The Big Walls and Windows Project is an annual competition in collaboration with Liquitex and Cass Art, that gives students at Central Saint Martins the opportunity to create a large-scale artwork in the window galleries at the entrance of the college. For the 10th anniversary two students - Geneve Chu and Alex Free - were selected as the winners of the project. They each submitted an ambitious proposal and produced two pieces, each occupying a window. While both creating their own distinct sculptural piece, there are shared motifs and colours which run throughout. Their installations pay tribute to the creative energy of CSM and their experience of being part of the inspired community, visually representing the connections between the space and its students.
We caught up with Geneve and Alex to find out more about her experience and how they approached the project…
Hi Geneve & Alex! Congratulations again on being selected for the 2023 Big Walls and Windows Project in Central Saint Martins. Can you tell us what made you apply for the Big Walls & Windows project? What appealed to you about working on such a large scale?
GC: I often pass by those big windows on my way to university and have always seen inspiring works exhibited there. When I saw the advertisement for this project, I knew I had to apply. I was quite drawn by the visibility of those spaces and what it would mean for my work to occupy such a large scale window. It was an opportunity I couldn’t miss!
AF: I had seen advertisements for the project in previous years but was encouraged by one of my tutors Sara David to apply for the project. I found the opportunity to work on such a large scale to be really exciting as up to this point I’ve not had that amount of space to work on it.
You each took a large window gallery space in ‘The Crossing’ a public thoroughfare at Central Saint Martin’s in the busy Kings Cross area of London. Can you tell us about the concept behind your installations?
GC: The concept was based on the responses I collected by interviewing students, tutors and workers at CSM when I was in my first year, asking them what it meant to be in this art school. At the time, I was still unsure about whether I had made the ‘right choice’ in pursuing art. The responses I received were invaluable. They made me feel less alone and more confident in my decision, and also helped me navigate difficulties with impostor syndrome.
AF: “Here we meet” is inspired by the student body of CSM, it looks to represent the diverse backgrounds of our students (starting as singular threads) meeting and conjoining towards the gates of CSM, the film accompanying the sculpture looks to focus on inclusivity, and changing the way that we view work (for example it automatically being in English).
Now you’ve completed the installations, how did you find the experience and were there any big challenges?
GC: The biggest challenge I had to face was to let go of some of my control and put more trust in my intuition. I learnt to be more open and flexible in embracing and trying different possibilities instead of being restricted by my own doubts that arise when I’m not following a specific plan. My finished piece differed from the proposed design a lot, but I’m nonetheless glad it did because I realised that the work will take place when you are engaging with the material hands-on instead of on a diagram on a digital screen.
AF: Since I dyed all of my rope by hand it did become quite physically taxing at points (working through blisters and such) but the outcome was so effective that it didn’t bother me much.
How did you find working with Liquitex paints and mediums, did you find the materials shaped the artwork in a new way for you?
GC: I found myself learning to work with the materials instead of forcing them to behave in the manner I want them to. I've learnt a lot about the limitations and possibilities of different Liquitex mediums from experimenting with acrylic paints to spray paint and inks. I found myself being more in conversation with the material instead of seeing it as a tool to convey my concepts and meanings. This eased my anxiety in experimenting with unfamiliar mediums and embracing their versatile properties.
AF: I found the Liquitex acrylic inks to be a really versatile medium to work with, they were super pigmented so even though I was diluting them in water to dye my rope they still left bold colours.
Can you tell us how you tackled the project step by step?
GC: I started with the logistics, estimating how much fabric and paper would be needed by drawing a diagram to-scale on Illustrator. I also ran small tests before purchasing the materials to find the most suitable ones for dying and approximate ratios for the inks. Then, I began the production process. I was fortunate to have kind and supportive friends who helped me during the dying process. I also made different ink patterns on the newsprint, stuck all of those together with glue and sewed the fabrics together. Before installing, I experimented with different drapings to create dynamic shapes and flows.
AF: I started by cutting my rope into the required lengths. I then soaked them and batch dyed them to keep consistent colours and make the most of the product. I would then leave the rope to dry for three to four days before I would start to add them to the sculpture. The armature of the sculpture is constructed from cardboard in a manor similar to the segmentation of bamboo with a thick drain pipe running through the middle. I then individually glued the ropes onto the armature, wrapping and layering them to create the desired effect.
How do you hope the passing public will respond to the work?
GC: I found winter in the UK to be quite gloomy and slightly depressing because it gets dark very early in the day. I hope the passing public will smile as they encounter the vibrant colours in my window and that their spirits will be uplifted, even if just for a brief moment. I would also like for the word design to draw them closer to the work and get them to try and identify words within the design.
AF: I hope that it catches the public eye in the sense that they might be confronted with a language more familiar to them than English, I worked really hard with my translators to take my message from dialect to dialect so I hope it sparks some recognition.
What are your final thoughts on the project? Has it helped you to develop as an artist and do you feel you’d like to tackle more site-specific artwork installations in the future?
GC: I am so pleased with how the piece turned out and I am very proud to see my work come
to fruition. The project has helped me develop confidence in my capabilities of handling such a huge project, not only with the technical and conceptual aspects, but also the logistics. I would love to tackle more site-specific work in the future. I enjoy developing these relationships with the community and environment as well as seeing how I can make art that fits a purpose on top of having aesthetic value.
AF: It has definitely opened my practice up to working on a much larger scale, in conjunction it has also given me a greater understanding of project and time management especially when working with external companies.
And finally, what’s next for you?
GC: I want to do more site-specific projects so I am in the process of applying to various different opportunities I’ve researched into. Make sure to keep an eye out there for any future works I create on Instagram @genevechu. I hope you will see more of me very soon!
AF: In February 2024 I will be putting on an exhibition at the Koppel projects’ OPEN-ing space in Bank for LGBT+ History month, featuring exclusively queer artist and focusing on untold histories and queer health. Stay up to date my following my practice on Instagram @alexfree123.
Thanks Geneve and Alex!
See the works on display at The Crossing, Central Saint Martins, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA until 24th January 2024.
Read more artist interviews on the Cass Art blog.
Check out the Liquitex range available at Cass Art.
Image credits: Images 2 & 11 © Peter Cattrell, all other images © Angela Tozzi.