“I’m interested in how we negotiate our place in the world and I make objects that explore this.” - the artist
Q: What led you to become a metal-smith sculptor?
A: Accident really. I grew up in a family of classical musicians and spent all of my time playing the violin and latterly singing. After training professionally as a singer, I soon decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do and spent around ten years working in healthcare – something I’d always been interested in. I really enjoyed it but knew I was also after something else. I took up an evening class in jewellery making when I moved to a job with more manageable hours and in that I heard about silversmithing, which is specifically making objects out of metal and I was hooked before I’d even started. In time this developed into practice as a sculptor.
Q: Where have you studied and how long have you been an artist?
A: I did my first short course in around 2009, completed a BA (Hons) in 2013 and a research MA in 2015, the latter two at The Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design in east London, UK. In the UK art education has changed enormously in the last 15 years and The Cass was one of the few places that still offered training in silversmithing as opposed to making jewellery. Having said that I was lucky enough to work with some extraordinary tutors who had a huge influence on how I thought about and through metal.
Q: Where do you derive your inspiration from?
A: I’m interested in how we negotiate our place in the world and I make objects that explore this. Put another way, I find the world to be a complex place and I make objects to try and understand it! My practice is an iterative one. I often take snapshots of the everyday world around me. I have found that my eye, through the frame of the camera, is capable of identifying subject matter that interests me artistically before I am capable of articulating it verbally. This means these images represent the embryonic development of creative ideas. I also draw on ideas – or questions, or propositions on how we live in the world - from academic disciplines and these inform my thinking indirectly as much as directly. Primarily thought I work by thinking through making.
Making is first and foremost action. All makers have their own ways of making and approaching their material that are suited to the outcomes they want to achieve. Within my own practice, there is a difference between 'making as construction' and making as thinking, where ideas, instincts, thoughts and emotions converse with material and form. In this method, a piece emerges from the exploration of a notion where I use different methods and different materials to interrogate my ideas, my thoughts and myself. This process becomes an iterative conversation with material and form, rather than an instruction to it.
In Making, Tim Ingold calls this 'thinking through making' (Ingold, 2013), or allowing knowledge to grow from our experience of and engagement with the things around us, using the physical to entice our subconscious to speak out. In thinking through making, the key for me is action: doing something with a material, not thinking about it too deeply but working instinctively and reacting to things as they unfold. This, more than anything else is what results in creative raw material that can be reflected on and learnt from at a later date. Reflection is an essential step in making, but for me it is something that happens separately from doing.
Q: We were very impressed with your Best in Show piece, titled Two Bowls. Tell us more about this piece.
A: This piece was commissioned for an exhibition call Silver Speaks: Idea to Object which was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London between 2016 and 2017. They subsequently purchased another one of my pieces for their permanent collection in 2017.
Two Bowls explores the bowl form and particularly notions of inside and outside. One bowl is hollow, but appears solid and the other piece hollow - appearing to be lit from the inside. The overall piece is formed both by the relationship of the lines and thresholds within each bowl and in the relationship of lines and thresholds between the pieces. The piece is wholly sculptural but draws on the notions of familiarity and comfort that the bowl in its traditional form evokes.
Bowls are archetypal objects – they are some of the few objects that have not changed in form through the history of humankind and are some of the first objects we encounter as children. They have a rich history and symbolism which makes them an ideal form with which to question how we relate to objects. This piece was made as I was researching notions of inside and outside, how we use these conceptions to structure how we live in the world and the spaces that lie in-between them.
Q: What do you hope for viewers to take away from your work?
A: I think this is a really interesting question. I have a strong sense of what I think is in a piece when I make it but I also feel strongly that the viewer will see what they want to see in my work.
Ambiguity is important in my work: there needs to be enough familiarity in a piece for people to be able to relate to it but enough ambiguity to engage people’s curiosity and their imagination. A mentor once asked me if I wanted my work to give answers or to ask questions – it’s definitely the latter.
Fundamentally I have no control over what people see in my work – and no need for them to see the same thing. I find it fascinating when I’m doing exhibitions how often people say ‘it looks like….’ - and the range of very different things they come up with!
Q: How do you view your art career in five years?
A: Writing is a significant part of my practice. I use it as a tool for capturing some of my experiences of the world, for research in a more formal sense and for communicating some of the ideas behind my work. In 2018, I completed my first publication Material Perspectives with support from Arts Council England, designed by Emily Benton. The book explores different ideas that recur through my work including Thresholds, Objects, Vessels, Lines and the act of making itself. I’m just beginning a new project which will run for the next couple of years.
On the making front, I see myself making larger pieces and more installations and hopefully showing more work internationally – including in the US. Scale is important to me but in metal in particular, at a certain point you move from making pieces yourself to working with fabricators as the pieces just get too big – that’s something I need to figure out as the act of making is so important to me.
About the artist:
I am an artist-metalsmith who uses base and precious metals to explore objects, their characters and our relationships to them, especially the ways in which we use objects to structure and explore the world in which we live. Focussing particularly on lines and thresholds, my work has relationships – between people, between people and objects and between objects themselves – at its heart.
Based in London, my initial career focussed on classical singing, followed by a number of years in healthcare management undertaking service design for a range of providers. I chanced on my love of metal by accident when a quieter job provided the opportunity to undertake an evening class - and I soon exchanged designing services for making objects. At The Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design I trained as a silversmith under influential makers including Simone ten Hompel and David Clarke, gaining both BA (Hons, First Class) and a research MA (Distinction). My research interests include our relationship to the objects with which we surround ourselves, and the ways in which we use objects to negotiate our emotional and physical place in the world.
I have exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally (Ireland, USA, Switzerland, Dubai and Germany) including Design Miami, ArtGeneve, Tresor Contemporary Craft and Collect as well as exhibitions curated by Zaha Hadid and former Director or the Serpentine Galleries Julia Peyton-Jones. I was selected by the Design Council as one of their Ones to Watch: a group of designers selected for having the potential to contribute to the future of Britain as a design nation. As well as winning several other awards, I have been featured in, amongst others, CRAFTS Magazine, Craft and Design Magazine, the Evening Standard and the FT's How to Spend It. I have work in the V&A permanent collection and the Irish State Collection,have received funding from the Arts Council England Grants for the Arts Programme and is am Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
I am represented by Taste Contemporary Craft (Geneva) and Studio Fusion (London).
To view more work by the artist, please visit www.juliettebigley.com.
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