Embracing 'Otherness' in Art: An Interview with Luminara Florescu
In this illuminating interview, we sit down with Luminara Florescu, a multidisciplinary artist whose work transcends conventional boundaries. From her early days in London's vibrant art scene to her current role as a curator, producer, and advocate for sustainable, inclusive art, Florescu's journey is one marked by resilience and a commitment to embracing the often-overlooked aspects of our shared existence. Join us as we delve into her artistic background, her unique approach to gentle protest and creative activism, and the transformative power of her Rest As Protest movement.
To begin, can you delve a bit into your artistic background and practice?
After graduating from Kingston University with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art in 1999 I continued to live and exhibit in London. I was really interested in film and video which led me to create a number of short films for Channel 4. However, the dynamics of life changed after becoming a mother, prompting my decision to bid farewell to London and relocate to Cardiff in South Wales, to be nearer family. Cardiff, with its vibrant contemporary art and film scene, inspired me to explore scriptwriting for film during the quiet afternoons when our baby was asleep. These brief yet creatively rich intervals allowed me to sustain my artistic output, culminating in the recognition of my short film script, Penny Collectors, with a Production Grant from the Welsh Film Council.
Welcoming our second child prompted a temporary pause in my art practice and career. During this period, my primary focus shifted to raising a family, including embracing Unschooling (homeschooling) for our children. Nevertheless, creativity and the act of art-making remained integral to our family life. A decade later, I rekindled my commitment to my art practice with the support of a Somerset Art Works Creative Pathways Artist Bursary in 2018. Subsequently, I've taken on the role of curator, producer, Creative Director and artist mentor, overseeing various group exhibitions and projects. My personal artistic endeavours have shifted toward the creation of immersive and collaborative artworks, events or happenings that include public engagement as a key focus.
In your bio, you mentioned that you are "embracing gentle protest and creative activism," working with themes of rest, slowing down, and resisting hyper-productivity as vital tools in the fight against climate change. What can you tell us about the motivation to approach these themes?
As a disabled and neurodiverse artist, my approach to embracing gentle protest and creative activism is deeply informed by my own lived experience. This unique perspective has led me to recognise the importance of rest, slowing down, and resisting hyper-productivity as essential tools in the battle against climate change
My motivation stems from years of personal experience, marked by a relentless cycle of overworking and pushing myself to breaking point. This perpetual boom and bust pattern invariably led to burnout after each major project, ultimately culminating in a diagnosis of ME and chronic fatigue syndrome. In 2021, I was awarded an Artist Bursary by a-n (The Artist Information Company) to develop the Contract of Self Care project. This work drew upon the challenges I encountered while curating and managing past projects. The resulting document serves as a resource for artists, a checklist of values as well as practical considerations for artists to foster a healthy balance as well as a culture of inclusion and accessibility when taking part in or organising creative projects.
This work propelled me into a more profound exploration of how artists, particularly those identifying as disabled, neurodiverse, or with caregiving responsibilities, could sustain a thriving art practice. Being awarded a Develop Your Creative Practice (DYCP) grant by Arts Council England at the end of 2022 provided an opportunity for me to step back and reflect on my artistic journey. It prompted considerations on how I could move forward in a manner that prioritised health and balance. This introspective process was further guided by my own health condition, necessitating a shift towards rest, slowing down, and moving away from hyper-productivity.
During this reflective period, I began to observe an incongruence between the rhetoric of preventing climate change and human behaviour. Our interconnectedness with every living organism on this planet implies that our daily actions influence the world around us. Slowing down offers a chance for deeper self-discovery and connection with others on a profound level. It provides time for increased self-awareness, promoting the right actions and meaningful communication.
Could you share more about the Rest As Protest movement that you developed during your Art Council DYCP grant, and how does it contribute to reimagining relationships and addressing societal norms?
