Each month a member of the art.earth Board of Directors selects a member to feature, to become our Artist of the Month. What follows is a response from that artist to some questions and a discussion, together with some examples of their work.
This month (March 2021) our featured artist is Katie Taylor, selected by Richard Povall.
What are you currently working on, and what are the central ideas that inform your work?
My current research explores unidentified human remains and what it means to society when we cannot name them. There is an assumption that science can step in, but tests need to have comparative samples to check against. People do not always carry relevant documents on them either. What is really crucial to identity is the community that we surround ourselves with, having a friend or relative to raise an alarm or step forward to identify us in death.
My research conceptually explores remaining liminal presence within the unintended final resting spaces of unidentified dead. Without preservation, our bodies become additional nutrients, feeding the soil and nourishing the plants growing nearby. As plants die back, they enrich the soil once more. Water is important too, our bodies are made up of more than 70% water, all water has existed on earth in the same quantity, continually recirculating and water has been a fundamental part of everyone who has ever existed. For me water is all the people who have been before us. The water and nutrients within our bodies become part of the surrounding environment, and this circular process of renewal creates a physical continuation of presence within space.
I have been working with gelatine bioplastic to produce a body of work that explores these ideas. This transparent, ephemeral and malleable material is easily made, it has a ghostly quality because of its transparency, physically embodying the ideas of something that is missing or barely there. It is biodegradable and slowly breaks down becoming part of the immediate surroundings as our bodies would. It is made predominantly of water, like us. Evaporation as part of the process here has ghostly qualities too; moisture is held in the air but remains unseen. These references to the ‘unseen’ act as a metaphor for the unseen in society, the lonely, the homeless or outsiders that many unidentified people inevitably were.
The UK missing persons database has been the basis for my research and lists as much identifying information as possible including clothing and possessions with each entry. I was immediately drawn to the shoes as an item that across the board is present in almost all entries, they are often non gender specific too. Shoes capture a sense of individuality and are vessels or containers that act as reliquaries that remind us who they belonged to. Using gelatine bioplastic, I have been working on a body of work that examines this research. By creating shoes within the bioplastic, I am directly referencing a familiar object that is listed with every missing person entry. Shoes are so personal; they take us everywhere and form to the shape of each individual foot, and materially they have the potential to decompose just as we do.
I am not making specific reference to any individual entry within the missing persons database, neither am I looking to individually name the unidentified. By using a generalised approach to my art practice-based research, I am making public the existence of people who have died unnoticed. Not for their sake, but for the sake of society, perhaps for no other reason than to remind us all of the importance of looking out for and acknowledging the vulnerable within society.
Do you have any particular influences or something that has had a profound effect on your work?
Whilst doing my undergraduate degree in textiles I had a conversation with a forensic anthropologist who explained to me the importance that textiles had in proving genocide at Srebrenica during the Hague trials. Forensic scientists showed that that the same fabric had been used for ligatures and blindfolds across numerous mass grave sites, proving a level of coordinated planning in advance of the awful events that took place. This information was the beginning of a fascinating journey of research including a trip to Bosnia with Remembering Srebrenica and has ultimately lead me to my current research as part of my PhD at Oxford Brookes University.
Twitter: @bigtangle – https://twitter.com/bigTangle
Instagram: @bigtangle – https://www.instagram.com/bigtangle/
Recent presentation of this work for The Association of the study of Death and Society