Friday 23 April 2010
Introducing... Kate James
Could you please tell us about your background... you majored in Printmaking and Photography, and work in The Work of Worry is Never Done consists of ropemaking techniques and a video. How have you adapted your formal training to fit your current artistic practice?
I completed an honours Degree majoring in Printmaking before returning to study to finish a Master of Art by research at RMIT University last year. Although I was in the Printmaking department, my work never really progressed in that direction and I was encouraged to work with mediums that best suited me. What was important for me was that the research program allowed me to experiment and play with lots of new materials and techniques. I moved away from working in a 2-D format to a more object-based practice, which I felt a lot more comfortable and confident with. The skills that I learnt during this time were invaluable, the hair-based techniques, including the rope-making, hitching and hairwork, all began whilst studying, and I continue to use these techniques.
Anxiety is a terrible thing to experience... What draws you towards exploring this uncomfortable emotion, and what are you hoping to realise at the end of this journey (if it can be considered a journey!)
Anxiety has been a life-long companion for me and both the making of my work and (hopefully) the outcome of these pieces address my concerns in some way. However, although my artmaking is often motivated by my personal experience, anxiety is a universal phenomenon which can have profound psychological, behavioural and physiological effects. It is these effects which I explore in both the process and the endpoint of each piece. For example, a common feature of anxiety is its incessant and ruminative quality whereby thoughts, images or actions are repeated over and over. This informs not only the subject matter of my work but also the type of techniques I utilise which rely upon monotony and repetition. By recording domesticated animals exhibiting compulsive behaviours and playing them on a loop format I aim to highlight the incessant, relentless and monotonous nature of suffering from anxiety.
Whilst doing research for my MA, I met a horse named Mr. Jones who 'windsucked'. Often caused by the stress or frustration of being stabled or socially isolated, windsucking becomes habitual and may be performed in situations completely removed from the original cause of anxiety. Mr. Jones had windsucked for many years, wearing down his teeth and causing ongoing health problems. I filmed Mr. Jones on three separate occasions to capture the footage for Windsuck.
The materials I utilise, such as dog hair, horsehair, and sheep fleece, are employed for their evocative/provocative qualities. Animal hair and fleece can induce opposing or paradoxical reactions and feelings from people. For some, a sense of comfort, warmth, familiarity and protection may be felt, whilst others have a strong aversion to animal hair and find it unsettling, allergy-provoking, dirty, and even anxiety-inducing. In this way both the choice of media and the methods of making the work itself all continue to reflect the experience of anxiety.
As far as an end to this journey, I can’t foresee any conclusions at this point. Freud saw anxiety as a point at which many of the most significant questions about ourselves converge, referring to it as “a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a flood a light on our whole mental existence.”
Looking at your previous work, there is a strong focus on animals. Could you please share with us why animals present such a lasting appeal to you?
I guess over the years I have developed a strong connection and empathy for animals. Perhaps this is why my work aims to reveal the often overlooked experience of anxiety amongst animals.
Animals, my pets in particular, have always played an important part of my life. I relate well to them and thoroughly enjoy their company. I am constantly learning from them, and I am entertained and fascinated by their behaviours. I think this may be in my blood as my family are also very devoted to their pets. As children, my sister and I had countless pets and grew up with them as integral members of our family.
On a similar note, do you have any pets?
We have three horses Peppermint John, Suckatash (my mare that I learnt to ride on at the age of 12), and D’artagnon (pictured below). We also have an English Pointer named Millie Mae, two cats, Coco and Bella, and five chooks.
The works in The Work of Worry is Never Done are amazingly detailed and look intensely laboured over! How long did it take you to create these works, and what are the pleasures and perils of working with horse hair?
The horsehair hitching requires the most time and diligence. Hitching consists of using ten individual horse hairs twisted together to form a 'pull'. A stringline running around a dowel forms a mould. Each 'pull' is then knotted in sequence over the string, gradually winding around the dowel. This is an extremely slow and labour-intensive process that puts a lot of strain on the body. The constant tension that must be kept on the stringline means that your fingers, hands, arms, shoulders and neck are constantly tensed. Progress is so slow that it is difficult to see that you have even moved forward from one hour to the next. My first completed piece, The Work of Worry is Never Done, took me over 25 solid hours of hitching, used exactly 2,010 individual hairs, and was made up of 12,416 knots.
Although I enjoy working with horsehair immensely, for me, hitching represents the epitome of suffering from anxiety: pointless, monotonous and creating a state of constant tension. Paradoxically, there is also an addictive and hypnotic effect derived from this technique that makes it somehow soothing.
Working with hair also references many things for me such as a memento mori for a treasured friend, my teenage obsession in plaiting manes and tails, and great fairytales such as Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin. My collection of horsehair necklaces (detail pictured below), entitled Escape from the Tower, reference these classic tales.
Are there any other themes that you’d like to explore in the future?
I am constantly looking for new ways to address both ongoing themes and new ones in my work. I don’t feel that I’ve finished with my current ideas at all and am planning new works at the moment, such as a collaborative piece with my horses.
And last but not least, how do you overcome worry and anxiety these days?
I am getting a little better at managing my worries. I have enormous support from my husband and family and am getting better at recognising and attempting to control the affects of anxiety but know that it will always be lurking somewhere in my life. As the title of the show says “the work of worry is never done!”