I have always had a deep connection with nature and an appreciation of its ability to offer humans healing. I came to recognise the importance of rest, slowing down, and resisting hyper-productivity as essential to sustain relationships that were truly based on connectedness and a form of deep democracy that includes humans and non-humans. Given the challenges and barriers I face as a disabled and neurodiverse individual, I understand first-hand the significance of creating space for all voices, including those often marginalised and overlooked. The Rest As Protest movement stems from my belief in the power of inclusivity and the necessity of fostering environments that cater to diverse needs and perspectives.
By emphasising themes of rest and slowing down, I strive to highlight the significance of sustainability not only in environmental practices but also in social and cultural contexts. Through the Rest As Protest movement, I aim to bring awareness to the importance of considering the human and environmental cost of an overly fast-paced and demanding society, advocating for a more balanced and compassionate approach that prioritises the well-being of individuals, communities, and the planet at large.
In what ways do you approach themes of well-being and self-care within your artistic practice?
Through my work, I seek to challenge the prevailing notion that progress must come at the expense of human health and environmental sustainability. One of my key strategies involves infusing humour and a cheeky tone into my creations, recognising laughter as a universal and profoundly healing force.
An example of this approach is evident in the Slogans of Resistance to Overworking that I employ, with phrases like "Save the Planet - Do Less!" This slogan not only elicits laughter but also conveys a serious message about the detrimental impacts of hyper-productivity driven by capitalist constructs. Drawing inspiration from my upbringing in the era of Punk, where rebellion and protest were as integral to the movement as the music itself, I see well-being and self-care as the new Punk Rock. Embracing these practices becomes a form of resistance against the dominant culture of consumerism that often overlooks the importance of individual and collective well-being.
How do public engagement, collaboration, and playfulness manifest in your art, and why do you believe these aspects are pivotal to your creative process?
I believe art should be accessible to everyone. Breaking down barriers and making contemporary art more approachable has been a central goal in my creative journey. Recognising the intimidating nature of traditional white-walled galleries, I actively seek out unconventional spaces that attract diverse audiences, fostering an environment where both art enthusiasts and those unfamiliar with contemporary art feel welcome.
One such unconventional venue is Shepton Mallet Prison, a 400-year-old decommissioned prison in South Somerset. This unique setting has proven to be a successful backdrop for a number of group exhibitions and artist residencies I have curated and exhibited in, aligning with my commitment to reaching non-traditional art audiences. By bringing art into unexpected spaces, I aim to challenge preconceptions and create a more inclusive platform for artistic expression.
Over the years, my art has evolved towards immersive experiences that encourage collaboration with visitors. An example is the giant board, titled And the Children Shall Lead exhibited as part of the ‘Outside In’ exhibition in the C-Wing of Shepton Mallet Prison in 2022. This piece transformed the viewing experience into an interactive game, inviting visitors to roll a large dice and navigate a giant board, collecting tokens along the way. The collected tokens were then used to create a collaborative sculpture, with each visitor contributing a message of hope to the world.
The playful nature of this piece elicited diverse reactions from participants, spanning ages from 2 to 80 years old. Some took ingenious approaches to challenge themselves, like the group of teenage girls who incorporated plastic toy handcuffs from the prison gift shop, handcuffing themselves together while playing the game. This unexpected collaboration between artist and audience extended to rule-making and even occasional cheating, fostering a sense of shared ownership over the artwork.
Feedback reflected the success of this approach. Participants expressed feelings of childlike joy, with some noting that traditional galleries often prohibit interaction with the art. The game provided an opportunity for people to not only engage with the artwork but also become an active part of its creation.
In essence, public engagement, collaboration, and playfulness are pivotal to my creative process as they embody my commitment to democratising art. By taking art out of conventional spaces and inviting the public to actively participate, I hope to dismantle barriers, spark joy, and create a more inclusive and engaging experience for diverse audiences.
Could you discuss your commitment to using found and recycled materials in your work and how it aligns with your goal of promoting sustainability through artistic expression?
My commitment to using found and recycled materials in my artistic practice stems from a deep-seated passion for sustainability and a conscious effort to align my creative process with environmental responsibility. For many years, I have dedicated time to exploring charity shops and visiting scrap stores, turning these excursions into a personal quest for re-purposable treasures.
