The Art of Pathfoot: An Interview with Jane Cameron

12 mins read

The Experiences of Exile exhibition is curated by the art collection at Pathfoot and focuses on the experiences of migrants and refugees. Its inception is influenced by the University’s own academics studying the topic. The art collections theme is changed yearly (with next year’s topic surrounding the environment) so I aimed to discover the stories behind these pieces while they’re up. The University of Stirling’s art curator, Jane Cameron, was kind enough to offer me tour of the exhibition and share some thoughts on the Pathfoot building’s own history. 

I asked Jane about the significance of the refugee theme and what effect she hopes the exhibit will have on students. She replied – ‘This word -’refugees’, its so broad. It’s hard to understand, when you hear it, that they are all people. They’re all individuals. When we held a recent workshop with local refugees on the exhibition -one was a tailor, one was a designer, one was a hairdresser and one was a beautician. They’re just people – like us. You can come to university, you can keep your head down, you can study what your studying, do your essay and get your marks but there are other issues around. This is just another mechanism to introduce people to whats out there.’

She then took me to the first display, a collection of model houses. Each one had its own unique design and it’s own story to tell.

Unpacked: Home from Home – Various Artists

Photo provided by the University of Stirling’s curator-Sarah Bromage

The idea of the project was to allow women who had fled from Syria to convey their experiences on leaving their homes and starting new lives in Falkirk and Stirling. In collaboration with the Creative Writing MLitt at Stirling, this piece offers individuals stories while also presenting themselves as a collective.

This is work from a twelve-week workshop which the university ran, it’s called ‘Home from Home’. We employed an artist (Brigid Collins) who worked with Syrian refugees, locally and they created these artworks.’

Each house was resting on stilts which conveyed the vulnerability of refugees but also their resilience.

‘They’re all individual stories, the creative writing students encouraged them to speak about their journey. Such as asking ‘what is significant about being in Scotland for you’ and one of them said ‘my children are safe’ and that is so powerful, because we have no concept of what its like to think that your children are not safe and they live their lives with this anxiety the entire time.’  

Various Works by Janka Malkowska

Three paintings by Janka Malkowska near the Pathfoots main entrance -Photo taken by Dominic Cooper

Separated from her husband during the German occupation of Poland during the second world war, Malkowska’s artistic drive did not waver as she hid in the mountains. These wood print’s were made possible during her time in hiding, carving out designs with a knife.

These wood blocks are extraordinary. We had the original wood block of this for an exhibition we ran two years ago. So this woman started doing huge work, but because she had to hide in forests she learnt to work smaller’

During her time in the mountains, she worked undercover for the Polish underground by relaying messages between villages. Her husband eventually escaped from a prison camp and they were reunited. After the war, the couple moved to Edinburgh and Janka joined the Glasgow Print Studio in the early 1970’s.

The Piano – Sarah Greenwood

We arrived in the crush hall. I always associate this place with waiting for seminars to begin, browsing the sixties-inspired exhibit on the University’s 50th anniversary, last year. Also, there’s usually someone softly playing that multi-coloured piano by the Costa.

The Pathfoot Piano- photo provided by the University of Stirling’s curator-Sarah Bromage

‘This piano needed a new home aside from the Airthrey Castle because it was being refurbished. I rescued it and I brought it to Pathfoot.’ explained Jane.

‘It used to be a brown, timber piano but I knew of an artist, a textile designer, called Sarah Greenwood, who I thought would do a good job of painting it. The brief to her was that we want it funky and jazzy but we don’t want it to interfere with exhibitions. In my view, she’s done the most fantastic job. It’s got the feel of notes jumping around and it gets played every day.’  

So you like how students interact with the exhibits?

‘Yes. Sometimes students even interact with the sculptures. One of the sculptures I like the most for this is Adam and Eve. We planted a crab apple tree behind the Adam and Eve sculpture and sometimes, when the fruit is out, someone takes an apple from the tree and puts it in Eve’s hand. Then she’s there, trying to offer it to Adam.’

Adam and Eve – Richard Robbins. Photo by provided by Jane Cameron

The European Dream – Anna Pantelia

The European Dream photo collection – Photo taken by Anna Pantelia

We stand by a long stretch of huge black and white photographs, each one is a brief glimpse into the humanitarian emergency across Europe. One features a young boy, peering through at razor wire borders to Mercadona. Another is the inside of a boat, overcrowded with desperate faces.

Anna is a highly regarded photographer who started her career at the age of twenty-two and since then has been photographing refugee situations. In November, we had about seventy students who came to a talk she gave. She doesn’t want to be passive in taking these photographs, she wants to be involved in the crisis. Shes a very elegant and impressive young woman. We printed them in this size because they reflect the sculpture that’s above which is a site-specific sculpture. So, you get a nice architectural reinforcement of the line.  ‘

Pathfoot and the Campus

‘You used to be the interior designer for the campus. What was that like?’

The university when I first started was thirty-years-old and nobody had really done any redesigning of the buildings at the time so it was kind of a blank canvas which was really exciting. I’d just come from lecturing at the Edinburgh College of Art so when I arrived it was just a jewel of project. Cottrell, when I first came the offices were painted all sorts of different colours so there were some yellow ones, some with pinks ceilings and it was just a confusion. So I started off by putting down the grey floors, like a pavement and then making all the blinds white so the building, from the outside, looked like a sculpture. I did work on the residencies as well. I had two jobs really, three days a week as the designer and two days a week as the curator. I was able then to fight for the spaces for the art- to keep the walls available and keep the doors out the way.

What was the process when designing the Pathfoot building?

The inspiration for this building was based on 1960’s architecture with very simple materials. They used a very simple design based around squares. It’s also inspired by the architecture of the Luisiana museum in Copenhagen, so whats deliberately unusual about this is that its got floor to ceiling glass walls. Every window in every office is the same width as the office and it’s a single story building, so the sense of the outdoors is always there. You always feel like your almost outside when your inside. 

How would you like the art of Pathfoot to influence those that enter?

‘There was an electrician who was working in the building once who was refurbishing the building. He found my office and he was in tears. He said ‘I’ve just seen this sculpture and it’s made me cry. Can you tell me more about it?’ It was by a sculptor called Andy Hay. I found that so moving and so powerful. For that one reason, I want to have the art around because someone can just unexpectedly come across something and be moved by it.’

‘I’ve noticed that, in the crush hall, when your waiting for a lecture and you’re on your own and you don’t know where to put yourself – the thing about having an exhibition around is that you can very easily just turn around. You can very easily look at the pictures and look at the notes and feel more comfortable. ‘ 

On the 27th of June, it’s the final day of refugee week which is celebrated all over Scotland. Pathfoot will be holding events based around this theme featuring films, talks, creative writing students sharing their work, the Edinburgh Quartet playing music written by masters students. Until then, events include:

14th of March – Temporary Exhibition: The Travelling Gallery: Spring 2019, Pathfoot Building Front Enterance

18th of March – Lecture: Human Cargo: A Journey among Refugees, Pathfoot Building

20th of March -Film Screening: Human Flow , Pathfoot Lecture Theatre

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