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And the award goes to...

Rachel Bride Ashton

26 May 2022

Last Friday, we announced the winner of this year's DCA Award: Rachel Bride Ashton. We're delighted to now catch up with Rachel, find out more about her degree show, practice and what's next for her. 

The DCA Award is selected by Beth Bate, Director of DCA, and Eoin Dara, Head of Exhibitions, from across the contemporary art practice section of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) Degree Show, with the winning candidate receiving £1,500 of prize money to support their future practice and three 90-minute Professional Development sessions with Eoin. The Degree Show is open until Sun 29 May: https://www.dundee.ac.uk/graduate-showcase/2022 

How does it feel to win this year’s DCA Award?

It feels great! As soon as I finished my degree show installation, I collapsed in an exhausted stupor and succumbed to some bad bacteria which is ironic as my installation is full of metaphorical good bacteria! In my fevered state, I thought I saw an email saying I’d won the DCA award but assumed the next morning it had been a fever dream.

I have aspired to win the DCA award since I heard about it last year and am so delighted and gratified that I actually did. It feels like such a fortifying endorsement of my work and has filled me with renewed vigour to continue to expand my practice in the direction it’s going. Some of DCA's shows in the last few years have been hugely inspirational and formative and I can’t wait for the mentoring sessions with Eoin to help guide me in where I will go next.

"Some of the DCA shows in the last few years have been hugely inspirational and formative and I can’t wait for the mentoring sessions with Eoin to help guide me in where I will go next."

How does this compare to your practice in general?

I think it’s a pretty ideal representation of my practice as a whole, as I have always worked in a variety of different disciplines and in my degree show, I have brought them all together in what could be called an ever-expanding field of film, sound, sculpture and painting: A veritable orgy of multi-species interconnectedness, biophilia and feminine intuition. I describe my multi-media installation as being woven together with biomorphic tentacles of salvaged waste and borrowed earth materials and this is as much a manifesto for me, as it is a description of my current show.

I make work in a cyclical, organic way, whereby research often leads to performance and film, which generates characters, scenarios and microcosms: music, poetry then 2D and 3D installation. I see this not as the end point, but the beginning of my next research foray, from which hopefully some of the physical work itself will shapeshift into new work. I have found through art school that this method seems to work really well for me and I think it will continue to be the basis of my practice moving forward.   

What contemporary artists do you admire?

I love Trulee Hall and Monster Chetwynd and their wild, exuberant, energetic and fun large-scale performances. Halls work about female bodily autonomy, motherhood, witchy-ness, goddess worship and reacting against patriarchal attitudes is close to my heart. I also loved Rae-Yen Song's exhibition at DCA. Several people had told me in advance of the exhibition that I was going to like it, and I did. I loved the hanging sculpture in the tent particularly and the animations projected in the space with the bubbling sounds. All very reminiscent of good bacterial activity which is right up my street and what Song has to say about ‘familial connectedness’ and their work being a ‘a form of personal activism, where alternative realities are proposed’ really resonates with me too. I am a big fan of Laurie Anderson, who’s poetic music and lectures I find, wonderfully wise and soothing and Donna Harraway and Timothy Morton also for their wise words and ideas. Then there’s Helen Marten whose video work of spoken, coded, poetic narrative, I find most inspiring. Tai Sanni, and Zadie Xa, who’s installations and spectacular performance work I admire greatly. I also really like John Currin, Helen Knowles, Emma Talbot and Shana Moulton and I could go on, but I better stop there!

What have you enjoyed most about studying in Dundee?

