Is this yours?
Can I have it?
2020 - Design - Rosa Sawyers
Rosa Sawyers is a designer and image maker based in Brighton. She studied Communication Design in Glasgow, wanting to explore the semiotics of visual media and communication. She learnt that the rules and expectations in the design industry were more restrictive than she’d hoped and spent the majority of her time developing her image-making process. Influenced by surrealist techniques, Rosa enjoys incorporating chance and ‘random’ selection into her work; often using printer/copiers to create compositions and combining digital and analogue imagery, taking inspiration from her ongoing collection of ephemera. Since her course ended early and lockdown began, she’s been teaching herself animation and has fallen in love with the process. She enjoys creating short, dream-like moments of organic growth and change, intended to provide a short and calm escape from the day-to-day.
Is this yours? Can I have it?
Text by Lily Hollywell
“Is this yours? Can I have it?” is the creative baby of Rosa Sawyers (aka Roddy/Rodod or Roda as i may refer to her during this text). It could be called an “archive project” and in fact those r the very words used by Rodod when describing it on her website but personally??? I think this is too narrow a choice of words. I don't think it can truly encapsulate the sheer breadth and depth of questions, feelings and general vibes I experienced when encountering this work. So yeah it is definitely an archive, it is a wonderful collection of things scavenged and saved from the depths of the recycling bin. But it is also a question, it questions ownership of both material as well as ideas, it questions the role that intention and context play in our understanding of art and design. It is also a personal experiment into form and style which could be seen as a clear turning point in Rosa’s evolution as a designer. Personally tho, I feel it most deeply as an ode to something both of us no longer have, a commemoration to the really manic environment that we developed as creators in and have now quite suddenly graduated from. Writing this has filled me with a funky type of melancholy which I can't really describe but hopefully you, dear reader, will empathise with me once you make it to the end of my meandering and awe filled analysis of one designer’s final year “archive project”.
Okayy so to begin, a big chunk of this is made up of the found imagery born from other creatives - specifically, all the disregarded bits of A4 paper other people had discarded in the bins of the studio which Rosa would then raid and incorporate as pieces in this glorious and cracked out example of archiving (imagine an artistically inclined racoon with a keen eye for aesthetics n u will be on her level). Whilst this is a process that could be emulated anywhere with any bin I really think there is a certain magic in the discarded trash design students leave behind. The majority of stuff left on paper are moments in an ever evolving project, whether it be research, notes, doodles, measurements or just the finessing of a visual form. So there's this weird sense of liminality with the paper, where that dichotomy between the processes in your mind and the physical output of a project meet and then by extension the bins in the studio are where these moments are cast aside when no longer useful to the creator. So what I think Rosa is really archiving are these moments and you end up getting these little snapshots that are insights into different ppl’s processes, which when frozen in time and taken out of context they are elevated to something more than just a step in an artistic journey, they become an art object in their own right.
My first interaction with the project was in an exhibition of final year design students in the foyer of the uni. A selection of the collected pages Rodod had amassed had been collated together in perfect binding to make a hefty unit of paper that looked like an arty version of the yellow pages. I remember I poured over it with glee, spilling the cheapo wine in my plastic cup and making far too much noise. I cackled at the different pages, each one a delightful little jewel, that lowky was made even better when u could clock who had discarded what; there were discarded notes from a tutorial my flatmate was in, as well as the makings of a birthday card for some girl I didn't know but whose face i recognised from around campus (whilst this is a treat reserved for the people who can recognise who left what within the book i imagine it would be even funner to not know and to conjure up ur own impression of the types of people that would throw out such things like a 3 page questionnaire about feet or a black n white printout of David Byrne).
Once I was aware of this brief I returned to Rosa’s work in a different but now very familiar post pandemic context; in my bedroom, scrolling thru the images on my laptop which was resting on my chest so i could be chin level with the screen, enabling me to really stare the work in the eye like a cowboy. This was equally if not more so exciting because now I had access to all of the images she had collected and archived. It made me realise that this project is defo best experienced when you can really immerse yourself in it and gorge yourself on the images until u feel giddy. I also had all the time in the world to go through everything and interestingly I found myself almost subconsciously selecting certain images that I responded to and I think if someone else was doing this they would probably curate a completely different selection in the storage system of their mind. So in a way you become ur own curator when looking through it and each viewer will have their own unique relationship with Ronald’s work.
