Interview by Laura Mulhearn of Culture+ for the Contemporary Dorset Makers series – a film by Matt Austin
What projects are you working on now?
I’ve been exploring medieval ideas, making artwork in response and running a series of public engagement workshops for my new exhibition ‘Re-Making Maps of the Mind: Medieval and Modern Journeys’. This forms part of the St Thomas Way project; a new heritage trail linking Hereford and Swansea, which is based on the medieval pilgrimage route of ‘The Hanged Man’.
I used the medieval practice of ‘Measuring to the Saint’, measuring over 250 people in string and using elements of the Mappa Mundi to make a large piece for the nave of Hereford Cathedral.
‘Measuring to the Saint’ was a 13th century custom that measured a person who needed spiritual or physical help from head to toe using a piece of string or thread. This length of string would then be sent to a cathedral or abbey, and the monks would make a candle from it, then pray to the saint for the person’s eternal soul. I loved this concept that a humble piece of string could perhaps still connect us spiritually.
The architecture of the Cathedral has been a huge influence on the work – for their Crypt, with its low lighting and vaulted ceiling, I made a series of delicate, translucent works with paper, string, and gold leaf.
The exhibition will move to different locations along the trail until 2019 and will no doubt evolve as it hangs on different medieval walls and spaces – if you’re in the Welsh border area, come and see it!
What challenges do you face as an emerging artist/maker?
Time and space. I’ve found it very challenging to keep focused on my practice whilst juggling other income streams, school and family life.
I also didn’t have a dedicated studio space of my own last year. Not surprisingly, local studio lets seem targeted at small units (computer and laptop graphic designer-size), rather than larger affordable arts spaces like I’ve had access to in cities like London with ASC Studio and Spike Island in Bristol.
Luckily, other artists are very supportive – thanks so much to glass artist Nikky Ryce for being so generous with her space in the New Forest – the one you see in the film – just when I needed it most!
How can you overcome these challenges?
I am setting aside time to market and sell my work, rather than depend solely on project funding and I am determined to create or invest in a dedicated studio space.
I love the magic that comes with collaboration and scaling up – so much more than I can achieve by myself – so I’m actively seeking out places, projects and people to work with and alongside towards common goals – joining the dots, so to speak.
Tell us a bit more about the collaborations you have worked on to date?
The St Thomas Way project, as mentioned above, is a collaboration with medieval researcher Chloe McKenzie and Professor Catherine Clarke at the University of Southampton – it’s great to spark ideas and realise projects with specialists in other disciplines.
I also run regular creativity retreats TheTangoofCreativity.com in Italy with Michael Eldridge, a painter and previously Head of Photography at Arts University Bournemouth. People keep coming back for more, so we must be doing something right between us!
I would love to collaborate with an architectural practice using geo-spatial mappers (digital-physical map crossovers). I also want to create more site-specific work for large architectural spaces alongside lighting and design professionals.
What have learnt through the Culture+ programme so far that has your benefitted your business and creative practice?
I have attended a range of the free workshops such as business planning and exploring other sales channels with my work – all of which have been informative and great for meeting other artists in the region.
I have also been working with Andrew Knutt in on-to-one sessions with a focus on business planning and shifting my practice from struggling to thriving. It is keeping me focused on the possibilities.
And finally, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I have a plan to make a series of paper works in Japan – a country I find endlessly fascinating. So, continuing to explore heritage, contemporary culture and landscape through making.
Read more about Michelle’s practice and upcoming projects here
A film by Matt Austin – a highly-talented photographer based in Dorset (& highly recommended!)