Following Gherdai Hassell’s exhibition, ‘Undercurrents: Colour and the Shifting Self’, which was on display at the Granada Foundation Gallery from Sat 17 Jun – Sun 13 Aug 2023, we present an interview with Gherdai Hassell. HOME’s Artist Development Producer for Visual Art, Alice Wilde, delves deep into Gherdai’s artistic journey, exploring the influences and experiences that shaped her work.
Gherdai Hassell has been awarded ‘At HOME with Jerwood’ Residency, a transformative support programme, for early-career artists in the North West. This new exciting programme offers a 12-month bespoke residency for selected cross art form artists to make a step-change in their practice and career.
Alice Wilde: Could you maybe start by telling us about your artistic journey so far and the path that led you to become an artist?
Gherdai Hassell: I was studying public health. So this is totally different to what I envisioned I was going to do. I ended up moving to Manchester a couple years ago and went to law school and hated it. And, you know, I think that at that particular time, it was perfect for me, I needed that to happen, because it really sort of underscored for me what I didn’t want to do. And it pointed me in the direction of being an artist. I was in law school, in class drawing. So, I was just like, you know, what, quit playing games and just take the leap. And so I ended up moving to China. And that’s sort of how I got started. It was when I first moved to China, I decided that I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t really know how I was going to do it. So I ended up taking a job teaching English through art, and then after doing that, for two years, decided it was time for me to get my master’s degree at the Academy of Art. I ended up spending another three years there, it was a whirlwind during the pandemic and I was in China when the pandemic broke so that was really interesting journey for Me. When the pandemic came in 2020, that’s when I moved to Manchester. Now here we are, two years later.
Alice Wilde: Thank you so much. Your journey is so interesting, particularly how you switched paths. I’d like to ask you about your ‘Undercurrents: Colour and the Shifting Self’ which was presented in HOME’s Granada Foundation Galleries. Would you be able to guide us through the inspiration behind this exhibition and how it came to be?
Gherdai Hassell: In my practice, I’m sort of investigating what it means to live and walk in this body. My work is heavily centred around identity. And so with this particular project, I wanted to transition, particularly into textiles, because I’ve been working in collage over the past four years or so. And so, with this exhibition, I wanted to use the time and the space to be able to try to push my practice a little bit more and try to be a little bit more ambitious. And so the inspiration really comes from my Bermudian heritage. I’m originally born and raised in Bermuda. And this particular exhibition is looking at sort of the Caribbean archipelago and the idea of using the Caribbean space as a space for birthing new ideas. And so the formations that are on display downstairs are new formations from my imagination. The work is about Futurism and thinking about how we inhabit spaces and how we create new things from imagination. So, you know, it’s amazing to see them in public space and to see people engaging with them. Because they sort of function quite differently in public space than they do in my studio.
Alice Wilde: Absolutely, the textile pieces are incredible. They look so amazing and audiences have really enjoyed the tactile nature of them. Interestingly, Textiles appears to be a relatively recent exploration for you. Could you share more about the motivations behind delving into textiles, and how this has expanded your artistic practice?
Gherdai Hassell: So, like I said, I usually typically work in collage. And so collage has been an incredible sort of medium that I use to break out of the box. I’m pulling together ideas from disparate moments, things that typically don’t belong together. And so, collage, in my opinion, really lends itself to textiles. I use textiles in the same way and approach it in the same way that I approach collage. I’m collecting materials from all different places. I’m using some of my own old garments. I’m collecting some garments and small little pieces of samples from some of the mills in the area. Really pulling from so many different places. And so that’s the same thing that I do with collage I mean, I could find a piece of paper and that piece of paper could be something really significant in a work. And so I approached textiles in the same way and I just moved into textiles. I’ve only just started sewing about six months ago. So, yeah, it was a really ambitious project for me, it definitely almost took me out, physically and skillfully. But I made it and we’re here.
Alice Wilde: You touched upon discovering fabrics from Manchester mills. Could you tell us about how your experience in Manchester has influenced and transformed your artistic practice?
Gherdai Hassell: Yeah absolutely. So When I first moved to Manchester I was renting a studio space out of a storage facility. Because if you’re an artist, you know how difficult it is to find an affordable studio space in Manchester. I was in the storage facility for about a year or so. And I was on a waiting list for a few different studio spaces and had the opportunity to move into Hope Mill, AWOL Studios, a textile and weaving mill built in 1824, being there has totally transformed my practice. I’m also working out of Warrington New Art Spaces in a larger space through Castlefield gallery. And being there particularly transformed my practice and allowed me to step into sculpture. Because some of the materials that were around the area, we were just able to use, out of the skips, and you know, from the bins outside. A lot of the artists that are in there, we did a lot of sort of scavenging for materials and things like that. And so I was having access to materials I would have never thought that I would have used just because they were there. And that’s actually how I really got started with my artistic practice, years ago anyway, was just sort of looking around at what’s around me and picking up magazines that were there.
