Contemporary photographer Meredith Andrews, who has exhibited in 8 Bermuda Biennials and whose work resides in the BNG’s permanent collection, explores the unexpected reality in which we find ourselves in her new body of work: Front Step Portraits.
The striking images – which were taken before the current lockdown restrictions were put in place – capture local residents as they shelter in place and provide an intimate look at life in Bermuda amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
We sat down with Meredith to discuss documenting life on the island in the age of the coronavirus and why we should all see social distancing measures as an act of generosity and care for the most vulnerable in our community.
BNG: What gave you the idea for the Front Step Portraits?
MA: Before the lockdown was in effect a chance meeting with a friend and fellow photographer, Amy Harvey, resulted in her mentioning a similar project that American photographers King & Field were working on. I was already considering creating a body of work documenting life in Bermuda in the age of Covid-19, but it was her tip that gave me the final direction. Most of my portrait work is created as a series or collection, so the concept of Front Step Portraits suited my practice perfectly.
BNG: When did you start shooting the series?
MA: I started shooting on Saturday March 28th. The first session was done in conjunction with a fundraising, “virtual 5K” organised by a friend. I made my way on foot to Ord Road from my home. The first two portraits I took were of a healthcare worker and an employee of Lindos grocery store who were both exhausted having just finished long shifts. This was a motivational way to begin the project.
BNG: Where in Bermuda did you take the portraits?
MA: All of the portraits have been taken in my neighbourhood and now given the lockdown restrictions they will be within half a mile of my house. People have responded positively. I’ve only had one subject refuse to have their portrait taken and the response online, where I shared the images, has been nothing but supportive.
BNG: How do you think that Bermudians have responded to social distancing measures and now the lockdown restrictions?
MA: I for one am very proud of Bermuda. We have taken the inconvenience of social distancing and now lockdown in our stride. I feels as if I am surrounded with examples of community support, generosity and care for the island’s most vulnerable. The hard work and sacrifice of the island’s essential workers is commendable and in my opinion I think Premier David Burt and the Government are doing a great job at managing and communicating with the public about this unprecedented challenge the world and Bermuda is facing.
BNG: How has the enforced quarantine affected your artistic practice?
MA: The quarantine has actually been good for me creatively and my general artistic practice. Projects that often get pushed to the side in favour of commercial shoots are now at the forefront of my day. Having more time to read and research projects is proving beneficial. Furthermore, the internet is a treasure trove of inspirational content at the moment. Whether it be a lecture on painting from David Hockney, a dynamic Instagram feed or a How To video on YouTube, my practice has been deeply enriched since the quarantine began.
Canadian artist Arié
Haziza heads the catastrophe risk analytics function for a reinsurance
company on the island. His 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Wild Randomnesslooks at situations in which a single event can have a disproportionate
impact on our individual and collective lives.
As we navigate these uncertain times, his work felt like the perfect starting point for Stories – the Bermuda National Gallery’s new blog.
We sat down with Arié to discuss his work, which explores the lack of predictability in outcomes; a notion which we are all having to learn to live with in ways which seemed unimaginable only a few weeks ago.
BNG: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
AH: I moved to Bermuda in early 2001 from Canada. I head the
catastrophe risk analytics function for a reinsurance company on the island. I
regularly collaborate with Nassim Nicolas Taleb, author of the best-selling
book The Black Swan, and Professors Galla Salganik-Shoshan and Tomer
Shushi at Ben-Gurion university, on topics relevant to the reinsurance industry
ranging from ‘fat tails’, ‘black swans’, cascading phenomena and
decision-making under lack of knowledge and ‘convexity’.
Apart from my family, I really have
two passions in life – the mathematics of rare consequential events and
art. There is a saying that, in science
you want to understand the world and in the business of infrequent events you
want others to misunderstand the world. In my opinion, in art, you want to
experience and share with others something about the human condition.
BNG: Have you always made art?
AH: I have always had a deep connection to art. For me, an artist is someone who has
something new and consequential to communicate with the audience and, at times,
in ways that have never been done before. I have attempted to develop a body of
work that is closest to the way I perceive the world around me.
My main motivation is the exploration of the aesthetic representation of wild randomness. How do you generate different meanings and images to different viewers? While doing so, I also have had opportunities to revisit art themes from the past, to nurture a dialogue with artists through their work.
BNG: This is
your first Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to be a part of the exhibition?
