Annabel Clarke speaks to artist Pamela Schilderman about her work in Leamington Spa Museum & Art Gallery‘s Spotlight display.

Schilderman’s project seeks to challenge accepted traditions of the self-portrait by using forensic identifiers to present an alternative view of identity through scientific processes.


Casket by Pamela Schilderman


In Casket you’ve looked at the idea of a portrait forensically. What was the inspiration for this?

A visit to the BP Portrait Award made me want to challenge the idea of a portrait as a face or body. Then the first thing that came to mind was to use the thumbprint as the oldest, most recognisable form of identification. At the time there was a lot in the news related to identity and biometric technology which led me to consider the possibilities of a forensic portrait.

Did you have to learn any new processes in order to make your scientific self-portrait?

Yes, for the hair piece I had to learn how to basket weave. I met with the jewellery curator at Nottingham Castle Museum who kindly showed me their impressive collection of Victorian hair jewellery. She gave me some instructions from the Ladies Companion (1850), which I tried very hard to follow.

The piece feels very Victorian in its display, reminiscent of memento mori. Why did you choose this way of displaying the piece?

I wanted to incorporate history in Casket in order to juxtapose past and present. By linking each forensic identifier with a precious element and showcasing them in a jewellery box I intended to reinforce identity as precious. The title, as well as the piece, is deliberately ambiguous, to offer the dual interpretation of death/life.

You received a France Brodeur Young Artist Award in 2016 to help with the development of the work. How did this funding help you? Would you recommend others in the region apply for this funding?

Getting the France Brodeur Young Artist Award has been amazing! Thanks to their support I got to collaborate with three makers from the midlands and I did learn a lot from them about new materials. I would definitely recommend other artists to apply for this opportunity as the FBYAA not only support a project but do so, in the context of the development of your practice.

Casket has been displayed at New Walk Museum in Leicester before coming to Leamington Spa, are there plans to show it elsewhere?

Casket will go to Maidstone Museum & Art Gallery in Kent, from 16 October – 16 December 2017 and I hope to show it in other museums next year.

What else are you working on?

At the moment I am working on a new forensic piece which again, will be an alternative self-portrait. I am also developing a mixed-media piece on the human brain, exploring the relationship between emotions and identity on which I hope to collaborate with a scientist.

Schilderman’s work will be on display at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum until 17 September 2017 and she will be giving at an artist talk at the gallery at 1pm on 8 September 2017.

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