Banner image: Fae at work in Sunbury Shores Studios. Image courtesy of the artist.

Fae Kilburn was awarded an Emergence Bursary in 2019 by Shape, Disability Arts Online, and a-n. The bursary was created as part of a pilot project aiming to tackle the isolation, low confidence and marginalisation of emerging disabled artists, as well the lack of accessible opportunities in mainstream arts settings. Ahead of her return to Tate Exchange in March, Shape caught up with Fae to hear about how the bursary shaped the last year.

What have you been up to throughout the last year?

The Emergence Bursary enabled me to embark on an incredibly productive development period, travelling to New Brunswick, Canada for five weeks. I was at Sunbury Shores Print Studio working with Master Printmaker, Robert Van der Peer, who mentored me and taught me non-toxic etching and helped me increase the scale of my work. I was invited to exhibit my work with Canadian artists over there, as well. Since I got home, I’ve exhibited twice more with them and they’ve invited me to go back this year for another residency. It feels good to have this ongoing connection in New Brunswick because my work changed drastically in Canada. I thought it would be interesting to see how other locations transformed my work, so I’ve been creating work in different cities across the UK and learnt from working alongside other artists.

Three etchings completed by Fae in Canada, each with sharp geometric shapes in dark shades of black, white, and brown.

Three etchings created by Fae while in Canada. Image courtesy of the artist.

How did Canada change your work?

My work became inspired by the environment and structures – ruins, ruined bridges. I had a research driver who took me out every week and I got to see different areas of the Canadian landscape.

Did you expect it to have such an impact?

I hoped the surroundings would influence my work, but I didn’t expect it to take me in the direction it has. My work has become very geometric, I normally do portraits. The bursary funded a research driver. I can’t drive, so having an access driver was brilliant, it enabled me to explore different locations in Canada and this led to the change in my work.

Has this year changed your practice in any ways other than aesthetically?

I’m trying to make my work more accessible for other people. I went to the London Sculpture Workshop and had a transformative experience, developing 3D skills that I have then combined with my printmaking practice. I’m now exploring architectural materials that cause me the most barriers as a partially sighted person (steel/Perspex/concrete) and finding ways to combine them in my art and create tactile and inclusive installation Art.

I have also learnt how to make large editions as a print maker, as well, through touch, which has enabled me now to enter my work to other exhibitions and competitions. I like having unique work but there’s certain times when people want a certain number of identical prints, so being taught how to do it has been beneficial.

What impact does moving towards three-dimensions have on accessibility?

I would like people to be able to physically interact with my work, I’m trying to find ways of making that possible, and making my work more tactile. I have been doing that with prints, I have been making my two-dimensional prints more tactical, too, but by having three-dimensional work…people can walk around it, they can touch it, they can sit on it.

A sculpture created by Fae. It is a three dimensional rectangular shape, but with rough edges around the top. On the face of the concrete structure are large and thin black triangle shapes and smudges of yellow and white.

A 3D work made by Fae this past year. Image courtesy of the artist.

Have you always been so confident with experimentation?

I’ve never had the confidence to do 3D work before but over the past year this changed. Last year at the Tate event, I said that I was going to try all the things that intimidated me – try everything – and I’ve done that! I’ve spent a year experimenting and creatively challenging myself.

Before the event last year, I was nervous, it felt like it was a really big thing. I mean, it’s always a big thing, but I think for me this year, firstly, it’s not a PowerPoint presentation. So, I’m less nervous because I know that I’m doing a participatory event, which I’m really comfortable doing, and I’ve just had a year full of amazing experiences that have increased my confidence.

What can we expect from your workshop?

A fun, relaxed creative environment to experiment with monoprints on geometric paper. I will be making prints throughout the day and putting them on the wall and I’m hoping that people will come and create their own and put them on the wall, to create one big, collaborative piece.

Has your workshop been influenced by the last year?

The geometric shapes are inspired by my interest in architecture and derelict structures, I also chose monoprinting because it’s spontaneous and it’s appropriate for any age. It’s a really accessible form of printmaking.

Fae is sat on a chair on a platform behind which is the Canadian sea. She is drawing a picture of the landscape.

Fae at work on the Canadian coast. Image courtesy of the artist.

The theme of Tate Exchange this year is “Power.” How do you think that theme manifests itself in your workshop and its production?

For me, it’s present in some of the work I’m bringing. I feel that by using the materials within architecture that cause me barriers and hinder my independence, I’m taking ownership of them and that’s me taking power.

The theme of power is also present in the self-portrait that I’m bringing, that incorporates the words of lots of other disabled people. This piece gave them a voice. I’ve had so many people contribute to it that I’m going to have to make about six portraits. I want to show the public how disabled people perceive themselves but also how they’re made to feel by others, because I think it’s really important that people understand: what you say and do impacts people. I feel it’s an important message.

Do you think that the setting of the Tate has an impact on that message?

I think it’s a really good opportunity. Disabled people are underrepresented, so that’s the other reason why I would like to put that piece of work in that gallery specifically.

Have you got anything else planned for the future?

I’m currently doing my MA; this is really helping develop my practice further. I’m also working on the Silent History project in Birmingham, creating oral archives of the working lives of disabled people and the barriers they face. I’ve been running workshops with them and will be displaying my work alongside theirs in an exhibition at the Hive in April. Then in late April I will return to Canada for my funded residency, in the hope of creating more new work!The derelict bridge in Canada that inspired Faes work. Image is black and white and shows a broken bridge across a small river behind which are trees.

A derelict and broken bridge in Canada, responsible for inspiring Fae. Image courtesy of the artist.

Do you expect to experiment more in Canada?

Yes, I’m taking my new knowledge from my MA to Canada with me, to combine with knowledge that I learnt last time. I will have research days again and I will be there at a different time of year, so it will have a completely different look and feel to it and I hope this will be reflected in my work.

With attention to the environment so publicly significant right now, do you feel it underpinning your relationship to the environment as a practitioner?

I am much more aware of the importance of finding environmentally friendly art products and recycling as much as I can in my studio. The environment became more prevalent in my work because I went to a new environment [Canada] and became fascinated by derelict bridges in the remote Canadian landscape. Previous work has been about the physical fragility of my condition and the inner strength I have because of it. This new work continues the theme of strength and fragility, but from a different perspective, exploring these large constructions intended and perceived as strong, but which on closer inspection are actually incredibly fragile.

You can read interviews with the two more Emergence Bursary winners - Lauren and Letty - by clicking on their names.