Feature: Fi Burke

Air Arts current exhibition Evolve celebrates Banks Mill as part of the Spring/ Summer programme. Fi Burke's charming childhood photographs feature in the Royal Derby Hospital corridors until August 2013. 

Stepping into Fi's studio feels like that part of your house you've always wanted; a light, organised yet creatively cluttered space of your own. The room is located at a corridor end of Banks Mill Studio with large windows, an exposed brick wall and pockets of cosines.

Meeting Fi was exciting; I was keen to learn more about her work and especially intriguied about her artistic alter ego. Fi is currently exhibiting at the Royal Derby Hospital as part of this seasons Air Arts programme, Evolve. Evolve is driven by the internal building network of Banks Mill Studios to support businesses and individuals to establish themselves and their practice. Air has collaborated with this community to form the spring/summer edition of the hospital art programme, not only with a large exhibition but also a pop up shop.

Fi's charming series of photographs in the exhibition feels right at home in the hospital corridors. Stuffed toy subjects Larry, Pooh, Wellington and friends appear in simple sitting portraits tumbling along the corridor from frame to frame. Their positions strongly refer to actions within play; Ellie Phant leans on her side as if discarded after a busy afternoon playing in the garden, while tired Andy wearily props himself up with his right arm after being tossed on the carpet. Short, narratives for each character are paired with their portraits giving you a small insight into their worlds.

Ellie Phant is ever present, small in stature and ego but big on memory and personality. She used to join us in bed on a Sunday morning and we all listened to Peter Rabbit stories."

Viewing the exhibition you aquaint yourself with each character and perhaps make up your own stories, forming unconscious connections with Andy and his Friends. The memories you had with your own toys start to reappear, warming you as you rekindle relationships with your own Andy, Bunny or Drowsy. The photos are uplifting and comforting, you can see that Fi wants to have fun yet still connect and encourage the viewer and their interpretations.

When I interviewed Fi for this article, it was the first time we'd met, but it felt like I'd known her for years. I understood her and connected to her inspirations and thoughts quickly. I also met Andy, Fi's inspiration and starting point for the series. I mention that my Mum had a bear when she was little, very similar to Andy, and how he was passed on to me when I was young. Fi lights up; this is her buzz, this is what drives the project; new stories and new friends. Writing this now, it becomes obvious why I felt such a natural connection to Fi, her work allows for these comforting relationships to form and create long lost reflections. The characters capture the viewer in so many ways, triggering memories and allowing stories to be shared. The energy created not only validates the work but encourages continuing conversations and developments for the artist, viewer and project.

In a way, Fi's work features twice in the exhibition as herself and through the identity as Lyra Morgan. In my conversation with Fi we first of all talk about the Andy series and how these photographs take the viewer "back to who you are". I go on to ask the questions, "who is Lyra" and generally, "what's her story?"

Fi doesn't hide that she operates as a different identity in her practice, it's clear that it is a completely different body of work. For a start Lyra paints, in a way that looks completely different to the photography created by Fi. The paintings are calm yet bright, blue palette swirls, daubs and puffs elegantly stroked onto a canvas­ a stark contrast to the bold, minimal photographs.

We chat about Lyra and it becomes clear that Fi hasn't quite figured out the who, whats and whys. Our conversation concludes with us both agreeing that an explanation isn't really needed at this point. Like any artist, Fi experiments and challenges herself in order to develop her artistic style and professional progression; Lyra is a way of exploring other concepts and skills.

I receive an email from Fi almost a month after our chat, she had worked out the significance and meaning behind Lyra. "The Lyra Morgan Collection is the work I do in honour of the late Myra Morgan (Fi's mother)" It connects beautifully to her work of Andy and his Friends; powerful themes of childhood, memory and story sharing.

Tags:  Royal Derby Hospital Air Arts Fi Burke Evolve Banks Mill Studio