Zara Worth – Online/Offline: Art, Academia & Instagram

Ok I admit it – I’ve recently lost my blogging mojo and it’s been a while since I’ve posted – my head has been full of projects and events…..well after some time out away – I’m back and I’ve lined up some cracking posts and some brilliant interviews with artists.

So first up is an interview with the wonderful Zara Worth. Zara has been an artist on my radar for a while – someone who has kept popping up in either my news feed or connected to various projects. So I was delighted when she emailed me about a year ago – introducing herself and her projects. It’s so lovely to have artists actually reach out and tell me about their work (So why not do the same!?)….

I became really interested in the fact she is a post graduate student – as someone who has always been in love with academia, research and what I’d like to call intellectual adventuring – I’m extremely hungry for knowledge and challenging it. I’ve always been interested in an artist/creative, something we assume is inherently practical actually engaging in PhD research. And there are lots of artists and performers out there doing just that – I really enjoy the process of reading their research/papers whilst simultaneously enjoying their pieces of work or performances. For me it adds often an additional socio-dynamic or element of political/self-expression.

Zara explores many themes in her work – but the ones I’m currently captivated by; living your life both off line and online and the effect that has on your mental health and self-identity. As an introvert who has made a living building a brand and identity online – I find it an interesting topic especially when I consider the impact of living my life as The Culture Vulture visibly and how that sits at odds with the fact I’m actually a very private person and one, that whilst I knows a lot of people – I only have a certain amount of really meaningful friendships. Secondly, how people perceive me after getting to know me online – their construction of who I am, my personality, how I will interact in “real” life – the fact via social media we build up snap shots of people via what their shareable content and Instagram feed. Which leads onto questions about mental health – especially in the North East where there have been several recent suicides of people many would consider “influencers” on social media and who presented a very happy, exciting and often successful life…..img-0796_orig

Screenshot of ‘Economics of the Kitchen (an A to Z)’ appearing in Instagram feed (Zara Worth 2018) [performance to video for Instagram]

Zara has recently ran a workshop with discussion at Vane in which she invited participants to explore social media and self-identity…. Whilst I couldn’t attend (booo to working every weekend over the Summer and missing some ace events!) – I heard some fantastic things and I’m delighted that she’s running another version as part of the Gateshead Live programme in October for young people and adults alike. Attendees will use collage as the medium to patch together social media identities – a bit like an Instagram feed. So whilst it’s an opportunity to explore the creation of social media themes, styles, visuals and making them as impactful and engaging as possible – it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how social media imagery prompts us to feel, trigger us to behave and influences our mind set.

You can find out more about the upcoming workshop by following the link

So I’ve told you why I’m super interested in Zara and her work …. But now it’s time to hear from Zara herself. So Culture Vultures…. Who is Zara Worth when she’s both online and offline?

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Zara Worth

Hi Zara – thank you for agreeing to be my blog subject! I first discovered your work when I was researching Northern artists about a year ago – so it’s so brilliant to finally connect – we have so many mutual creative interests. Can you tell my readers about your work?

Lovely to be discovered! My work at this moment feels to be a type of contemporary religious art; I’ve been reflecting a lot on what connects my current practice with the work I’ve made in the past and I’ve realised I am drawn towards belief systems and ideological communities.

In terms of how I make work, currently I’m exploring developing a practice which mirrors our current condition of living life simultaneously on- and off-line: so nearly all of the works I’ve been making since 2016 have an online element – usually on Instagram on the @zara_worth account – and also have an offline aspect – so drawing, or perhaps an object. I’ve also started using the same title for works with connected on- and off-line elements, to further conflate this relationship between them.

Instagram has been a key source of interest since 2014; and its prevalence as a theme within my work has led my practice to be described as ‘swipe-specific’: a term which I also really align with.

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‘The Artist’s Presence’ (Zara Worth – 2018) [Chairs and AR app] made with kind support from Ian Truelove and Field Design

Swipe-specific is something I really align with too – everything is so in the moment, instantly discovereable but equally immediately forgettable….

Everyone has a really interesting story of how they got involved in the arts….so tell me about your journey?

I suppose my journey is fairly typical; being an artist always felt inevitable, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to pursue it. One thing I always find interesting, particularly at this stage in my life, is how hard people find understanding that you identify as something – an artist – which isn’t necessarily your primary or only source of income. I used to think that I would be satisfied with just helping other people with their creative projects – working in film or for other artists – I very quickly realised that I was miserable if I wasn’t making my own work.

The origins of my interest in belief systems is perhaps more interesting than my story as an artist so far. Whilst puzzling over why I have these aesthetic preferences starting my PhD it dawned upon me the impact that my Granny’s faith had on me. At this point it is important to note that my Granny seemingly inexplicably became a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s also worth noting that my family is in no way Russian and to this day I have no idea why this was the particular strand of Christianity that she was drawn to.

Living in Congleton, Cheshire, funnily enough there wasn’t anywhere specifically Russian Orthodox to worship, so being pragmatic she bought a large shed from B&Q and started a Russian Orthodox church in her back garden, complete with papier-mâché onion dome (later replaced with a fiberglass one when the first one melted in the rain). So growing up, when I went to Granny’s house I was surrounded by religious icons, and I used to love trotting down to the back of the garden and lighting candles and incense in the church. She died when I was 17 and I never properly spoke to her about her faith, and I suppose a lot of my work is trying to make sense of its significance.

