Cloud Heaven: Robert ‘Thom’ Smith & Harriet ‘Angelmouse’ Body
Arts NSW staff member, Grace Archibald interviews Artist Support funding recipients Robert ‘Thom’ Smith and Harriet ‘Angelmouse’ Body.
Robert ‘Thom’ Smith and Harriet Body were the recipients of a 2014-15 Arts NSW Artist Support Grant. The grant supported a two-way mentorship and collaboration between Harriet and Thom, an artist living with autism.
Harriet and Thom are professional artists whose practice is process driven. Harriet (AKA Angelmouse) works with video and paper and uses raw, earth-based materials such as smoke or raw egg-yolk to make her mark. Thom’s practice involves photocopying countless faces from magazines; upon the back of which he draws abstracted faces that represent different human emotions before meticulously laminating them with strips of sticky tape.
GA: How did you develop your mentorship and collaboration with Thom?
Angelmouse: I started volunteering at Studio A because I wanted more experience in disability arts and I’m interested in working with professional artists with disability. On the first day I was there I met Thom. I was asked to support him with his work and we hit it off.
GA: What is Studio A?
Angelmouse: Studio A is an initiative of Studio ARTES in Hornsby, it is a support studio for professional artists with disability.
GA: How did you get to be called Angelmouse?
Angelmouse: Thom renames people and places and buildings. For example Circular Quay is known as ‘Cloud Heaven’. It sometimes takes him a long time to give someone a name but he named me Angelmouse pretty immediately. I was really touched by that. The names that he gives are kind of like metaphors and when you think about them they make sense – Circular Quay really is like a cloud heaven. His renaming of things was a really interesting access point for me for collaborating with Thom, particularly into how he might feel conceptually about particular places, people and things.
GA: Your artistic practices seem to be similar but not? Can you talk about how your practices align?
Angelmouse: I was really drawn to Thom’s artworks, but what really impressed me was the way he makes the work. We both have a meticulous way of working. The work that Thom and I exhibit are so vastly different from each other but I think that our interest in process is so similar and is where we really connect. Thom works in a very regimented way, in that he will repeat images and processes over and over again. I also work with repetition, like finding the same image and doing the same action over and over again. Finding similarities in Thom’s way of working was what sparked my initial attraction to him. The way that we make work is so similar and I think it’s the reason why we click together so well and why the collaboration worked so harmoniously.
Thom: I like to make my work about city rail trains. I like to wave at the trains and then I met Angelmouse and she waved at them with me. Angelmouse and I helped each other cover our entire room with trains from floor to ceiling.
Angelmouse: The work that we made together was different to the work that we usually make individually but it was a fantastic opportunity for us both to explore and develop skills and ideas outside of what we usually make.
“The grant that we received from Arts NSW was to support the mentorship between the two of us and the collaboration was born from that mentorship, which was an interesting result. It happened organically because, really, Thom and I converse and communicate through making. We are making work constantly and out of that process we share lots of ideas and learn so much about each other.”
GA: How did you structure the collaboration to be beneficial to both of you and contributing equally?
Angelmouse: It is important that we both contributed to the collaboration equally and for this to happen it’s essential that I work really closely with Studio A which is the support studio where Thom makes his work and where we did the residency. I consulted closely with Studio A in the parts of the collaboration where Thom may have been unable to contribute without assistance such as in administrative tasks like writing grants and applications. I’m very conscious about Thom’s potential vulnerabilities and want to be certain that everything is fair in our collaboration – that’s why working with Studio A, who help negotiate the collaboration in Thom’s best interest, is essential for the collaboration to work. Thom, Studio A and I are continuously communicating with each other on all aspects of the collaboration so we know that everybody is on the same page.
“The Arts NSW grant proposal was about developing a two-way mentorship between the two of us where we were both mentoring and learning from each other equally.”
GA: What new skills did you learn?
Thom: I would like to work with Angelmouse again and we are going to make buildings next time. I have learnt a lot of new things, like animation.
Angelmouse: I learnt to work in a really new and interesting way. I’ve never collaborated with anyone before and was really put out of my comfort zone making something so different to what I make in my solo practice. I learnt so much from Thom. He is so profoundly present in his creative process in a way that I dream to be in mine. He taught me to look at making in a really different way – that the actual making process can be an artwork in itself.
GA: What is next for your collaboration?
Angelmouse: Thom and I have been talking a lot about making new work about buildings and towers. It’d be cool to be able to work with an architect in the research stages of a new body of work to discover new ways of looking at buildings and architecture.