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Studio Secrets

Edwina Ashton


Describe the things and images that you have around you in your studio

In London, where I lived became virtually unusable. Last August some friends helped me to get rid of the accumulated objects of interest. We threw out 150 bin bags of rubbish; mainly tree props for a pantomime that never got beyond the tree making stage.

At the British School at Rome I moved into a huge white studio. The worst possible film objects are two cream umbrellas with tassels. They came from one of the few second-hand shops in Rome. The owner gets furious when he's asked for discounts. Last October he smashed a record player on the floor rather than sell it. There is a growing collection of caterpillar suits and future insect costumes; a pair of yellow golfing caps, 'luxury' fur blankets and woollen things.

Drawings and photos go in and out of favour but these seem to be hang on, 'The Steep Path' by Adolph Schudel, from the Prinzhorn Collection, A very black (over-photocopied) Swiss hotel, Rodney Graham in stripy trousers, 'The Triadic Ballet' by Oskar Schlemmer, nine print-outs from 'What's That Caterpillar', David Shrigley's list of things which should have held your attention and the things which did and a photograph of my sister with an exceptional yellow person.

The caterpillars are practical - I keep an eye on them when I am making a costume. The others have an intensity, which I find exciting. I don't really use them they just remind me what I love about making THINGS.

Describe your working methods and processes

I make videos and drawings with animal characters in awkward social encounters and uncomfortable mental states. I take a long time making and re-making costumes or props or scripts but as time got short the artists, historians and archaeologists here all helped sew the more repetitive legs.

The drawings are made on wallpaper and layered with other drawings. The images, which come from books like old travel guides or encyclopaedias, are re-drawn until they become something else. I'm looking for a balance between a kind of blankness, giving very little information and exuberance.   

Which single item in your studio is most important to your work?

A window

Which artist/s most influence your work and which recent show has been inspirational?

For years I've loved William Wegman's early videos and Fischli and Weiss' films. I only read about them but there's something liberating about that indirectness. I'm still amazed by their ability to slip between media and to be deadly serious and very funny at the same time. 'Beyond Reason', at the Hayward, an exhibition of drawings from the Prinzhorn Collection, was incredibly moving. In Rome one of the most overwhelming things I've seen has an underground dining room painted with extraordinary frescoes for Livia, wife of Augustus. It is now on the top floor of Palazzo Massimo, the slightly dry National Roman Museum. These paintings, a series of gardens leading out to a forest filled with birds, are around two thousand years old. Painted quite darkly and very faded in places, they are extraordinarily delicate, dense and fantastical, like being in an Eastern European children's animation.

Is your studio a refuge or a place of torture?

I love seeing other artist' studios. They are as revealing in their unexpected detail as seeing into someone's supermarket trolley. Recently however I've come to think my studio is a fantasy; a set, in which I set up an idea of being an artist and one in which I'm never quite part of.