Rhona Sword (She/Her)
My practice is centred around themes of routine and household tasks as I attempt to deconstruct the mythological figure of the artist. Using processes and materials traditionally associated with feminine labour such as embroidery and the typewriter, I aim to shine light on aspects of more traditional work connected to an artist’s practice. As well as using materials more commonly tied to labour, I focus on the unseen or hidden aspects of creative production in order to unpack the myths of divine inspiration within artistic practice. By doing so, my goal is to address the political concerns that arise from ideas of the myths of creativity, which often turn art into an elitist and inaccessible practice.
In the studio, I am led by process rather than outcome as I try to achieve a meditative state through the production of works. What matters most is not the final work, but the detritus that is left behind by the journey towards completion. Alongside an investigation into the routine of studio practice, the theme of artistic waste forms a key aspect of my investigation as a way of renegotiating the artist’s value in our current cultural climate and improving the collective understanding of what artistic work means.
In my work, I use the device of the archive in order to collect and present the detritus of the creative process. By positioning the artist as the subject of practice in an investigation into the relationship between biography and artwork, I aim to question the importance of physical and economic limitations on creative practices, and negotiate the impact of these on our understanding.
Rhona Sword is an artist originally from the North of Scotland. After completing her foundation year at Leith School of Art, she moved to Glasgow to study at The Glasgow School of Art, where she is about to graduate in Fine Art – Painting and Printmaking. Her practice investigates myths surrounding the figure of the artist and aims to deconstruct the elitist sense of the occult in the art world. She has been involved in exhibitions in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Vancouver; most notably she showed her work with Tinderbox Collective in the Edinburgh Festival of Sound last year, at the V&A in Dundee for Tay Late: Press Play in 2019. She is also the co-founder of New Wave Press, an online platform for production that aims to put emerging artists in conversation with each other during the isolation of the pandemic.
“Amateur craft is inherently dependent on the routines of everyday life; the division of labour, entrepreneurship, the adulation of productivity, and the accumulation of capital. Yet it simultaneously constitutes a spatial-temporal zone in which these structures can be stretched, quietly subverted and exaggerated.” – Stephen Knott, Amateur Craft: History and Theory
In Housework, I wanted to address political concerns of work and labour using materials associated with feminine labour such as embroidery and scrim. As well as their feminist connotations, these materials also deal with concepts of time, emphasised by the accumulation of mark making or stitching within the work.
My work is heavily informed by underlying structures, patterns and plans – what goes unseen behind the making of a work of art? In this series I attempt to make this visual though motifs ranging from architectural plans to charts taken from data tracking apps on my phone.
By using materials associated with work, I have been able to distinguish two forms of labour as distinct. The pieces in Housework present a view of ‘productive labour’, whilst those in What Does An Artist Do All Day? present work seen as ‘secondary’ (tasks such as cleaning, tracked via data logs)
What Does An Artist Do All Day? (The Archive)
The routines, habits and laborious practices of the artist make up the central theme of this series through their repositioning towards an equal standing with works traditionally considered as ‘finished’. What is the detritus left behind from the creative process? How does it stand in relation to typical final pieces?
By presenting the artist figure as the subject of the archive, I attempt to begin an investigation into the relationship between biography and artwork in order to try and find out how aspects of the artists personal life – their health, socio-economic conditions, or available resources – affect not just the content of the work, but their ability to even make work in the first place.
Taking inspiration from the emphasised importance of mistakes, rubbings out and working methods in scientific areas of research, the device of the archive is used to display the work as a more formally rigorous academic investigation into the conditions of the artists practice.
This research is informed in particular by the context of the last year and the discourse surrounding ‘essential work’. With artists having been overlooked and supported again and again, the piece takes on the guise of conventional rigour to dismiss notions of play within the artists practice.
What Does An Artist Do All Day? aims to chart the routines, data and background tasks of the artist as work in order to reposition their practice as valuable within the confines of a capitalist society.
What Does An Artist Do All Day? (Artist Books)
Without the infrastructure of an art school or formal gallery exhibitions, we all began to ask the question: what does an artist do all day?
Drawing on texts such as Moyra Davey’s Index Cards (2020), these books present the ephemera of an artists daily routine such as diary entries, data logs, food intake and background doodles in order to attempt to deconstruct and demystify the work pattern of an artist.
Throughout the year I have been tracking my own body data for medical reasons; logging information such as oxygen saturation, temperature, water intake, sleep quality, food consumption and hygiene habits. I wanted to apply the same meticulous scientific investigation that was being carried out to analyse the efficiency of body to also analyse the effect of these conditions on my efficiency as an artist.
The typewriter has been used specifically in these work to attempt to sever the words and data from my intimate self. As the conceptual waste of my own personal data and thoughts morphed into finished works, I had to start to address the dilemma of exposing myself and navigate the boundaries of biography and how much of myself I was willing to present as artwork.
Using the typewriter was a tool to help me negotiate this since the lack of decisions that accompanies it (font, size, formatting) helps to remove my personality from the work, as it becomes absorbed into a pool of references such Robert Morris’s Card File that place the pieces more firmly in a context of labour and work rather than biographical.