Now whilst the stuff left on all these collected bits of paper are as overwhelmingly varied as the people who chucked them, i’m just gonna talk about one loose category of stuff i really vibed with which I’m just gonna refer to as “text”. Obviously, not every page with writing is gonna be super engaging and tbh i didnt even realise I was focusing on this area until I went back to check my folder of selected goodies and saw that it looked more like a series of entries for a poetry competition rather than examples of a design project. But after reexamining its contents I can tell I am drawn to the pages with words that allow for some sort of inherent characterisation. For example, there is a page consisting of just a list of words placed in alphabetical order, they are mundane and seemingly unconnected “ Mattress, Memetics, Missy Elliott, New Super Mario Bros ” ect. Tho when I commented on this to Rosa she informed me it was in fact a collection of data from someones facebook account, printed out by another student as part of research into a design brief and this lowkey blew my mind in the best way! Like I just find the concept that a methodical collection of digital detritus can create a composite of an identity very interesting if slightly creepy. Then there is another page filled with text but in contrast to the analytical columns of aforementioned facebook data, this has been typed haphazardly across the page with a typewriter. The words are chaotic, a mix of letters, numbers and phrases all jammed together in such a way that I feel like I'm reading someone's tumultuous inner monologue, the energy of these weird words are emphasised through the structure of overlapping text that is really confusing to read but beautiful in its urgency.
Probs my favourite tho isn’t anything typed but actually a list of handwritten quotes, scrawled in pencil. The syntax used gives me the impression they were copied from a book or a poem but for all I know they could have been plucked out of nothingness? And that’s what is so cool about this whole situation me and these collected bits of trash paper are in!! There is no backstory, no given meaning which means the viewer can just create their own and you can craft your own voice that says these words making it far easier to relate to anything you encounter. What I’m trying to say is basically within this collection we are provided with countless individual mysteries. Each page that has been collected is something we can examine and absorb, and we are given the space to really come to our own conclusions and devise our own meanings and narrative for each bit of so called rubbish. As I said at the beginning of this essay, this is of course a process that can be done with any rubbish but i really believe there is an added poignancy with these specific bits of discarded paper and the weird tenderness with which Rosa treats them. And yeah it could just be cos design students leave trash of a higher aesthetic quality but i also think its cos this stuff is coming from people in the same boat as the one collecting them, aka highly stressed design students just trying to manifest their creativity through experimentation, who are pressed by crazy deadlines n are forced to discard shit along the way.
Soooo ngl, I really like the rubbish archive, like A LOT! So much i've written over 1000 words about it, so much that I lowkey forgot there was a whole other part of “Is this yours? Can i Have it?” well at least when i was at the exhibition. But yeah you would be very wrong to think Rosa is just an archiver/collector. Whilst it is indeed a massive part of her practice, it primarily functions as a source of inspiration or like the fuel which drives her making. On her website u will see she describes herself as a “ designer, image maker and filmmaker ” and this is definitely what she is! There is no other person i know who literally makes so much fucking stuff and in the latter half of this project she basically takes all of the juicy discarded bit n pieces of paper and incorporates them into compositions of her own. These initial experimentation occurred in some digital collages where she took the preexisting forms n deconstructed them creating these kinda spaced out concrete poetry style bits and whilst these are super nice what i really wanna focus on is her print stuff cos when i say this cowboy knows how to ride a printer i MEAN IT. She is the Clint eastwood of printing (at least in my eyes <3) . You can really tell she loves it, it just meshes with her playful and fluid way of interacting with images.
