Aimee Millward was a New Art West Midlands exhibitor in 2016. Now studying for an MA in Fine Art at the University of Wolverhampton, she has recently developed an exhibition in collaboration with Dudley Archives and Local History Centre. Titled Virtual Mirrors (Intersection of the Real and Unreal), the exhibition explores the mapping of the Black Country through new paintings. Locations include Wren’s Nest Estate, Upper and Lower Gornal, Sedgley, Dudley and Wolverhampton.
How did the collaboration with Dudley Archives come about?
In the middle of my MA in Fine Art, I was developing and experimenting with new ways to interpret space and place. While producing a painting for the Mander Centre in Wolverhampton I was predominantly referring back to maps found on Google. However, I wanted to physically study some of these maps, so I decided to visit Dudley Archives to view their map collection. After that visit I found out that they had an exhibition space and approached their Senior Archivist Richard Lewis to see whether they would be interested in a collaboration of their maps and my paintings.
Can you tell me more about your fascination with maps and with the Black Country?
I’ve always enjoyed studying maps. It’s a simple pleasure to look at the variety of colours and shapes from a location that you are familiar with. I’m interested in looking at how that landscape has evolved over 150-200 years. I find it interesting how perspectives and locations are changed by looking down on to that environment, instead of studying what is physically around me. The view and sensations of walking through an estate or a public garden is totally different compared to looking down at a 2D map. That estate I have just walked through or the public garden I walk my dog across every day is dramatically simplified into a shape that you could not visualise within that area. The image that is painted on the reflected surface is an abstracted view of a location that has been reworked. The Black Country has a history and wealth of industrial heritage and can still evoke the 19th Century image of a dark and dingy landscape. By taking motifs from maps of this location, I explore and re-interpret the area that I have been surrounded by since birth, using vivid colours to juxtapose with this landscape.
How are you approaching the material through your painting?
For this exhibition I have experimented with painting on mirrors and canvas in acrylic paint. The use of a mirrored surface creates a space within a space. Using a mirror – a real useable object – instead of a traditional canvas surface allows for interaction and juxtaposition between the painted surface with the smooth, sleek reflection and an unreal space and a real space. The painted surface is a space which has been placed on top of a reflected surface that automatically creates a space. Both the painted space and the real space that is now on the other side of the mirror are all reflected, spaces within spaces. I am very interested in the writings of Michel Foucault in relation to his metaphor of a mirror acting as a heterotopia. I use the painting to act as a heterotopia.
By studying the maps I have selected a variety of motifs and reworked the composition, to bring an abstracted view of the Black Country. In some of my paintings I have focussed on one area of the Black Country but looked at maps from different eras. For instance the ‘Museum’, which is analysed by Foucault, contains artefacts from different times and places, one can literally travel through time in one place. In those paintings, motifs have been selected from a specific area alongside motifs from maps approximately 100-200 years previous.
What can visitors to the exhibition expect?
They can expect to view maps in a completely new way, in an imaginative way as something that they would not usually see. My paintings will be shown alongside some selected maps from Dudley Archives so the audience can study my process of developing the compositions and shapes from those maps.
What do you hope the project’s outcomes might be?
I hope to tour this project by maybe using different locations to work with and re-interpret.
What plans are upcoming for your work?
I am nearly coming to the end of my Master’s degree at the University of Wolverhampton and will be exhibiting my work at Wolverhampton Art Gallery – which is very exciting. I am currently expanding my paintings in size and within installation work so I am looking at locations to experiment in and exhibit in.
The exhibition runs Tuesday 6 June – Saturday 19 August 2017.