Laura Hudspith is a Toronto-based sculptor and installation artist whose work features molded and slip cast objects accentuated by readymade objects and materials, electronics, silicone and taxidermy. She holds a BFA in ceramics from Concordia University, Montreal. Hudspith has exhibited her work and participated in artist residencies in both Canada and the United States.
Winged Metamorphosis, (2014)
Q: What does the term Lacunae mean, and what importance does it have in relation to your exhibition?
A: Lacunae is the plural form of the word lacuna, meaning a blank space, a missing part or gap, or also a small cavity, pit, or discontinuity in an anatomical structure.
This exhibition examines the emotional ‘lacunae’ that are common to all of us as human beings, and how we fill these voids by collecting and amassing objects and ‘things’. As such, the porcelain objects in the exhibition explore feelings of nostalgia, sentimentality and longing, ownership and power dynamics, mass production and consumerism, as well as the paradox between mortality and permanence. Even with the complexity of this conceptual framework, the objects in this exhibition are equally playful and hopeful. I think there is some levity and a sense of connectedness that’s inherent in exploring themes that form a part of our human condition and our shared experience of it.
Q: In your artist statement you talk about your interest in our tendency towards hoarding material objects. You are also interested in the resurgence of taxidermy as it relates to consumerism. Why do you think this is an important relationship to explore, and how does your work manage to do this?
A: My work is not so much based on ‘hoarding’ as it is interested in more commonplace patterns of consumption. I also think it’s important to note the difference between collecting and consumerism. Collectors imbue the objects that they possess with personal and emotional significance and, in this way, also create objects with very intimate and lasting cultural value. Consumer culture, on the other hand, self perpetuates by rapidly cycling through fashionable ideologies and aesthetic trends – where each new fad devalues the last. The objects in Lacunae are concerned with the latter.
I have always been struck by taxidermy, or the making of ‘animal-objects’, but my interest in the medium, as it concerns my artistic practice, was sparked by its recent re-contextualization. What I mean by this is that taxidermy was recently popularized as a cultural trend in the form of decorative, re-purposed collectibles which quickly evolved into a slew of mass-produced taxidermy-esque consumer items void of the medium’s original significance and context. Through the taxidermical tropes and materials used in Lacunae’s objects, my hope is to highlight this cultural shift. I also hope that it inspires viewers to turn inwards and authentically examine their own consumptive behaviours and their motivations for them. I think that the obvious disconnect between manufactured materials or handmade facsimiles and what’s natural, eg. elements of found flora and fauna, is what provokes this inward reflection. Lacunae’s objects beg the question of whether we are indeed biophilic; are we genuinely empathizing with the natural world and its creatures or are we merely paying lip service? I don’t purport to have the answer. My hope is to simply draw attention to obvious lacunae in our own lives, both pre-existing and self-created, and how we attempt to pacify these gaps in our understandings and our existences.
Q: Your pieces humorously juxtapose the feminine decorative aesthetics of porcelain and floral with the darker realism of mold, bone and animal parts. Are there certain connotations, stereotypes, or preconceived notions that you aim to critique within your works?
A: An underlying theme in my work is examining connections between sexuality and consumerism. ‘Woman’ and ‘femininity’ have long been used as a marketing maneuver – the sexual feminization of ideologies and objects to encourage interest and propel sales. Works within the Lacunae series enter this conversation by employing a stereotypical ‘feminine’ aesthetic while simultaneously critiquing gender constructs and their widespread use to arouse subconscious desires within everyday consumers. This so-called feminine aesthetic is demonstrated by contrasting soft materials with hard ones, the colour pink, florals, decoration and glamour, and a sense of delicate fragility through the use of porcelain, as it is commonly associated.
In, Fallen, a porcelain cherub tchotchke with gold-lustred hair and rosy cheeks sits cross-legged and backwards on a heart-shaped chair smoking a lit cigarette; his massive pink wings glamorously fan and obscure his genitals, as he lightly blushes. He is a ‘queen’, taunting any given onlooker to challenge his poise. In With Teeth, the porcelain jaw bones of a goat mirror one another, forming a heart-like, vaginal shape. Crackled glaze in soft pink hues with hints of purple and turquoise spreads outwards from the shield’s center, enclosed within the lips of each bone and its teeth. A deep gouge in the shield’s surface is all at once aggressive and alluring. In the work Plastic Dream-A-Dermy, the surface of the shield-mount is plastered with ornate floral decals, one of which bleeds a tender golden drop. This work speaks to a quintessential female gender stereotype, and another having to do with ceramic as a medium. There is a customary stereotypical association between woman and flowers – that women love flowers. In fact, women and flowers are often similarly perceived – beautiful, fragile, and fleeting. As for the ceramic medium, a common stereotype associated with it is exemplified through my use of vintage floral decals that are reminiscent of the fine china and femininity of formal tea service ceremonies.
