which protects the body from hostile external forces.
The sculptural articulations of Stone (Butch) are created by plaster casting directly in crevices in natural rock formations at Godrevy Point, St Ives Bay, Cornwall and The Bridestones, West Yorkshire. The ‘sculptural void’ makes physical a negative space created by the power of the sea and air. The sculptures embody a space that is shifting and fluid, reclaiming a natural space for Queer and Butch identity from a history of being deemed ‘against nature’. Robertson sees the natural stone formations as queer forms and changing bodies that are not set in stone, but revealed to us over a long period of time, as fluid structures shaped by water and erosion. Queer bodies which are as fluid as the water that shapes them and as plural as the grains of sand that erode them.
Ro Robertson (they/them) (b. Sunderland 1984) is a contemporary artist based in West Cornwall. They obtained their BA in Fine Art from the Manchester School of Art in 2010. In June 2021, Robertson unveiled their first public sculpture, commissioned for the 10th edition of Sculpture in the City and installed at London’s iconic Gherkin skyscraper until Spring 2022. To coincide with this unveiling, Robertson will perform Stone (Butch): Undercurrents in Nocturnal Creatures, a contemporary art festival programmed by the Whitechapel Gallery and Sculpture in the City. Their second public sculpture – commissioned by Sunderland Council as a legacy to the 700 women who worked in Sunderland’s shipyards – will be unveiled later this year. Their work and writing are featured in Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women Since 1945, (London: Hayward Gallery Publishing, 2020) which was published on the occasion of the eponymous Arts Council Collection exhibition.
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