Portalis Collaborator Interview – Lucy Nelson

What influences did you draw on for this project?

Just before the Catalyst project started, I took part in an artist residency where I spent time in caves in Yorkshire. This was an eye-opening experience which definitely influenced my artistic approach. For Portalis I based my vessel on anatomical drawings of extended wombs and the lower form of bellarmine (witch) jugs. Various feminist writers such as Susan Griffin are also an influence.

What processes did you use in your work?

I chose clay and silicone because they both transform states in terms of solidity, colour and texture. Clay is a material I am new to, and in using it I enjoyed its tactile qualities and its links to earth. To make We Dwell in a Cave, I included soil collected from Yordas Cave in Ingleton, Yorkshire. Knowing its nutrients lay dormant within the clay and upon the surface of the vessel is significant: it establishes connections between the vessel, place and nature.

Lucy standing in front of her artwork

Did you try new approaches for this exhibition that led to new discoveries?

Being new to clay as a medium, I found the process of handing over control to a kiln at the end of making challenging. Clay is such an intimate material. It presents all of the flaws of my making process, the dips and the marks which I find really interesting. There is something therapeutic about handling it, perhaps even primal.

What feelings or meanings do you imagine your work conveys?

In leaving my work open to interpretation, I am more interested in a variety of responses, rather than being intent on a certain reaction. If viewers feel compelled to peer into the vessel, then that in itself demonstrates an innate curiosity to delve and penetrate something perceived as mysterious.

Lucy's hands making sculpture

What are you hoping to convey in the title of your work?

The title We Dwell in a Cave is taken from Susan Griffin’s 1978 writing ‘Woman and Nature – The Roaring Inside Her.’ For me it is loaded with meaning. I felt it captured the essence of the themes I have been exploring; the archaic idea that ties women to materiality. I wanted people to consider the we, and I feel it conjures up thoughts about the body as a container or shell.

How does your work for Portalis relate to your past work?

I work with sculpture to contemplate the relationship I have with my own bodily experience, and the fragile life cycles encountered in nature. I have an interest in female reproductive health and its under-representation in the arts. Portalis was an opportunity to combine some of my usual practice but also as a space to try something new. The scale and use of ceramics was unusual for me, but important in communicating my ideas.

Will this project influence some aspect of your future practice? If so, what and how?

Responding to the Hollow Earth exhibition gave me a wider scope to explore themes beyond my usual practice. The collaborative experience is something I enjoyed and hope to do more of in future. Now that I have a much better understanding of clay as a material, I will use ceramics again in my work.

a close up of Lucy's clay sculpture

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