With this third lockdown (of sorts) on us, the last few weeks have seen us turn to the arts, and to social media to stay connected. Now, as travel restrictions ease, and we hopefully start getting back to moving around normally, our need to interact with each other and experience art is not likely to change. While interacting with art is an incredibly enriching experience, interacting with an artist, especially in an intimate and informal setting, can really open your eyes to how different people view and experience the world.
Capturing this multitude of viewpoints and experiences, the Saskia Fernando Gallery (SFG) takes viewers into the minds of its artists through its recently launched Artist Takeover series. The series, which takes place through SFG’s Instagram, provides its audience with insight into its artists’ personal studio spaces, and shows viewers the world that the artists work in.
As part of the Artist Takeover series, each artist takes over the SFG Instagram for a full day, posting videos filmed by the artist in their studio/home where they talk about their work, their views, their reading list, the music they like to listen to, as well as doing a brief Q&A session.
SFG Owner and Founder Saskia Fernando explained the Artist Takeover series is something of an evolution from what SFG did in lockdown last year, where some of SFG’s artists conducted half-hour Instagram Lives, which eventually progressed to becoming open studio sessions. “The Artist Takeover series was released a couple of months ago. Coming into this lockdown, I said to the team that we need to find something positive to do,” Saskia said, adding that the series was also realised because some of SFG’s upcoming shows are not shows that could be promoted solely online, giving the medium of the work. “We needed to figure out something new and really engaging that broke through norms.”
SFG often found themselves working with several artists who were not active on social media as well as several who didn’t manage their social media personally, and this, in part, was what led to the Artist Takeover series as a format for artists to show an intimate feature of their practice through their personal spaces and process. Commenting on the expansion of the series to include music curated by the artists, Saskia explained that music is very personal, which adds to the intimacy of the experience. “When you share music with someone, you get a feel of that person; it’s very personal, and finishing each Takeover with a curated playlist is like a gift of something special to the viewer,” Saskia said, adding that the Takeover series is meant to be an informal means of connecting with the artist: “It’s just us trying something in a lighter vein. With exhibitions and curations, there is a certain intensity to that, and we don’t want to play to that too much, especially now in this lockdown, when people need informal content and community coming out.”
Well underway, SFG’s Artist Takeover series has seen eight artists already take over their Instagram, with Saskia sharing that there about five more artists waiting in the wings to do their own Takeovers over the next few weeks. Each Takeover is done by the artists as they see fit to create a more authentic experience of connecting with the artists, with some focusing more on speaking to viewers and talking them through their work and others preferring to share their studio space. Saskia explained that the Takeover provides a unique perspective into the behind-the-scenes aspect of each artist, showing where they create and how, and that in some cases, these artists work out of their own bedrooms. It’s an exciting, intimate look at the artists,” Saskia said. “It’s someone opening up their private spaces. There’s something in the nature of how we engage on social media that is almost voyeuristic – we like looking into people’s private spaces, it feels more intimate and like more of a connection. The artists might show their work or random things they collect, or their scribblings or sketchbooks. They’ll be showing where they work, and essentially, how they live.”
The Artist Takeover series is meant to be a personal look at how the artists view their world and approach their work, and Saskia stressed that it’s not going to be something like a portfolio overview. “A portfolio presentation can be seen on the website. This series is really meant to be you as a viewer in an intimate place with these artists and their work, focusing more on the space around them.” Saskia also explained that while each artist takes over the SFG Instagram for a day, the amount of content they put out is limited and curated so as not to overwhelm viewers, with a viewer being able to catch up on the whole day’s content in about 10 minutes. Each artist’s takeover can also be rewatched as Highlights on the SFG Instagram page.
With the lockdown now (hopefully) ending, Saskia said that the series will continue and each SFG artist has had a chance to do a takeover. “We have all our artists taking part, even those living in other countries who are in a very in-between state at the moment and neither here nor there. They’re not really in a studio space or doing a lot of production, so there might be a challenge or delay, but it is still our aim to feature them and their work.”
Concluding, Saskia shared that the Artist Takeover series is very much a product of its time, saying that it was not something they would have normally considered if not for this third wave of Covid-19 hitting Sri Lanka. “We’ve done something really specific because of what we’re going through right now,” she said. “It’s the first time we’re really curating something and choosing to engage the way we would during a lockdown. If not, we would probably be doing something more intense.”