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Artist Feature ://
Laura Durward
Posted April 2018

Laura Durward often materialises work in a public territory through processes that have a focus on collaboration. With a background in speculative design, Laura now practices as an artist. Something gained from her educational background is the framing of the people who view her work as “citizens" rather than consumers. Often decentralising her role, she recognises the citizen as an active participant in the process, with an aim to share authority with bodies outside of the rigid systems we are all so familiar with.

Drawing on archeological method as a way of interrogating the ambiguous, Laura’s work raises questions about the agency of people, places, and processes through the creation of objects. Historical practice is, essentially, about the idea of sustained attention on things from the past, this analytical value of close looking is the underlying theme in her practice.

These objects become bodies of knowledge, created through the use of craft as an extension of our imaginative capacities to materialise our subjective perceptions. The narratives that sit in a porous membrane around these bodies are pursued through a nonviolent intervention of often closed, institutionalised collections. Laura becomes an uninvited outsider, enabling a participation without a mandate.

Through the removal of a fixed certainty, all things can be true and all things can be false, the journey of interconnected events that take place within our imagination serve to fabricate and synthesise an interpretation. Both ambiguity and “history” are slippery. Through a re-sculpting of the past, we are more able to look for potential spaces of resistance within material culture. The unknown and the ambiguous are explored through a frustration of the overly logical, rational and realistic.

Q. Your artworks are reminiscent of artefacts found and then displayed in a museum setting. How has this systematic, arguably traditional style of curating influenced your work?

The systematic nature of the museum setting creates an arena for refusal, and this notion of refusal is ever in a state of flux. Each institution goes through a process of setting up a rationale for what it is willing to display. It is this rationale that has influenced my motives. I’d like the viewers of both my work and original ancient bodies to naturally go through a similar methodology of refusing, and therefore accepting the certain narratives that speak to them subjectively - after all, refusing and accepting go hand in hand.

I aim to broaden the parameters that museum curation creates in the hope that it allows for more fluid responses. The open-ended structures of my final displays have a sole intention to enable agency within a multi-layered space. The repeated close looking that is required from objects if we are to really read and imbue them can only happen if we are given the space to do so. Whilst language and definitions are a large part of my artistic process, museum labels are removed from the final displays.

Museum structures have influenced many elements of my work, but I have still often been left with a frustration of the overly logical and rational. I don’t think they allow for that creative tension between fiction and non-fiction, reality and imagination. Museums are just one of the many systems we experience that give the illusion of support that supposedly eases our way through into a state of universal trust. There is something quite liberating about that continuation of questioning, never being provided with final narratives and knowing that there is no end, resulting in a freedom to explore. The significance of an object is determined by the meaning, or multiple meanings, invested in it and placed upon it by the viewer.

Q. Is there a narrative behind each of your creations? Do you feel this is important to an object’s existence?

All objects have narratives and voices imbued within them and this is therefore very important to an object’s existence. Like us, they are creatures of meaning.

Objects, especially ancient objects that have been accepted into the museum, become static. On the one hand, an object can be seen to die in this context and on the other it can be seen to live internally, the ultimate dichotomy of the museum. Conservation and curation act as the material fabric for my artistic practice and this dichotomy allows me a way in to do so. Jane Bennett’s theory of ‘narrative thing-power’ has also become incredibly influential in my approach to objects.

Q. Tell us about the process behind how you decide what it is you wish to create or represent through making?

Ultimately, I look for potential spaces of resistance within material culture, gaps in narrative that have inevitably formed over time. I use clay as a language for translation and the archaeological process as a vehicle for dialogue and emancipation. Within my overall practice, science, speculation, and ambiguity are lenses I use when navigating an object of interest to me.

I like moving between fiction and non-fiction. In both cases, the meaning of the object in focus is interchangeable and allows space for an exchange of interpretation. Each of my responses is born out of multiple transitions between objectivity and subjectivity, definitions and depictions. Upon completion, they can be seen as aggregates that document the narratological capacity of the original ancient body and the porous membrane that surrounds it.  
Objects that are reminiscent of the everyday can be found next to more symbolically loaded, ritualistic objects within my collections; I think this combination provides a sense of relief. The removal of hierarchy is a thread that runs through all of the layers of my practice. I also don’t always view the difference between pieces I’ve made or an object that I’ve found in a museum. I want to share something I think is interesting with other people - it becomes more about that conversation, tracing a journey of interpretation and pulling certain things into focus.

Q. How do you hope to push your art further in the future? What do you want to explore?

I have a few different tangents I would like to explore… I want to look at democratising museum structures further through implementing participatory speculation - workshops. Entering a museum setting as an uninvited outsider, or as Markus Meissen refers to, as a ‘cross-bench practitioner’. This time I would like to have a more noticeable presence, blurring the line between the producers and receivers of “history” in the very places where history is usually constructed and presented. Whether or not this is something that would be instrumental in a workshop, etymology is also something that I would like to explore through an archaeological gaze.

I hope to start working more with location - more site-specific responses where I am not only aiming to explore objects from a museum cabinet but to revisit an object in relation to its last location before the museum cabinet. I have always been fascinated with the relationship between space and time and how they are considered isolated from one another. Space as something constant over time, and time as something that has been metaphorised as flowing linearly and independent of space.

Space and landscape have also been present in an idea that is beginning to form between me and filmmaker Emily Wood, we are currently referring to as ‘reverse archaeology’. Our definition of what this work would entail is still incredible hazy but it currently prompts ideas of acts that are more choreographed and voyeuristic.  

Looking back at my previous work, I feel that the use of a rigid scale in which the collection is to be measured upon has resulted in a sort of static capturing of a fluid idea. I would like to eventually produce a new direction of work that aims to move away from this static capturing of potential narratives - maybe moving further into fictionality, work that’s more abstract and cryptic.

Q. What is the greatest challenge of being an artist?

Feeling your way through a set of unreliable visions, bits of information and the connections between them, and at the same time working with materials and processes that have some sort of resonance. For me, the collation of more rational or tangible pre-existing fragments, usually in the form of found texts and imagery, allow a sort of anchoring… but they are not useful for evocativeness. However, the active parallel knowing and unknowing that I have borrowed from archaeology has proved to be vital to my artistic processes.

Ambiguity and history are “slippery” and certainly require a sustained focus. It is this sustained focus that I mostly find myself wrestling with. When working with ambiguity - sustaining a tension or revealing of one thing within another, it’s quite easy to get lost or wander off.

︎ www.lauradurward.com

︎ @lauradurward

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