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Artists-in-Residence: An Interview with Round Lemon

Round Lemon

Round Lemon is a Midlands-based community arts organisation that provides opportunities and resources for emerging creatives. The group, made up of Andreea Pislaru, Bethan Jayne and Carmela Vienna, is the first collective Bruntwood has welcomed to the Artists-in-Residence programme, in partnership with Grand Union.

Having worked on some exciting projects recently, including Arts Council Collection’s ‘Reclaiming Our Cities’, as well as running their own online gallery, blog and in-person events, Round Lemon is on the up-and-up!

Here, we meet the team and find out more about each of their individual artistic practices, why they work together so well, and what they hope to get out of the residency.

How did you find the application process?

Carmela: It was really straightforward. With other arts applications, it’s really rigid and they want ‘X, Y and Z’. Whereas with this, they just asked for a PDF of a proposal, and you could do whatever you wanted with that. So that enabled a level of creativity where you could get your authentic sense of self in there.

Bethan: It felt really flexible as well. We had ideas at the time, but a lot has changed for us as a group since that time. We’ve all taken on different jobs, etc. So we’re happy that it is a fluid process because it happens across a year; and things are going to change in that year. So it’s good that we haven’t had to stick to our original plan, and we’ve been able to veer off and do something that feels right for us now.

As individuals, how did each of you become involved in the collective and what are you looking for from the residency?

Andreea: My practice is a bit all over the place. I used to do a bit of photography, a bit of video. But now that I’m doing a Masters, I wanted to do things that I’ve not had the chance to do before, like working with different materials. Mainly because, during my undergrad, I couldn’t afford new materials, and I didn’t have access to creative facilities because of lockdown. Now, I really want to do sculpture. I’m interested in the human body, the textures and colours and I work with hair a bit, too.

Bethan: As an individual, I mainly do creative paintings. That’s normally what I gravitate towards the most. Carmela describes my practice better than I can, as ‘speculative storytelling’. I take these (very true) life stories and make these paintings out of them. Kind of just exploring having work that doesn’t have a deep meaning to it, but with viewers looking at the work and taking what they want from it. Sometimes, I branch into performance and sculpture, but mostly painting. Then, within Round Lemon, I’m a co-director but mostly involved with social media, outreach and community-building.

Carmela: Since I left uni, I haven’t really been making any artwork at all. But when I was studying, it was kind of materials-focused. I’d find things off the floor in the street, and bring it all in a pile, and just make stuff from what I found on the floor. I think I did that because, with student life, you can’t always afford the materials. But also partly because it allows more space for intuition and chance, and you don’t have to plan anything. So I was really into that at university, and I’d be keen to dip in and out of that in this residency. Because what you need to make that kind of thing work is the space and the materials, which I just couldn’t have when I didn’t have a studio. Recently though, I’ve been focusing more online on the blog space. And I’ve been working with 40+ writers from across the UK and internationally, developing articles and content to go on the blog space, and writing is something I really enjoy myself; I’ve been doing a lot of that. And these have all been through open calls where people have come to us. We’ve made some great connections through that. And some of the writers that contribute to the blog, then connect with the artists that Andreea deals with on the exhibition side of things, to create interviews etc. So there’s a network of collaborators emerging through it, which is great.

How did you all come up with the idea of the collective?

Bethan: We started coming up with the idea towards the very start of the pandemic, when we were all sent home from uni. When you’re at art school, you’re in a very busy environment; you’re with other artists, you’re in the studio, you see each other all the time. You’re always with people, always making. And then suddenly, you’re at home by yourself, with very little room to be creative. We all kind of felt a bit stuck: there were no opportunities to do anything; we felt we couldn’t further our careers in the way we would have done if we were at art school, and that’s kind of how it began. We wanted not only to find a way to connect with other people because we felt a bit lost, but also make a way to provide opportunities not just for ourselves but also for other emerging creatives at the time.

Carmela: Initially, it was just because I was bored at home and missed my friends! This was a way that we could just talk to each other everyday and not feel so isolated. So that was the beginning, but it’s morphed into something more than we expected it to, definitely. And now I really enjoy the whole community side of things. I’ve just written a review for a book one of our artists has co-written - just those little moments where you connect with people who you otherwise wouldn’t because you’re in different cities. 

It sounds like you have a broad range of skills and practices; it will be interesting to see where and how you combine them… How would you describe your creative process as a collective?

Andreea: Well, we all have different processes, but now that we finally have a place, we can get together and learn from each other. We’ve never sat together before to explain to each other what we were doing, in terms of materials and techniques. Recently, we’ve been working on a joint workshop which combines key points of our practices. It starts off with Carmela’s automatic writing and meditation, then it goes into Bethan’s methods of painting using absurd humour, and then goes into drawing and collage which is my input. So in many ways, we’re using this opportunity to start afresh again and find a new approach to working together.

Carmela: Definitely. In terms of meditation, I think I was more interested in the writing side of it first but automatic writing is a process where you kind of remove yourself from the room before you write, and you try to access the subconscious. So I thought the most productive and effective way to do that would be to meditate beforehand. 

