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Interview: Somerset House Studios Guest Curator Taylor LeMelle of Swimmers Limb at Gallery 31

Interview: Somerset House Studios Guest Curator Taylor LeMelle of Swimmers Limb at Gallery 31

Swimmers Limb is the sixth season for Somerset House Studios’ Gallery 31 exhibition space, curated by Taylor LeMelle. Featuring works by Tai Shani, Mani Kambo and Comuzi Lab, Swimmers Limb is ‘about’ no theme in particular. If it is about anything, it is about the viewer’s appreciation of whatever connections exist between their own life experience and these works.

Swimmers Limb sees artist Tai Shani share watercolours from her latest series The Neon Hieroglyph where nine hypnotic stories form feminist mythology of psychedelics. For Shani, the psychedelic is a space that can drive new visions of society.

Design studio Comuzi Lab’s current focus is on digital healthcare services and learning to be intentional about care giving. Working on this exhibition from the design studio are Yaa Addae and Safiya McKenzie. In Swimmers Limb they call for contributions to their budding research on love and wellbeing.

Artist Mani Kambo will respond to Tai’s wall work with an immersive wallpaper design. Kambo works with symbols and iconography, assembling patterns and complex shapes into textile and print works. Tapping into her own ‘gut reactions’, she is teaching herself about human cells, living off the land, hallucinations, rituals, the transformative power of fire and the cleansing power of water. 

Through a curatorial focus of connecting with their own intuition and exhibition-as-research, Swimmers Limb curator Taylor LeMelle is convinced that new possibilities emerge for joy, for longevity and for revelation when they can train their focus onto their own pleasure. ALT caught up LeMelle to chat!!!

  • Why is it important that your voice is heard in an industry where “minority”  voice are not as loud as they should be?

i Feel our voices shouldn’t need to be loud in industries that would not exist as they do today without bipoc innovations. i don’t feel like being loud. the people i love being amongst don’t require me to yell. This version of the industry you reference in which BIPOC voices are lacking is not relevant to me, I don’t care about it and I won’t nourish it with my talents. What I give my attention to is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) voices and so those are mostly what I hear. some are louder and some are quieter. I have very much appreciated the moments when my voice has been heard, but it is more important to me to listen better or listen more acutely and with discernment.

  • What made you decide to become a curator?

I don’t know that I am a curator, really. I do love to organise exhibitions but I also love to think about infrastructure (planning), structure (architecture), objects (design). I think of curating as something that I do but what i have decided to become is a writer and what made me decide that is that when I was young I lo-o-o-o-o-oved to write and I received a lot of encouragement from my parents and teachers. I try to be writing when I’m curating.

  • Explain the “no theme” in Swimmers Limb?

I want to be sincere when I am framing exhibitions for an audience.  When I was developing the exhibition I wasn’t thinking about a theme, I was aiming to feel a certain way in the room. There is a lot of consideration; there are some guiding principles – things I am trying to do when I practice curating – for instance as we wrote in the press release I am practicing how I can ‘[find] pleasure in creative work’.  I wanted a viewer to speculate – even if just to themselves – what the relationship is between the objects in the room. I want them to know that there is no right answer other than what came to mind for that. I felt the best way to create space for that was to not introduce a theme.

  • Also why the title?

 I wasn’t yet able to articulate the above thought so well when I first began planning the show and I thought ‘well how am I going to describe what it is that I am inviting an artist to?’. So i asked them to consider the space in between Victoria Embankment gardens and Temple station. I had a flashing thought about making some kind of landscape intervention into that space but that was of course beyond the scope of SHS’s invitation to me. But i had fun talking to the artist about that area behind the building. Both Tai  Shani and Comuzi Lab had  stories about how they came up against the long history of the building. Tai had this thought about all the old histories of the building ‘dragging’ on us. Also the Thames, mudlarkers can tell you how much ‘history’ is in that river. I imagine some kind of B-horror movie where you walk around the basement of SHS, the Thames is starting to seep in and 16th century zombie hands are clipping at your heels. That fantasy evolved into thinking about swimmers for example who try to eliminate drag because they want to move faster in the water. Maybe the full title should be “History drags on the swimmers limb” . Again this is a provocation on it’s own that is part of the show, it doesn’t explain the show.

  • tell us about some of the processes/works that makes up swimmers limb?

Tai shani is showing nine giclee prints that illustrate her latest series, The Neon Hieroglyph which is a story about a psychedelic awakening. Mani kambo made a wall paper especially for the space, from a digital adaptation of a three colour block print. And comuzi lab  (Yaa and Saffi ) shared three questions that serves as a beginning of their upcoming and ongoing research into ‘restorative love economics’. What does that mean? I think you will feel what it means if you sit in the room and consider their prompts.

  • Tell us why you chose the artist invoived what is unique about them?

Somerset House invited me to get to know the artists working in their studios. Tai Shani is someone I already knew and considered a teacher. I love her eye and knack for giving clear decisive feedback. I have known her and her work prior to the exhibition and I feel she is someone who lo-o-o-o-oves to make sculptures and paint in a way that resonates with how i lo-o-o-o-ove to write. But also, I’m trying to become a better storyteller; she loves storytelling. I also resonate with her in that way. I wanted to get to know more Studios artists, particularly those who were identified with design. From Studios collective Comunzi Lab I met Safiya Mckenzie and Yaa Addae and very much enjoyed listening to how they are currently working with healthcare services, as designers. For me, it always comes back to the body (i.e, I cannot be a writer if I cannot get out of bed, so I take care of my body first before I worry about being a writer) and so I was so pleased to meet them and learn about their work. I also wanted to do an open call, I had, again a flashing thought about a wallpaper and how wonderful that would feel in the gallery. I wished to meet someone who loved pattern. I’m very grateful that Mani Kambo answered the open call.

  • What materials or practise is used in each of their  works that you can highlight?

I think comuzi lab’s material is questions,

I think tai’s practise is storytelling (and watercolour)

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and i think mani kambo’s practice is tapping into her intuition 🙂

  • With the death of the Queen do you think the commonwealth still has its place?

England’s conception of landownership as a legal and strategic device has had far reaching consequences on people’s lives, and I want the people who have been adversely affected by this invention of 16th century English philosophy to be supported in whatever they feel should be their place in the world.  Today I don’t yet understand what significance her death will have for the Commonwealth.

  • What would you suggest for anyone looking to be in this job?

In a society that requires you to generate income, I would not suggest any artist, curator or writer coming up nowadays make ‘the arts’ their only source of income because i think you need to be able to walk away from a project, or go slower, or negotiate fair pay … i.e. In the arts I think you need to be able to walk away from the money and walk toward your inner convictions. In 2016 I was delivering sourdough bread in Brockley in the mornings and on the weekends. Through this I forged just a sliver of autonomy from the art worlds economic machinations. And I think if you’re looking to be in this job, I would suggest you do it because you want to, not because you have to. The wonderful thing about creative work is that, at least the idea of it, is that it can be ‘frivolous’ it can be yours it can be what gets your heart beating wherein in a job you agree to comply if for no other reason than to survive. I want to see people having other relationships to jobs but this is what I see now. So long story short I would suggest not thinking of making exhibitions (or writing) as a job [when possible].

Featuring Tai Shani, Mani Kambo and COMUZI Lab

29 July 2022 – 20 Nov 2022 | Mon – Sun 10.00 – 18.00

Free entry | Gallery 31 is located in the New Wing of Somerset House