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  • Writer's pictureEli Regan

Alice Cornelia - Women in Photography

Alice Cornelia

Alice Cornelia is a young Warrington artist who uses Super 8, film photography and installation processes to probe the veracity of documentary processes. A Glasgow School of Art graduate, Alice was highly commended for her work in the Warrington Open Exhibition in 2018. Alice’s practice is influenced by critics such as Martha Rosler who made her question the authenticity trope in documentary. Her exhibition ‘Back Now’ which blends documentary and fiction is currently showing at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery until 22 June 2019.

First of all, I'm a fellow Art Foundation student at Priestley College in Warrington many moons ago. How do you feel that this very experimental course informed your practice as a young artist?

Oil on photograph from series 'BLOTS' 2017, during transitional period at Glasgow School of Art in between moving into photography from painting by Alice Cornelia

When I did Foundation, I was a painter but now I work in photography, film and installation. My work transitioned a lot during my degree, and I feel Art Foundation aided and influenced my thinking throughout that time. As a young artist the course expanded my way of thinking about ‘fine art’ and what mediums and approach that really involved. This took the form of collaboration, group installations, personal installations, sculpture, textiles, illustration, photography, fashion, painting, drawing and ceramics. I wanted to create work where I was really exploring or challenging pre-conceived ideas or thoughts about artistic processes. Foundation gave me confidence and an awareness of being able to break out, take leaps and bridge new developments in different mediums. Installation was introduced to me on this course and is something I’m currently really wanting to pursue, along with re-engaging with moving image which I use to love playing around with in my spare time during high school, downloading old footage off YouTube.

Could you tell me a bit more about your trajectory - what themes you started to explore at Glasgow School of Art? Was it here that you began to blend documentary and fiction?

Installation view of 'Back Now' Super 8 converted to digital, projection, plasterboard and rice paper by Alice Cornelia

Yes, it was at the end of my 3rd year and into my final year. Previous film work and research began to raise aesthetic questions exploring mediums of social representation. I started to explore the cultural legitimacy both film and still image hold within what we recognise under the genre ‘documentary’. Aware of the dominant influence of documentary, I started to question our consumption of social narratives and cultural references within collective memory, accessibility and material reality.

This work explored the presence of moving image through installation, projection, photographs, audio and film. I began confronting their process of representation in breaking down their visual language of social landscapes through de-contextualization, reproduction, personal visuals with found footage, narrative and abstraction. This involved projected film stills, heat transferrers of footage stills, photographs, large digital prints pasted onto plasterboard and audio pieces from found footage and personal audio. Combining documentary and fiction was a way to highlight how entwined they have become. I considered digital culture, its increased media capabilities and virtual networks of moving image/images that are now understood on virtual platforms and can cause experiences to become gentrified, commodified, and disconnected. Breaking down and confronting these processes offers a point to reconsider our relationship with images and to expose how little we know about reality through images and how easily our imagination compensates. This created a dialogue between the subjective nature of images and our interpretation.

The genre of blending documentary and fiction has many proponents, for example Cristina de Middel in The Afronauts. Who are some of the photographers/artists in this field who have influenced your work?

There are a range of artists I’m looking at the moment, all varying in medium such as


Sarah Morris, Laura Heurtas Millan, John Smith, Marte Aas and David Dye – Millan and Dye in particular.


Pauline Hisbaq, Rebekka Deubner, Shahin Afrassiabi, Torbjorn Rodland, Irina Rozovsky, Rob Bremmner, Margaret Mitchell, Tish Murta, Colin Pantall, Tabitha Barnard

Installation artists:

Gary Hill, Tony Ousler, Michael Francois, Amy and Oliver Thomas-Irvine and Webb-Ellis.

Can you tell me about Back Now currently showing at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery and about the processes that you used to put together the exhibition - Super 8 turned to digital, photography, etc?

Installation View, 'Back Now' Warrington Museum & Art gallery, digital print on organic panama, rice paper and plasterboard, giclee photographic print by Alice Cornelia

Back Now is a collection of film and photography. Scraps and scatterings of visual information and an oscillation between found, personal and artificially conceived images and moving image. The multi-media installation comments on ‘authentic environments’ that become ‘decaying social spaces’ questioning what is real or imaginary, what is realised and what is not within these image worlds we are accumulate in everyday life.