The roots of this commitment go back to a significant period in my life when our children were younger, and we embraced Unschooling/Home education. Engaging in numerous craft activities during this journey, we transformed recycled materials into dolls, clothes, toys, and gifts. This experience not only cultivated a creative spirit but also ingrained in me a natural inclination towards utilising found and recycled materials as valuable resources.
When creating artwork, I approach the selection of materials with a careful consideration of their environmental impact. The process involves a conscious effort to choose materials that align with sustainability principles. This approach extends beyond artistic preference; it reflects a commitment to minimising my ecological footprint and contributing to the promotion of sustainable practices.
By repurposing found materials, I extend their lifecycle and contribute to reducing the demand for new resources.
What can you tell us about the Art Behind Bars program?
The Art Behind Bars programme, of which I am the co-founder and lead curator, represents a unique initiative in collaboration with Shepton Mallet Prison, (decommissioned). The overarching goal of this programme is to redefine the role of art beyond the traditional confines of white-walled gallery environments. Simultaneously, it serves as a platform for amplifying the voices of emerging artists through thought-provoking exhibitions held in distinctive prison settings.
Several key projects have been organised under the Art Behind Bars umbrella, each contributing to the programme's mission. Notable exhibitions include B-Wing in 2019, Artist Prison Residencies in 2021, and Outside In in 2022. These exhibitions have not only received positive responses from visitors but have also attracted significant attention from the press. The success of these initiatives has been further amplified by the support received from various funding bodies, including Arts Council England, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Open Mental Health, and the Ganes Trust.
The programme stands as a testament to the potential of art as a transformative force, breaking free from traditional gallery spaces and finding resonance within the unique confines of a 400-year-old decommissioned prison. By curating exhibitions and residencies within this unconventional venue, Art Behind Bars aims to create exciting, sustainable, and ongoing arts and culture events with a strong emphasis on public engagement. The intention is to provide opportunities for artists both nationally and internationally, leveraging the distinctive setting of a prison to spark conversations and challenge perceptions.
Working within such a unique venue has allowed for experimentation and playfulness in the creation of the arts programme. Additionally, collaborative efforts have been fostered by inviting other artists to serve as co-curators, enriching the diversity of perspectives shaping the exhibitions. The Artist Prison Residencies, for example, demonstrated adaptability by running as a physical/blended (virtual) programme. This inclusive approach enabled disabled artists who were unable to attend physically to participate fully, culminating in a fully virtual residency in 2022.
As an artist who was awarded several grants, what can you tell us about your experience? What advice would you give artists wanting to land support for their work?
Grant applications can be daunting and navigating them can be like learning a new language—it requires practice. As familiarity with the process grows, understanding the criteria of grant-awarding bodies becomes more evident. A critical aspect involves researching their values and priorities. I would also encourage artists to explore funding opportunities from less conventional sources, such as trusts or commercial businesses.
It never hurts to ask and my enquiries have often been met with enthusiasm as some organisations welcome the opportunity to increase awareness of their grant programmes.
How do you intentionally make your practice and creative process more complex? Do you have any amusing or captivating anecdotes about changing your methods of creation?
I intentionally infuse complexity into my artistic practice by challenging the myth of consistency, a notion often prevalent in the art world. During a recent group discussion with the artist Can Atlay we delved into the expectation for artists to adhere to a consistent style and subject matter. We contemplated the artist's right to pivot, akin to the natural evolution of cells within our bodies. I view my artistic practice as an organic entity, constantly growing, changing, and cycling through phases of death and renewal.
I've come to appreciate the value of stepping back and engaging in mindful, embodied listening instead of relying solely on intellect. In the midst of a lockdown, I sensed my work turning overly serious, losing the joy of creation. Taking a moment alone, I opened myself to curiosity and heard an inner voice urging me to embrace the Trickster archetype. Coincidentally, the next day, an email arrived advertising an online lecture on The Dark Rabbit, exploring tricksters throughout history. The laughter during the lecture rekindled the prospect of joy returning to my creative practice. This trickster has stayed with me ever since, sometimes poking a finger in my ribs whenever I start to become overly serious again.
