Last Friday, Hermione Allsopp and I had the chance to take part in a workshop at the Institute of Making. Entitled Materials at the Centre, it allowed participants opportunities both to discuss the materials available at the research centre (Institute) and also to discuss how materials are at the centre of their own practice.
I have a long-standing research interest in the materials and, indeed, the materiality of the Book, and it was great to engage with other researchers with related interests and to hear about research centred around different materials. In particular, it was lovely to watch and hear Hermione’s reactions to some of the experiences we encountered, and I asked her if I could interview her for a blog article here.
AW: As a sculptor, what sorts of objects attract your attention to become materials for your artwork?
Field of Dreams. Image used with permission.
HA: I mostly use objects that I collect from charity shops, often in conjunction with materials from the built environment (materials from interior space), or materials that relate to the constructs of display -so lights, mirrors, display structures etc. The objects I find to work with are things like ornaments and furniture and lampshades (objects from the interior). This is related to an interest in objects and how they operate in our homes and lives and the value we place on them. My making is a kind of thinking through objects, but I often select objects for their form or material quality.
AW: We took part in three hands-on sessions. What were your take-home ideas from these (so far)?
HA: I was interested in the 3D printing and how it can be used to make dissolvable structures to implant in the body to aid healing and tissue or bone regrowth. Its interesting to see how relatively new technologies start to create possibilities and developments in different areas. It also opens up dialogues about different ways of making and what it means today.
AW: Did you find out about any new materials, either in the hands-on sessions, the talks, or just looking at the Materials Library?
HA: Yes, I was very interested in Sugru (a self setting rubber), which was mentioned rather than demonstrated. It is a material that has been designed to mend things, a substance that you can sculpt to replace a broken part or solve a problem by making, it has possibilities.
The talk on plastics and their use in art works was very interesting and relevant. I use expanding filler and foam so it was fascinating to see how these things degrade over time and the problems it causes with displaying works. The demo of polyurethane foam was also very exciting as it’s not something i’ve worked with in that form. It started as a gloopy liquid which was stirred vigorously and like the magic porridge pot of children’s stories it began to grown and foam into a lava like foaming mass that cured hard in minutes.
During our first visit to The Library of Materials we saw someone’s experiment with mylar, which we were told is sometimes called “the shiniest aluminium foil in the world” – it’s a polyester film. As i am currently working with mirrored surfaces and exploring possibilities for our Pistols and Pollinators project installation this was inspiring – the results will be in our piece.
AW: In his summary comments, Philip Ball touched briefly on the difference that working with our hands makes to our understanding of the things we are making. As someone who works conceptually and through making, do you want to share some of your thoughts on this?
Cornucopia Cloud. Image used with permission
HA:Yes, the idea of thinking through things and thinking through making is very important in my work. My work really develops through process. The things I work with often have a kind of logical way they fit together. I work both with these logics and against them. The objects I use become elements for making. For example, in Field of Dreams many of the objects are stacked but in a piece like Cornucopia Cloud the objects are arranged and massed together with expanding filler, producing a form that is also a kind of anti-form. But in both works the materials somewhat dictate the structures and having hands on contact with with the material is everything. I also think that taking things apart and exposing materials or un-making and remaking is important. Getting your hands on stuff and making does aid understanding of things and the development of concepts or ideas often comes retrospectively. When I work, I think I am having a kind of dialogue with objects and materials.
AW: Finally, is there anything else that struck you on Friday that you would like to share here?
HA: Just that it is amazing that there is somewhere you can go and find out about things, materials and their properties. The library is a really valuable resource. I look forward to going to going to the public open events in the future.