Katie Weston, currently studying at Portsmouth University on a 3D degree course, contacted the artist stating, “I am so excited to hear of a feminist artist from somewhere so close to me as Southampton! I am a 3D degree student at Portsmouth University and am currently doing an essay on museum/exhibition/gallery spaces. I have a personal interest in feminist art and feminism and have done projects based on some well know feminist artists, my favourite being Kiki Smith.
I really admire female artists that aren’t afraid to use controversial subject matter and step outside of the box!
I would love to be able to see your work whether in a formal gallery space or in any other situation. Would this be possible at all in the near future?
I look forward to hearing from you.”
I jumped at the chance to help Katie and as well as her visiting ‘Collectible’, currently on at the Bargate Monument galley, to see ‘Dual’ she sent me the following questions to answer and has kindly allowed me to post it here for all to read, enjoy.
Thanks Katie for the chance to answer some very interesting questions and good luck with your project!
1. Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you come up with a concept for a new piece of work?
Every piece that I think of in my head usually comes from a burning desire to question and hopefully change something or someone’s way of thinking. I don’t make ‘pretty’ pictures – although the aesthetic quality of my work is very important. My inspiration comes from being a woman in this country and what that all means. I try to comment on the absolute tragedy that is the total objectification of the female body by reducing it to the one thing we all have in common. We are all skeletal under the flesh (however much flesh we may have) – the space inside and our spirit/ mind is where it all belongs – we should not be judged upon our surface. Societal norms of being a certain size and shape and dressing/ behaving a certain way put an enormous amount of pressure on the female (and more recently the male) body and it is this that I have been a victim of and want to see the balance between body and mind regained. Therefore, every time I make a piece of work, it is a response to an extremely strong feeling from within and without this outlet I am not sure I would be here.
2. Do you have a reason for using specific materials? (Particularly in the piece Dual at Bargate)
With the choice of materials, I try to add to the very nature and concept of the piece itself. By using soft, fragile materials such as latex, feathers, cotton, tights, I am trying to underline the transient nature of the human anatomy. The very fact that our skin ages (in a similar way to latex) makes a complete mockery of a societal obsession with youth and beauty. Surely, we should embrace our very human fragility but no, we attempt to conquer it by plasticizing our flesh. To be specific, the piece on show at the Bargate ‘Dual’ focuses on a fundamental difference between male and female, the protrusion and the void, the positive and the negative. This uses cactus spikes as protrusions from the back on the canvas through to the surface. I was based in Cyprus at this time and drew on the very aggressive but beautiful structures in the plant life. The use of opposites with the bare canvas and the black leather try to reinforce the biological differences. However, my intention here was to present myself – one person who battles within a very male dominated world, but is female. A mask of maleness then is adorned to achieve, to accomplish, and the very female openness which is seen as a weakness. Whether this is a coping strategy or whether I have been moulded into this, I do not know??
3. Is it a conscious decision to not have a frame around the piece? (Bargate)
Yes. As I am primarily a sculptor, when I make a canvas work I still treat it as a 3 dimensional piece. Particularly with the use of objects or structures protruding from the surface or opening up to reveal the inside of the canvas. It is important therefore that the canvas is seen with all its dimensions, not just the width and height but also the depth at which it is off the wall.
4. How do you feel when you see your work in a gallery? Is it gratifying, especially as feminist artists are a minority?
It is the very reason I make my work. For it to be made and then stored out of sight is going against everything I am trying to do with the work. It is very gratifying when I see my work within a group or solo show as I feel like I am getting that message across, whether it is read exactly as I intended is another matter, but at least it is getting seen.
5. Is your work aimed more towards men or women? Or both?
I don’t aim my work at anyone in particular. I think that is why I have enjoyed exhibiting the work at non-gallery spaces as this usually results in a more varied audience (those who wouldn’t usually go to a gallery). I feel like I want to reach to as many and as different a person as possible.
6. Do the reactions you get from men and women differ? How so? Does this affect how shocking or personal you make a piece?
I don’t allow people’s response to work affect how I make future pieces as I am far too selfish for that! I make exactly what I want to make and that is an absolutely amazing thing to be able to do as your career! To have the freedom to create from within you with no thought as to how this will be received. However, once on show the work generally has a different response from men than women. Some women have responded negatively saying that there is no place for feminism today – I strongly believe that this is due to them feeling that they will disassociate themselves from the male world they have entered into. So I disagree – there is even more space for feminism now that we are trying to cope with being male and female all at once.
