in conversation with Hannah Kelly
In October 2011 the Jane Phillips Award announced Laura Edmunds as its first recipient. Laura received £1000, a 6 month residency in Swansea Studios and mentoring from professionals across the arts. Highlights of Laura’s achievements included being awarded the drawing prize at Welsh Artist of the Year, 2012 at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff and being shortlisted for the Young Artist Scholarship, Vale of Glamorgan National Eisteddfod 2012 where she exhibited in Y Lle Celf.
On 21st June 2012 Laura took part in an ‘in conversation‘, alongside her presentation of work as ‘Maker in Focus’ at Mission Gallery to reflect on her time as the first Jane Phillips Award recipient.
HK – Throughout the 6 month period of the Jane Phillips Award I have had the pleasure of being a mentor to you and what I believe the Award did most notably, was allow you to find your voice as an artist. You came to Mission Gallery as a mature, professional young artist and perhaps one of the most poignant things that you have said to me was, that the Award gave you the time to discover the relationship between yourself and your practice.
Throughout the Award I have watched you develop a confidence in your ideas. You developed strength to reflect on existing ideas, to return to them and have the confidence to say, ‘this is who I am, and this is what I do and that’s ok’. Your subject deals with a lot of juxtapositions between what is permanent and what is non-permanent, particularly in relation to the body. There is a notion of control and ultimately things we haven’t got control of, particularly in relation to life and death. It has been rewarding to watch you work. You have a very beautiful, intuitive process in which you explore your experiences of grief and the loss of a loved one and you present it to us in a way which we can all relate.
LE – I draw on my experiences and from bodily traces because I am trying to wrap my head around how someone can be so physical, fleshy and heavy and then in a moment, they’re gone. I have been trained in textiles and drawing but was interested in developing three dimensionally so during the Jane Phillips Award residency I explored harder materials, in particular I was looking at precious metals. I enjoy the play on words with what is precious and what isn’t. I worked initially with teeth. I have teeth in a box in my studio; I think they are very beautiful. There is some comfort in them, although they can make your stomach churn. I found a bodily trace from a person that I loved who is now gone; it became a lot more precious, almost like a relic.
HK – how did you find the transition from working with textiles to exploring silversmithing?
LE – It was just a totally different way of working. As I said, I was trained to think in a certain way with very soft, tactile materials and suddenly all these scientific chemical processes were being introduced. It was really exciting; I enjoy being taken out of my comfort zone. I learnt a lot from it and grew a lot as an artist.
HK – The box of teeth, it is actually your family’s teeth isn’t it?
LE – yes, they are. My Mum has collected 3 children’s worth of teeth! I was talking to various family friends who have all offered me their own family’s teeth and I’ve thought, ‘oh no, no thank you’. I find it quite interesting how I feel comforted by the teeth that I use and yet I feel horrified by others.
HK – Your work has a strong craft root; unlike many other young, contemporary textile artists you have not used computer technology in your process. Instead you have presented the teeth on a material that has been aged and made heavy with repetitive stitch. Your design palette is exquisitely subtle, with black thread and gold shimmering against earthy colour schemes combined with neutral cloth. Repeat stitches manipulate the inherent warp and weft imbuing the cloth with the personal tragedies you have experienced; marks that evolve from a series of intuitive decisions. Intriguing and mystifying, they appear to have been taken on a journey through your ideas and now exist independently with their own story to tell.
LE – the aging process was talked about a lot during my degree. People have questioned why I don’t just bury cloth in the ground, get it dirty, dishevelled and old but through this process I have no control. A lot of the stitch marks that I use, they are so tiny, they are like pores from the skin and I don’t think a lot of people may notice that, but it is important that I make work that I feel like I have some sort of control over. During a time of loss, I felt like I had no control, so now control in my work has become an important element. It is something I have only realised recently and there’s definitely a lot of scope in it for the future.
I have also been asked why haven’t I used the actual teeth that I have got and just present them but, it feels like it is something that I have to do, the making process is really important to me. I have to be involved in the process.
HK – Your stitching demonstrates skill and is a process reminiscent of drawing, of which you are also a master draughtsman. You took the full 6 months to complete one drawing; presenting a precisely drawn repetition of marks, complex but unfussy, built up to present something which appears as though it is disappearing.
LE – the drawing did take a really long time to do, I actually hurt myself through the drawing process! I felt like I was building the marks up but, I meant for them to look as though they were burning away or decaying. Decay is something I am really interested in within my work; holding on to something that’s not permanent. The drawing was a presentation of what process actually is. It took 6 months but presents itself as something so delicate and fleeting; a sort of moment. I have often been asked why I don’t do huge marks and why it is all so constrained and tiny but, it is something that I feel is my language.
