Friday, October 10, 2014

In Conversation: Laura Woodward

Laura Woodward is an artist with a work ethic that'll exhaust you just by reading about it. Designing and producing large-scale kinetic sculptures, she also makes video art, produces music video clips, teaches at several tertiary institutions simultaneously, runs an artist studio facility in North Melbourne, co-owns and manages a fabrication and design business with her partner and gets commissioned to make public sculpture in places like Horsham and Craigeeburn. And to top it off, she just completed her PhD in which her thesis was nominated for a Vice-Chancellor award! Somehow we managed to pin her down for a few moments and interview her in order to get some more background into the ideas feeding her art practice.

Dr Laura at work
THG: Why is it important that your artwork moves?

Laura Woodward: For a long time I've been interested in creating works that are accessible and engaging; that might have an immediate, non-intellectual connection with a viewer. I think that's perhaps where the first kinetic works I made came from. When something moves, we respond. More recently I've started to consider this as an empathic response, at a basic level. The idea that our bodies might try to imagine ourselves into something that is so very different from us is fascinating.

The other factor in making kinetic works is the way in which they develop in the studio. Working through such systems creates a dynamic between artist, material and artwork that is quite non-hierarchical; where it often feels as if the work is developing through the materials, with my hands as tools for it to do so. The functionality required in each material and component really brings this dynamic to the fore. It's both frustrating and exciting.

Laura Woodward's The Return in Composing Common Worlds
THG: That non-hierarchy aspect is very interesting. I know you're quite interested in New Materialism, is this a connection to that way of thinking?

Laura Woodward: There are definitely correlations between my experiences with these works in the studio and New Materialism. New Materialism considers the ways in which matter (of which humans are a part) materialises - in other words, it explores the way things come into being, their ontologies. In seeing matter as active and as having agency, New Materialist considerations do away with the idea that the human has hierarchical control over matter - a particularly 'humanist' perspective. Instead, the human - the artist - is one agent amongst many through which things - in this case artworks - emerge into being.

THG: There's perhaps a connection here with how you describe your very obviously machinic, highly engineered sculptures as inspiring empathy and as being 'introverted'. Can you explain how a sculpture made of steel and silicon and motors can be 'introverted'?

The idea of 'introversion' in the work actually came to me when I was watching one of my pieces "Shallows" in the gallery. I had a distinct feeling that this piece had made itself - that I hadn't had much at all to do with it. I was watching it move in its own particular way and the thought occurred that it was introverted: driven in its manifestation and in its ongoing functioning by its own internally derived logic. Since then I've explored the idea by trying to set up scenarios in the studio where each work's internal logic - it's introversion - can have most potency and agency (and it was through this kind of thinking that I came to discover New Materialism as a discourse that resonated with these experiences).

THG: Another aspect I find intriguing about your overall working ethic and approach - your ability to make art, run an artists studio, co-run a fabrication business and lecture at multiple tertiary institutions. Are you really just one very complex self-organising introverted organic sculpture yourself?

Laura Woodward: Ha - I hadn't thought of it like that before! I guess it makes sense that the kind of thinking that applies to juggling multiple commitments also underscores the juggling of multiple factors at play as a system-based kinetic work emerges.

THG: There's been a new development in your work with video based elements entering your production. What's driving this aspect of your work?

In some respects it was a pragmatic decision to make some works that would be better suited to exhibition contexts where I'm not close at hand to deal with technical challenges that arise. But more so there are things that can be explored through video more expansively when they're not limited by the temporal qualities of certain materials. For example, the little silicone vessels in the work "Five" in this show are quite fragile; as video they can expand and contract many more times than the actual vessels would be able to. So the video then allows other considerations and ideas to come into play, because it circumvents the temporal to a certain extent.

Close up of Laura's sculpture, Five
THG: So - what's next on the horizon?

Laura Woodward: Five is heading up to a group show 'In Motion' at Airspace in Sydney next month. The show has drawn together artists who engage with motion in some way within their practice.

My next solo show is at Ararat Regional Gallery in July next year. It will be a brand new work that responds to both the surrounding landscapes and the gallery's textile art specialisation: it will, if all goes well, be a large amorphous form that combines hundreds of little components that undulate and weave. It's particularly exciting as I just received a grant to develop it which will allow it to be as expansive as I originally envisioned. As happened with my work The Return in 'Composing Common Worlds' I'm planning to develop this new work so that it really pushes beyond the systems that already exist in my sculptures. 

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