Florence Boyd is an illustrator, artist and set painter for theatre who featured in the art showcase of the Britain issue. Patrick is from a series in collaboration with Marc Dahl, who worked as a security officer at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedford in 2002, during a period in which a riot broke out. Here Boyd spoke to online editor Ted Hodgkinson about the narrative properties of her work and translating violence into art.
TH: Your image from Britain, ‘Patrick’, hauntingly evokes the mistreatment a detention custody officer witnessed in his job at an Immigration Removal Centre with a scene that is both recognisable as a beating and abstracted to the point of being almost otherworldly. Is this because the level of violence seemed unreal to you?
FB: Yes this level of violence does seem very unreal to me. I can’t understand it through my own experience. Working on this project has allowed me to try to see it through someone else’s eyes.
I think that everyday we are exposed to varying levels of violence, and this in turn perhaps desensitizes it. We aren’t then able to engage or understand it.
Because I was interpreting the situation through Marc’s experience, perhaps the other worldliness is an attempt to convey the surreal impression these moments can have on our memories when recalling a situation. In a traumatic, charged moment, with hindsight, colours can seem heightened, and senses like touch, sound, smell, fuse to create a very specific feeling of what it was like to be there at that time. I wanted to illustrate the emotion he felt and this is maybe why the image is not particularly literal and more the reliving of a dream reality.
In both your images here and in your work elsewhere there is a layer of paper cut with leaf-shaped incisions that create a fine web across the page. In these pieces are you interested in the paradox between the delicacy of this patterning and the brutality that they surround?
I wouldn’t consider all of the images as brutal. I would say that these subjects are hard to look at. As such when we come across them in society through media they are often glamourized and dramatized. These ubiquitous images cause a disconnect and a distance from the subject.
Through my work I would like to find a way back to reconnecting with the human vulnerability of the subjects I work with. There is a dichotomy of darkness and beauty within things that we can’t confront head on.
How did you come to be working on this project?
Marc is a close friend of mine and he approached me and asked if I would like to be involved in a collaborative project about his experience over ten years ago. We’ve known each other for a while and we’d not spoken about it before, although I was aware of his experience.
Listening to such a subjective angle of events highlighted the importance for me to get involved with the project. I interviewed him although he knew exactly what to say as he films documentaries himself. We then began to work on the storyboard. My aim from the beginning was to try to visually create emotional links and similarities in the story for people to connect to, to relate to.
Does making art about a subject so pressing give you an added sense of urgency about wanting the audience to connect with the subject or even to prompt them into action?
Yes. Although a lot of us are aware that these attitudes and actions happen perhaps I think we choose not to look. Through this we become complicit in the dehumanizing of people in these situations. I think people find this easier sometimes and it is important for me that I challenge our choice to ignore. I feel it is important to find a human commonality between people. This also means recognizing fundamental differences between us and our experiences and how these shape our place in society.
Finding a thread in a story that I can relate to personally has allowed me to try and understand the people in that story. I feel that this is the first step towards compassion towards other people.
Initially it is looking towards provoking awareness and understanding towards the complexity of the situation and I think that finding new ways of talking about time-old issues bring more people into that conversation.
Your work, especially these images, is riddled with narratives. Your image for Britain is accompanied by an extract from an interview recorded for this project and the second image is called ‘we don’t make the decisions do we, we just do what they say’. Is narrative often a starting point for you or do you feel that images can convey much more than text, especially when it comes to representing violence?
I don’t think images can convey more than text, they just communicate things in different ways.
I do think as a reader/viewer there is freedom in a certain amount of ambiguity.
However, narrative is often my starting point, and often quite literal narrative. I enjoy the relationship between text and image. Images can strengthen text and the other way round. Images can also contribute to the mood of a narrative with visual symbols which allow for individual and emotional interpretation.
Often I will use the same theme or narrative to create a large body of work. ‘We don’t make the decisions do we, we just do what they say’ is from the same project as ‘Patrick’, although I feel that with this piece especially it could be something applied to the situations of many people who could perhaps relate to this on different levels.
In the same way, maybe ‘Patrick’ could relate to other narratives around people trapped or contained in institutions through other experiences, such as prison or mental illness. Perhaps this is why the project subconsciously resonated so strongly with me, as there are other experiences with loved ones that have affected me deeply in the past in this way. A lot of these intense emotions can be transferred to other narratives and perhaps this can help to relate to other peoples stories.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am illustrating six of the Seven Deadly Sins for an anthology. I am also working on a children’s book that has given me an interesting contrast in terms of subject matter.
I have been storyboarding the project on the detention centre, and there are several stages it will undertake in the future, possibly the first being an image/sound installation. I plan to develop this in into an animation.
The ultimate ambition for this project is to be able to work with Marc in making an animated documentary that explores what it was like to live and work in detention centre. We want it to include different people in its growth and process and hope that these stages will be as collaborative as possible.