AH: I am very honoured to be part of the 2020 selection and
sharing the walls with such a talented pool of artists. The theme Let Me Tell You Something,
inspired by the great Tony Morrison, connected to my experimentations with
art. I should also mention that, thanks
to the Bermuda National Gallery, I have met over the years many artists whom I
admire, including William Collieson, Edwin Smith, Graham Foster, Jacqueline
Alma and Chesley Trott, just to name a few.
BNG: Your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork is very
prescient. When did you make it? What prompted it?
AH: The triptych was composed over a fourteen-month period
culminating in December 2019. For a long
time, I had been struggling to find the best support possible for this type of
work. I experimented with various medias
including works on paper, sculpture and computer-animations, before resolving
to use mixed media on canvas.
BNG: Wild Randomness looks at the lack of predictability
in outcomes – a very real situation which we now find ourselves navigating. Do
you have any words of advice from your studies into this state?
AH: What we are currently experiencing is a severe unforeseen
chain reaction of dependent events triggered by a virus outbreak. It is a kind
of connect-the-dots situation. It
started with a local triggering event – a virus outbreak – that has in turn
generated a healthcare crisis, first locally, then regionally, then globally.
This in turn has generated an economic and financial crisis that may in turn be
generating a political and conflicts crisis.
These systems also interact with each other via feedback loops to worsen
the overall impact on our lives, activities and economies.
The effects will be far reaching in
scope and in time. Circuit breakers
(virus weakening or disappearing, stoppage of international air travel,
quarantine/isolation, vaccine…) are key to stopping this chain reaction.
A previous catastrophic event that
belongs to this class of cascading phenomena is the 2011 9.1 magnitude
earthquake that impacted Japan. The
earthquake generated a tsunami that then caused the flooding of the buffer electrical
systems at the Fukushima nuclear plant which in turn resulted in a significant
I would argue that global climate
change belongs to that class of cascading events and is a significant challenge
for the future of the planet. I often
refer to global climate change as the mother of all cascading phenomena or in
mathematical language as a “Factorial Cascading Event”.
Randomness is a triptych. Can you talk us through the three pieces and what
AH: I am hesitant about “explaining” the three pieces, as I
would like viewers to develop their own interpretations and images. But as you
asked me, I will provide some insight.
On the left side –
This piece makes reference to those
events that rarely occur but that result in significant impact. If you look closely you will notice
oscillations similar to what you would see on a seismograph used to record an
earthquake. The red “lollipops” are a
tribute reference (a clin d’oeil) to a magnificent gouache by Alexander
Calder that you can see in one of the ballrooms of the Hamilton Princess Hotel.
Centre piece –
I invite the viewer to read a few
lines of numbers on the canvas and experience the kind of vertigo one would
experience on a roller coaster. This piece presents a large number of
computer-simulated numbers from complex algorithms used to model the emergence
of extreme events (hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics…). The vast majority of the numbers are small,
reflecting our day-to-day experiences, when nothing really intense occurs. But rarely, you get to see a huge spike
appearing out of nowhere. This one
occurrence will account for 99% of your total experience. An analogy I like is going out at sea in the
hope of seeing whales. The vast majority
of the time you keep waiting and nothing happens; suddenly you see the tail of
a whale for just 10 seconds. That very
moment will be the most precious memory you bring back home!
On the right side –
My intention was to use a basic chart to summarize data, the type of charts we all get to look at and use in our daily lives, on social media or at work. Certain viewers who have looked at this piece mentioned that they feel some sort of repulsion triggered by the violence of that very negative red bar which was preceded by a long, positive and stable experience. For many of us, this piece will resonate with the on-going crisis. This piece is also my contemporary interpretation of a genre of still-life paintings developed in Europe in the 17th century paintings called Vanitas, filled with symbols of death, that reminded the viewer of the fragility and briefness of life.
The three pieces together compose a window into the world of wild randomness.
Randomness, the lack of absolute predictability in outcomes, is inherent to the human condition. One can make conjectures or rely on the most sophisticated predictive tools available, yet no one can tell with certainty what tomorrow will be made of. My body of work evolves around the investigation and aesthetic representation of Wild Randomness, which corresponds to situations in which a single event can have a disproportionate impact on our individual and collective lives.
Wild Randomness is the domain of non-linearity, discontinuity, abrupt change, instability, divergence, cascading effects, feedback loops, crises and dislocations. It is a domain where the more data and information you collect about a subject of interest, the less you understand it.
I consider myself a collector of wild randomness, designing elaborate mathematical models to generate and record millions or even billions of simulated extreme behaviors data samples. I invite the viewers to experience for themselves the vertigo of navigating through random wild data, and to generate their own images which are of infinite variation.