Zoë Landau Konson: A self-portrait
Zoë Landau Konson
I was born and grew up in London and this is where I've lived ever since. I have an ever increasing love affair with this place and its vitality. Everything about it appeals to me and I find it a continual source of inspiration and energy.
I was born into a refugee family who escaped from Germany but were deeply affected by the aftermath of their displacement, betrayal and huge loss. These experiences translated themselves into a series of legacies which in turn affected our daily family life; a preoccupation with death, survival, identity, unacceptance...... and all the while hidden beneath a veneer of success and jollity.
Our bohemian home brimmed with secrets, stories, an eclectic range of unusual visitors and huge creativity. My mother was the first female Photo Journalist to work on Fleet Street and used to travel abroad photographing the rich and famous, later becoming a Jeweller. My father was a doctor and gifted musician who preferred playing, performing and teaching guitar. He was also an amazing illustrator and limerick writer and would leave verses out as reminders for us to take any medication we were on. My parents spent our childhood trying to break away from the confines of their background and find a different identity. They learnt Italian, which was their secret language spoken at home, even though we grew up understanding it. My mother cooked Italian food and we holidayed there every year until Italy was replaced by Greece and then latterly they developed their love for India. My brothers and I took on this mantle and we now feel a part of our identity is also located in these places, even though we are still searching.
Death and loss have always played a huge part in our family life albeit as silent undercurrents. After numerous attempts and rescue by my father, my paternal grandmother managed to commit suicide. She died before I was born. I’m her namesake and apparently I’m very like her. I’ve always been intrigued by her and wanted to know more. My grandfather then married a woman whose son had also committed suicide. She rejected my father through jealousy and wouldn't let him live with them. My father was an only child and never spoke about his life. He died prematurely and then after my grandfather was gone; I found my grandmothers journal and all the letters she wrote to him during her many months convalescing in Switzerland. She wrote repeatedly about her struggle to live and overwhelming desire to die. It had a profound effect on me. Since then with the help of photographs, I've tried to piece together the fragments of their lives and document it through some of my sculpture. My parent’s first child died and I was born within that year leaving my mother no time to grieve properly or get used to accepting a new child.
I don’t have any formal training and nor have I been to college or university but I'm quite entrepreneurial by nature, which is just as well. I have a history of setting up and running various artistic projects. I started teaching art in my early twenties and then I was asked to set up a new art department and curriculum in a Prep School. I spent ten years there teaching as Head of Art. At the same time I established and ran creative groups for refugee women and children at a charity for victims of torture, after gaining funding from BBC Children in Need. These were vibrant, moving and inspirational groups full of women and children from different parts of the world. Despite their shocking experiences, this was also an opportunity for them to document their positive memories and stories either verbally, using traditional or contemporary textile skills, cooking traditional meals etc; a way of encapsulating something positive from their past to balance all the awfulness.
After I left teaching, I continued to work for the same charity. I moved into fundraising events and also designed, set up and ran a gift catalogue. I sourced or designed all the products, the copywriting, layout, and ran the fulfilment operation from a tiny cupboard in the corridor. I loved it and it was the first opportunity for me to be really creative in a more hands on way at work, rather than having to wait until I got home to make something. Outside work I was designing and running a sculpted cushion business mainly supplying Harvey Nichols in London.
Up until two and a half years ago I was working for a local charity programming and managing celebrity fundraising events singlehandedly. By night and through the weekend I continued to make sculpture. Some weeks I would be at work for up to 60 hours. Eventually it became unmanageable and that coincided with me being shortlisted for an exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery. It was the first time I had entered a piece of my sculpture for something and I decided, however recklessly, to take it as a sign and follow my dream and I resigned from my job. Since then I've been making sculpture full time and my life has completely changed. Coming from a background devoid of other artists, with my time mostly spent enabling others; I've launched myself into a new world of connections and possibilities. It’s very exciting albeit a huge challenge both financially and artistically. At the moment I'm living on my savings supplemented by the odd bit of fundraising event consultancy. I'm an associate at an International Fundraising Consultancy and I go into charities to either train or give talks on event management or finding celebs for events. I'm also in the process of re-launching my Sculpted Cushion business so I’m hoping that will succeed again and pay some of the bills, so I can get on with my sculpture.
Artistically, I'm self taught. I've always made things and wanted to make things. My grandmother taught me to crochet in my early twenties and since then I haven’t stopped and I still use the two basic stitches she showed me to make my crocheted sculptures. I find the immediacy of crochet comparable to that of a painter and their brush and the process gives me great freedom to express my ideas. It’s only in recent years that I've started to work more three dimensionally and whilst I remain passionate about crochet, I've also begun to work with hair and architectural structures. I'm very excited by these new materials particularly as they perfectly convey the themes my work explores, as well as embodying a sense of time and history. I like the idea that hair retains a person’s DNA for hundreds of years and serves as a memory bank.
The main themes in my work are generated by the refugee background I grew up in; identity, loss, secrets, memory, desire and shadowed voices from the past. Sculpture has become a means to communicate the unspoken; the things that are not said but need some sort of documentation.
My sculptures are each an assemblage of many multiples; often containing 200 pieces. I work in a very repetitive way which I think provides a way of containing some of the chaos produced by the themes I work with.
The medium’s I've chosen to work in are not traditional and are still seen as craft by some but I think the art world is changing and I hope I can break down a few barriers along the way and challenge people’s thinking. It’s still very early days and I don’t feel I’ve necessarily found the right audience yet but my work has already been included in a number of group shows in London and I’m also currently working on an installation with a video artist, due to be exhibited this year.
I’m a member of Brent Artist Resource, Harlesden Gallery and Creative Cricklewood Committee as well as Free Painters and Sculptors. I'm also an artist in residence at The Albert Space in Queens Park which is a creative hub for experimental arts and community projects. We all have to run workshops for the community as a way of giving something back and I've been doing some work again with local refugee women. I work part of the week there and the rest at home. I love what I do and I don’t see it as work at all. I do feel lucky.