Firstly there are a series of posters which accompanied the book at the exhibition - these are layers of collages reconstructed from the archive which have been riso printed on even more found paper, specifically the discarded sheets left by the risograph machine. On first impressions i would say the thing that really struck me was how colourful they seemed, at least in contrast to the selected examples of stuff that i previously mentioned. One layer is made up of either a lemon yellow or a magenta that are both so vibrant and so sweet it actually hurts my teeth. These electrifying colours are juxtaposed with central greyscale compositions which act as a focal point, usually consisting of two or three images with accompanying text that is also sourced from the collected found imagery. The image and text combo serve as evidence of the slightly surreal indefinable humor that Rody employs, not only in her general existence but within her creative practice as well. A good example would be one of the yellow prints where text discussing the nature of identity is combined with an ikea diagram, an exhibition layout and a house which made me both grin and incur a minor existential crisis. I think the monochromatic use of these bright colours really work as they sort of create this clean n minimalist vibe that underpins the deadpan nature of the posters' messages but upon closer inspection you realise it's all super mental. The deconstructed imagery combined with anything left over from the ppl who discarded the paper creates a depth of pattern that is so chaotique and zany you end up being unsure of what is what and even who made what.
As I approach the end of this essay I wanna take a breather and get into a calmer headspace to describe the final section of “Is this yours? Can I have it?” which i think is a bit of an outlier when compared to its siblings. It consists of another series of prints on found paper and then bound together to create a zine. Everything is printed in a single layer of black, with the designs left in negative - creating a sort of frame thing so that the found imagery on the paper beneath is peaking through but never truly pulls focus from the bold clean cut shapes Rosa has made.
Now, whilst I think the zine differs both in scale to the other book and in its relative simplicity in comparison to the poster compositions, I think where it truly sets itself apart is the direction of its intentions and overall style. What I mean by that is the two other parts I’ve written about are kinda filled with elements that recur a lot in Roddy's previous projects. For example: the emphasis on the aesthetic qualities of literal rubbish as well as the incorporation of scanned material in the creation of her designs. And this isn't a bad thing btw like in fact it's the opposite, i’m sure i've already made it very clear i have deep seated devotion for trash, especially as a creative material. But when i examine this particular zine and i look at the starbursts, the windows and the circles that have been carved out of the blackness I see these shapes as a precursor to her most current work, where shes takes these forms n imbues them with movement and a gorgeous palette of rich colours. This is where I see the origins of the incredible stuff she makes now that she is no longer having to work under the constraints imposed by a design degree which I imagine are just as annoying as the ones I had to follow in fine art. So yeah, whilst it might not be my favourite part of this specific project (bc for me nothing can compare to the brilliance of the trash yellow pages which i plan on buying from her one day) the actual beauty and specialness of this section of the project was only fully grasped by moi when viewed in the context of Rosa’s overall creative evolution. It's like a weird little zine baby constructed from ideas yet to be fully explored but also filled with indomitable potential.
Sooooo where are we now??? Well Rosa is back in Brighton continuing to create some really amazing shit that i highly recommend u go check out and I am staying in Glasgow, not really sure what i'm doing apart from writing this essay and doing the Art Book Series. We are no longer working in the same uni, in the same city, in the same flat or in the same room with the rest of our mates, a process which i miss very much. This was one of the last projects she was doing at art skl before the proverbial shit hit the fan and whilst we were on different courses in different buildings I can't deny the influence her practice had on the development of mine. So no longer being in that environment is a hard thing to reconcile with. I recently saw her describe this project on instagram as “ forever unfinished ”, which I think is a very accurate description. It can also be used to describe a lot of people's experiences right now, especially those in the graduating class of 2020 and well i dunno, i can't speak for anyone else but what i can say is having the chance to look through this project again has brought me a lot of joy. The entire foundation of this project is made up of the discarded material made within that creative environment that we learnt so much in and looking through it has kickstarted my brain in such a way that makes the uncertainty of our current situation not so scary. I am reminded that there is a real joy in the process of making, in the process of researching, in the process of collecting and archiving and in the process of simply working stuff out. So yeah if u feel stuck go check it out, it might bring u some comfort or some inspiration, but if it doesnt then go and raid the bins outside cos u never know, u might end up finding something really fucking cool :))))))))
Read Rosa Sawyers’ article on Lily Hollywells’ work HERE.