Open Frequency 2009: Fern Thomas selected by Karen Ingham

Open Frequency 2009: Fern Thomas selected by Karen Ingham Fern Thomas, Bird Gesture (Swansea City Centre), 2008. Performance. 3 mins 40 secs

Karen Ingham profiles the work of Fern Thomas

In 'Bird Gesture' (2008) a woman stands in the centre of a busy shopping precinct. Around her are the signs of urban conformity and consumerism. The sun casts a shadow from one of the nearby trees, one of only a few in this non-place, which could be just about anywhere in the UK. In her cupped hands she holds a tiny bird. The bird is dead, the woman is still; her face down cast as if observing a moment's silence for the death she holds. Meanwhile, a man with a bag of shopping stops and stares observing this natural death in an unnatural world.

'Bird Gesture' is one of a series of new and recent works from Thomas, whose practice combines documented performance, digital video, sonic works, drawing and sculpture. Much of Thomas' work to date has been concerned with her relationship to the environment and to themes from mythological creation stories, and contemporary environmental issues. These issues are examined in a number of ways, not least through Thomas' involvement with the Swansea-based artists' collective 'Framework'. Her newest work (most of which was developed during her recently completed MA in Fine Art at Swansea Metropolitan University), uses documented performance and video to play with the slowing down of time to create quiet gestured moments, which are often subverted by powerful interruptions of sound. She uses her self as the subject, questioning her relationship to the world around her through metonymy and metaphor, and with her new works she extends this relationship to the animal world - specifically the avian. 'Language of The Birds' (2008) and 'Meeting' (2008) are two other pieces from this recent series, which could be paraphrased by Thomas' own expression as exploring 'the non-human in me'. These quiet, understated video performances speak volumes about the relationship between human and non-human worlds, and the fragility of that relationship. Climate change is already having a measurable and detrimental impact on bird populations and migration patterns worldwide, and Thomas' new works are a stark reminder of how non-human species are held hostage to human greed.

2009 celebrates the 150 years since Darwin published his controversial 'On the Origin of Species' (1859), and Thomas' practice connects deeply with the thinking of scientists such as Richard Dawkins who is keen to remind us of the essential link between animal and human. In this respect, Thomas' exploration of the 'non-human in me' could not have been better timed.

Karen Ingham, September 2008

Artist's biography

Fern Thomas graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Oxford Brookes University in 2005 and has now chosen base her practice in Swansea (Wales). She went on to complete her MA in Fine Art: Contemporary Dialogues at Swansea Metropolitan University in 2008. Her practice is concerned with the relationship between human and nature, and more specifically between human and non-human being. She is currently part of an exchange with artists from Xiamen (China) through Glynn Vivian Gallery (Swansea). Other recent projects include Identidades 04 in Morelia (Mexico) where she developed a project based on cultural exchange through cooking with collaborator Owen Griffiths.

Selected exhibitions include: Contemporary Dialogues, Ffotogallery (Cardiff, 2008); Reasoned Uncertainties: Innovations in Art, Science & Technology, Swansea Metropolitan Univerisity (2008); Obsessions, Modern Art Oxford (2008); Expo: Plymouth: Sonic Arts Network, Plymouth (2007); War and Peace 07: Bath Film Festival, Watershed, Bristol (2007); Experimentica 06, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff (2006); Expedition no.3, Art IG Showroom, Hannover (2005).

Collaborative practice plays an integral role in the work of Fern Thomas; she is a co-ordinator of collaborative group 'Framework' who host participatory events and create opportunities for artists in Wales, and is a member of 'F.A.O', a three-person collaborative with Adele Vye and Owen Griffiths. Recent collaborative curated/ facilitated projects include: Art's Birthday (Framework and Barnaby Dicker, 2009) and Annexe: work not selected for the Eisteddfod, tactileBOSCH (Framework 2008).

Thomas will be artist-in-residence at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in September 2009 as part of F.A.O. and will have a solo show at the Mission Gallery (Swansea) with Adele Vye in 2010.

About Karen Ingham

Karen Ingham is an artist, writer and curator, and the director of various research initiatives in lens-based arts, and arts, science and technology collaborations at Dynevor Centre for Art, Design and Media at Swansea Metropolitan University. She was born in England but raised in the United States, Germany and Norway, returning to England to study time-based arts in Nottingham in the 1980s. Following graduation she worked as an independent film director and screenwriter before moving to Wales where she worked at Chapter Arts Centre and the BBC before returning to her own practice. She gained an MPhil with the University of Wales in 2001 and a Doctorate in 2006 with research into historical and contemporary arts and science collaborations in the anatomical theatre.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.