An interview with Berry Patten

, 22 September 2016

For Berry Patten, dialectics and the nature of spaces are important. Her personal relationships are a source of inspiration for her work, in order to open up discussions around affectivity, networks and security infrastructures. As is often the case in this modern era, where a shared space for meeting is often hard to find, Patten talks to me from her computer —by Skype, then by phone. We’re speaking in advance of her new commission called and through the roof we hit the ceiling for this year’s Deptford X Festival, a yearly project that takes place in the London borough of Lewisham, running September 23 to October 2 and enabling a select group of emerging artists to produce a new body of work of their own choosing.

Interested in the distance between commodities and relationships, and the potential of architecture to reveal social issues like —property development and gentrification, as examples —the Essex-born artist tends to keep an inward-looking and self-reflexive perspective. In her videos, paintings and installations, she depicts domestic scenarios and props through furtive recordings or trembling pen traces, triggered by a shaky hand or even a screwdriver.

Berry Patten, and through the roof we hit the ceiling (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Deptford X, London.
Berry Patten, and through the roof we hit the ceiling (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Deptford X, London.

Interested in what she calls the “ongoing life of objects”, Patten creates invisible networks that act as structures of security and support. Rather than using wooden beams and MDF boards to provide structural foundations for space division and construction, they’re used to create artworks to be given away and reused by other people. The artist is still very focused on the language through which things are communicated, drawing inspiration from both the corporate and mythological. Digging into words and aesthetics, Patten aims to ultimately rethink ideas with instinct, curiosity and humour.

The starting-point for any of her projects is often the way things make her feel, and how to communicate and extrapolate those feelings to a more public realm. In her drawing ‘friendly’ (2013), a football team is represented out of black, hurried traces. In video (2014), there are corporate signifiers and a photo of a faceless person’s legs wearing funny socks. Her more recent project, and through the roof we hit the ceiling takes its name from a collection of medieval literary cycles, a kind of propaganda from the Middles Ages exalting the public image of legendary figures like King Arthur, and thus Great Britain herself. In the exhibition, Patten looks at outside space and architecture, and ways of approaching it affectively, making these places generous and accessible, rather than just a means of centralised economic profit or power.

For Mater of Britain, Patten covers up the Deptford X windows, using a corporate commercial and visual aesthetic not dissimilar to the likes of luxury residential property developer Galliard Homes, for example. In blocking transit to the gallery from the outside, what goes on inside can only be imagined by a casual passerby. The only thing to see are MDF boards and posters that mimic that of construction sites conspiring to conceal the building and bulldozing behind. Patten takes the same commercial visual and verbal vernaculars from these enterprises, while conceptually drawing a relationship between the part-historical mythologies of the Kingdom of Camelot from and through the roof we hit the ceiling, the text, with the contemporary big business of companies like Camelot Property Guardians. When thinking about security infrastructures, these medieval fortresses provide adequate metaphor for illustrating protection and support within a certain modern territory.

Berry Patten, and through the roof we hit the ceiling (2016). Courtesy the artist.
Berry Patten, and through the roof we hit the ceiling (2016). Courtesy the artist.

Tell me more about ‘and through the roof we hit the ceiling’, your current commission for Deptford X

Berry Patten: It’s as a site-specific reaction to the architecture of the gallery and surrounding residential development. Apart from the boards and posters there will be be a few slightly domestic clues, aiming to create the feeling that there is something inside. Their will be no entry point and the windows will be left dirty.

I am interested in the visual language of transient space and in creating discussion about what the space represents, in order to explore its nature. The concept of Guardianship promises a generosity and community which it doesn’t deliver. I want to play out this promise as a performance with this installation. I will be boarding up the building with reclaimed wood from previous guardianship properties and new MDF which can be given to a project space after the show. I’ve invited a rogue poster from LARA Project Space to join my installation which will advertise an Open Call for a future show, thus passing on a baton for real opportunity.

You work with ideas of the illusions of engineering promises, like speculations: projecting something that is not real, while exploring the nature of the space.

