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Q&A with Featured Artist, Joelle McTigue

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live?

Raised in the Caribbean, I moved to Los Angeles in my early adulthood. I explored the city by picking a starting point, but never an end. Eventually, I started bringing my camera to document the places I found.

My street photography evolved to include design during my nomadic travels. I traveled for a few years, and most of the time was spent in Europe learning about local culture and history. Cultural identity is elusive to me, so I have tremendous respect for people who deeply understand their own cultural identity and heritage.

Enamored with how grand European gardens have become public spaces that embody the power dynamics of practical, leisurely, and spiritual pursuits, I began to explore how I could use street photography differently.

Within two weeks of my second trip to Montenegro, I decided to end my nomadic life and plant roots here. Finding the familiar in the unfamiliar led to my series, Control & Cooperation. Inspired by gardening rituals and Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten film, I manipulated my photography to emulate an aerial point of view.

What inspired you to release your first NFT?

I wanted to see how NFT technology opened new ideas within my practice. I am willing to try any new technology or distribution method for art. Once I have a basic understanding of the tech, I decide if it fits my practice.

When I first joined Twitter over a decade ago, it was to understand it. I was doing dérives but began using Twitter interactions to pick my starting point. As I took on more interactions, the line between public and private spaces seemed more blurred. Yet, the choices of others contributed to our online and offline identities.

The explosion of zoom meetings and NFT art pushed me to consider how we now use technology so publicly, but our devices are private and personal.

What was your inspiration for this drop?

When the pandemic started, I shifted my focus to the Bay of Kotor, where I live. I began taking photos of botanicals and exploring ideas for my next series while questioning how my small city had such a wide variety of plants.

Many parts of the local culture’s celebrations, traditions, and tourist marketing are tied to botanicals from foreign lands brought back by sailors. I wanted to know more about how urban botanical gardens became a substantial part of the communal narrative and its translation into cultural identity.

I was also intrigued by the ability to create work specifically to fill a device’s black void. So, I created The Mediterranean Botanicals Collection: Bay of Kotor specifically for widescreen TVs, monitors, and phones. The image fills the screen, which acts as a lightbox.

The technology also enables me to transport my version of sunlit stained glass with coastal Mediterranean nature directly to someone’s private space anywhere in the world.

Snapshot of Rose, a captain’s village and the oldest port in the Bay of Kotor. Courtesy Joelle McTigue.

How has your work changed during this series?

Visually it has become flatter, and I am looking towards Evliya Çelebi’s travelogs for my writing. While he used first-person narrative, he openly embraced legends and folklore to describe cities and cultures. Consequently, his journals are simultaneously comical literature and truth of experiences, even if his stories weren’t his experiences.

I have lived in Montenegro for years but will never be an authority on the multiple factors that forged its identity. I can only provide perspective on what I read and experienced. My work is a lens into how the Mediterranean landscape is diverse and extraordinary, specifically in the Bay of Kotor.

The first drop of The Mediterranean Botanicals Collection: Bay of Kotor is the beginning, so I plan to dive deeper into what spurs and sustains the local communal narratives and histories.

Do you consider your work photography?

Yes. A human hand touches every photograph, so it cannot convey absolute reality. The photographer’s perspective shows through choices of time, place, and technical aspects. The editing affects it as well.

I consider my manual manipulation and distortion similar to color correction or another photographic editing process. I may force a flatter perspective, but every piece is from the original photograph in The Mediterranean Botanicals Collection: Bay of Kotor.

Up close, you can identify the photograph’s details, for example, in Myrtle-leaf Milkwort, Origin South Africa. Photograph Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, 2019., the red is a 1946 wagon from the Socialist Republic of Montenegro era. The blue is a car from the Yugoslavian era, and the orange is a present-day electric car.

Then, in Coconut Palm, Origin Brazil; Mimosa, Origin Australia. Photograph Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, 2021., the blues are the shutters of an old mansion. Finally, the flower petals and leaves are apparent in the entire series. My hope is to augment the accepted narrative and encourage discourse.

Joelle McTigue, Myrtle-leaf Milkwort, Origin South Africa. Photograph Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, 2019

What did you discover about the botanicals’ past?

The Bay of Kotor’s mariner legacy is much deeper than I realized. The bay’s naval fleet peaked at 300 ships to protect its prominent salt trade in the Middle Ages. But, its mariner history potentially traces back to the Balkan Bronze Age. Over millennia, great European empires (Roman, Ottoman, Venetian, Napoleon, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian) owned a piece of the Bay of Kotor for strategic and merchant gain.

Today the Bay of Kotor strives for architectural revitalization and preservation while maintaining its wild beauty and traditions. Venice, Italy, continues to finance the restoration of Kotor’s Venetian structures. Retired naval facilities around the bay have been converted into five-star resorts and marinas welcoming mega yachts. Every year at sunset on July 22nd, sailors arrive for the custom known as fašinada, throwing rocks in the sea near Our Lady of the Rocks, a sailor-formed island near Pearst.

The pursuit of empires, trade, legacy, medicine, religion, and aesthetics have forged the coastal landscape of the UNESCO-protected site. My intention is to celebrate the roots of identity and nature through the contemporary window of technology.

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Read further into this project and the botanical heritage of Bay of Kotor here.

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