Frame 61

Katrina Cowling

Frame 61
Katrina Cowling
 

"Neon lighting is innately sexy and a bit sleazy, by combining it with natural materials and disrupting it’s formal tropes, I try to reveal different facets of it’s materiality."

 

Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study? 

I was born in Bradford and then spent the first decade of my life in Brunei, Borneo before moving back to Yorkshire. My mum is Korean and my dad is from Bradford, my creative energy and neuroses from my darling mother who studied fashion design in Seoul in the 80's and a very supportive dad.

I studied my BA Fine Art in Falmouth, Cornwall based on a fairly arbitrary decision but it turned out to be a gorgeous, formative setting that has moulded my attitude and the direction my work has taken since. I then moved back up North to Yorkshire and have had studios in Leeds over the past couple of years, and I’ve just joined 49 Darley Street, a studio group in Bradford city centre. I’d say that I’ve been a practising artist for the past 3 years alongside my job, previous to this I was caught up in trying to figure out how to live, work and stay sane. 

  Pale Lithics (installation shot) 2017

Pale Lithics (installation shot) 2017

Pale Lithics (detail) 2017

Pale Lithics (detail) 2017
 

Pale Lithics (detail) 2017

Often your sculptures are wrapped or embedded with neon tubing, could you tell us about these pieces and the use of lights in your work? 

I’ve worked intensively with neon light for three years, in both my studio practice and as a neon maker and technician in Wakefield. I work hard to challenge and push this rich and evocative medium - aesthetically, technically and conceptually. Whilst neon is notoriously fragile, expensive and difficult to work with, I feel that it is also enigmatic in it’s ability to transform a space as a light source. It is poetic in it’s alchemical processes and harnessing of noble gases to create a very particular kind of light. Through my practice, I exploit this elusive nature of neon lighting. It is a medium often equated with the heady din of urban signage and aggressive advertising, I instead combine the fragile combination of glass, mercury and high-voltage electricity with subtle gestures, colours and humble materials to gently tease out new meanings. It’s a medium that speaks both of a nostalgic past and a dizzyingly bright and chaotic future, it is this temporal and historical dislocation that I find an interesting point of departure for my sculptural works. Ceramic has similar properties to neon light in terms of it’s alchemy, trans-formative states and lengthy processes. But it is also a very grounded medium, it speaks of domesticity, functionality and craftsmanship whilst being reminiscent of the very earliest man-made objects. I’m interested in what kind of atmosphere can be created by combining these two materials. I’m excited by the idea of electrified drawings and gestures inlaid into the ceramic surface, mixing up symbols from our contemporary urban landscape with ancient and primitive motifs. 

Do you feel by combining neon lighting with archetypal and anthropomorphic forms gives the work a different dynamic, the man-made/nature duality? 

Yes, neon lighting is innately sexy and a bit sleazy, by combining it with natural materials and disrupting it’s formal tropes, I try to reveal different facets of it’s materiality. Writhing around and cladding other materials brings it to life, creating a tension through these unexpected relationships. It is a very vulnerable and fragile material so by engaging with it sculpturally and on a large scale, with all these HT cables strung across the floor, it creates this precarious atmosphere. These installations often evoke stark landscapes and idyllic pastoral scenes, whilst also revelling in harsh lines and surreal domesticity. I combine slick, corporate aesthetics and highly finished materials with traditional crafts and labour intensive processes to create ambiguous spaces – part gleaming showroom, part naïve anthropological display. Through prolonged engagement and interrogation of particular materials, I hope to unearth a charged atmosphere through carefully choreographed scenes, simultaneously theatrical and intimate, staunch and shy. I’m interested in the exciting tensions and decision-making processes that arise from sculptural opportunism, borrowing from and mixing up conflicting material vocabularies and realigning them into new systems of interrelation and discord. 

Scantily Clad (Installation shot) 2016

Scantily Clad (Installation shot) 2016
 

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?

My studio is generally a mess and my routine fairly erratic, as is my home life. I rarely go with a plan of action but a stash of treats and plenty of coffee helps, and breaking the day up with podcasts and reading / researching. I am not particularly internet or social media savvy so switching off completely from these helps me to focus. I’m easily over stimulated so I need to be in a calm space to help me think clearly. I find that clarity and ideas often come from taking myself out of the larger social sphere rather than being immersed within it. Flitting between solid and intense periods of making (around my job) and then sluggish periods of not doing anything have come to shape my working habits recently. This year I hope I can settle into a routine, stay a little more focused. My brain is more engaged and receptive post-lunchtime so I prefer to work from early afternoon into the night. Things feel a lot more possible and magic at night, when there isn’t a vast expanse of daytime ahead of me. The studio is littered with straw bales, large glass objects, ceramics and electrical paraphernalia amongst marquettes and tools, so it can be quite a perilous environment. Working on a large scale can be physically challenging, but I like the boldness and gravity of human-sized objects and how they command a space, against the smaller pieces which quietly loiter in corners and crevices, grounding the larger structures and connecting disparate elements. 

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you? 

It was a while ago, but I saw The Pale Fox by Camille Henrot twice, first at the Chisenhale and then at König Gallery in Berlin and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. Her feel for form, surface and details and her ability to mix up such a far-reaching breadth of material typologies in such a fluid and seemingly effortless fashion was astounding and has stuck with me since. It was dramatic yet subtle in it’s microcosms and as an entire ecology of objects, each glorious little element working as a stand alone piece as well as contributing to the whole. Her work is hard to categorise, it has a freshness and quiet confidence but none of the bombast and posturing that comes with a lot of contemporary art. 

How do you go about naming your work? 

Naming my work tends to be intuitive and carefully considered. In the same way that I gravitate towards specific materials, I am drawn to words and phrases taken from snippets of conversation, poetry, advertising or corporate jargon. It’s important for the title to nudge the viewer in a certain direction but not to speak for the work. 

Scantily Clad (Installation shot) 2016

Scantily Clad (Installation shot) 2016

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about? 

I have a couple of collaborative projects coming up with artists I have known for a long time. In the meanwhile, I am keen to push my ceramic / neon works, I see the first iterations as prototypes, they need refining and perfecting and I am keen to eventually pursue them in slip-cast porcelain but I came up against a million technical issues first time around so it’s going to take time.

I am also keen to get away again, I was working in Switzerland and Germany earlier this year which was an absolute joy, and there are plans to work in New York next year so hopefully more of the same! I get immense amounts of energy from being in new places and this feeds back into my practice. Mainly though I’m excited to settle into a new studio and enjoy late night making sessions after a Bradford curry. Bradford has a good energy, it’s not yet gentrified, a bit rough and ready but it is honest and has it’s charms. 

katrinacowling.co.uk

All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date: 28/09/2017