BP: I want to expand this idea of exploring the nature of promise through and through the roof we hit the ceiling. Deptford is currently going through this huge development, one of the largest in London. The gallery was built as part of a Galliard development as a supposed cultural asset, selling the promise of a safe, culturally rich neighbourhood. The architecture of the gallery is really out of sorts with a usual gallery, the dimensions are difficult and awkward. It’s a long thin corridor-like space, for me the only thing I could do was to close it down and engineer a new sense of promise.

Gentrification in Deptford/Lewisham is very heavy and there is an ongoing and contradictory interaction between art practitioners and developers. Tell me about the aesthetics of development.

BP: The show is on a busy back road away from the pedestrian area, the majority of people that will see the work from their car, which I really like. People from every background will see the work. They will have their own associations and feelings about development, guardianship schemes and gentrification and their own ideas about what that means. It is really important for everybody to catch it with their own background, not just from an art background. In terms of material, I’m interested in the MDF because it holds currency in the art world. It’s something that people use and need. I think of it as the tenant, because they are guarding the space, and afterwards the boards won’t lose their value, as they will be given to another project space. They will be a future tenant. The idea is to invest in something that can be given, reused.

My work aims to be generous and create networks in the way of giving people opportunities. The material becomes this asset,giving it to another project space in order to carry out other shows. Generosity here is coming out of this strange development, it’s interesting that the MDF has the capacity to shut down and can be reused and thus open up other things.

Berry Patten, and through the roof we hit the ceiling (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Deptford X, London.
Berry Patten, and through the roof we hit the ceiling (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Deptford X, London.

It’s interesting to put this MDF in circulation and create these networks out of this material, also. You mentioned you were interested in the life of objects and guardianship.

BP: Yes, they become guardians and you never know where the guardian is, they become secret entities with these secret lives and they don’t allow people in. It is a really strange thing they represent, an in-between state. I imagine what would be incredibly social about community development, to give away those boards and see what can arise from there.

In your work, you’re sometimes blurring distances and other times creating it, but always keeping the dialectics, the possibilities of communicating things.

BP: A dialectic approach is crucial for what I’m doing. My life and my work are basically one, so it’s very much about one thinking at the time. I like to get other people involved in my work, enable other people to get involved, from my own opportunity: to be generous is more interesting for me and to learn. In the case of Deptford X, it’s good to have chosen the space and have an instinctive response. For me it was challenging to think: “How can I use a space that I find so intimidating? How can I make it generous?”

The most interesting thing about the space is how closed it is and how corporate and awkward it is, and to be able to make it generous and to bring as many people as possible and have some warmth and opportunity, because what I really do with my work is to try to bring people in and have a conversation about awkwardness, or intimate topics.


Berry Patten, Matter of Britain (2016). Courtesy the artist.
Berry Patten, and through the roof we hit the ceiling (2016). Courtesy the artist.

You say you’re interested in the life of objects. In this project, specifically, it seems that the objects are triggers of something else happening in the aftermath of the show, creating these secret networks and security infrastructures for other people.

BP: Yes, the most important thing for me is to develop a network, people to help or people that can help you — that generosity — and to try to discover what guardianship can become in more immaterial terms.

The posters act as triggers, as well enabling the people to get this sense of intimacy and awkwardness and kind of weird interior scenes, like somebody on a mattress on a floor, or the heavy furniture at the bottom of the stairs not worth bringing up for such a short stay.  I like that speculative narrative within the imagery, in addition to the Guardian Angels: our British Telecom angel or the final gravestone. It’s deeply rooted in the British psyche to look for security in housing but I have little interest in that, it’s good to have a distance, thinking in a different way in terms of housing and security.

So you don’t have this need for security?

BP: Not in this dominating, quantitative way. To want a plot that you can have and own is so abstract to me. There are different ideas of security: You want to make yourself an island? Owning a home is like living in a fortress or a medieval castle, that’s why the idea of Camelot is such a ridiculous name for a guardianship: They are the kings and you guard their castle.

You are then talking about an affective way of understanding security.

BP: Yeah, with anything you can make yourself secure if you like, if you have people around you, you can potentially feel secure. I like to play with things that might feel stupid and develop an imagery out of them.**

Berry Patten’s and through the roof we hit the ceiling solo exhibition is on at London’s Deptford X for Deptford X Festival, running September 23 to October 2, 2016.