Laura McCafferty graduated in 2003 with BA (Hons) in Decorative Arts from Nottingham Trent University and has recently completed an MFA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London (2012-2016). She works within the context of the everyday and the mundane, obsessively gathering images of incidental peculiarities from the ordinary, art history, contemporary art and popular culture. Recent selected group exhibitions include In Miniature, Small Collections, Nottingham Contemporary (2015), In the Making, Nottingham Trent University (2014), Art & Television, Triennale di Milano (2014), Pile, Surface Gallery, Nottingham (2010) and Chapter, Cardiff (2011). Laura has work in public and private collections.
Laura lives in Nottingham and is a Visiting Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University.
Describe your practice for us:
It is an interdisciplinary practice, in which I use photography, drawing, text, textile, costume and performance to test out a broad range of ideas including repetition, excess and permutation.
How long have you been practising and how did you come to it?
14 years. Officially starting in 2003, when I graduated from Decorative Arts at Nottingham Trent University. After graduating, I knew there wasn’t a job for me, so would have to make it up. I chose to stay in Nottingham and set up a studio where I made 2D textile artworks. I exhibited these internationally and many are now in both public and private collections. Things have changed a bit in the last few years.
Which comes first for you, the materials you use or the image or scene you create?
There are many stages and layers and anything can set the ball rolling for a new body of work. I usually spend a year work through an idea. There are different phases that happen, I don’t plan them, I let them unfold and work quite instinctively to know when one part is finished and it is time to move to the next phase.
To describe this process, I can talk about my current body of work ‘MisMash-Rehash-Megamix’. In October 2016, I got a swatch book of paper (As described further down). By day I took one photograph of a found pattern while out walking about or doing errands. Then by night, I re-made a version of this pattern using the collection of coloured paper.
The colour combinations were found through other things I was encountering daily by chance. Like the pink and orange pattern combination that came together while watching Wes Anderson’s film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Which looking back on now, feels really random, but at the time of conception it felt totally legitimate and a really obvious concoction to me.
Following this stage and after building a collection of 19 A4 and 8 A5 collages, the paper phase was complete and it was time to move to fabric. I needed cloth and I needed to sew, these needs fuel the making phases. It’s been an intense phase, in which I needed to work in bursts. I taught to earn money, the money bought the cloth, I made. Then I would finish each set of panels and continue the cycle- Teach, gather the money again, buy the cloth and work in this rhythm until I was finished. While making, I make many sketches, of ideas of how these cloths will function and develop as objects.
This phase is just coming to a close, amassing a collection of 16 quilted and applique textile panels, each around 90cm x 130cm, a patchwork tracksuit for a performance in the pipeline, a set of short (unedited) texts, a script for a performance, sketches for a large scale performance, a private commission for a home in Dorset, two more series of collages ‘Lean’ (2017) and ‘Chance’ (2017), a set of drawings ‘Blobs in Spaces’ (2017) and a spot in a group show whereby I will present a new piece- a 125x300cm quilted processional banner with yellow powder-coated steel frame and poles that will be part of the exhibition Veneer, at this year’s Wirkswirth Festival in Derbyshire.
Once the work is in motion, I let it move, it’s not straightforward, twists and turns are inevitable. I just keep going until I say out loud, ‘that’s enough’. I never know when it will come out, but then I surprise myself and its out and it’s time to move on.
In the past much of your work was 2D. It now has a strong sculptural dimension to and involves performance. Can you tell us what has informed the trajectory of your work?
The work needed to move. The 2D work was great. It got me travelling around the world, supporting myself and connecting with people. But I was bored. I felt stifled and like a production line. Don’t get me wrong, I love both repetition and making, but I was curious to see what else was going on. Also, I didn’t want to be boxed into a definition of what I was- I wanted to be able to move freely in my work and begin to subtly mess with expectations. I said this out loud to a friend of mine, the artist and lecturer Craig Fisher. He got what I was saying and offered his support and knowledge to mentor me to make this shift. I am very grateful for his support and knowledge and could not have made this move without his help. This was in 2009. It took many years and I am still shifting. This support led to me making an application to do a Masters in Fine Art in Goldsmiths College, London. Which I completed part-time, over four years, by commuting each week, while teaching at NTU and growing my family. I graduated in October 2016 with a Distinction. During the MA, I took an un-tentative approach to what I was doing. At points it was very challenging and I often thought about deferring, ask the course leader David Mabb – who received many emails from me mulling over the idea! To be honest, I just got scared at times, it was very public and questioning, I was in state of anxiety for three years and then in my final year I made the shift and knew I had to see the idea through- that brought a very physical and sculptural element to it. I needed the work to be all-moving, like a conveyor belt or cogs turning, unfolding live in front of the viewer. For this I worked with performers and dancers. For my final Degree show, I had people rolling and spinning and hand-standing. I wanted to see through a vision I had for a set of characters, in the work titled “They did what they were supposed to do, while not doing what they were meant to.” (2016) At the time, I was interested in constraint and expectation, refusal and in-visibilty. The characters each came from a long line of research, each one has its own folder here in my studio. They are complicated personalities and I wanted to test out what happens when I put them all moving in one space. I want the work to be economical (in its own way), live, moving, seemingly unpredictable, repetitive, imaginative, textile and colourful.
