Fiona Foster at Riverside Studios, London

Review of exhibition "Veering Southeasterly" (1999).

R.J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 1 July 2010
This review was previously published in Sculpture magazine in October 1999, 18(8), page 77-8.

Fiona Foster at Riverside Studios

When approaching the work of Fiona Foster, the following question arises: What are these objects? One looks like a Catholic confessional— or a Balinese temple— with “tarty” attire and a flamboyant hat. Another, Papal Hatchings (1999), resembles a giant egg timer dressed in regal purple with eel catcher nets emerging through curves. They look almost magical or Disneylandesque, but not quite. These two sculptures introduced the 20 works in Fiona Foster’s recent exhibition, “Veering South Easterly,” which examined her cross-cultural experiences, fusing familiar and unfamiliar cultural material onto the artist’s autobiographical core.

The dominant thread surfacing in these works is the appropriation of found objects, taken not only from the artist’s familiar surroundings, but also gathered on her travels. Fiona Foster, raised in Scotland and now a London resident, included objects from travels from one geographic diagonal on the Eurasian land mass to another. From Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, islands off the northwest coast considered to be Europe’s last frontier— with seaside whales and seals— she expressed interest in natural elements as well as discarded objects like old ovens, farm tools, and abandoned cars that have washed ashore. “Veering South Easterly,” Foster traveled consistently to Southeast Asia from 1991–98, and lived with a family of Balinese artists for six months and studied their craft. In her quest for the “exotic,” the exotic bit back, and her experiences have greatly impacted her content, forms, materials, techniques, and ways of thinking.

Adding wit and surprise to the work, she also incorporates low-tech sound, often in the form of windup music boxes which the viewer can activate, as in Auld Land Syne (1996) and Tapped Time (1996), which plays “Three blind mice.” Playful titles include The Scot Exchange (1999), which combines a suede skirt, chair legs, and feathers and resembles bagpipes, and Bali Bulletin (1999), which integrates a found piece of teak, feathers from a Scottish pheasant— and bullets— and becomes a megaphone.

In addition to her training in sculpture, Fiona Foster is a practicing art therapist, which impacts upon her work. “I’m fascinated by the opposing forces of different objects meeting each other— whether it’s form, texture, shape— I enjoy putting them together,” says Foster. “That applies in art therapy. What happens in people’s minds— what goes on inside— and these conflicts.”

And every work has an interesting story. So, for The Temptress (1998), Fiona Foster refers to her childhood schooling in a Catholic convent— which she unsuccessfully attempted to escape with poor exam results— as well as Balinese temples, with their intricate carving. She emphasizes the procession, with the viewer invited to walk up the steps and into the box. Upon entering a feather-covered interior and closing the doors in the fairy tale-like capsule, a sensor comically activates the theme of the BBC World Service news.

While sound in The Temptress offers a witty twist to the autobiographical fusion, it also relates to neocolonialism, the sometimes insular variety of expatriate culture, and the “fascinating” usage of Western cultural objects given new contexts in other places. The title itself refers to word plays on temple and temptor, and the autobiographical core, and The Temptress illustrates the artist’s cultural acquisition as a selective, piecemeal process. Ultimately, Fiona Foster’s work complicates this acquisition and identification, while creating playful and integrated forms.