Bethan: As a collective, there are a number of ways you can view our processes and our long term plans, as we have a number of focus areas. If you think of us more as a community group, then we have plans with how we want to engage with communities and what we’d like to do with people: putting on events and exhibitions, and giving the wider artistic community as many opportunities as we can. But in terms of our creative plans as an artist collective, I don’t necessarily know where our work’s gonna go, because even these workshops are being developed kind of from scratch. We’re bringing our practices together, and we’re teaching each other, but what we’ve actually come out with isn’t necessarily what we’ve expected. We do review what works and what doesn’t together in real time, so it’s a learning process without a kind of ‘set plan’, but I think it’s quite nice that there isn’t one.

What are your thoughts on the studio space itself, and the challenges or opportunities presented by there being four individual artists in there?

Andreea: I feel like it’s working so far. The four of us aren’t in at the same time. And we’re able to use spaces in other buildings for workshops or exhibitions, etc. But it’s good to have the studio space to focus, and plan, and detach from the other things that are going on. We needed this to keep the whole project going.

Carmela: Yeah! Until we got this studio, the only space we’ve had has been online. Everything has been done over Zoom calls or brainstorming over the table if we met for lunch together. Otherwise, we haven’t had a consistent ‘base’ to go to. Whereas, this residency just allows us to be together and bounce ideas off each other, even if we’re all working on separate, individual projects.

Bethan: I think we’re all quite flexible, too. We understand that we have our practice, but we understand that Pauline does, too. So we know we have to work around each other. For example, if Pauline wants to make something big in the room today, we can take ourselves upstairs and have a meeting together. We all work in different ways, and we’re not constantly making physical work; sometimes we’re planning or having meetings. So we just understand that, even though we are sharing, we can definitely make it work together. Plus, we come from art school where you share a space with about 20 other artists, so I think it comes quite naturally to us.

So, as a contrast, how was it when you were working over Zoom?

Carmela: It was okay, because that was all we’d ever known. When we were at uni, we were all making our own work and the collective wasn’t even on the radar until lockdown happened. So we kind of got used to working online, but now after this residency, there’s gonna be a hole to fill in terms of being in the space. It’s so much better for energy, atmosphere and just enabling ideas to develop. 

Bethan: Also, working on Zoom made sense at the time — because everyone was in the same boat so online events were hugely popular. For instance, we did our open mic nights which would always be full and would run over, because no one had anything else to do! But as things have started to open up again, people want more physical events. So, Zoom worked so well for us to begin with, but now it’s really exciting to have the opportunity to be in a physical space and put on in-person events.

Does the residency involve any stipulations or is it a fairly loose brief?

Carmela: There is a loose brief. It’s like, “We will commission you to make a work at the end of the residency, but we’re not sure what kind of medium it will be or where it will go”. And then there is the requirement for a workshop within the Bruntwood community but, again, where that will be is undecided. They were just really loose and open to interpretation, which gives us some freedom to create.

What inspires you?

Carmela: We’re inspired by a lot of things. We all have different things we’re inspired by, but in terms of working together, we’re inspired by each other and our community, and like-minded people. That’s definitely what inspires and motivates us to do all that we’ve done with the online side of things with Round Lemon.

Andreea: Also the hundreds of people who are submitting their writing to us. We’re always inspired by them…

Bethan: Yeah, that inspires us to keep working on Round Lemon. We get all these people who want to be part of the community, and that inspires us to want to do more things. When you see the response to exhibitions, or a nice comment on a blog post, that encourages us to keep putting out content because it’s helping people get a little bit further on in their career. When we did the show at Moseley Hive, at the old Pizza Express, a few of the exhibiting artists told us that that was their first ever exhibition, and that’s so exciting for them and for us!

Where does your main publicity come from? Is it online or word of mouth?

Bethan: I think it’s a mixture. When we first started, we reached out to universities and tried to get arts students involved. It also helps that we’ve got some amazing friends who’ve got us involved in things. For example, when we were part of SHOUT Festival, we knew Jakub who commissioned us to be a part of the programme, so our friends and connections are always amazing. But also social media and word of mouth do play a part, and we have quite a good international following so that really helps.

What are you most excited about for the residency?

Andreea: I’m excited about the connections we can build and transition (at least partly) from a digital to a physical platform, to strike a better balance between the two. Plus, I always wanted to work on drawing but I’ve not had many opportunities to do so before. I think the fact that the residency doesn’t create pressures to produce anything to a pre-ordained standard or brief, allows me the freedom to explore that passion more openly. If I feel like I want to draw cats, I could have hundreds of cat drawings by the end of the year! I’m also looking forward to getting to know these two and producing some really great work together!

Carmela: I’m looking forward to doing our next event, whatever that might be. We had a period of time before December, where we had about 8 events in the space of 2 months or something silly, and it just got totally crazy. But now we’ve had that chance to reflect and refresh, I feel like I’m ready to tackle another event. I don’t know if that will be on the roof of Cornerblock or in the atrium at Centre City… we’ll have to wait and see!

Bethan: I think it’s exciting not just to have a space, but also to have the support of Bruntwood and Grand Union. It’s so amazing that they can support us in getting funding and accessing opportunities - there’s so much they can do to help us. As a collective, we spoke for a while about getting a space together but we could never get it to work out. So now it’s nice that we can spend time together and work on growing Round Lemon as much as possible!

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