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FFOTO's Five Quarantine Questions for Emily Robertson, Kristin Sjaarda, and Jon Setter

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The studio of Kristin Sjaarda

A view into Kristin Sjaarda's studio

This third instalment of FFOTO's Five Quarantine Questions checks in with Emily Robertson, director of Montreal's Galerie Roberston Arès, and two of the photographers she represents: Toronto-based Kristin Sjaarda and Sydney, Australia-based Jon Setter. Information about these artists and their artworks can be found on FFOTO - just follow the links below their FF/QQ responses. Enjoy!

- Craig D'Arville

 

 

EMILY ROBERTSON, art dealer (@partymixtape; @galerierobertsonares)

Galerie Robertson Arès interior

Emily Robertson passing through Galerie Robertson Arès

Craig D'Arville: What are you working on right now? 

Emily Robertson: Our team is coming up with innovative ways to promote the Spanish painter @linolago’s solo show! We had the space beautifully photographed by @sylvain.granier. It was important to us that the photographes give a sense of scale so that our clients could imagine adding the artwork to their collection, even without experiencing it in person. In two weeks we have another solo show set to open with @rycrotty so we are in the process of creating preview catalogues and making sure the artwork is ready to be shipped and placed online. 

CD: How is physical distancing affecting your art practice?

ER: Being home with a toddler definitely keeps things interesting! My productivity and efficiency have multiplied during nap time! I have had more FaceTime and Zoom meetings than ever before! The top part of my body is work attire while the bottom is stretchy pants (or no pants, let’s be honest). Social distancing has led to many snack and coffee breaks, but also to the opportunity to dive into excellent books (…and Tiger King…) 

CD: What are you doing to stay engaged with your community during this strange time?

ER: We developed strong online content to put across our various platforms. Our partnerships with @ffotohq, Artsy, Artcloud, and @agac_canada are all the more important and valued in this unprecedented situation. We are fortunate our gallery had already had a strong online platform and was active on social media - it’s actually a part of the business that we naturally gravitate to. Last Monday, for example, we had a really fun day on Instagram! We asked our artists, friends and collaborators to share their favourite book. It made for great dialogue. Building a community and interacting with like-minded people is a gift we get to enjoy even from home! 

CD: We're all spending a lot of time on social media right now. Whose work is getting your attention right now?

ER: The Canadian photographers Kristin Sjaarda (@ksjaar) and Allan Bailey (@allanbailey) as well as the Australia-based photographer Jon Setter (@jonsetter) have remained extremely active on their social media. We are lucky to have such outlets and to have the opportunity to visit our artists’ studios and peek into their imagination as they share insight into their creative process. If we look at what neighbouring galleries are doing, we have a huge soft spot for the photographer Ben Thomas (@___benthomas) from Duran|Mashaal Gallery (@duranmashaalgallery). 

CD: Any advice you’d like to share to help others coping with working from home, or in isolation?

ER: This unprecedented period drastically changes our habits, reflexes and shakes our day to day comfort to the core. We want to believe that we will come out stronger and wiser, but for now, this time of quarantine is not easy... We have been very vocal about inviting any person who feels isolated, who needs a little pick-me-up, sunshine or creative inspiration to never hesitate to contact us. 

Emily Robertson WFH selfie

Emily Robertson's #WFH selfie

View Galerie Robertson Arès listings on FFOTO

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KRISTIN SJAARDA, photographer (@ksjaar

Pink Plastic Tulips artwork
Tulips and Pink Plastic, 2019

Craig D'Arville: Tell us a bit about "Tulips and Pink Plastic".

Kristin Sjaarda: This print is part of my "Plastics Series." Using the style of Dutch Golden Age painters as a jumping-off point, and objects passed down to me from my Dutch grandmother’s family, I photograph flowers grown in my downtown Toronto neighbourhood alongside the flora and fauna that live and thrive in our urban environment. While the historical 17th-century artworks were made in an era of expansion and exploitation, these images strive to preserve and shine a light on what is now threatened by climate change. The photograph is a reflection of both my heritage and the city that I live in.

In this series I started including found pieces of plastic. I noticed in the spring, once the snow had melted, that in the public spaces in downtown Toronto there was a lot of wind-blown garbage around. It was ugly and therefore mostly ignored by passers-by, and beautiful in the way the winter-worn and softened plastic draped in tree branches and caught on fences. Previously, in earlier series of photographs, I restricted myself to incorporating only local species of birds, insects and flowers. In this way I wanted to create a environmental still life of a specific time and place. The bird eggs in the arrangement are matched up with flowers that would bloom at the same time as the nesting season. The grackle eggs in this image are loaned to me from the Royal Ontario Museum. With this new series, I felt like I could not ignore the plastic that was so prevalent in the spaces from which I was taking my subject matter. The plastic is inevitable and unavoidable, seemingly part of nature now.

CD: How is physical distancing affecting your work flow?

KS: My studio is in my home so when the time comes to work on a new photograph, my actual practice won’t change much. I try to use flowers that are grown in the Toronto area and the flowers that will start blooming in my garden. I began shooting this series as a way of staying creative when I was at home taking care of my small children, so that experience is not that different to how we all need to stay home now. I have been getting flowers from florists who carry local product but, like all small businesses, they are closed. I had several pieces in art fairs (AAF NYC, AAF Brussels, the SNAP auction, the Art Gallery of Hamilton auction) that were, of course, postponed or cancelled and that has been disappointing, and a photography workshop scheduled for the end of April which is now postponed. I am very inspired by other artists and the social restrictions mean that I can't go to the Art Gallery of Ontario and other galleries to see art. I look forward to doing that again. 