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‘QR Codes’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2018) [QR codes on rice paper]

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‘Void Fill’ (Zara Worth/Vane 2018) [void fill strip curtain]

I have aspirations of one day returning into academia and education at some point – I’d certainly like to do a postgraduate in 2019 – something around people and behaviour and also a coaching qualification  – I know you’re doing your PhD…… how does that compliment or effect your arts practice?

Someone recently asked me if starting a PhD had caused me to hate my art practice and that completely horrified me. I’m just starting my third year of a part-time PhD (six years in total) and my experience so far has been brilliant; studying at Leeds Beckett University has already opened up so many doors and I’ve worked in collaboration with some really fantastic academics, so it has been a very productive time already. My practice is driven by ideas, so I’m not forcing an academic framework on my practice.

I would also say to anyone thinking about doing a PhD to try to make sure you work well with your Director of Studies and your Supervisor(s); I already knew my Director of Studies, Professor Simon Morris and really landed on my feet with my Supervisor, Dr Jill Gibbon, but I’m aware of other people at other institutions who do not have great relationships with theirs and it’s been hell for them.

I’ve really been enjoying studying part-time; I was a full-time Masters student when I was at Goldsmiths and the whole thing felt like a mad sprint and I don’t feel I really had time to get the most out of the experience. I feel very fortunate to have received a part-time studentship as it’s allowed me to pursue other experiences alongside study, which would have been inconceivable if I was a full-time student, plus it supports the development of a sustainable practice in the long run – as the reality is I am unlikely to have the luxury of practising art full-time in the immediate future.

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 ‘Quotations I, III, II’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2018) [23.5 carat gold leaf on paper]

I agree with that – becoming sustainable in the creative and cultural sector is a strategic process – very similar to building a business. Back to your work – what mediums do you use?

The medium is the message. I like my work to be loaded, so the materials should be working ideologically as well as be visually interesting. As I’ve mentioned, my recent works have on- and off-line lives, the online aspects have been predominantly performance to video for Instagram, and Instagram collages; though recently I created a piece involving Augmented Reality.

As for the off-line aspects of the work, mediums include celery; void fill (packing peanuts); and 23.5 carat gold, all chosen for the significance that they carry.

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‘A drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2016-17) [celery and kitchen knife on paper]

We are going into the latter part of the year – it’s insane how quickly this year has gone by. Consequently, this question seems crazily appropriate – what’s been your highlight of 2018 so far?

Opening my first solo-exhibition, ‘FEED’, at Vane, this August. The Directors at Vane, Chirs Yeats and Paul Stone, have been incredibly supportive and I’ve had such an amazing response from visitors and everyone who has participated in the events running alongside; it’s been quite overwhelming. In the same month I also installed Matty Bovan’s exhibition for the London Design Biennale – I was Project Manager and it has been brilliant to be a part of; quite a crazy summer.

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‘A drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2016-17) [performance to video for Instagram]

Going forward into 2019 – what do you have planned?

I’m joining The Newbridge Project’s Collective Studio programme, which is a nine-month studio residency and development programme for emerging artists, so by 2019 I’ll be immersed in the programme.

I’m in the early stages of planning an exhibition with Carol Sommer looking particularly at the use of language on Instagram, and in early 2019, if not sooner, the issue of The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, which I’ve been guest-editing, should be published! I’m also wanting to focus on moving my writing forward with my PhD, up until now, everything has been very practice-led; as a practice-led PhD should be, but I’m really looking forward to spending some time digging down into the work I’ve been making.

You seem to have connections with mental health with projects and are passionate about the project area (as am I!) – can you tell me a bit more?

I work part-time at Gateshead College and was fortunate enough to receive a Level 1 qualification in Mental Health Awareness through an ESF course provided by the College. It really drew my attention to the importance of caring for our mental health and I started drafting ideas for a mindfulness workshop with input from a friend who is a professional art therapist.

During the collage workshop, ‘DisCONTENTed Dining’, which I ran at Vane to coincide with my exhibition, we were making collages in reference to social media, and something which came up was how much pressure people feel under after looking at social media, but how calming it was just taking time to participate in a creative activity. I’ll be running a similar workshop very soon in Gateshead and in early 2019 will deliver ‘Still Life, Still Mind’: a mindfulness drawing workshop designed to encourage positive mental health using creative drawing exercises which participants can replicate at home. My research does make me concerned about the negative impact social media has on our mental health, so I hope that these activities and exhibitions offer some small ways to resist against that and also help us reflect on our own behaviours when we are online.

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Screenshot of ‘Economics of the Kitchen (an A to Z)’ appearing in Instagram feed (Zara Worth – 2018) [performance to video for Instagram]

Well thank you Zara and good luck with your Newbridge residency – excited to see how that pans out! Extremely excited to see more of Zara’s work and how the mental health and social media element further entertwine and develop.

I am beginning to work on the very beginnings of a mental health event for 2019 for freelancers, self-employed and creatives and I sense some real synergy here! If you’d like to meet Zara – as she mentioned, she’s running another social media workshop called “Who am I, when I’m online?” in Gateshead….. you’ll have the opportunity to explore Instagram as a channel, use collage techniques to consider how we present ourselves online and think/reflect on the difference between online and offline identities…. So come along and do something creative on 6th October and join what is sure to be some really interesting discussion!

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