The projected short film was filmed on Super 8, converted to digital and shot in Fife on the east coast of Scotland. Analogue moving image and photography are used as often trusted reference points and assumed authenticity. I see my films as living still images, appearing like a ‘live’ portrait of a still head. The image is endured by the conditions that created it, with constant presence of the spectacle of the figure and its multiple cuts to other moments of the same state of still - challenging the viewer’s perceived complacency. I wanted to create a loop with no beginning or end making the viewer aware that what is being viewed is a construction, inviting identification but being regularly reminded of its artifice. It also intended to expose and slow the space in between viewer and subject causing the viewer to be aware of their own presence or gaze.

Surface is important often using low cost natural and unconditioned materials such as plasterboard, rice paper, handmade paper. Often transferring, pasting or printing onto these to see how images embed, hang and sit - relieving the surface and materiality of images.

The motif of a balloon appears throughout the exhibition in various formats: as a photograph, pasted in the corner of a board and forms the shape of surface the board the short film is projected onto. The balloon acts as a desired flight from social reality. Its objectification is used as a motif evocative of memory, a dialectical image, treated like a historical object. A cliché, the balloon offers a material abstraction, its dysfunctional hyperrealist presentation in naïve shaped board and cheap craft paper undermines its representation and sets a sceptical tone. My intention was to render it surreal against the more real backdrops in the images. I wanted to create general images with recognisable visual cues and references such as balloons and backs of heads, which when put in a context of only relating to each other become de-familiarized and uncanny motifs. I wanted to convey a strange presence.

Are there writers who influence your practice?

Photographs featured in the exhibition 'Back Now' by Alice Cornelia

Martha Rosler is a writer and artist who has heavily influenced my recent work surrounding documentary with her criticism of the documentary photographer having a “social conscience of liberal sensibility”[1] and the idea that “any response to images is inevitably rooted in social knowledge.”[2] In her 1981 essay ‘in around, and after thoughts (on documentary photography), she really made me question my previous work and how we view images, the relationship between photographer and subject and how important this is.

My dissertation explored the British working class subject in documentary photography post war up until the present. It focused on the often ill informed links between the working class subject as ‘authentic’ as well as ‘real’ to articulate an ‘experience’ which turns into appropriation and commodification. In some instances experiences framed in documentary photography are articulated solely on social classification and difference. Experience is conducted on the overemphasis on social difference at the expense of recognition - figures are going to be endured by the social conditions that created them. Working classes are no more real than any other part of society, while documentation can be ‘realist but not real’.

This grey area started to filter into my studio work with additional writers interested in such image worlds and material reality such as Roland Barthes, Jean Buillard, Vilem Flusser and Luc Tymans. These writers expanded my thinking surrounding the power of images and their visual language on how we orientate ourselves in the world – a language Rosler questions and I also question in my work.

You seem to be very involved in the curatorial process of your work - did you consider presenting the work at WMAG in a myriad of ways? Have you thought about how you'll present the work in another space?

Photograph featured in 'Back Now' by Alice Cornelia

Yes, I knew I wanted a collection of visual information that presented patterns, repetitions and gaps but not a totally fixed idea of where they would go. I’ve not yet had much experience in pushing the installation side of my practice but it is something I’m super interested in and want to push. At the moment it seems it’s often site-specific - for example Warrington Museum had moveable walls which I used to break up and layer the space. I did however have in mind ‘anchor points’ such as the film and the large fabric prints, both in opposing sides of the whole space. Those pieces I felt wanted to be objects in themselves, freestanding and invading the floorspace exploring physical presence of images. The two large fabric prints came as a set with their own dialogue I wanted to push – both photographs of the same moment but subtly different, I envisioned being displayed staggered to break up the viewer’s navigation and perspective of the images.

I have thought about the work in a different space, I’m also interested in presenting work in disused spaces and I’ve visualised it in a few spots I’ve found recently. I have large series of photographs and I find the editing process difficult, so I have imagined different images on different scales a lot in the space.

[1] Martha Rosler 3 Works, in around, and after thoughts (on documentary photography) 1981 (Canada, Halifax, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design 2006) pg.73

[2] Martha Rosler 3 Works, in around, and after thoughts (on documentary photography) 1981 (Canada, Halifax, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design 2006) pg.82

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