Ursula Handleigh is one of the participating artists in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. Her work is on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

//Ursula Handleigh grew up in an intercultural family, her parents came from England and from the Philippines to live in Canada. The disconnection from the cultural heritage of her parents has become a driving force in Handleigh’s artistic research. Her families’ archive is an inspiration for her artistic inquiries and articulation. “I look at the images of my parents’ families and I find myself unattached – because I cannot link it to any memory or sense of place and many of the narratives are still foreign to me. I found myself in front of this wall of missing experience and missing emotion as a kind of tentative being in the world.” These images and narratives from unknown realms that sharpened the radar for all kinds of reflections on post memory, collective memory and identity.

Handleigh’s artistic research is directed to observation, exercises and studies that give space to subconscious activity. It is rooted in the understanding of the subconscious as the archive of memories, beliefs, habits, preferences and drives. By longhand writing, relaxed to the point of illegible suggestion, with streams of consciousness, she develops her materials. With traces of writings, presumed truths, and the residue of photographs, she is mapping her findings, sorted in rows, sections and grids.

“… I think I adopted my way of working from my father. He was very experimental. His way of cooking was as unusual as his solutions as an electrician. Today, I still like to use my hands when working on an art work. I choose a material to accompany my thoughts and I start a kind of dialogue, I initiate an action and the material responds, and I start to build from there. I enjoy this state of being attentive and like to watch the process develop. I don’t plan a work – what I produce is more like the recording of a situation. These recordings cannot usually be heard or read by an audience, but they are alluded to. They are more like traces that I provide to spark associations. Nothing is only one thing… I am constantly challenging my beliefs.”

Throughout her studies of photography at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Ursula Handleigh reflected on the role of the photograph as object. She experimented with the interplay of light and lenses, cameraless photography and the presence of absence. Experimentation is her main studio strategy, persistence a strong working quality. For her series of works “I can feel you forgetting”, she worked with physical and chemical materials alone, without any referential imagery. When divested of the idea of carrying visual content, a photograph is a filtered throw of light upon a lens or a paper. “I am very interested in the aesthetics of the accidental building processes. I work with ephemeral processes, the changing and shifting and all the surprises. I conceptually work through an issue without predetermining the results.”

She avoids priming the audience for a specific understanding “… with my works I like to create atmospheres that are open to the unsaid, unseen and unthought. I offer my finding to an audience not to convey my findings or to share any content or meaning. It’s simply an existing line or a form. But I am very happy when the viewers start to associate from their own archives and realms. That is a kind of abstract communication that has its own poetics.”

[All citations: Ursula Handleigh. Summary of interview on September 29, 2017: Bettina Pelz]

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