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Interview

Fairyland In Conversation with Tessa Farmer
Indira Lakshmi Prasad

The work itself not only draws from, but utilizes the magic of the natural world. Tessa Farmer’s materials include found items such as animal bones, insects, plants, marine creatures and more. The majority of her materials have been sourced from the British Hedgerow; however she receives insects and other creatures from as far as South Africa and America. A finely tuned process has been developed to draw this plethora of curiosities together into these miniature worlds, enchanting the viewer into an alternate reality.


My first experience with the works of Tessa Farmer was pure enchantment. Gazing into the vivarium which housed her work in the Saatchi Gallery collection, I was introduced to her miniature world of skeletal ‘fairies’ enacting a great Tolkien-like epic. Tiny skeletal creatures, so detailed and organic you could swear that they were real, riding on the backs of what are the actual bodies of bumblebees, dragonfly’s and a host of other insects. It was an immediate awakening of the child in me who would look for fairies in the brambles at the bottom of the garden, and a re-kindling of the belief in magic. Farmer’s fairies are a deliberate subversion of the diluted fairy imagery which we see in Disney and other modern representations. Her practice harks back to the sinister original fairy folklore of times long gone. In her myth making she has created folklore of her own, one which blends elements of the mischievous fae folk of mythical legend, and elements which reflect the human condition in its destructive reality.

The work itself not only draws from, but utilizes the magic of the natural world. Tessa Farmer’s materials include found items such as animal bones, insects, plants, marine creatures and more. The majority of her materials have been sourced from the British Hedgerow; however she receives insects and other creatures from as far as South Africa and America. A finely tuned process has been developed to draw this plethora of curiosities together into these miniature worlds, enchanting the viewer into an alternate reality.

Tessa Farmer invited me to her North London Studio, which is akin to an extraordinary cabinet of natural curiosities, and is as captivating and multi-layered as her work itself. In conversation, the artist candidly discusses the origins, processes and themes of her work.

She has recently released a new book ‘In Fairyland: The World of Tessa Farmer’ which is a comprehensive collection of essays regarding the work of Farmer and folkloric fairy history.


Interview

Indira Lakshmi Prasad: I know you have a baby daughter which must be taking up most of your time these days. But is there anything you’re currently working on?
Tessa Farmer: Yes I do have a commission for some work in Northampton in November, for a gallery called NN Contemporary, which is a public space. So that’s what I’ll be working on somehow! Fitting it around my young daughter I mean. I can’t do much around her in the day; she’s pretty full on and doesn’t really have much down time.

I.P: Do you find that your creative processed has changed at all since the arrival of your little one?
T.F: I think it has, thought I’ve not processed it yet. I think it will be interesting to see, because I think it will change the way I work, perhaps due to time constraints, perhaps it will make me more efficient. You don’t have as much time to sit around thinking.

I.P: I suppose with any kind of major life altering experience, it will always affect the way that you process the world around you and that in turn will filter into your work.
T.F: It will be interesting as she grows and becomes more inquisitive, due to her experiencing my work as a child. My work is very much at that level, of imagination, play and possibilities. As she discovers the world around her it will be lovely to see her fascination with everything.

I.P: It’s almost like through her you’ll have a new pair of eyes. Could you tell me about your own background and childhood?
T.F: I grew up in Birmingham as one of three children. I had a fairly nice and normal inner-city childhood. I grew up in a suburban environment, but we had a lot of parks and a big garden. I think as a child I learnt to love nature being outside in Dorset where we went on holidays; it was lovely having the freedom to play.

I.P: I can relate to that, as a child growing in an inner-city environment in some ways makes you crave the natural world even more, if you’ve had a taste of it while being away on holiday it really sparks that fascination with nature, and you always want to go back and revisit it.

T.F: I think it becomes much more magical, because it’s something you’re not used to you don’t take it for granted.

I.P: I must admit I was a little surprised to hear that you grew up inner-city because your work contains so many elements of the natural world, but it does make sense.

T.F: I think that’s where it must come from, though we did have a lovely garden. I asked my mum how she coped with three children and she said ‘Well there was the playroom and the garden and the neighbors children…you just entertained each other really’ so there was always lots of play in the garden, and of course magical summers in Dorset.

I.P: I can imagine that being left to your own devices at times as a child really fueled the imagination

T.F: Yes and the fact there was no television or phone in our house in Dorset as well, it was quite cut off, up a chalky track in the middle of nowhere. My mum had gone there when she was a girl as well, the place had been rented by the family for quite a long time and there are a lot of really good memories of that place.

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