This week we speak to Megan Randall, who is artist in residence at VARC in Higreeen, Northumberland until June 2019. Megan, whose practice is rooted in ceramics, has been experimenting with clay from Highgreen, learning to spin wool and exploring notions of mending as making alongside devising workshops for local residents and school children.
Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice
I am a ceramic artist, who tends to use porcelain alongside other less traditional materials and found objects. Although I would consider myself a potter and throw things on a wheel on a regular basis, I tend to make large installations which are specific to place. I enjoy making artworks which are activated or altered by the public.
My partner told someone recently that I am an endurance maker, if I come up with an idea to make something I tend to make hundreds if not thousands of the same thing. I find multiples really meditative to make. They add a texture to my work which tends to be visually quiet, often using a minimal colour palette. Recently I have realised that the endurance aspect of making so many multiples becomes part of the work itself. The differences between similar objects, the mistakes and similarities form a language in the work. The installation of these objects become almost like building a dry-stone wall, shuffling pieces round until they ‘fit’.
In 2016 I completed my PhD which focused on ceramic installations made in Edgelands, or in between places. The practical work made for this research was mainly films and photographs rather than ceramic objects. During my research I was awarded a residency for the British Ceramic Biennial (Stoke-on-Trent) where I screen printed and stencilled 200 giant blue and white dinner plate designs throughout the city using slip (liquid clay). I found it incredibly freeing to make ceramic artworks which didn’t need to be fired but use clay or ceramic related techniques.
I am currently the artist in residence for VARC (visual artists in rural communities) and I am living and working in beautiful Northumberland for nine months. The residency is aimed at exploring an avenue of work with few outside pressures. Working with and getting to know a vibrant local community and place.
Assemble, porcelain urns with ceramic fragments, 2015
Utensils for living, 2018
What are you exploring at the moment?
I am the current artist in residence for VARC and I am using this opportunity to move away from working exclusively with clay and use materials local to the area and work with local makers. I have joined a weaving and spinning group and have started spinning my own wool. I am particularly interested to explore the cracks and fissures of place and objects and actively repair them – and consider these ‘repairs’ as artwork as in the artform ‘kintsugi’. I am excited to be making with wood, leather, silk, silver as well as using local wood ash and local clay to make objects, letting ‘mends’ dictate material rather than the other way around. I see clay as a material of the rural landscape, connected to the land and so ideal for building connections with place and community. Clay is the thing we stand on whilst staring at the vast sky. Making for the community is one of many of the ideas I have had, possibly making a willow pattern for Tarset, and then inviting local people to come and eat together.
I’ve been recently been screen printing with honey, local clay, and dust, then gilding the honey with gold leaf, I’m excited to screen print walls and floors of buildings in this way to layout a narrative, or to make a place or a room an instruction manual for mending.
Instructions for Mending, work in progress screen printed honey, gilded with gold leaf
Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?
I’ve always loved place and making work for specific places or trying to evoke place in my work. Here in Northumberland I have dug up clay, processed it, and started using the beautiful iron rich ochre coloured slip as a medium to screen print with, connecting the earth beneath my feet with the art I’m making.
People’s reaction to ceramic objects always interests me, clay in its raw form is so malleable and mouldable, it carries the marks of its creation, finger prints and nail marks. Ceramic objects are ubiquitous to ideas of domesticity, and as such are easy to understand and relate to. Despite this people either get nervous of precariously placed ceramic objects which look fragile and liable to get broken, or they want to break objects. I try to make works to initiate reactions, whether that’s making cups of tea in handmade cups or asking people to destroy work. This voyeuristic approach to individuals’ reactions to work intrigues me
Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?
I currently work at the studio at High Green, a beautiful stone building, behind a barn overlooking a lawn and woodland. The studio has running hot water which is a complete luxury compared to my studio in Gateshead which is a shed at the end of my Mam’s garden. Here I have the space to flit between making different things at the same time as having the kiln on. I can’t do this at home and have the burns to prove it. Outside it’s less than a mile walk until you are on the Pennine way on the crest of a hill, with Elsdon and Otterburn to one side and Tarset to the other. I have sheep, cows, and red squirrels for neighbours, it’s a pretty perfect place to work.
Megan in the studio at Highgreen, November 2018
What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?
I listen to lots of podcasts and audiobooks, currently The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, which is brilliant and heart breaking. I also listen to Opening Arguments podcast, which is a legal based podcast which deals with political issues in America and explores the legal ramifications of news stories. I’m reading Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane, which I’ve never read before and is beautifully poetic. The lure of the local by Lucy Lippard and Evocative Objects edited by Sherry Turkle, both books I read bits of during my PhD and both ones I want to read more of.
Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?
Clay, repetitive, endurance-making, place, installation, gold, cobalt, multiple, shatter, quiet, white, unravel, activate
Chain, clay chain installed Northumberland, 2016
Where can people see your work?
I have Bloom (10,000 flowers) at The Biscuit Factory at the moment, you can see work and research at meganrandall.com, and come and visit the end of residency exhibition at VARC on 1st and 2nd June 2019 (for further info see www.varc.org.uk ).
Our last featured artist, Cat Auburn, asked “What’s the most important tool in your kit? “. Could you answer Cat’s question please and think of a new one for our next artist?
Psychological tool: Resilience
Practical tool: Hands
My question: If not this then what? If you weren’t an artist what would you be?