Peps Haydn Taylor (NC L6) sits down with Artist-in-Residence, Siobhán Humston, top discuss her latest exhibition, Akin Uncountable…
Walking into Siobhán Humston’s studio space is like walking into a tiny private forest – every surface is adorned with poppy seed heads or pots of dried yellow mulberries, twigs with interesting lichen or reused containers filled to the brim with different types of seeds. On the table, sketching pencils share a space with a box full of dried tulip petals salvaged from the gardeners’ compost wagon, and a prodigious, flowing pencil drawing incorporating elements of her nature collections is clipped over the balcony rail. Siobhán sits against the backdrop of her studio wall, pinned with a patchwork of clear pouches filled with pressed flowers, and we talk about childhood, circles, getting frozen pigeons to London, and her upcoming exhibition.
Peps: Would you like to tell us a bit about your exhibition?
Siobhán: The upcoming exhibition is a body of work expressing the idea of interconnectedness. The exhibition is called Akin Uncountable which means the uncountable ways that we are alike, both in our biochemistry and our appearances, also the connectivity between man-made and natural elements. There are four large scale drawings, five helmet sculptures, five globes, a large installation in the middle of the room, and in the smaller room in the back there will be an installation with film. There will be some smaller drawings from the beginning of the year and also some ceramic pieces.
P: Your exhibition displays so many different media! Are there any that you really don’t enjoy using?
S: Oil paint on canvas, actually. I tried [using] it in secondary school and again in Foundation at art school and I just didn’t enjoy it – I haven’t gone back to it since. It’s strange because I use similar fabrics to sew with but for painting, no, I don’t like it.
P: Is there any particular work that you like best in the show or enjoyed making the most?
S: The installation, which involves a taxidermy bird. . .
Is that the one that flew into the window? No, but one of the helmet sculptures is covered in the the feathers from that bird. No, I did save another bird that flew into the school (a pigeon), and it was my intent to taxidermy that, but it ended up being too difficult to get the frozen pigeon to the taxidermist in London, with no guarantee that he could use it. So I looked around for a cruelty-free taxidermist -they commit to not using animals that have not been murdered. The bird is suspended, and I made close to three hundred ceramic branches that are suspended as well. I think that is my favourite just because it was an idea in my head and I really wasn’t sure how or whether it was going to work at all. In fact all last week [while installing the exhibition] I was thinking “Ok. . . this is not going to work, I’m going to have to find something else to do with it…”
P: The exhibition is, I guess, the culmination of your year of work here – would you say you’ve preferred the satisfaction of finishing the pieces or the process of making them?
S: I think there’s a certain satisfaction upon finishing each piece, but it actually doesn’t finish there either, because finishing in the studio is not its natural end. The natural end in my mind is the white space of the gallery; and then that’s not the end because of the interaction with the people; and that doesn’t really end because often it shows somewhere else. . . So I wouldn’t say it’s all equal: the making of the pieces is probably the most satisfactory, but I do get excited about putting a piece in the gallery. . . ridiculously excited! Seeing the work transformed. I think it’s because I’ve enjoyed the process and then it’s like this finale of finishing a composition.
P: How have you found having a studio in the college?
S: Working at Marlborough has been great, because every time you guys go away there’s so much space – I spread out all over the place! Every holiday I’ve stayed here – I’ve worked over Christmas, Easter and over half-term. I use the drawing room and the ceramics room and I think twice, or three times, in between exhibitions in the Mount House I’ve just brought things in and put them up on the wall and taken photographs and taken them down. In particular this last week was great because I was able to take photographs of the installations for a catalogue which I’m producing for the show.
[Another aspect that has been very special is having access to the facilities throughout the college. The degree of trust is incredible and I love being in the art school both with the sounds of students in their classes as well as in the evenings when it’s quiet. I’ve enjoyed seeing the students work, how they learn and grow and improve. I’ve particularly enjoyed those moments of interaction with the students when I get the spark of engagement with my work or theirs, or both.]
P: I’ve noticed a theme of circles in your work, in your drawings, in the globes – has that always been a part of your work?
S: (laughs) In Vancouver they used to say, “That’s the girl that just does circles…” I think it started when I did my undergrad in Ireland I was interested in the cairns and the standing stones and the symbolism of the circle; planetary movements and the idea of infinity, something that starts and doesn’t finish. I’ve been interested in since then. I think it’s really good to have that tool that as an artist can moves through your work, so as I move through printmaking to painting I can still use those symbols, and then it shifted from planets into coral and other things. It’s something that was present in all of it. Now, it’s not as ridiculous because it’s not in all of my work, but it is almost like a comfort -it’s almost like how you know how to use a pencil – it’s my go-to symbol.
P: What draws you to working with natural materials – is it the fragility, the colours, or perhaps something else that you find so intriguing?
S: I think it’s actually something beyond that which goes back to childhood, of just spending time in nature. I was raised in the suburbs of a city and had to take the city bus to a special music and theatre school so when I was able to be outside that was important. I was given a lot of freedom at a really young age to ride my bike to a wooded area that was two or three city blocks away. It was this massive woods that led to outside of the city, and I could just go there for hours! I think that at a young age when you’re pondering everything and everything is new it just really impacted on me. I was also sick a lot so there were days of being home from school where I could just sit out on the grass or read. I think it made nature really quite precious to me as well, things like actually touching and being comforted by it. So it’s not just the visual beauty, it is interacting with it. You’re touching it, feeling it, sensing it and in the woods it’s this whole thing… and then you’re building a narrative around it.
P: Thank you so much Siobhán.
Interdisciplinary Artist and Artist in Residence Marlborough College