Isolate Make: Creative Resilience in a Pandemic explores how creative practice has adapted to isolation, associated restrictions and production challenges, or in response to the year’s tragic global events. Through images, text, video and final work on exhibition Isolate Make gives a unique insight into a wide range of contemporary art, craft and design practice.
As the weeks and months of COVID-19 passed I became acutely aware of the objects and surfaces around me. Who had touched the surfaces I was touching? Had the glasses and cups been washed well? Were people covering their mouth as they sneezed or coughed. I wanted to make visible the fears I was having about what I perceived as the invisible dangers around me. Kathy Elliott
Who are you?
I am Kathy Elliott, I am a decorative artist that has worked with glass for almost thirty years. I usually carve or engrave glass vessels or solid forms that are made for me by Benjamin Edols my husband.
Where do you work?
I work in a studio located under our house in North Manly, a suburb of Sydney. It is a studio set up for grinding and carving glass,
Describe your practice?
Since 1992 Ben and I have worked collaboratively and for us that means that Ben blows all of the work and in most cases I do the carving. Ben does carve some of the work when he has time. Over the years we both contribute to the direction and design of the work. At different times one of us will be ‘driving the train’ but the other will always make a contribution so that each series develops organically to become a true collaboration. Since we closed our glass blowing furnace based in Brookvale in 2014 Ben has traveled to Canberra on average once a month to blow glass for three days and create ‘blanks’. He brings these home and they are cold worked in our studio here.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice and your ability to make a living?
The COVID pandemic has affected our practice in that it has not been as easy for Ben to travel to Canberra to blow glass. Glassblowing is a team activity and most teams are wearing masks while they work which is also very uncomfortable. Ben has travelled to Canberra three times this year to blow glass compared with once a month last year. This has an impact on the availability of work I have to work on but we have a lot of work that remains uncut from previous years so I have spent time looking through older uncut pieces and choosing to carve them. Sales of work in Australia have been steady but we have seen a decline in sales of our work in the US. I think COVID is partly the cause of that.
What are you making?
For this show I am making three still life arrangements using found objects . As the weeks and months of COVID passed I became acutely aware of the objects and surfaces around me. Who had touched the surfaces I was touching? Had the glasses and cups been washed well? Were people covering their mouth as they sneezed or coughed. Thoughts that hadn’t previously entered my head were now constantly on my mind when I was around people who were not my family. I wanted to make visible the fears I was having about what I perceived as the invisible dangers around me. Each of the arrangements shows a snapshot of what could possibly be left behind once the time spent with others is over.
What is the concept behind this work
I looked through second hand stores for items that would sit together cohesively and waited for the arrangements to present themselves. I took time to bring the fears I had in day to day life forward and consider how I could represent that. When I heard reports that domestic abuse was on the rise due to COVID , as was alcohol consumption I could see scenarios in my head where the stress of lost jobs and lockdown had pushed people too far.
What is the process of making this work?
The process of making this work is completely different to how we/I normally work. Ben has only made the bell jar in this body of work and that is from several years ago. We don’t usually work with found objects. This mark making is done with a hand held Dremel tool which is not a tool I use except to sign work.
Has your thought process changed? If so, how and has that affected your work?
The thought process is very different too. Neither of us usually works in this more conceptual realm. I have enjoyed responding to the exhibition brief in this way but I doubt that it will lead to a permanent shift in the way I or we work. It seemed appropriate to make work that fully addressed the environment we are living in.
What is the value of making art right now?
The value of making art right now is to give expression to the observations, concerns, joys and fears that artists are interpreting from within their communities. The value of making art in times like these is to discharge some of the emotion that is built up around so much that is unknown: which can be terrifying and exciting at the same time. Art allows the viewer to safely enter a different realm where unsafe things may happen. I think that’s what I needed to do with my work in this show. My glasses aren’t dirty but they definitely look like you could catch something from them.
How do you think your practice will change when we emerge from isolation?
Once isolation is over I am looking forward to Ben being able to blow glass without the fear that currently surrounds it. I have ideas for new forms I would like to work on. I don’t think I will carry any of these COVID concerns into future work, but we shall see...
ABOUT KATHY ELLIOTT
Kathy Elliott is a glass carver and has been working with glass since 1991. Her work is usually made in collaboration with her husband Benjamin Edols, a glass blower.
In the course of their working life they have worked in shared studios, public access facilities and their own custom built studio making exhibition work and production items. In the 27 years they have worked together they have exhibited in group and solo shows in Australia, the USA, The Netherlands, Germany, England, Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Italy.
Kathy works in Sydney and recent work has been focussed on carving imagery of bodies of water and tidal waves onto blown glass vessels.
During Covid-19 Kathy’s day to day routine hasn’t changed. What has changed is how she sees objects around her.
Image Top: Kathy Elliott, Danger Within, 2020. Photo: Greg Piper