CD: What are you doing to stay engaged with your community during this strange time?

KS: It’s really incredible how the art community has rallied around their artists. Art galleries, like Robertson Arès, hardly skipped a beat when the stay-at-home advisory came into effect. They have been so supportive of their artists with behind-the-scenes features and on-line shows. There is definitely a great connection there in seeing other artists following their creative calling. I’m finding that many artists are re-posting images on their feeds to promote each other. I have been watching live videos as artists host really cool events on their Instagram feed. I have been on Instagram as my main source of connection to the outside word and I am amazed at how artists and galleries have pivoted to incorporate their living experience as well their art. As I think that many of us are feeling a lot of anxiety and fearfulness for the future, I have tried being a bit more transparent on my social media as a way of re-assuring and connecting to people with some of the same difficult feelings that I have been going through. As it's been said a million times. "We are all in the same boat," and I really feel that now as this virus is global. 

CD: We're all spending a lot of time on social media right now. Whose work is getting your attention right now?

KS: So many inspiring photographers out there! Here are some favourites: Cig Harvey (@cig_harvey) has some thoughtful florals. I’ve always admired Raquel Chicheri (@raquelchicheri) and her work with kids and teens. Anna Church (@annachurch_art) has some new work on linen that I’m excited about. Becky Comber (@comberger) has incredible cut-out photos that are so intricate. I admire Tami Bahat (@tamibahatphoto). Everything that Whitney Lewis-Smith (@whitneylewissmith) does, i wish I had done. Caity Birmingham (@playcait) is not a photographer by trade but has a great feed. I’ve been following Aya Mishima Brackett (@ayabracket) since she had a blog. Daniella Zalcman (@dzalcman) because of her tireless work to promote women photographers, plus she is so talented. Adam Scotti (@adamscotti), Grant Cornett (@grantcornett), Brendan George Ko (@brendangeorgeko). And Derek Shapton (@thunder_pino) because he does that urban ugly/beautiful so perfectly.

CD: Any advice you’d like to share to help others coping with working from home, or in isolation?

KS: I just watched Jojo Rabbit last night and the Scarlett Johansen character says “(People) are just doing what they can”; I think that’s the best we can do. I also think if you are looking for some kind of creative outlet, do what Elizabeth Gilbert says: follow your curiosity. This is a good time to poke around and try things out, see where it goes with no attachment to the final outcome. I tried making sourdough bread and it’s pretty good! Its very practical too, as the final result gets eaten! I have also re-read my favourite book “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, an excellent book with a wonderfully anxious main character and his mediation on why art is essential to life. 

Kristin Sjaarda

Kristin Sjaarda's #WFH selfie

Shop FFOTO: Kristin Sjaarda

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Jon Setter, photographer (@jonsetter)

Three Kinds of Blue, by Jon Setter

Three Kinds of Blue, 2020

Craig D'Arville: Tell us about this brand new work, "Three Kinds of Blue".

Jon Setter: This artwork is one of my new favourites. It was taken while I was in Bali in 2018. The image is called "Three Kinds of Blue" for the different shades of blue in the composition. What I like even more is that all the colour comes from three different skies; the two shapes that converge are billboards with the top being the actual sky. By combining them all into one composition I was able to mix reality with materiality of the same subject. 

The image is part of my larger body of work titled The Urban Text which is an ongoing exploration that attempts to reveal unseen aspects that shape how we experience urban spaces and architecture. I often document the details people walk past and use daily but may not consciously observe. In this case I chose to shoot billboards. I feel these are parts of the urban environment we are typically bombarded by, so we may not really ever look closely at them. By eliminating their advertising purpose and focusing on their texture and colour, I hope to shift the viewers' perception of how a billboard can be presented.

CD: How is physical distancing affecting your work flow?

JS: For me, physical distancing hasn’t affected me too much yet. Actually, my process of photography has always had me practicing social distancing. I walk around by myself and shoot architecture with no people visible in the frame. If Australia didn’t make me have to be in quarantine after coming back from my overseas trip I would be out shooting the empty streets right now. Because I have to be home though, right now I am spending my time sitting on the couch going through archives and editing images from my last trip. 

CD: What are you doing to stay engaged with your community during this strange time?

JS: I like using social media to talk with photographers I have met from around the world, so at these times we are doing what we normally do and messaging every now and then to see how everyone is coping - making sure we are all staying safe no matter where we are at. 

CD: We're all spending a lot of time on social media right now. Whose work is getting your attention right now?

JS: Besides using Instagram to talk with friends, I actually haven’t been using it or posting as regularly. Without being able to go out, and currently editing works from my last trip, I don’t have as much to share. But there are always photographers I love looking at on Instagram. Some of them are Ben Thomas (@___benthomas), Sinziana Velicescu (@casualtimetravel), Yoshinori Mizutani (@yoshinori_mizutani), Andrea Gruetzner (@andreagruetzner) and Tekla Evelina Severin (@teklan).

CD: Any advice you’d like to share to help others coping with working from home, or in isolation?

JS: My advice would be to not let this time at home halt your creativity. Even if, like me, you are used to shooting outside, use your time to learn a new skillset you can practice once all this is finished. I’ve been playing with new editing techniques in Photoshop by editing older images while watching youtube tutorials. This has actually prompted me to make a new instagram account where I can share these type of images. If I didn’t have this extra time I may never have thought to do so. So just keep finding a way to stay productive and grow while staying home. 

Shop FFOTO: Jon Setter

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