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Rosemary Cronin: going public

Dan Carrier talks to Rosemary Cronin as she prepares to take her latest art project to the streets as part of the Camden Together cultural project to help out with the borough’s post-Covid recovery

23 September, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

Rosemary Cronin

A GIANT pair of red socks that stretch the length of Queen’s Crescent and a huge jumper snuggling round a Holborn Square: artist Rosemary Cronin’s work brings a taste of the surreal into everyday spaces.

And this autumn, her latest project will be seen by thousands of people as she uses the streets as a stage.

“Forever Unfolding” is a public art show backed by Camden Council’s Camden Together cultural season – arts commissions by the Town Hall to help our cultural recovery, and provide opportunities for creators to bring their work directly to people.

Forever Unfolding includes the giant items of clothing that stem from Rosemary’s experiences last year.

“I was going on lockdown walks and exploring parts of Camden I didn’t know,” she recalls. “The roads were so quiet and everywhere, every day, felt stage-like – as if something could happen here. I imagined what if these streets were a platform to use? What would happen?”

Struck by the beauty of a Brutalist, concrete staircase in Gospel Oak, one such piece features a wedding dress-style garment draped over the top and tumbling to the ground, a “little Rapunzel-esque,” she adds.

Rosemary Cronin’s project I wanna be me, I wanna be E.U.  – a series of workshops with MA fashion futures students from the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Research into Sustainable Fashion exploring Brexit and culminating with a catwalk in an abandoned supermarket

A giant jumper, destined for a performance event in Red Lion Square on October 9, was inspired by our sense of dislocation during the lockdown.

“There have been friends who haven’t seen each other for 18 months, people whose loved ones live overseas. It made me think about connections,” she says.

Rosemary expressed the concept by designing two jumpers connected by long sleeves.

“You put them on, and can slowly become closer together until you embrace,” she says.

The Camden Together show – one of a range of events taking place with the Town Hall’s help – looks to bring the arts directly to residents while also supporting freelancers in the arts sector who have suffered badly.

“I wanted to animate these spaces – bring them to life, give them action,” she says.

Rosemary, who lives in South Hampstead, is a graduate from the Chelsea College of Art. As well as creating her own work, she teaches at the college where she studied fine art.

She recalls how a multidisciplinary approach to media and using art to explore your persona and its expression was a key element of her training. Her mother passed away suddenly on Rosemary’s 12th birthday and, looking back, she cites the trauma she experienced and her grief as something she learned to understand through art.

“At Chelsea, I had a tutor interested in psychoanalysis and she introduced me to the Freud Museum. How can you work with a sense of self, and our experience as people? I wanted to find themes in my work that reflected this thought,” she adds.

From Moon Goddess Series, commissioned for the Wallace Collection – a creative collaboration with costumes and headpieces from Ujuru Matahari

“Everything changed for me when my mother died. I channelled everything into art. Looking back at my interest in art, it was about using it as a form of therapy.”

She describes her work as contemporary surrealism, a combination of Italian surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who worked with Salvador Dali and Jacques Cocteau, mashed up with loud-mouthed street comic Dom Joly.

“I am also influenced by Trigger Happy TV,” she admits, which featured the comedian doing madcap antics in public spaces. “It’s low-brow, but could be high-brow,” she adds.

In 2019, she put on an alternative fashion show in an abandoned Morrisons supermarket in Waltham Forest, collaborating with MA students at the London College of Fashion.

“We explored how you wear politics on your sleeve,” she says. “We looked at how performance can be subversive, and I wanted to carry this through surrealism in everyday places.”

Other shows included a week spent in silence as she performed mime in Norway. Her paintings have been displayed at the Guggenheim, and as a 17-year-old she won a place as a young curator at Tate Modern. She filled its famous Turbine Hall with a mock-up of a haunted house for visitors to investigate.

“The Tate decided they couldn’t have people in their 30s and 40s programming shows that would reach teenagers,” says Rosemary. “We were given a potted history of contemporary art. We met the curators, we worked on exhibitions, events and workshops. We would propose crazy events and come up with the bizarre. It was a very creative experience.”

The Tate project took her and other young curators to Paris, where they exhibited at the Pompidou Centre, and encouraged her to do an art foundation course.

Now teaching at Chelsea, she recognises how when she studied, her courses were not “pathway specific”. They ranged across disciplines and this has given Rosemary a multifaceted approach to artistic expression.

“Tutors saw your role as an artist to explore anything and everything,” she says. “It is research- based. You search for themes and explore your imagination. The college helps to articulate your thoughts.”

This meant working in mediums including painting, bronze, film, print and performance.

“It felt like a wild-card approach but it was extremely encouraging,” she says. “It is a case of seeing what you turn your hand to.”

Her work has now brought her global fame.

One piece, that has been seen online millions of times, featured a pair of clear-heeled boots.

“I filled them with cornichons, those mini-pickles,” she says. “It was interesting in terms of how used we are to this Love Island aesthetic, so I twisted it.

“I showed it at a gallery in east London before lockdown. Someone took a picture of it. It went viral and travelled around the world. It got millions and millions of shares. It was interesting, and no one knew it was a piece by me.”

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