Thinking in Place with T&T Artist Alicia Milne

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A report from Trinidad’s Guardian.

Born in T&T, Alicia Milne is a multi-disciplinary artist working mostly in ceramics. Her work has showed in galleries and spaces both locally and abroad, namely: Medulla Art Gallery, the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the Anthology Film Archive in New York.

In 2013, she received a Prince Claus Fund Travel Grant and was artist in residence at Stitching Open Ateliers Zuidoost in the Netherlands. The following year, she was a participant in Beta Local’s Seminario Itinerante in Puerto Rico. She holds a BA in Visual Arts with a Minor in Cultural studies from the University of the West Indies, and she is currently living and working in Trinidad.

How does identity influence your practice when making work in and about postcolonial T&T?

I think that any artist’s identity influences not only their practice but their world view as well. I am a female born in the 80s in a particular socio-economic environment. This is the lens that I view our country through and as such, it is the position that I make my work from.

What conflicts present themselves in your process of making, and how do you work through them?

The way that I work can vary greatly. Sometimes its very intuitive and process based and other times it is deliberate and exacting. Oftentimes the biggest concern after a work is complete is its installation. That is a large part of work itself—the choice you make in how it is presented to the viewer. For me it just requires time and space to test out the work. A bad installation can ruin a project.

In one of your artist statements you say that you often use found objects to “claim and establish a presence in the physical space that [you] live in”—this sort of implies that you may feel that you don’t have a place here. Can you elaborate?

I wouldn’t say that. For those objects I was very interested in making, works that speak to our relationship with physical landscape, which encompasses our collective and personal histories in these islands and the wider region, I used only found and local materials. It’s a very deliberate choice—to make works about our space with materials and objects from the space. It’s more about accountability in a way, saying I am Trinidadian, and taking ownership of that, and this is what Trinidadian work can look like.

You’ve done residencies in Amsterdam, Puerto Rico, and Beijing—completely different places, each with a unique culture. What has it been like making work in a different culture and space? How has it informed your practice?

Artist residencies are very useful in developing one’s practice. Removing yourself from your usual context not only allows you to think very introspectively about what you are doing in a new environment, but you also have the opportunity to experience first-hand how other artists and art markets work. Through the residencies that I have done I broadened my professional network and in turn have had further opportunities for my work and practice.

Did you notice any significant similarities or differences between Trinidad and Puerto Rico during your residency there, seeing that they’re both part of the Caribbean?

That was the first of what I hope will be many more occasions to work in the wider region. There are obvious physical similarities between the islands. But what is more interesting to me is the similar histories that they share and how these inform artist’s practices in both spaces. These histories are also what make the islands different. Puerto Rico is essentially still a colony that feels very Caribbean, North American and Latin American all at the same time. It’s interesting to see coming from an independent island nation that oftentimes likes to forget our colonial past. Their tensions with the US are very real and very current. It’s exciting to see how artists engage these loaded histories in both spaces and how it manifests in really engaging work.

How do you engage with the landscape both historically as well as physically? Has walking as a process allowed for a more ahistorical perspective on the landscape?

I engage the landscape in my work through the subject matter and through the materials that I choose. Walking as a process allows for a shift in scale and I experience the landscape in a very direct way. Processes like that can allow for shifting your thinking about your work and for me it’s oftentimes how I collect my materials.

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