Originally published on White Noise

July 2018

Lately, we’ve been taking trips just north of White City to ArtWest, a loose collective of studios scattered across Harlesden and Park Royal. This time, Arnelle Paterson paid a visit to Renata Fernandez.

I bump into a petite, raven-haired woman in the corridor of ArtWest’s ACAVA building, holding a kettle in one hand and a coffee mug in the other. Renata Fernandez is pretty chirpy for someone who’s yet to start her creative morning regimen of coffee and Radio 4. “The first hour has to be mechanical, not thinking too much, and then later on, I do something more free-flowing,” she says as the kettle whistles, vying for attention. “I wish I had a personal DJ that would put the music on for me, because I can’t be bothered to change the music.”

Fernandez was born along Venezuela’s Caribbean coastline in the city of Caracas into a deeply religious Spanish family. She says, “I was one of those really annoying kids who always knew what they wanted to be.” Coming from a family of professional musicians, she instead studied art at university, and specialised in painting and sculpture. “I always did or thought in 3D,” she explains.

In her own words, Fernandez is a “methodological and rational” artist who uses charcoal, pencil, oil paint, and the socio-political context as a canvas for creation. The deep impact of the political situation in Venezuela infiltrates all of her work. “My country’s been completely destroyed. I don’t recognise the neighbourhood where I grew up. I don’t have a place to show my kids because of state war,” she says in a matter-of-fact manner. “I mean, Syria wins because it’s worse, but it’s very similar in a way. We don’t have bomb strikes, but we have gangs with Russian weapons just killing people for food.”

Back in the 90s, she had what she describes as a premonition. “I had to leave my country. My intuition was right. I could never imagine it’d be so bad, because at the moment my country is in the middle of the worst humanitarian crisis ever. In the 21st century, people are dying because they don’t have antibiotics and no food. It’s horrendous.” Her foresight wasn’t wrong. Last year, it was estimated that prices in the Latin American country would increase by more than 700%, while 75% of the country’s population lost an average of 19 pounds in weight between 2015 and 2016 because of food shortages.

Undoubtedly, Fernandez’s work is deeply rooted in culture. She explains, “You’re influenced by where you come from, where you go, and even where your grandparents are from.” She gives me a snippet of her childhood influences: “Galicia, north of Spain, medieval, Roman-esque. I went to many churches, far too many. The Catholic imagery – you take a child there and it could be considered child abuse because it’s too visual. There’s blood and raaaaah!” She imitates a dragon’s roar. “If you’re an Anglican, a Church of England kind of person and you go there, it’s like, ‘Oh, God!’ But that’s how we grew up. So that has an influence on the way you see. The way you confront reality is different.” Eventually, she moved to England to learn English where she “fell in love with the country.” Her eyes light up with enthusiasm. “I fell in love with the English. I got stuck in this way of life. Whilst I was learning a language, I was learning a culture.”

Fernandez’s solo exhibition at Museo Alejandro Otero in Caracas in 2013 was a landmark show for the artist. The works on display were 14 charcoal drawings measuring two metres high and based on the urban jungle. She gesticulates to illustrate just how big the plants are. “Where I come from, the plants were always monster-like, beautiful and menacing. Leaves as big as me – and I’m not very big,” she smiles. Her decision to draw in charcoal was a conscious one. “When you take a photo and translate that into black and white, you start seeing the engineering. It’s fascinating.”

It took a moment of intuition before Fernandez realised exactly what she had created. “People would say, ‘Ooh, I can see a face here! I can see a face there!’ and it’s like: ‘Do you?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, somebody’s hiding there.’ The soldiers. They became a metaphor for the menace of someone that’s lurking behind and might jump at you. There’s a contradiction between beauty and the menace, and I realised that I hid something subconsciously.” As her works make their way across the globe, she’s aware that the interpretation may differ. “I think I was thinking about what was going on in my country, the militarisation of society. A dictatorship supported by the military – puppets. People who see my drawings in Madrid? They don’t think of that.”

Her decision to tell the museum about the content of her exhibition was a bold one, as it subtly referenced the nature of authoritarian regime that has left over 8,000 people dead. “It was a controversial thing to say because the museum was still being controlled by the regime, but I did what I had to do. If they didn’t accept it, so be it.”

And for the first time in her life, she started taking her own photos to draw from. With only 10 months to produce this mass of work, she managed to do it in just eight. With a nursery-age child as well, she was left exhausted. “But by being exhausted, something connects. A revelation happens, because you’re not rationalising the process. So the first two drawings I didn’t like too much, but the ones that followed, they were better and better and better!” The creation process also took a toll in other areas. “Because you’re so exhausted, you’re drinking condensed milk and you get really fat,” she laughs. “I mean coffee and condensed milk with digestives? Hello!”

She makes her stance clear: she’s not an emotional person. Fernandez says, “I can be intense, but you’ll never see me wailing,” she wails dramatically. “That’s why I’m quite good here, because in my country, everybody was like raaaaaah! And it’s like: oh come on, control yourself! It’s something very un-Caribbean about me.” But she does feel like a “masqueraded emotion” has seeped through her work. “I happen to be doing stuff that’s linked to my country, because of the tropical plants. And it didn’t start like that. I guess it’s an element of nostalgia, lost memories, and the unattainable, things that are long gone.”