HK –You consciously present yourself and your experiences within your work in a way which we can relate to but it still is very much, ‘Laura Edmunds’ presented for everyone to analyse.
LE – It is like that, but what was so great about the Jane Phillips Award was that I got to meet so many like-minded individuals; in the professional sector but also in a creative and contextual way. So speaking to artists like Rozanne Hawksley or Becky Adams; about how she takes her experiences and how she translates them into something which is visual, so that other people are able to understand it and relate to what has happened is really important. I was able to establish for myself that it is ok to make work about my experiences because, for a while I thought, ‘how long can I make work about what happened’ but I realised during my time on the residency that this is who I am, this is how I work and it is ok to continue. I needed the time to accept it.
HK – throughout the Award you were able to speak to a variety of mentors to challenge and encourage you; were there others that influenced you?
LE – There are many interesting individuals; I visited Fireworks Clay Studios and met Lowri Davies, it was great to speak to someone who works in a completely different way to me, she was able to give me hints and tips about how to keep going after you leave university. It’s a scary time where I felt like I was going to drop off the face of the earth, I didn’t have a Masters lined up, no PGCE and Lowri was able to give great advice on how to continue.
I feel like I have established relationships with artists, galleries, studios not just in Swansea but in Cardiff and across Wales and they will stay with me now throughout the rest of my career. Being introduced alongside the Jane Phillips Award established me. I was trying to get my name ‘out there’ sending off my CV to different venues, but what made me different from all the other graduates that were out there? Having the Jane Phillips Award introduce me to this network was priceless.
HK – throughout the Award you moved forward at full speed and made a name for yourself as an up and coming artist though papers, blogs, websites and magazines; has this has shifted your attitude in regards to your career aspirations?
LE – I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with myself when I left university. A lot of people kept asking if I was going to teach. I thought I would quite like to, but I also want to be able to make my work. It has made my future a lot more clear and has made it feel a lot more accessible. I kept thinking about different things I wanted to do but, I feel now like I know how to get them. I feel like if I don’t know how to apply for an opportunity, award or internship that I now have a relationship with Mission Gallery where I can now ask for advice and mentoring and that will stay with me for the rest of my career.
HK – you have been an amazing ambassador for the first Jane Phillips Award; were there any highlights for you?
LE –One highlight was the opportunity to take part in a photography workshop with Toril Brancher at Oriel Myrddin Gallery. When applying for different internships and awards I know that the photography included in the application is crucial so I’ve really taken the skills I learnt from that day.
Meeting the exhibiting artists of Mission Gallery throughout the 6 months has been a massive opportunity. I got to know a lot of the volunteers and build a relationship with everyone. Being part of the group exhibition, ‘A Feminine Perspective’ curated by one of the volunteers of Mission Gallery was brilliant. I was introduced to so many people at various private views and events at Mission Gallery and other venues.
HK – we have talked a lot about how the Award has allowed you to develop your confidence and a strong sense of direction; how important do you think an Award like the Jane Phillips Award is for young, emerging artists?
LE oh, it’s massively important! When I first left university I was working 6 days a week in an office and trying to find time to do something remotely creative. Through the Award, I was given a studio, funds and all sorts of support and I was able to sit down and think, ‘what now, what do I want to do?’ It was brilliant to have the time and space to just make work and not have to think, ‘this is going to be graded’. It was time to explore things which sometimes didn’t work, I was supported in being able to think, that this was ok and I was able to move on to the next thing. It gave me growing space.
HK – you have been the perfect combination of artist and ambassador and you’re gaining real momentum with your career; a participant in both the 2012 Welsh Artist of the Year and Y Lle Celf at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. It has been a pleasure to watch you develop an internal strength throughout the Award and I look forward to seeing your future unfold.
LE –It has been a fantastic start to my career, as for a lot of people it can take so many years to get their name out there and it has happened to me straight away and I think that is all thanks to the Jane Phillips Award and Mission Gallery.
The time, money and support of the Jane Phillips Award in addition to experiences throughout the Award allowed me to explore my ideas and my work. I was able to question, ‘why I work in certain ways, why on a small scale, why is it quite contained’ I feel that I am able to ask myself these questions now and that I am ready to build on them. I explored the use of projection during my residency and I would like to continue exploring the use of the digital and the use of sound. I have confidence now that I will grow in the next 5 – 10 years. My work will build with the experience I have gained; I trust my judgement now and don’t apologise for working in the way that I do.
This is my language.