In your perspective, what role does art play in encouraging a reconsideration of our fast-paced, consumer-driven society, and how do you hope your work contributes to this shift in perspective?
Art plays a pivotal role in serving as a powerful means of reflection, critique, and inspiration it has the ability to critically examine and question the values and norms of society. Artists can highlight the consequences of a fast-paced, consumer-driven lifestyle through an analytical lens that prompts viewers to reconsider societal structures. Artists often act as cultural commentators, offering unique perspectives on societal issues by creating works that reflect the realities and challenges of a consumer-driven culture, art can stimulate dialogue and introspection.
My intention as an artist is to present alternative narratives and possibilities, offering ways of living that prioritise well-being, sustainability, and community over relentless consumption and hyper-productivity. I hope to create an emotional impact leading individuals to reassess their values and priorities in the face of the overwhelming pace of consumer culture that discriminates against those who are considered as “Other”, therefore contributing to a broader cultural shift by influencing public opinion and societal attitudes.
As an artist engaging in gentle protest and creative activism, I aim to use my creative platforms to advocate for change by creating and aligning with movements that promote sustainability, social justice, and well-being. I endeavour to foster spaces, both physical and virtual, for reflection and imagination, offering the potential for transformative change on both an individual and societal level.
Lastly, what message would you like to leave our readers?
I would like to leave readers with a call for the embrace of "Otherness" within the art world. My art practice aims to be an advocate for this “Otherness”. I firmly believe that the more we incorporate perspectives often marginalised by society—whether they be human beings or non-human life forms—the art world becomes not only more diverse but also healthier and more sustainable. This concept of "Otherness" introduces voices and narratives that may bring qualities of gentleness, respect, and softness—attributes often at odds with capitalism.
Know more about the artist here.
Social Gardening film event by Luminara Florescu. Image courtesy of Luminara Florescu
Luminara Florescu is a British born artist, curator and artist mentor based in rural Somerset. Her art practice occupies the intersection of art, advocacy, and activism and is deeply rooted in her lived experience as a disabled and neurodivergent artist. After graduating from Kingston University with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art in 1999 she continued to live and exhibit in London including creating short films for Channel 4 with her film Home Town being selected by the British Film Council to represent emerging British artists in Milan. Her limited edition artist book, Noble Offerings is also part of the Artists Books collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. After becoming a mother in 2001, Luminara lived in Cardiff, South Wales. In 2005, her film script Penny Collectors was awarded a Production Grant by the Welsh Film Council and was produced by Those People Productions. The film was shown at the Welsh Film Festival in 2005 and won the Best New Director award.
After taking a career break due to caring responsibilities, Luminara returned to her art practice in 2018 securing a Somerset Art Works, Creative Pathways Artist Bursary. Intricately weaving diverse processes and mediums, Luminara began creating immersive and interactive artworks that aimed to captivate and challenge. Embracing gentle protest and creative activism, she works with themes of rest, slowing down, and resisting hyper-productivity as vital tools in the fight against climate change.
Luminara is the co-founder and leads the pioneering Art Behind Bars programme in partnership with Shepton Mallet Prison. This initiative not only redefines art's role outside of the white walls of the gallery environment, but also serves as a platform for emerging artists' voices to be heard through exhibitions such as B-Wing (2019), Artist Prison Residencies (2021), and Outside In (2022).
Luminara has been awarded a number of grants and commissions to develop projects including the Freedom Learning project (Somerset Art Works, Artist Micro Commission), And the Children Shall Lead- Giant Board Game (Somerset Art Works, Artist Project Development Bursary), B-Wing exhibition (Arts Council England Project Grant), Contract of Self Care (a-n Artist Information Company's Time, Space, Money artist bursary), Rest As Protest (Develop Your Creative Practice (DYCP) Grant.) and most recently the Somerset Film, Artist in Residence film commission for her film installation – Social Gardening (The Mind At Rest).
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