She recently had a commission in Fulham working alongside eight kids from a local school passing on block-printing skills. “When you teach someone a technique, they have to start solving problems and it has an impact on their life. There’s something that art teaches you, the ability to solve problems.” Her eyes are fixated on me as they intensify: “Your brain becomes malleable and more open to adapt, and that’s something that permeates all areas of your life and that’s why teaching art is so bloody important.”

But she admits that having an impact was something she never used to think about. Not, at least, until her work started having a positive effect on the people that worked at Museo Alejandro Otero, as well as those from the shanty town across the road in Caracas. “My parents used to go to the prayer group that happened to be in that shanty town. My dad was very proud and he told me what people were saying, that it was having an impact in the community.”

Art has a special role to play within society, she argues. “It makes you more sensitive to your surroundings, and you know what? It might make you change the way things look. It’s a valuable thing to say, ‘I’m going to improve the way things look around me.’ It makes me feel better. Sometimes, Banksy puts up stuff that criticises things other people don’t notice. That’s very important. It’s not just about the nice paintings.”

She’s philosophical about her legacy. “The planet’s going to disappear eventually. I think about that a lot. What’s going to happen to all the master works? They’re going to disappear. There’s artists from 200 years ago that nobody remembers, but they were bloody happy and they had an impact on the people around them. That’s the legacy. In this world of Instagram, who’s famous and what for? Because they do make-up tutorials? How many bases are you gonna put on your face woman? And those eyelashes? They’re obviously fake! They look like a broom!” Ultimately, the artist’s motives wind down to one thing. “It’s not that I have Catholic guilt. Someone taught me how to paint as a child, and it had an impact on me. I want other people to have that chance.”

Originally published on White Noise

May 2018

WEST LONDONERS? WE’RE A FASHIONABLE LOT. FROM THE CARNIVAL QUEENS AND IT GIRLS TO THE FLAPPERS AND PUNKS, WRITER JOHN-MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN WILL BE DELVING INTO W11’S FASHION HISTORY THIS THURSDAY AT SECOND HOME IN HOLLAND PARK. PLUS, THERE’S A SERIES OF PHOTOGRAPHS TO BRING IT ALL TO LIFE.

 We caught up with O’Sullivan to talk about all things stand-out, Vogue and of course, West London.

What have been the most stand-out moments in West London’s fashion history, and why?

There have been so many! But I do think that the story of how the Teddy Girls emerged. These young, working-class women rebelling against the prim-and-proper Fifties aesthetic, and inventing a style of their own, is fascinating. Likewise in the Sixties, when a generation of young artists and designers like David Hockney, Ossie Clark, Sandra Rhodes and Biba’s Barbara Hulanicki moved into the area, and formed this extraordinary bohemian hub. And for entirely different reasons, I’ll always have a soft spot for W11’s most famous (fictional) fashion residents, Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone!

What were the key components behind W11 being the centre for such a rich fashion history?

I think it’s the district’s incredible diversity. Within this single postcode, there have been so many influxes of cultures and subcultures over the decades, from flappers to Teddy Girls to punks. And then, the fact that it’s been home to one of the most famous second-hand markets in the world for decades has meant that W11’s history is constantly being rediscovered and reinvented — that’s something you can see everywhere from Ray Petri’s styling for The Face in the Eighties, right the way through to Molly Goddard’s spectacular vintage-inspired dresses (which just won her top prize at this year’s BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund).

What current trends in W11 can be traced back?

I think, rather than a specific trend, it’s that eclectic, anarchic spirit — that blending of all the eras and aesthetics that have shaped the district’s culture over the past century.

This talk is part of a crowdfunding campaign to help publish the story of top 1950’s fashion model Barbara Mullen, find out more here.

Wanna book your tickets or find out more? Click here. 

May 2018

Old met new when the White City House opened on 23rdApril on old BBC turf. With two floors of club space, a rooftop pool, numerous bars, a cinema officially opening in July, screening room, gym, as well as 45 bedrooms, its no wonder that it took five years to complete.

White City House invited us for a tour and we jumped at the chance. With an 8th, 9th and 10th floor, we were in for a mini workout. The 8th floor is exclusively for members who need an event space (you can even slide the doors to manipulate the size of the room).

If you’re into pool, or just want a quiet sit down and a tipple, the main members area on the 9th floor is the place to be. Tibor, who also designed for the BBC way back when, are the  behind the floor’s rich furniture and textured fabrics. We dare you not to cop a feel.

That isn’t the only example of vintage aesthetic either. The panelling in the lifts will excite Dr Who fans, and the fluted-oak wall panels near the kitchen will take you back in time to the BBC’s old reception.

