The topic of our most recent conversation was ‘Why Do We Make?’
We began by writing short descriptions of how we approach making:
DAIL I usually begin by going to materials I know and trying to make the beginning thought. Sometimes I can’t get any further than that. Often I make maquettes in card and if it seems worth proceeding I draw detailed plans and repeat, refine and vary until I have something that deserves to be made. I have to be certain that it will be worth investing the time. Once I have begun making then there is not much chance to change my mind, but I note ideas and solutions to problems in the margins of the plans. This means that I can progress by leaps and bounds, often making the 6th piece in a series and missing out the intervening steps. Frequently the first work which contained the original idea doesn’t get exhibited, but later and better pieces could not arise without making the first one. This way of working is slow and incremental and in immersion new things arise.
The repetitious nature of making stills the unruly part of my mind allowing the more interesting and thoughtful part to take over. Questions arise during making which make me think and connect things that are already in my head but which had been forgotten. In the evenings I research these ideas and thus gain a deeper understanding, not only of my work but of what I can find out about the wider world and myself. The research is usually triggered by the making, rather than being the starting point for a body of work, but what I find out is fed into the next piece so a theme arises which underpins all the pieces in a series. This gives me pleasure and keeps me interested during repetitive tasks. It is not necessary for the audience to know all these things in order to appreciate my work but I am always happy to share what I have found out.
JESS I work in series with each group of pieces nearly always developing out of observations I have made about previous work. As I work with the same materials pretty much all of the time I don’t really need to consider this too much but I do try out new enamelling techniques from time to time and I choose a technique for both its aesthetic qualities and sometimes for practical reasons (such as weight). Once I have an idea of what qualities I want to explore (say edges) I will do lots of quick, rough sketches and then choose one or two to develop further on paper. I then usually make paper models to test the scale of the pieces and to begin to work out construction methods etc. During the making process I try and stay alert to unexpected things that might happen along the way or to a pleasing but unintended arrangement of elements. Sometimes this changes the piece I am working on but more often the observation is filed away to be explored in subsequent pieces. My work isn’t really based on any existing thing but what happens is that once the work is made I start to see images/ideas that reflect my work back to me and these go into my mental memory bank, a weird tangled mess that can’t really be picked apart.
We discussed that fact that it would be easy just to say that we make because we enjoy the act of making but is this really true? Making is often boring, repetitive, dirty and painful. At times it is frustrating and it is rarely financially rewarding. Most of the time making is not ‘fun’ despite the myth to the contrary being perpetuated on many social media feeds.
So why do we do it?
Jess asked a hypothetical question. ‘If we were offered a magical power which could make perfecly made work appear on our benches would we take it?’ Both of us answered no, which reinforced that there is something that can be found only through the act of making.
For both of us the slowness of the making process can be problematic but also has benefits as it allows for plenty of thinking time. The making encourages thinking which leads to the next piece of work and without making as the catalyst we both worried that our ideas might dry up. Dail described how she enjoys the unexpected richness of the research which is triggered by making.
We both respond to the qualities of materials as we work with them and this embodied knowledge also feeds the work in a particular way. We also both get a great deal of pleasure out of problem solving on all sorts of levels.
We talked about the idea that for both of us there is nothing as simple as direct inspiration; rather we both tend to notice things that relate to, or confirm and reinforce, the ideas we are currently working on. For instance, Jess’s Field series is not inspired by fields from the air but she can clearly see that the connections are there and constantly notices the particular shapes used in this series in her environment.
We both draw upon a vast store of visual reference built up over many years; much of this is just in our heads. While Jess has always taken photos to remind her of inspiration, Dail is a new convert to the camera phone but in the past used scrapbooks to store her reference material. Both of us subconsciously or consciously draw on this store whenever we are thinking about new ideas but it is rarely a single image that sparks an idea. For Jess an image or series of images will provide a thought. For example an image of a darker shape in the fabric of a museum case lining where something has been removed will make her think about absence. Sometimes it takes many years for these strands of thought to feed into her work.
We also discussed the question ‘What’s the point of making when you know exactly what the outcome will be?’
Although we design our pieces carefully and make with a high level of skill we can never imagine exactly how a piece will turn out. Scale, weight, materials and intention play a part and the finished object always brings surprises. Curiosity about the finished object overcomes the boredom.
And if we didn’t make, what would we do all day?
In conclusion we return to the quote by Gauss with which we ended our last post:
‘It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment.’