Alice Wilde: Yeah, and Warrington New Arts Spaces is such a vast, amazing space and it’s in an old Marks and Spencers. It is really great to see how the artists have taken over that space.
Gherdai Hassell: Yes it’s been so good to, to even be in that space. Working in the old Marks and Spencers, and being in a textile mill, I think my practice has sort of been informed to transition into textiles by the spaces that I’m inhabiting. Maybe subconsciously, that’s been playing a factor in my mind as well.
Alice Wilde: Indeed, considering this exhibition, could you discuss the challenges you encountered during its creation and how you managed to overcome them?
Gherdai Hassell: One of the challenges, in particular, was just the sheer amount of time that it takes to sew something. I think I really underestimated how much time it takes to sew. And I think one of the things that sort of came to the forefront of my mind when making the work is this idea of invisible labour, like how the clothes that we wear and what they are made of, and it takes a really, really long time to produce. And we undervalue the amount of time, blood, sweat and tears that go into creating something and, and so I have a real appreciation for slow work after collage is so quick. But working with fibers an textiles has really slowed down my process. And now I feel like I’m so deeply embedded in my process. Like, I’ve never before felt my hand in my work as much as I do now working in textiles, because it’s such a slow and sort of labor intensive process.
Alice Wilde: Yes, so collage is an important part of your practice. I think you see collage as an expanded practice that you can apply to different materials? Could you share with us how the collage enhances your artistic practice?”
Gherdai Hassell: Yeah, so collage has totally transformed the way that I work. When I first decided that I wanted to be an artist, when I left law school, I had this idea in my mind about what an artist is, or what an artist should be. And so I always thought that an artist should paint with that was just sort of the box that I had growing up in Bermuda. That was what artists did, but you didn’t really get an opportunity to see artists working professionally in Bermuda, it was always sort of like a hobbyist type of thing. And so I had this idea of this thing that’s over there, that I can’t Really reach. Painting, for me it never really came easily. It was always so difficult and so I would always turn to collage whenever I needed to just shake things up whenever I needed to, and I would get a burst of energy out of it because it was quick. At that time I was oil painting and it was so tough for me, it was just so difficult. And so I just began collaging like using magazines that were around and it just opened up a whole world. So now I view my practice as a collage based practice because everything that I do, I do with collage in mind. For instance, I could do an installation and bring different elements together andI for me it’s a collage. Just like my textile works those are collages as well everything that I do I sort of view as collage
Alice Wilde: Yes and I feel with the textile pieces it’s almost like scaling up that collage based practice.
Gherdai Hassell: Yeah absolutely because I pieced together on different pieces in the same way that I love but what’s interesting is that those pieces have now sort of taken form and taken shape and so I’ve stuffed them and now they’re sort of morphing and becoming even more than I envisioned They would.
Alice Wilde: Your artist journey is so fascinating and truly captivating. I’m curious to know, what advice would you offer to artists who are at the start of their journey?
Gherdai Hassell: So for me I think is the most important thing that has really pushed my practice forward is listening to my inner voice. When I first began I had this idea of what art was and should be but then I once I studied in China it opened my mind because learning from an Eastern perspective totally shifted. Studying in China , at my school was interesting because they didn’t really encourage us to paint and they wanted us to try new things out. So it was about giving myself permission to trust myself and to sort of lean into what it is that I want to say in the world. I think for anyone who is an artist and is at the beginning where it might seem like oh I don’t know if I should do this or you might feel a little bit confused, I think that you sort of go with it and embrace the confusion. Working out what you’re about will follow that. If you keep working, it will open up for you.
Alice Wilde: Yes, it’s so amazing and beautiful! You have really pushed your practice forward and how you’ve ventured into different mediums is really incredible. Particularly as the Undercurrents exhibition marked quite a new venture for you with textiles. Could you perhaps share with us what you’re currently working on and any specific projects that you’re excited about?
Gherdai Hassell: This has really been such an amazing journey for me and I am excited. I am really excited about the next steps in my practice and I think being here at HOME has given me a platform and a vision of what my practice could be expanded to. I’m currently working on a solo exhibition. It will be my first solo exhibition in the US opening next month. So I’m like crazy working in my studio at the moment preparing for that. And I’ve just been awarded at HOME with Jerwood residency. And so I’m just honored and, you know, so humbled by the opportunity to be able to really put my foot into my practice and push my textile work so much further. And I’m excited for all that is to come. And you know, this is really just the beginning.
Alice Wilde: Wow – you’ve got so much going on! What an exciting time. And we are really excited to be collaborating with you on the residency. I can’t wait to see what’s next. Like you say this is just the beginning and I am really excited to see what’s next for your practice and keep expanding your practice and developing your work with textiles in particular.
This conversation has been transcribed at the ‘Exploring Abstract Collage Workshop’ that was held at HOME on Thu 3 Aug which coincided with ‘Undercurrents: Colour and the Shifting Self’, which was on display at the Granada Foundation Gallery from Sat 17 Jun – Sun 13 Aug 2023.