Sophie Whettnall, born in 1973, lives and works in Brussels, Belgium. Whettnall, whose artistic practice encompasses site-specific drawings, photography, video, performance, and installation, began her career as a painter. With a subtle and refined aesthetic, each of Whettnall's works offers an immersive experience that is both sensitive and powerful, anchored in a dialectical tension: between softness and sensuality, femininity and masculinity, presence and absence, control, and docility, the personal and the universal, the determined and the infinite...
Her work goes beyond the single representation of landscapes to emphasize the cosmic dimension of the imagination. Each drawing offers a reflection on the forces and energy that define one's relationship to the world and to existence in action and/or contemplation.
For more than twenty years Whettnall has been experimenting with the landscape: she surveys it, examines it, studies it, feels it and interprets it to offer it to our gaze in all its brilliance and power.
Whettnall invites the viewer to an immersive observation of her work and projects them into multiple temporal observations. Each spectator feels the work in their own temporality while becoming aware of its universality.
IN CONVERSATION WITH
SOPHIE WHETTNALL & MARGAUX LUNT
Where does your interest in the study of natural forms stem from? Is there something from your past that you relate it to?
SW: It definitely started in my childhood and from memories and sensations that I had in nature when I was young. My mother is Swedish and we often used to visit Sweden’s islands – I have strong memories of looking at rocks baking in the sun. I felt very at ease in nature – free, comfortable; safe, I suppose. It’s a refuge. We live in a violent and uncertain reality and so I like to bring nature into my work because it’s a way of restoring peace and serenity; balancing what’s going on around me.
How did the artistic collaboration with OTK come about?
ML: My aim with OTK was always to design jackets that expressed creativity and personality but most importantly, timelessness, which is such an important element in sustainable fashion. I wanted something special that you wouldn’t ever want to throw away. Simultaneously, our designer Ruth was exploring quilted lines that represent wet lines in sand, and they instantly reminded me of Sophie’s work. We’re drawn to the same thing: organic materials and organic shapes; design that is minimalist but aesthetically pleasing – powerful and beautiful. I wanted to unite the two to create something really beautiful. Sophie is also my cousin, so it was easy to make the phone call to seek her collaboration.
SW: I saw the mood board and really identified with it. It felt like a natural fit. I know Margaux does things carefully and sensitively and so I was comfortable I was in good hands. I knew the jackets would be beautifully made.
We’re both evoking a feeling, a connection with oneself – a moment where you do something for yourself.
Are the images that line the OTK jackets inspired by a particular place or time or are the concepts more abstract?
SW: The concept has existed for many years. It begins with me drawing a line – a wave, and seeing where it leads me. For example, in the red drawings for Margaux they became mountains; in another piece, they’re going to become an island. The pieces that arise from it are an evolving part of my work. The colours and the materials change but it always begins with one line; one gesture. The red ink is new. That idea came to me during lockdown because I needed to find energy and I sought it in that red ink.
What are the synergies between your work and OTK’s aesthetic and values?
SW: We’re both evoking a feeling, a connection with oneself – a moment where you do something for yourself. I feel safe in Margaux’s jackets; they’re soft and enveloping – like a little cocoon. And I do the same through my work – I’m building a space where you feel secure. I need to create and transmit safe environments.
As an artist invested in depicting nature, do you feel a responsibility to highlight contemporary issues and questions surrounding sustainability and the climate emergency?
SW: There is an element of drawing attention to what we’re doing to the planet. It’s impossible not to. But in choosing to work with nature, it’s also through a wish to preserve nature for the future. We’re moving so far from our natural environment and by featuring it in my work, I’m bringing it back. If I transfer it into an urban space, it’s because we’ve removed it from that context and yet to survive we need to save it.
There is not a direct call to action in the work but subtly, yes, of course there is a notion of bringing awareness to nature and making us realise what we’re doing by destroying it. I’m thinking about the viewer. Trying to transmit my memories to the viewer and hoping to evoke the feelings, emotions, sensations I had and have in observing nature. I want to transmit the quiet, calm, and feeling of being centred that we experience in nature. And awareness. If we don’t have this we won’t survive.
In observations of your work, what often comes through is the notion of an interplay between opposing concepts. Do you think that is present in the work for OTK?
SW: I think there’s an element of control versus accident. I’m open to the accident but I also like the control. In my work and my life there are contradictions, but we need both. You can’t have shadow without light. I love to play with the opposition: drawing a line, then letting go; I don’t control the whole process. I never know how a line or a piece is going to end up. I want it to be free.
Margaux, Sophie said that the red was an expression of how she was feeling during lockdown and she wanted the vibrancy of the bright red. What was your reaction to it?
ML: I’ve honoured the red because it’s an amazing colour, but what I love about it is that the jackets are very sober on the outside and then you open them and you discover their personality. There’s the sobriety versus the intensity of the inside – and I love the duality of those concepts.
SW: And I love that that’s what you were looking for – the minimalism of the outside versus the energy and shock of the inside. It’s where our minds meet and it’s very complementary.