To Find, To Hold, To Share

Some of the most contemplative works of art lie in the silent power of life’s pauses. Time to rest, time with nature, time with oneself: all bode well to the spirit of creating. RCA BLK is proud to host To Find, To Hold, To Share: an exhibition that commemorates the association’s residency (2023) in partnership with Art in Romney Marsh (AiRM). Founded in 2003, AiRM’s focus is to support artists in experimenting and making site-specific work; delivering a wide range of learning programmes that engage community groups with their local heritage and history.

RCA Alumni Kimberley Cookey-Gam, Tami Soji-Akinyemi, and Yanna Marie Orcel uncover their physical and metaphorical paths of discovery and collective exploration of coastal terrains, slow and gradual living, and sisterhood. Objects birthed from clay, yarn, driftwood, fleece, motion, and memory engulf the Hockney Gallery and bring to question the final form that they inevitably become. Like us, these pieces welcome the changes in the tide, and pay homage to the artists’ experiences before, during and after their residency at The Shingles House in AiRM. This exhibition was curated by Zarna Hart, RCA Alumni (2022-23).

Image by Aisha Olamide Seriki

RCA BLK had the opportunity to speak with the artists in residence about their experience in Romney, before the unveiling of the exhibition, and have the honour to feature them on our website. These not only serve as reflections, but as contributions to our ongoing archive of artists' practices and student/alumni experience.

Kimberley Cookey-Gam

My time spent in Romney Marsh allowed me to feel and become more familiar with deep quiet, and its importance for myself and my practice.

It helped me rediscover how nurturing the immediacy and shock of cold, salty water is for my troubled skin. 

It taught me to remember the importance of shared moments.

Learning the process of spinning yarn created an intimacy with my practice that was previously absent. Despite yarn being a staple in my practice already, this process allowed me to understand its cycles, its ebbs and flows, its softness, its roughness at times, and its comfort.

Going for countless, long, slow walks drew my attention to hag stones. Being surrounded by shingles naturally made me more attuned to finding these hole-filled rocks. The power of them, their symbolism, what they represent through its materiality.

The presence of moss growing in and amongst the shingles drew my attention to the materiality of opposing textures that exist within nature. Something so soft making a home in the rigid. 

Combining these elements, experiences and materials welcome and allow a subtle but poignant shift in my practice. 

8 Senses

i meet new faces who become gentle familiarity

i feel tranquility away from the city,

i witness the cycle of life through the death of a rabbit — food for a fox 

i hear the chug of a train,

the spin of a wheel,

the movement of shingles, beneath my feet

i touch wet lake water and rain soaked moss

i smell fresh air and dinner and sea

i taste tomato and salt and tea,

i am at peace.

Kimberley Cookey-Gam, The Fall, 2023, Hand-spun and sustainably sourced yarn

Tami Soji-Akinyemi

Days in Romney Marsh were a return to peace. To draw from life-- artistic notions of stillness, repetition, separation, variation. To share a scallop shell at the shack. To ground our toes in a soft moss for our bare feet to dry. To will the rain clouds away so we could walk past the lighthouse. To lay beneath the stars in their glory-- bright and unclouded in the night's open dome. Closer to the earth, mind and sky. 

I wondered, where do the shingles end? At the bottom of the land beneath the billion tonne weights of pebble varieties, shifting in, pulled up and swept back. I imagined the turnover as the storms rolled in, the small placement changes of a singular shingle as beach walkers trudged along, the long quiet stays in fixed positions as the sun warmed the bellies of their smooth surfaces. 

The stretch of the coast turned to closeness, as our morning route to the spring became routine. The tide, low or high, swayed flatly in the distance beyond the fragmented rocky plane. We trailed unheard stories-- messages of concrete curved sound mirrors, reanimated by the cupping of imitation birdsong. We skipped rocks, flat and smooth on the water’s edge. We observed, in gentle reverence, the bird, fox and butterfly. We spoke of being and art-making over nightly dinners in the heart of the house. It was natural to collect objects nestled in the shingle dunes as we traversed the Dungeness landscape. We paced a current through the preferred paths of the marshlands guardian’s-- between red rusted metal ruins, rotting wood and iron bolts, patinated by sea-wind and moss. There was a finding, a selection, a display of the wares of each day. Our artifacts: markers of our time walking in the rock crunch, hearing each other's marching as echoes between our ears. Stopping, starting, speeding up, a pause to pick a new treasure. 

I spun in the morning, the wheel creaked as the sun burst in its longitude, learning the rhythms of the Ashford Traveller. After a shaky start to my pressing foot and two-way teasing at the table-- carding local wool-- time was invested to meld the knots into the fold for a smooth twist; value added for a memento of melange. 

We slowed in the quiet. The horizon settled the interruptions of daily city life. The Shingle House windows framed the vast landscape; rectangular vignettes cutting the sky with patches of heathery brush, speckled with ever new canary yellow gorse. All this between the remnants of missions and red marks on maps, under the gaze of the ex-nuclear hum.

Tami Soji-Akinyemi, Young Return (Installation), 2024, Unfired stoneware, earthenware and modelling clay, iron, varnish on aluminium, Kent wool, tracing paper, graphite and carbon transfer ink on paper on mylar

Yanna Marie Orcel

Stepping outside of the city for five days away,

Met with beautiful scenery and sparks of sisterhood, 

We traveled by train to a foreign land where we could exhale.

Exhale. Release the expectations, fatigue, and burdens,

Inhale. Take in the present moment. 

Detach from what was, focus on what is. 

I walk barefoot across a shingled beach,

Childlike curiosity is welcomed to roam free. 

Free. Free from the pressure, at least for a week. 

Friendship blossoms like wildflowers, that I gaze at lovingly. 

Sketching what I see right before me. 

We guide one another through creative activities;

You teach me, I’ll teach you. Reciprocracity. 

Balance. Balancing the bustle of London with the calm of the Marsh.

Exploring pockets of land alongside my camera.

Exploration leads to inspiration. 

Those subtle ah-ha moments that soothe the soul.

Surprised to see not a single tree, comforted by the beach’s breeze.

Stillness. How I longed for stillness and now it is here, right before me.

Calm & patient. We talk of stargazing, one of these clear nights. 

Clarity. The clarity that comes from self-reflection.

New perspective. New direction, divine protection. 

Candid conversations as we walk along the shore.

Mornings met with Kimberley’s pancakes, smiles and sunshine.

Singing in the kitchen, dancing by the windows. 

The windows and doors that open up when you let your guard down.

Stagnation turns to collaboration. 

What’s meant to go will go when in flow. 

Flow and let go. Let go to let flow. 

Let’s go, out by the water where we can swim freely.

Find a place where we can just be. The cold water shocks me.

We join hands as we dunk ourselves in the sea.

See me, for me. I see you, I hear you. 

You hold space for me, and I’m reminded of how sweet it can be.

To just be.

Yanna Marie Orcel, …To just be, 2024, Digital collage, digital photography

The exhibition runs from March 25th to April 4th at the Hockney Gallery, RCA Kensington Campus.