In the lead up to Art Week Exeter (AWE) the AWE group have asked all participating artists to take part in a survey. For the 60 days leading up to the event, sixty artists’ responses will feature on their blog and my contribution started it all last week. There are seven questions in particular I wanted to expand on here in the lead up to the exhibition I am doing as part of the city wide event in May. With exactly seven weeks to go and seven questions, the first I expand here this week ‘Where do you find inspiration?’
Where do you find inspiration?
Here is my brief response that was posted on the AWE site: The body, craft and society. How we perceive each other and how that impacts on our perceptions of ourselves. How textiles and craft can convey meanings of a theme in different ways than other material might.
Prior to explicitly making work about this, the body always featured. In 2010 after I lost my home (it’s ok I found another) I made artworks about dwelling and longing for home. It was quite obvious I was making reference to skin, a sort of ephemeral nature of home. I was very interested in the surface and skin like qualities that I could attain from using latex to create a sort of an indexical trace of the skin of a home.
Continuing from this body of work I started to explore the fetish, looking in particular the feminine domestic and the masculine of DIY materials. Whilst making this work in 2012 I was due to have a gastric bypass (yeah not great) but later cancelled. It was during this time I was worried about those alien interventions into my obese body, drastic extremes in order for my body to literally fit in. Those concerns manifested themselves within my work. It was through making, that I discovered a lot about myself and what I really wanted from my personal and physical life. This helped me decide to cancel this mutilating operation.
I then came out as a fat woman. This was significant moment in my life, which up to this point had been spent living from the neck upwards, in sort of suspended animation until I was afforded the normalised life of a thinner person. So through my artworks telling me something wasn’t right with the decision I was about to take, I thought ‘fuck it’ and make work about being fat. Of course, I was quite apprehensive about this initially. You live your life, although bigger than everyone else, wanting to be invisible, not to be seen. So ‘coming out’ as fat, saying yeah you know I am fat, I know it, let’s not kid ourselves and I refuse to stay in hiding, so here I am and here’s some fucking artwork about it too.
In Drew Leder’s book The Absent Body the writer talks of the body being self-effacing, so never really present in thoughts, just getting on and doing it’s job. It’s only when the body dysfunctions it, as he states, ‘dys-appears’, it becomes present to us. I was so acutely aware of my body in need of modification, to fit society’s norms and the extremes I was about to do internally to rectify the external. So I made some art about it.
I continue to embrace this as an approach and the body is a very significant theme in my artworks.
I’ve always been a ‘making’ child. Not going to go on to say my grandmother taught me ‘this’ or my grandmother taught me ‘that’. I taught myself all the craft skills I know today and did so when I was a teenager. Don’t worry, I’m sure there are some misspent youth stories to share too but just not here, not now. It was only recently I found out that I have been crocheting wrong my whole life. Trying to teach my eight year old daughter to crochet and frustrating with not being able to, my fault not her’s, I took to YouTube. It was here I found out … hang on, I’ve been doing it all wrong. I crochet like a knitter, thread in the right hand, letting go of the hook and wrapping the yarn around. I have now re-taught myself and low and behold, discovered that it’s much quicker the ‘normal’ way. I’m finding it frustrating though when working with the small hooks and finer threads not to change hands.
Anyway, what were we talking about, yes craft and how that inspires me. Textiles is something I have always played with. I would craft stuff when I was a kid and when I became a mum at 20 I would sew for my daughters. It was during the time my older two were in infant school and nursery I returned to college as a mature student (I had previously studied business and finance when leaving school *yawns*) and took some A-levels in textiles and art. I wanted to continue with my studies to degree level but life got in the way as it does. After having my third daughter I did get my chance to complete my higher education studies and textiles was a very prominent medium in all that I did.
What appeals to me is the domestic and feminine nature of the craft and how that adds to the topics of artworks I create. Also, it’s about textiles having that familiar presence throughout our lives and proximity with our bodies, the desire to touch, that tactile nature. Cloth is a surface similar to skin and where textiles are used to conceal the body I use them to reveal it. The making aspect of my work leaves marks of bodily presence in being held, made and manipulated to reveal concepts of the themes being conveyed.
As a chubby child and an obese adult I was very aware of the negative ways society gazed upon my body and this then contributed to how I saw myself. The discourse of what a fat person is shaped how I experience myself in the world. I sought to normalise body through weight-loss surgery as previously mentioned which I never proceeded to go through with. My body became my axis for research, although the works start from a personal place they become autonomous and relate to social themes others can relate to.
My current inspiration continues from this place of how I feel about my body, the social gaze and techniques relating to the domestic and feminine crafts.
What inspires you?