I really enjoy how small the centre of Dundee is and that there’s such a lot of art and music events always happening within a short distance of each other and DJCAD. There are all sorts of things happening in Dundee I was just starting to get more involved in, like open mics and poetry nights, which never happened because of lockdown and then we were into our final year push towards degree show by the time things opened up again, but maybe I can get into some of that now! I also like the idea of being in a city with a hill in the middle, though I’ve still not been up it… and the beautiful views of Fife over the Tay and the trees. I love trees in the city, we should have more of them, I think they raise people’s spirits so much. It’s great that you can walk and cycle everywhere you need to go in Dundee, and I used to walk and cycle all the time, then I sprained my ankle and had to learn the buses and now feel a bit of a bus pro! (Quite an achievement for a country girl ha ha!)

What's next for you after graduation?

I am very lucky to have won four prizes including this one and plan to use my combined prize money to keep a bit of a base in Dundee, in the form of a room or studio, so I still have a place to work here and to help fund me through this year. I plan to spend the other half of my time on my small off-grid Croft in Aberdeenshire which I share with my partner and extended family to which I returned most weekends throughout art school for a bag of my home grown, tatties and kale! The home we had hand-built was destroyed by a fire, a couple of years before I applied to art school and we have been rebuilding ever since and there’s still plenty to do. I also have a plant project in the pipeline with the new Nodal Collective in Dundee and other plans are afoot with Original Copy, another Dundee artist’s collective of which I am a core member, but my good friend Laurie McInally is the driving force. I will be working in collaboration with my (writer) father Charles Ashton on various projects (Instagram: @smoke.work) and I also have an album almost ready to release and a masters is on the cards, but possibly not till next year. I have an exhibition in London in the Autumn, as one of the Freelands Painting Prize winners and I plan to join Dundee Ceramics Workshop and DCA Print Studio and just keep making work and applying for residencies, competitions, exhibitions etc and be a bit flexible and open to any other suggestions or opportunities that might come my way. But again, I am now hoping Eoin can help guide me a bit in all this!

"...art school has been such a great validating, consolidating and confidence building experience!"

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to say that, for me, who had earned my living as a self-taught painter for over twenty years, after failing to get into art college straight from school - that art school has been such a great validating, consolidating and confidence-building experience! I had always thought about applying again when my kids were bigger, but it wasn’t until I was helping my home-educated son put his portfolio together to apply to art school, that I actually did. I went, hoping to integrate my other interests and practices into the mix along with my painting - like music, video and poetry and to feel less of an art imposter and I’ve been able to do just that, plus learn a few more skills along the way! I felt my tutors and peers really believed in me and even with the pandemic it’s all been such an enriching, expanding and therapeutic experience, and I would like to personally thank and name everybody here, but I hope you know who you are! I also want to thank all my family and friends for always believing in me and supporting everything I do!

Please keep up to date with what I’m doing next on Instagram @rachelbrideashton

or my blog/website at https://rachelbrideashton.com 

About the DCA Award
Anita Taylor, Dean of DJCAD said “The DCA Award provides such a brilliant opportunity for one of our graduates – and reflects our close and continuing working partnership. We are thrilled that Rachel Bride Ashton has been awarded this significant prize for 2022, which will support the development and ambition of her practice, and being mentored by DCA Head of Exhibitions, Eoin Dara, will be transformational at this early stage in her career, and will build on her success as a recently-announced winner of the 2022 Freeland’s Painting Prize.”

Reflecting on Rachel’s work, Beth Bate, Director of DCA, said, “I was extremely impressed with Rachel’s final presentation: her exploration of the organic female reproductivity, an intuitive utopia and female deities using different medias has created a hugely engaging installation. I truly hope the award and mentoring will be of help in developing her future practice”

"Rachel's degree show work was bursting with a kind of wild energy that felt fantastic to be surrounded by"

Eoin Dara, Head of Exhibitions at DCA, added: “Rachel's degree show work was bursting with a kind of wild energy that felt fantastic to be surrounded by as we were walking through all of the shows at DJCAD this year. We spent such a long time in the surreal world she is building within her practice, piecing together strange narrative threads and encountering meticulously crafted characters and creatures throughout the installation. I'm so looking forward to speaking more with her to support the development of her work and ideas beyond university."

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