Q: How did you decide on sculpture as the best medium to express yourself?
A: I am infinitely inspired whenever I reflect on semiotics – not only in how I interpret symbols, but also how the world at large perceives them too. As for my art practice, I am fascinated by how 3-dimensional forms, and the materials from which they are made, are able to effectively tap into webs of cultural information and associations that we all share as a society. Much like my use of taxidermy to highlight diverse themes in this series, working with sculpture allows me to do the same by way of combining physical material and form. These manipulations create an opportunity to move beyond a single object’s otherwise circumscribed associations and to create a multitude of new meanings and possibilities for them. I love how sculpture allows for this.
Q: The physical shape of your works in this series resemble trophies or awards; what are your pieces commemorating and celebrating?
A: Taxidermy has an interesting history, in that it developed alongside new ideas of naturalism and ecology and as a way to preserve and appreciate the natural world – which, ironically, is now rather contradictory. It also became evolved as a means for affluent individuals to display their wealth and intellect as world travellers building collections of rare specimens. More recently, and depending on regional hunting culture, the medium can represent either the use of all animal parts from a hunt and appreciation for a life taken, or the potentially darker notion of animal as trophy and ideas of ownership and power.
On another note, I love your choice of words: trophies, awards, and commemorations. My next series entails very large shrine-like trophies which celebrate mundane, and even sad, life accomplishments. Each piece will have an inaugural element, which officiates the achievement, but also destroys both the artwork and the trophy. I’ll be sharing more details and images of these later this year and can’t hardly wait!
Q: Looking at the evolution of your artwork, I see a consistent element of whimsy that is paired with a curiosity to examine the potentially deeper and stranger story behind ordinary things. What are a few everyday moments or items that inspire you?
A: That’s a great question, and I touched on this a bit when I spoke about my choice of sculpture as a medium. As I plan the physical form that my work will ultimately take, I undertake a sort of intellectual, mind-mapping process – starting from concepts and the questions they beg, and in search of objects and materials that will inspire what I’d like the work to evoke and communicate. So actually, the process most often works the other way around.
With regard to the use of whimsy as a common thread throughout my practice, you’re absolutely right. I frequently use whimsy and a touch of humor or irony as a kind of lighter entry point for audiences to begin to engage with what are often conceptually complex works. Looking back again at Plastic Dream-A-Dermy, we have this very ostentatious porcelain, floral-coated shield. Mounted in the center is a small, pink plastic and mass-produced poodle figurine sporting a set of real dragonfly wings. The work presents a humorously gaudy taxidermy-style shield with both manufactured and organic materials, while touching on feminist issues and addressing the brevity of the organic, material frivolity, and our value systems surrounding these things. Similarly, in Mounted Cream, an enticing soft-serve strawberry ice cream cone behaves as a symbol of sexuality, summer fun, and possibly feelings of freedom as it melts and molds in the center of this shield. The irony here lies in the impossibility of it: soft-serve ice cream, as an edible oil product, simply cannot rot or mold in this way.
Q: Who are a few of your favourite artists?
A: There are many artists to note, but here are just a few. Sculptor, David Altmejd’s work stands out and on many different levels. I find his themes surrounding transformation and metamorphosis beautiful, even magical, as they are equally as relatable and accessible. In his large-scale sculptures and installations, Altmejd often uses mirrors so thoughtfully; playing with our perception of space and continuity, but also providing an ‘in’ for his viewers to actually become part of the work itself, and even temporarily affect it, by quite literally contributing their own reflections to the work. This has certainly influenced how I see the possibilities in my own work. Another long-standing art crush of mine is the work of ceramic artist, Kate MacDowell, who makes incredibly detailed and gut-wrenching porcelain sculptures that pose enviro-political questions. Lastly, Gregory Crewdson’s dramatic photographs never fail to astound me aesthetically and to strike me emotionally as well.
The opening reception for Laura Hudspith’s exhibition ‘ Lacunae’ will be held from 6-9pm on Friday April 1st, 2016 at Project Gallery Studios (184 Munro St, back entrance). The exhibition will be on display until April 24th, 2016, and will be accessible by appointment only.