Some men, and I am very lucky to be married to one, are just as feminist as I am and they react with a very understanding, empathetic but not patronising response to the depiction of a woman whose body remains subject to scrutiny and objectification. On the other hand, some men react on a sexual level to imagery which contains masks, restraints etc – for example in ‘Misplaced’, ‘A Day in the life of’ or ‘To Myself’ – I believe they have become so accustomed to viewing the female form in sexual masochistic positions that they cannot read these works in any other way. Surely this only reinforces the need to make the work!
7. Do you get to decide on how your work is displayed? i.e. where it is positioned in the gallery and in relation to other works?
Within a group show, such as the present Bargate ‘Collectible’ exhibition, the curator(s) of the gallery will decide on the placement of the works in relation to each other and how the show is read as a whole. However with solo shows, which I have been able to travel to, I have been fortunate enough to decide on placement and have hung all the works myself. This allows me to design the overall effect of the exhibition and which pieces I want to show first and which ones I would like to keep hidden to make a sudden impact throughout the experience.
8. Do you work with the gallery in mind? ie. The scale of a piece, or how easy it will be to display?
I usually have about 3 or 4 pieces of work on the go at any one time – they usually differ in their medium i.e. a sculptural piece, a canvas series, a film or a photographic work. This allows me to be more efficient in my practice and allows me to work depending on the weather and my mood! So no to the question, the piece is made without thinking of any particular gallery space – however I always need to think about installation of the piece, whether it will appear on a plinth, be wall mounted etc.
For my solo show at the Bargate Monument Gallery in 2006 I was approached by the curator to have the opening exhibition 18 months before it opened so I designed every piece to fit the gallery space. This was quite obvious to visitors as they commented that the work seemed to belong.
9. Do these factors make a difference to how likely a gallery will accept it? Particularly small galleries?
There are a lot of galleries and open exhibition submissions, which will only accept wall mounted pieces of work – this is due to the ease of hanging, storage etc. So maybe I do limit where my work can be shown but I would not want to start making work to fit as I feel I would lose the freedom I have.
10. Do your prefer small, intimate gallery spaces or larger ‘white cube’ style galleries? (as a featured artist and a visitor)
As an artist, I have really enjoyed showing in different spaces like the medieval vaults in Southampton which are underground spaces loaded with history and stories and seeing my works (which had only ever been shown in white gallery spaces until then) placed in these spaces somehow gave them even more power and narrative. As an artist I enjoy showing work in a variety of spaces, the small private spaces and the large white cubes. As a visitor I try to mix it up too – with a recent visit to the Guggenheim in Bilbao viewing the new Richard Serra installation compared to a recent private view I visited in Bitterne triangle in Southampton which is a very small, commercial outlet for local artists.
11. How has the opening of the Bargate gallery affected you? Has it improved your ability to get work shown?
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been offered the first exhibition at the Bargate Monument gallery. I do feel that this gallery has improved all Southampton based artists potential showing of work. I had before then however, shown in London and at other local galleries so I would like to think that it was a successful run of exhibitions which led to the show at the Bargate gallery. ‘a space’, the arts organisation that run the gallery, have been very supportive towards my practice, especially considering my work is not the most accessible to all viewers.
12. How do you feel about the Bargate gallery in comparison to other galleries your work has been shown in? or in solo exhibitions? Do you have a preference?
As I made the work specifically for the Bargate space for my solo show, as mentioned previously, I felt as though this was the most successful. It resulted in a group of pieces that complimented each other very well and, as I was involved in the installation, I felt more connected it.
13. How much does your work usually sell for? What do you take into consideration when you put a price on a piece?
My work has increased in value since I sold my first piece in 1996. The work now sells from 800 pounds for a canvas/ photographic work up to 3000 pounds for a sculptural piece. I make a record of material costs for each piece and also how many hours I have spent creating the work, which includes any research, travel, concept designs, maquette making and the final piece. I then add an artistic value for the collection of the piece, which relates to how I think my practice will grow and how well established I am as an artist.