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In conversation with Sara MacKillop 25 October 2017

Bonington Gallery curator Tom Godfrey caught up with Sara MacKillop to discuss her ongoing fascination with objects, images, sculpture and printed matter (and the overlap between all of these things), ahead of the opening of Sara’s solo exhibition, One Room Living:

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Sara MacKillop, Stationery Picture, 2016

Tom: I’m interested in this relationship between printed matter and the sculptural form that is prevalent in your practice. It’s something that you explore in both your publications and gallery exhibitions, where tropes are exchanged between these art-forms that challenges associated terms of engagement, i.e; a book is for handling and a sculpture is for looking at. Could you expand a little on this?

Sara: I think the starting point of this is that I am very concerned with presentation and display when encountering images and objects. Therefore, when there is a printed image I am immediately interested in what it is printed on, if there is something on the other side etc. This is maybe something to do with a use of found or altered objects or images of various kinds and looking at the wrong aspect of them – or approaching it in a non-straightforward fashion.

When making a publication I am very concerned in finding the correct format for what I am going to present and in some cases, the publication can be almost all format. As a result, my publications can appear like a mess of stuff – this wasn’t a plan, but I quite like it. Sometimes a publication is presented as a sculpture in an exhibition. The sculptures quite often have a temporary feel, but can also be presented in more than one way or adapted each time they are shown.

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Sara MacKillop,Window Display, (foreground) Pen Fence, (background) Stationery Picture, 2016

T: This exchange between sculpture & printed matter, with its subsequent challenge on a pre-conceived status of sculpture – making it into something that is adaptable and ephemeral – is really interesting.

I wondered if you could talk a bit further about the connection the exhibition makes to the wider environment of the university. The introduction text references an analysis being made towards how the institution’s function is represented across a multitude of different spaces. Could you expand on this and also describe this process of observation you have made from your visits to the gallery?

S: On my first visit to the Bonington Gallery I was very conscious of the different uses of space I encountered on the way to the gallery – the cafe, art shop etc. When you arrive at the gallery itself you walk downwards into the space, and there is a series of doors leading to different spaces with different uses from the gallery. In a way it made sense to me for the exhibition to appear as a repository for motifs of these spaces and I am interested to see what happens when they overlap. I had been working with some of these motifs (images of art supplies from promotional material) prior to the exhibition, but the work is mainly developed after initial site visits.

3 Sara MacKillop 881x585Sara MacKillop, installation view, Window Display, Haus Der Kunst, 2016

T: I’ve followed your work for nearly 15 years and have witnessed what feels like a sustained enquiry into a certain type of source material that could perhaps be described as ‘every-day’. Whereas some artists fetishise certain systems, objects or brands into their work as an attempt to command ownership over them, you manage to preserve an open and democratic feel to your varied output that becomes more reflective of the idiosyncratic attachments we form with certain objects and images we all encounter on a daily basis.

Could you talk more about this ongoing commitment and interest in the materials and source material that informs in your work?

S: My interest in an object or image can be initiated by a recognition that it presents something in a way that is better than I could achieve myself. This is often an unintended consequence of its design or presentation; again a result of looking at something in the wrong way or purposely misunderstanding it. It’s not really about identification where I feel it speaks to me – I usually become concerned with how an object or image functions where I’ve seen it, and how it was displayed. I then make changes to the framing / presentation, sometimes working within and/or disrupting the parameters of the format itself, and finally move on to something else. Pen Fence is a good example of this, although I am continuing to use different versions of this.

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Sara MacKillop, Pen Holders, 2016

T: Accompanying the exhibition in the main gallery is a presentation of all your published & self-published materials from the past 9+ years. Could you talk about your history within self-publishing? 

S: The first publication I made was 50 Envelope Windows in 2008. I had all these images of envelope security patterns scanned through the windows of the envelopes, and I hadn’t found a fitting way of presenting them until I tried them as a book. The slight differences and sequences fitted to the turning of the pages of the book perfectly. After that I started having ideas that the end format was a publication and that has continued until now. There are now around 35 publications in total. The publication itself is the artwork. I was working at Donlon Books at the time and they stocked a lot of artist books. It was a good way into learning about the rich history of artist publications.  

Also, X Marks the Bökship provided a great place to meet people who make publications and see what was being made. I am attracted to the kind of publication which can have many forms; the way that for quite modest means you can make something, distribute it easily to pre-existing communities and then move on to the next project. I organise the Artist Self Publishers (ASP) Fair with artist, Dan Mitchell. We make a fair that offers free tables and focuses on the publication as artwork. We’ve done it for three years now and hope to continue. I’ve valued the experience of artist self-publishing and the groups of people I have met through it, and so wanted to share this. 

T: We held a discussion in the gallery in 2015 (to accompany Foxall Studios’ Publishing Rooms exhibition) that looked at the ‘changing importance of printed matter and whether it still holds up as a relevant and vital contemporary media format’. Do you have any views on this?

S: Yes – I think printed material is still a very vital material.  The availability and affordability of print on demand makes it accessible, which makes it vital. The new context of printed matter as one of many formats to produce and distribute to me actually makes it more interesting.

One Room Living will open with a preview on Thursday 2 November 5 – 7 pm. If you would like to attend, please RSVP via email to confirm your attendance. The exhibition will remain open until Friday 8 December, visit the webpage for more details.

All images courtesy Sara MacKillop.

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