The décor stays true to the BBC’s 50’s and ‘60s heritage, with sun loungers and parasols on the rooftop pool. It evokes Old Hollywood vibes; we could almost picture Marilyn Monroe poised on one of the lounger with a martini in hand and The Rat Pack swooning in the background. Bea Reeve-Tucker, the Communications Assistant explains the flower design on the loungers “Our graphic designer Daisy drew the flowers by hand, so it’s a completely original design.”

No matter what floor you’re on, you’re treated to a breath-taking view of White City that can be enjoyed all year round. “We’re planning to have the balcony area heated during the winter season,” she beams.

We had a peek into of the open kitchen, which features a range of tantalising East Asian and Western dishes. Our curiosity was warranted too. Reeve-Tucker reveals, “The kitchen is supposed to remind you of your kitchen at home, the way you can just pop your head in and see what’s going on!”

White City House’s House Gym is almost too pretty to imagine working up a sweat in. There’s equipment and studio spaces for all of your fitness needs, whether it’s high intensity interval training, or cardio and weightlifting. Plus, you can cool off in in the pool, or opt for the steam room, sauna or relax with hammam session instead. Finish off with a bite at the juice bar, but not before some celeb treatment in the makeup area of the ladies changing rooms.

On our way out, one particular framed piece catches our attention. Richard Bacon was infamously dismissed from Blue Peter for cocaine use, and he gave the phone number of the dealer (where he used to purchase the substances) to contemporary artist Ben Kustow. An inspired Kustow created an image of a rolled up piece of paper with the phone number on it.

Interested? A monthly membership will set you back £108.33. And they say you can’t put a price on happiness.

Photos by the Soho House Group.

Originally published on White Noise

April 2018

Ever been to an exhibition where you’ve got to lay down with three life-sized dolls and listen to very intimate conversations? Nope? We didn’t think so.

RCA’s Sandra Sordini’s talking dolls explores social norms within relationships and sexuality.

It only took the MA Visual Communications student a month of sewing to create the dolls from scratch. The artwork also features a backdrop and a mattress (to emulate a bedroom scenario) as well as graffiti and quotes from the interviews to enhance the visual aspect.

Sandra, who has a background in graphic design, took a very personal approach to her work. “I was trying out open relationships and some elements were frustrating. It all comes down to communication. I recorded pillow talk with people I was dating, (they were ok to do it), and what it means to be in an open relationship. I liked the idea of taking this intimacy into an open context – becoming a fly on the wall.”

Due to the nature of the conversations, Sordini questioned the just how much she wanted to reveal. “The conversations are all over an hour, I had a discussion with my tutor about whether I should edit it down. There were some bits that I wasn’t comfortable about sharing, but I chose not to edit it. I thought, ‘people will only listen for a minute or two, not the entire duration, so they’re getting bits of the conversation’”.

And it’s not just the conversations that are personal. “You really have to cuddle with the dolls to hear what’s being said,” the artist explains. “You’re in a very intimate and vulnerable position where it might be weird for other people watching you.”

But what does she hope to get out of the project? “It’s about sparking conversations about issues that I’m interested in. A lot of my work is trying to start a dialogue, asking questions rather than getting answers.”

Sordini, who originally wanted to study psychology but switched to art last minute, hopes to continue to marry the two worlds together. “I’d like to teach art, have great interviews with people (like a journalist), and put those voices into art work. It could be film or installation based.

You can have a sneak peek of the exhibition here.

Originally published in White Noise

April 2018

It’s not just about making jam, chutney, pear compote or even Yorkshire pudding. The kids of Bubble and Squeak are on a mission. Operation: Combat food waste

NOT JUST ABOUT MAKING JAM, CHUTNEY, PEAR COMPOTE OR EVEN A YORKSHIRE PUDDING. THE KIDS OF BUBBLE AND SQUEAK ARE ON A MISSION. OPERATION: COMBAT FOOD WASTE.

The social enterprise, named after an English dish using leftover veggies, is led by Eleanor Harrington, Lydia Gandaa and 400 children between the ages of 5 to 12 from Old Oak Primary School, as well as its Community Centre. Based in East Acton, it’s all about healthy eating, redistribution, cooking, business skills and the importance of community and upholding great values.

When we arrive on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, the session’s in full swing. R’n’B music plays in the background; a sweet, fruity scent from the kitchen is dispersed in the air. Judging by the looks on the kids’ faces, combined with the sheer energy of the place, there’s no doubt that they love it.

Despite being just over a year old, Bubble and Squeak has gained press attention, featuring on Time Out as well as The Metro. The budding entrepreneurs have tried their hand at pitching and designing packages for Christmas chutney, which was sold locally. These kids mean business.

Harrington explains how the organisation is working with kids on a deeper level. “There’s been a fear that’s developed around food. It’s about experiences that are different from what they known at home. For example, teaching them that it’s okay to pick up a mouldy apple and put it in the recycling bin – you won’t die! Bubble and Squeak is a reaction to those ideas.”

Work within the community includes bingo nights with the elderly, and helping out with free food giveaways to those in need.

It’s only the start for Bubble and Squeak. Harrington says that they’re in the process of taking things to the next level. “We’re going to start making official sales from the kitchen,” she beams. “I thought the process would be more simple!” Dragon’s Den, watch out.