You construct realities within your work, from a variety of sources, should we try to determine or create a narrative from them?
That’s a good question. As I have mentioned, a variety of sources make the characters and spaces – I construct these spaces with the viewer in mind, there are certain things that I want to happen, of course, that makes the work. But I don’t want to reveal the sources and you don’t need to unpack the work logically or in a straightforward manner. I aim to leave space, for you the viewer, to let something else happen, this is not mine, it can only be yours.
What is the most interesting or inspiring thing you have seen or been to recently, and why?
This happens when I least expect it…I had a job to do that required sourcing a paper supplier, so they sent me a swatch book of all their colours and papers, the little stacks of potential excited me and I was motivated me to embark on a cutting and sticking binge while listening to an old tape from 1992 of DJ Bin Man and X-Ray in Dungannon circa 1991…to an audio background of ’make some noise’… the body of work, ‘Mismash-Rehash-Megamix’ (2017) (as described above), emerged.
A trip to the hairdressers found me looking through a well known celebrity magazine whose name rhymes with fellow and I saw the penthouse of a well known celebrity family, I was struck by the opulence and luxury so embarked on a cutting and sticking adventure with my own purchased copy of the magazine creating a series of collages where celebrity faces become elongated, re-formed and pieced with strange blobby articles of clothing and limbs.
Public toilets are always a source of joy, the coloured tiles in grid formation contrasting against the blocks of coloured formica walls and doors, with lone bins with dramatic shadows up the walls. I have a photographic collection of these, with a few personal favourites that give continual inspiration.
Black and white always strikes a chord with me especially Tony Conrad’s Film The Flicker (1965) as seen on The Tony Conrad’s documentary, because I like the process by which the piece is generated. The chequered bedroom in the film The Doom Generation (1995) is breathtaking. The whole set is made up in black and white chequered pattern. I like this idea of totality, of the same pattern covering everything, but at the same time, each object has it own form. A similar thing happens the black and white baking scene in Jim Jarmusch’s film Paterson (2016) Everything matches, everything looks the same but different. I like this as an idea, and how it manifests through colour and pattern. It’s a bit like the work I have just been doing where the paper collages are the same but
different to the photographs, or that the quilted appliqué textile panels are the same but different to the paper collages that led to them. I like the idea of fluidity, whereby one thing leads to the next. The thing takes on its own form and materiality, but even as a copy, it retains similarity, but also difference. It comes from something, but has its own autonomy.
Which other artists’ work do you admire, and why?
I am currently reading writer-artist and lecturer Emma Cocker’s beautiful and intelligent book The Yes Of The No from Site Gallery. It is a brilliantly generous book of her writings and musings from 2007-2016. I have the privilege of being friends with artists who offer support inspiration on a day-to-day basis including Louisa Chambers, Craig Fisher, Heidi Plant, Sarah Poots and Debra Swann. At Goldsmiths I made friends and peers who support, challenge and have the ability to positively disrupt my preconceived notions and ideas on the world including Josephine Baan, Ingrid Berthoine Moine, Oisin Byrne, Derzu Campos, Janet Currier, Barbara Gamper, Carl Gent, Inda Perla Ortega and Clare Price.
An artwork that gives me continual satisfaction is Triangle (1979) by Sanja Ivekovic. I have seen this work a few times and it does what I want to make happen, Ivekovic sets up the work so that it is loaded, direct, economical and leaves enough space for the viewer to make it move and unfold in my imagination.
Where can people see your work?
Right now you can see my work at Veneer, The Curated Exhibition at Wirkswirth Festival 2017. The exhibition is curated by Louisa Chambers and Dr Emily Strange and will include work by artists Conor Hurford, Ian Whitfield, Zoe Mendelson, David Penny, Gabriel Tejada, Craig Fisher, Demi Levi and Tessa Lynch. This show is open 9th, 10th, 16th & 17th September 10am-5pm or by appointment, in St Mary’s Church and the Parish Room. There is a launch at 6.30pm on Friday 8th September 2017. http://www.wirksworthfestival.co.uk/events/the-curated-exhibition
My work is also on my website.
Otherwise keep an eye on my Instagram or website for details of forthcoming events.
Laura will be taking over our Instagram profile during September.
Laura was interviewed in September 2017.
Images are courtesy of and by the artist apart from where stated.