As part of our poster collaborations, all this week we’re previewing our ‘in conversation with’ pieces which accompany the A2 posters. First up is The Coven Collective…
Founded by photographer Laurence Philomene and Eleanor/Luna e Los Santos after growing up online and observing budding photographers and their growing opportunities due to the connections made on the web within online communities, The Coven are an online collective giving women and non binary artists and photographers a platform to allow their voices to heard.
Based in feminism and made up of thirteen creatives, The Coven champions artists who initially represented themselves through the lens of the Internet. With many of their members growing up online, sharing not only their work but also their lives through personal blogs and social media, The Coven really comes across as a community in which all members collaborate and care about each other. Non location specific, since its 2012 inception the group have exhibited across continents, as well as producing zines, prints and buttons, cementing the collective as a force to be reckoned with not only URL, but within the physical world as well.
Is there a common thread that links you all together?
Amanda Craig: I don’t know if this is something that other members relate to as well, but I feel like our experiences as female identified artists and individuals is something that links us together. We all have had very different life experiences and diverse personal identities but we I think we often are able to draw support from each other in navigating our struggles as artists and just knowing there is a group standing behind you supporting you is incredibly validating.
Eleanor/Luna e Los Santos: I have my own obsession with girlhood, as an opposition to womanhood. One of the things I have to do is try to not let myself force my own obsessions onto the other artists and I’m hoping that as we grow we will find other intersecting theme. But like Amanda said, just the fact that we are positioned as female artists our work connects but also seems to diverge in really interesting ways that reflect who we all are as separate artists.
Patricia Alvarado: I would say that “identity” as a thread runs throughout all of our practices. We’re all picking our experiences apart and exploring them through our work, and though we’re all speaking from different places and identities, I love the fact that we’re all out here supporting one another in these explorations.
Simone Blain: I feel like we are all in some way making stuff that deals with traditional notions of beauty in art. A lot of what I see in the other Coven members’ work seems to create a funky tension by appropriating established formal conventions and pairing them with themes that can be unsettling or awkward.
What are your individual aims in relation to being a part of the collective?
AC: When I joined the coven I was still working on my BFA, but now that I’m out of school being in the coven collective gives me another similar kind of structure and helps me set goals for myself in my practice. My aims in being a part of the Coven are to learn from the other artists in the group as much as possible and use this support to keep my work from stagnating.
Hannah Le Feuvre: Working collectively as a group has been really instrumental for me, Erin and I did a collaborative show in my school and nowadays I feel my practice becoming very centred around these kind of collaborations, almost like these spaces have enabled me to consolidate my own way of working.
Liv Thurley: I agree with Amanda in terms of that being a member in The Coven it has allowed me to gain knowledge on areas that I never thought about before or was even aware of. This is definitely important for me as it allows my work to grow and means that I am aware of issues that perhaps I might not have known about before or even be confident enough to address in my art.
Laurence Philomene: For me being part of The Coven has allowed me to explore different areas of art that I hadn’t gotten a chance to work with before, specifically curating, organising events, making zines, collaborating with other artists, etc. It’s given me a platform to explore art in a way that isn’t just MAKING art but also showing it to an audience.
PA: Community is a huge part of my practice, like everything I make is about communities that I’m a part of. I truly admire everyone who is a part of this specific collective, and watching them all grow as artists and people through various social media platforms helps to push me as an artist.
SB: I agree with everything said above! I’ve been out of University for a few years and it can be particularly alienating to lose the structure of the school system. Having a group of people with similar interests and ideas keeps me inspired.
Do you see the Coven as political?
L/E: The Coven in a way is set up as being really political; it comes across as having an “agenda” almost. But I never want anyone involved feeling pigeonholed into having to make outright feminist work or have their work only being about being a female or feminist artist. Just being a female artist can be seen as a political act and sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes its limiting. It’s a fine balance.
Would you say the Coven is more about community or exposure?
HLF: I think the Coven in particular was formed with a community in mind. That said, the public nature of the group is super important. As a public online platform, the collective gives us an opportunity to engage and share with people online as well as the collective being instrumental for us as individuals. This then opens up chances that might not have been given offline and a drive to do projects and shows, things we might not have had the confidence to do individually.
PA: Definitely both. I would just add that exposure, especially if you’re speaking about issues such as sexism and/or racism as most of us do, isn’t just about getting your name out into the world as an artist. I think we’re supported by a community of people who are interested in things like representation, and my hope is that as we continue to show our work, we are bringing up important dialogue about societal issues and standards to everyone paying attention.
SB: At first impression the word, “exposure” kind of brings up negative feelings that I associate with the superficiality of the media world, but with a second glance the word reminds me of a conversation I had with Coven member Amanda about the idea of being included in a feminist art collective. I was feeling like my paintings were not political enough or even, not “feminist” enough to really be making a relevant contribution to the collective. She responded by explaining what she saw as the main objective of the Coven; to give much needed exposure to female-identified artists. So come to think of it, I feel like the Coven is really about exposure, and attempting to subvert/dismantle a strongly patriarchal art world.
How do you all feel about the rise in popularity of ‘online/tumblr feminism’ and the treatment of the work that surrounds that?
LP: I think the rise of online feminism can be an incredibly powerful tool, especially for young people finding these resources and learning about feminism through art & such – however there’s always a fear for me of feminism being dumbed down, of artists and brands using it as a trend without any content backing them up. “The female gaze” means nothing if it’s exactly the same as the male gaze. Online feminism means nothing if it’s only showcasing white cis women. I think we need to move past menstrual art, and really tackle important issues relating to women of color, trans women, native women, etc – that’s where the internet could hopefully make a positive change.
PA: Yes exactly. Feminism has a long history of dismissing the intersections of racism and sexism that women of color have to simultaneously navigate, making white feminism the automatic default. I’m not interested in looking at feminist art that only speaks to cis able-bodied white women. Representation is everything, and though I’m all for feminism’s rise in popularity, if that feminism excludes women of color, trans women, and disabled women, (and all the intersections of those identities), it’s trash.
How does the shared experience of being a part of a collective influence the way you work/your art?
Samantha Conlon: Being in a collective sort of has this unconscious effect on my work. I think it’s exciting when you come up with a concept that you don’t want to explore alone and you can pitch it to the group and go forward in some way. For the new show coming up in NYC, comfort/discomfort is the theme and that’s an area I’ve never even thought of working through but I find it really exciting to try and make work around that/ It sort of pushes you to come outside of your own projects and work in a different way, which is refreshing.
L/E: Being a part of a collective is really a big motivation for me to not forget to make work. I am an art history major and my focus right now is really on writing about art not making it. My art and my art making is also incredibly personal but also very performative- a large part of my work is about it connecting and becoming relatable for other people so to have people to share it with motivates me to make it tangible and in a sense “completes” the piece.
Words by Ione Gamble, full interview and limited edition, (run of 35), A2 poster available here.
All images courtesy of The Coven, (second and third image Amanga Craig, fourth image Patricia Alvarado, fifth Laurence Philomene), poster image by Samantha Conlon.