Artists in lockdown: Kay Walsh | Sarjeant Gallery Whanganui
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Artists in lockdown: Kay Walsh

Artists in lockdown: Kay Walsh

Studio shot

Curator & Public Programmes Manager, Greg Donson talks to London-based artist Kay Walsh who works primarily in moving image. As a day job she’s an early childhood teacher. Originally from Whanganui, Kay has been in London for 32 years but regularly visits home and in 2010 she was artist-in-residence at Tylee Cottage.

This is a strange time for us all, how’s lockdown been going for you? Can you tell us a little about what it’s like being in a huge city like London?

Yes very strange to be in a usually bustling city that has become in a sense quieter and easier to manage. Nature is back, skies are clear blue and the river Thames seems reflective. The biggest contrast is in the business quarters and central London where the absence of people is marked. You can ride on your bike and feel like you own the streets once more. It is a city in slow time. Feels like a time we would never have imagined pre-Covid times.

What’s it been like seeing how the British and NZ Governments have approached the situation?

I compare and contrast NZ and the UK’s approach to dealing with this deadly virus daily. I wish we had gone hard and fast rather than sleep walking slowly into the crisis we now are having to live in.

Our lack of transparency in the thinking around the decisions has meant we comply through fear, the elite want to hold the power and there seems a lack of trust. It means we face an even more uncertain future I feel here as the lack of testing and tracing at the outset means we will take longer to get out of lockdown. This epidemic is political and all our responses therefore need to be focused towards this for any good to come out the other side.

Lockdown walk at low tide on the River Thames

I heard a story of someone in New York this week and they said they hated leaving the confines of their high rise apartment…..living in close quarters to other people making social distancing difficult and having to rely on public transport to get to supermarkets etc was making things hard for them. Is that the case for you or do you have easy access to what you need? Are you managing to get exercise or are you running a marathon in your flat?

I cycle in London so I can avoid public transport and so I feel safe. We are allowed out for an hour a day so I spend my time cycling to my allotment or walking along the Thames beach near my flat when the tide is out. If you go early there is only a handful of people around. Another pattern that’s emerged is the power of the web. Nightly zoom yoga sessions with a newly formed group that’s come out of the crisis is keeping me sane and hopefully fit. No Marathon running going on but some table top dancing instead!

A lot of your practice involves venturing out into nature to film, obviously you can’t do this at home, has being in lockdown altered the way you work? Have you had more focused time making? Have you been making art or something else? Bread, knitting a sweater….

It’s true I can’t escape to the places I like to make work in so have set up some projects from home. Filming the birdsong for the dawn chorus which seems louder but maybe we can just hear more clearly as deadly quiet at 5 am. Nature has also come to me in a sense, birds landing on my balcony or swooping through the trees outside my window. I am also making a series of quick ink drawings of all the natural objects I have collected over the years on my kitchen table that has become my studio.

Film still from ‘Shed Hunting’ 2020

Were you working on anything major when the UK went into lockdown? Did you have any big projects on the boil that have had to be cancelled or put on hold?

I had just finished a series of new works that were exhibited in BEAST at OBS Gallery which brought together a group of artists who work explores human/animal relationships. I was in the midst of discussions with the National Trust curator and RAMM a Museum Gallery in Exeter about touring my work when lockdown happened. I am hopeful these possibilities of screening the work will still go ahead at a later date.

What’s surprised you about being stuck at home 24/7?

How much I like being at home.

What’s the one item or items you wished you’d acquired / purchased to keep you occupied during lockdown?

A MacBook to continue editing new film, my old one has crashed!

Lockdown walk at low tide on the River Thames

Are you more disciplined in your making or a bit distracted?

I am a bit more distracted but have tried to find ways to structure my day. A drawing a day exchange with an artist in NZ has been a good discipline and have started to plan post Covid projects looking at rewilding.

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened since you’ve been in lockdown?

That I dance to music in my front room like no one’s watching….cos they really aren’t!

Lockdown walk at low tide on the River Thames

Read any good books, listened to any good podcasts?

I listened to a great podcast about icebergs and the different sounds they make whilst cracking in the advancing ice melt. Very poetic and visual through sound.

What would your lockdown theme song be?

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake