© 2022

A Desert, A Studio, A Duality of Objects: With Patricia Vernhes




The desert, Joshua Tree, California. Home, studio, environment. Embedded amongst the tranquility and fluctuating elements of the natural environment, artist Patricia Vernhes has found a new space. Amongst the vast wilderness and with limited contact to the outside world, Joshua Tree stands out in comparison to the artist’s past homes in London and Poland. With powerfully distinct surroundings like this, how much of your practice can flourish? How much is allowed to flourish? The desert poses a duality: a harsh ecosystem and an unparalleled expanse. For Vernhes it has become the latter - a rich source of emotion, a blank canvas, a library of materials. With works that explore innocence in all it’s forms, Vernhes is taken from naivety to boldness, from letting go to trusting. From that, Other One emerged.

An ongoing dialogue and an open conversation with objects & places - and subsequent thinking which arises when the two interact. Found objects and found materials are reimagined, through ideas they both previously and currently embody. Vernhes navigates around these distinctions - found objects and heirlooms, environment-made and man-made - creating new sculptures and pieces that empathetically converse with their environments. It is not just the finished pieces -  intricately placed in the desert environment - that bring about a sense of contemplation, but the materials too. Soft earthy wood, bright white plaster, black lava rock. Other One is profound in directing us toward alternative thinking, remembering and hoping. Are memories infinitely attached to our heirlooms and old pieces of home? Is river rock still as unique and imperfect after it is fused with plaster? Does wood still offer safety and strength when it stands on its own unsupported? This conversation with Vernhes was especially insightful, and Other One is undoubtedly unique in its approach, character and potential.  

How significant is your desert locale - with all its encompassing elements - in your process and practice, and how does it feed into your works?  

PV It’s pivotal. It has stripped me of all the layers I wanted to get rid of. I feel naked here. I instinctively knew I had to be here to shed lifetimes of programming so I could gather with bare hands from my own creative well. I’ve been able to shed referencing, work on my own time and pace, and feel truly connected to the world and life in the grand sense.

Are there any crucial elements that you take from this locale? Does it connect to specific emotions or ideas you have?

PV I am really enjoying the honesty of where I am and what I am able to take in through all my senses. I created an off-grid archive of culture that I brought with me in order to have access and a sense of continuity yet still be offline whenever I wanted. In fact, there is no cell reception where I live. Space in the desert is a blank canvas. It’s timeless and continuously submerged in wonder and glory. I love the abundance it creates within me as a human, a high quality of life in its purest form. It’s also raw, unpredictable, full of surprises, and demands your intuition to always be engaged.  


Having traversed across various places, how does your current environment feel?

PV It feels new every day. I am most at home here out of anywhere I’ve lived so far. Getting out of here is also a joy, as much as returning to it.

What connection and perspective do you think artists have, in relation to their environments?

PV I can only speak for myself, but when I am looking to express a concept it is to engage the viewer or experiencer in a dialogue that is both internal and external. Every medium needs an environment; it changes depending on where it’s placed or played out. I think that’s the basic conditioning of art.

As an artist, I am by default in relationship with my environment, constantly. I commune with it, nurture it, use it, and adapt it. Protecting it is part of the logic of self-preservation. We belong together. For me personally, it means Earth as a place. We are here to steward it and we can’t live anywhere else. As a viewer, my experience of works of art always feels intimate and personal. So that’s the power, the privilege to speak to one viewer at a time, intimately, no matter how many people. And the ripple keeps growing.


The dialogue you seek to open up in Other One stems from objects, place and environment. How did this come about, and why are you choosing to work on an ongoing dialogue?

PV I believe it’s a conversation that lasts a lifetime. In fact, time is playing an important role in that conversation and the work. We have removed a lot of time from most processes these days.

A great deal of attention and importance is placed on objects: objects of desire, symbols of status, the longevity (built-in obsolescence) and habits and patterns that change us communally thanks to objects we use daily. When I take an object, like black lava rock, which is part of the planet and older than anything we’ve known, and present it in a new form locked in time, it turns into a conversation that feels very exciting to me. 

The polarised distinction between heirlooms and found objects seems to intertwine in this work, too. These pieces exude both misplacement and belonging.

How did Lungs find itself as part of Other One? You mention the change in meaning - does this play into the notion that these works also question human perception?

PV I spend a lot of time studying local rock formations. Their beauty is both abstract and mathematical. It's almost impossible not to see shapes play out when we engage in that dialogue with our environment. Here it’s a daily experience, powerful and evocative.

In Lungs, the two rocks are black lava. They are solidified fire, old like the center of the Earth they came from. They happen to stand together and become something else. To me they look like organs, so I cast them as such. I was really overwhelmed with emotion when I first saw them standing in front of me like that, barely balancing, resembling calcified organs, especially in the middle of a spiraling lockdown during a pandemic that primarily affects the lungs.


Other One dissects environments and objects within to reach the centre where you find their inextricable connections. The Naked Woman explores this vividly. What was the structural process like for this?

PV She was pieced together from the base upwards as if I was painting a portrait from memory. Originally, my plan was to use mesh and cement to cover the structure, but once I saw her face I knew she was complete. Transparent. Vulnerable. Yet solid.

River rock, black lava rock, wood. In one way they are almost opposite reflections of your other materials selected such as resin and plaster. Do the incorporated materials play a purpose, is there a distinction between the two?

PV Yes, the main distinction is that the former is environment-made and the latter is man-made. Resin and plaster were created to adapt, change, and curb the environment. That’s their function. Environment-made materials are by default noble and timeless regardless of their size. The very act of displacing them has consequences. They are a perfect example of that concept cocktail: acceptance of time, solidification, and perfect order in an untouched world.

What was the material process like? Do you think materials alter more of the meaning, or do you think environments have a greater potential?

PV It was pure wonder to bring man-made materials into nature and combine them, to give them a new language together. The environment’s potential is always infinite. Humanity is finite, and we often seem pretty shortsighted in our collective strategy or lack thereof.

Objects such as heirlooms carry distinct memories. Do you think that their meaning and purpose in relation to their original environment is always present, especially when these objects are moved and placed elsewhere?

PV That's an essential part of my work, and I am being very careful to be respectful and yet create an awareness of the event. I feel like an invader and I am trying to offload that into the objects,  but only on the conceptual level, whilst keeping the environment as protected as possible. It’s like eating meat or saying a prayer. It’s what we choose to believe.

Do you intend to keep adding to the pieces that make up Other One?

PV I am excited to see them travel, change the environments they move through, and see how they interact within walls and cities. 


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