This acclaimed artist believes in tackling the small tasks first

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Artist Nicole Coson, who is part of the prestigious Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2020 selection, talks about her master’s degree show at the Royal College of Art. Photo from NICOLE COSON

Rituals is an interview series which highlights the different ways of boosting productivity.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The first work London-based artist Nicole Coson produced at the onset of the pandemic is a series of large monotypes of old Venetian blinds titled “Exoskeleton.” The virus had not yet upended the normalcy in London then, but it already changed the way of living in Asia where Coson’s family is.

“I made these works in anticipation of the day in which we would no longer be leaving our houses. The day in which our doors were sealed shut and our only way to see the outside was through the glass of our windows,” the artist statement reads. “While producing these works, I was thinking about how the pandemic was transforming or shifting our notions of the public and private. As the edges of our bodies began to blur, the walls of the house became the outer epidermis that was protecting us from the outside.”

“Exoskeleton” is one of the works Coson presented in her master’s degree show at Royal College of Art. “I think [“Exoskeleton” is] most effective when you’re right in front of them and I always believed they needed to be inside a room to get them going,” the Filipino artist says. But the pandemic forced RCA to hold the exhibition online. Instead of viewing the monotypes up close inside a room, the spectator witnessed the pieces on a glaring screen.

“It’s definitely been challenging to accept that the degree show we were working towards for over a year was going to become an online one and access to the workshops beforehand was impossible,” she says. “But it has also been amazing to see how the students have banded together to make the most of this difficult time in art education: by setting up online lectures and studio visits with artists we admire, and creating a strong student-led curriculum to cap off the remainder of our year.”

Nicole Coson's "Exeunt" at the Annka Kultys Gallery. Photo by DAMIAN GRIFFITHS/Courtesy of NICOLE COSON

One of the pieces from Nicole Coson's "Exoskeleton" series, which she presented in her master’s degree show at Royal College of Art. Photo from NICOLE COSON

It was only last month, when curator Mandy Franca assembled an exhibition at Kristin Hjellegerde Gallery, that “Exoskeleton” became accessible in a gallery space, the way Coson had wanted to present them.

Although the pandemic has upended plans and the normalcy of this world, 2020 has continued to be an eventful year for Coson. Aside from finishing her graduate program, Coson is one of the 36 emerging artists selected to be part of this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries.

Slated for an exhibition at South London Gallery in December, Bloomberg New Contemporaries will showcase Coson’s series of verdant prints titled “Exeunt.” The series was first presented in January as part of Annka Kultys Gallery’s “Cacotopia 04,” which is an annual exhibition that provides a platform for emerging artists, and in her RCA degree show.

“Exeunt” confronts a memory from Coson’s childhood. When she was a young girl, she fell into a pond at her childhood home and had to be pulled by her father. Each panel is a collage created from the same photograph.

“The original image serves as the stage of a particular memory which I have accessed thousands of times. Each completed collage becomes a part of a library or a personal catalog. Through building up layers of details from the same image, I gave each work a different kind of distortion mimicking the slippery and unreliable nature of memory as well as its ability to change and degrade like an overgrown neglected garden,” she says. “Memories age like us, they lose potency as time goes on, details fade, and there’s a possibility of adopting new things on the way.”

Coson may have been busy the previous months, but as access to her studio was limited, she has also fostered an appreciation for taking time off. 

“The lockdown was difficult, but it also took me out of non-stop production, which I can sometimes fall into and encouraged me to collect myself and my thoughts,” Coson says. “It was interesting to have to stop and reconfigure my practice and figure out what kind of work I really wanted to make. I'm still figuring that out and I am happy to let that be a constant question hanging over my practice. It’s important to me to constantly be questioning my position.”

Now, one of her works from her grad show is currently part of the "London Grads Now" show on display at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

In this interview, part of our productivity series, Coson talks about the solitude of working and what app best works for her practice.

What’s the first thing you do each morning and how does that affect the rest of your day?

First thing I do each morning is feed and walk our dog, Frankie, and tell him that he is the love of my life.

What time of day do you feel most productive? Why do you think that works for you?

I feel most productive right after lunch when I’m not obsessing over what I’m going to eat. This is when I’m just relaxed and focused.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The solitude.

What do you find most challenging about it?

The solitude.

How do you deal with distractions?

I can’t. It’s unrealistic for me to remain focused for a long period of time, so I break up my day into bursts of serious back-breaking productivity with plenty of breaks in between. The secret for me is to give myself breaks but limit each to 10 to 20 minutes.

My studio is situated in an old car park that was converted into artist studios in the ’90s. One entire wall is made of glass bricks which was typical of the time and brings a lot of natural light in. They obscure the trees into melted shards of sea glass which create beautiful projections on the walls. Outside my window is the old entrance to the car park which is now reclaimed by wild greenery. Every spring there are baby foxes playing there. I feel very lucky to be able to see that while painting or printmaking.

With regard to day-to-day challenges, do you have a ritual that helps you through it?

Get the easy stuff out of the way soon as they come. Then, work on larger projects slowly but diligently so I don’t get overwhelmed.

When did you start this ritual? Was there a specific moment that inspired it?

It’s either from my mom or my sister. I started it when I was in my MA for painting at the Royal College of Art.

Are there any apps you use for productivity?

Notes! I put all my ideas in it as well as production timelines.

How do you unwind after a busy day?

I cook or read recipes from my collection of cookbooks while my dog sleeps on my feet.