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Article: Vinca Petersen Interview

Vinca Petersen, River Conversation, 1994. Courtesy the artist and Edel Assanti, London
Posted on: 13 April 2022

Joseph Spence talks to Vinca Petersen about her practice and exhibition ‘Make Social Honey: A Collective Search for JOY’ at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland.

JOSEPH SPENCE: In your current exhibition ‘Make Social Honey’ at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, you are showing work from your archive alongside sharing space with the local community, celebrating their creativity through a series of ‘actions’. Can you tell me more about why you chose to do this?

VINCA PETERSEN: In a sense I felt I had no choice. After years of divisive politics and more years of pandemic, I felt that what we all needed was less me as an individual showing my art than a communal creative act. What I believe was needed was some healing and re-connection, not only for others but for myself also. I run a small charity called Future Youth Project (FYP) and one of founding ideas was one of reciprocal giving, where everyone gains.

JS: Where did the exhibition title ‘Make Social Honey’ come from? There are honeycomb shapes and structures within the space. What is the thought process behind this?

VP: The design of the exhibition was very organic – it started as a seed in my mind and as it grew I kept feeding in new ideas. About half way through I was reading Joseph Beuys and found the phrase “make social honey” and thought – “Thats it, that’s what I am doing”! I knew I wanted to centre the exhibition in the gallery – the hive, but I also knew I wanted to go out into the local community and gather creativity – nectar, in order to bring it back into the gallery to create collective joy – honey! The hexagons were the honeycomb holding the social honey.

JS: Within the exhibition you were actively working with your image collection. Were there any discoveries that you previously may have overlooked?

VP: Expanding on the idea of the hive, I wanted to be busy and be SEEN to be busy, so I used the opportunity to go through my archive and digitise parts of it. For the audience there was a sense of activity and an opportunity to see an artist’s process. I found joy in the form of images I had missed in previous ‘archive dives’. I also discovered, by mirroring my audience, how many people want to archive their own collections of images, memories, ideas. Quite a few people said they were going to go home and do something similar!

JS: Spreading joy is very important to you. Can you tell me more about your alter ego as Dr Joy?  You often hold ‘surgeries’ where you prescribe different forms of joy.

VP: Joy is a difficult word. Especially when to be taken seriously, you have to be serious. 15 years ago I started to wonder why so many artists felt they had to be serious in order to produce work with weight. I created ArtNurse+ to “cure the over-seriousness of the art world” and simultaneously research this phenomenon. A few years ago I revisited this idea but felt I ought to promote myself to DrJoy – she continues the work, which has now grown into a broader research into collective joy in society as a whole.

JS: What is next for you? I believe you have a forthcoming exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation. Can you tell me what you will be showing?

VP: A while back MPF acquired the original maquettes and prints from the making of No System. The exhibition will show these prints made for the 1st edition published by Steidl. The prints are interesting because they have been handled and shipped about by me during my nomadic life and so have more character than new, ‘perfect’ prints. Both the National Portrait Gallery and the Arts Council have also acquired works and will be exhibiting them soon. But sooner than that, on the 4th May, I am doing a fundraiser for Future Youth Project’s work in Ukraine which my gallery in London – Edel Assanti – have kindly hosted alongside a selection of my images from my travels there.

Vinca Petersen (b. 1973, born Seoul, South Korea) lives and works in Ramsgate, Kent. Recent exhibitions include Raves and Riots (Solo), Edel Assanti, London, UK, 2021; Night Fever, V&A Dundee, UK, 2021; Sweet Harmony, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK, 2019; Seaside Photographed, Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK, 2019; and Diaristic Books, Tate ModernLondon, UK, 2019.

Vinca Petersen – Make Social Honey: A Collective Search for JOY continues at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art until 2 May 2022.

From 25 April – 2 May, an additional intervention in the space will be made by children and young people excluded from school in the North East. #SeeMe celebrates the creativity of children and young people aged 5-16 years, enabling them to share what makes them happy.