I met artist and writer Kate Holford in Paris, at the opening celebration of Stillpoint Spaces’ newest location in the 14th Arrondissement this September. In my first memory of her, it is morning and we are seated in a circle, in one of SPS Paris’s bright, simple rooms, a Steinway Grand a shimmering monolith against one wall. It was the first time the entire Stillpoint team met, all at once, with counselors, analysts, scholars, and artists from around the world, representing our locations in Zürich, Berlin, London, and Paris. It was an exciting moment.
On that morning in September, I didn’t yet know that Kate was an artist; instead, what struck me was the poise, insight, and clarity with which she addressed the nebulous concept that is Stillpoint: in her hands, I could see how psychoanalysis and depth psychology, philosophy and theory, community engagement and education, art and politics, really could meet in powerful new ways. I also noticed her socks, sticking out of her shoes in a manner that would’ve looked awkward on anyone else. That’s a topic for a different sort of essay, and as I said, I didn’t yet know she was an artist, one with a deep sensitivity to the nuances of color, shape, and contrast. That, I learned later while preparing for this interview, when I had the pleasure of visiting her website: http://www.kateholford.com/Kate-Holford-Artist.
Now, months later, what sticks with me about Kate is not only her nuanced attention to visual issues of form, but also her serious engagement with some of the core issues facing humanity today: migration, displacement, belonging, objectification of the body, the relationship between dreams, fantasies, and realities, and as she discusses with me below, much more.
~Anne Marie Spidahl
AMS: In your photos & installations you show an emphasis on space, place, and architecture. Can you talk about why these elements interest you aesthetically and conceptually?
KH: When I first began working away from 2D drawing and was making sculpturally, I realized I had been working with the want for space for a while. The spaces which I had previously been restricting on the page (or in the photograph) were in need of expansion. But it was always this tension between the depiction of somewhere, and being able to stand inside a space, that I was interested in. That’s why often in my larger installation pieces, the work includes multiple representations of place and those places are usually themselves archetypes of cultural dreamscapes, or sometimes utopian idylls (although always ambiguously so).
For me, space is essential to how we speak about ourselves, in terms of where we feel we are in our bodies; I am interested in phenomenology, in the being ‘here’; and then, in the not-quite-there. I indulge in pushing people to feel displaced in my installations, as if they are having to actively choose where or if to stand in them. I don’t know if I’ve ever been successful at this, but it often informs my drawings, paintings, or visions of future installations. So, it is satisfying for me that you began with this question, because you can only get a sense of my work from the 2D images I have chosen to show you. For now, displacement, home, transience are strong themes for me, and many of these ideas manifest themselves in architecture. And also this from John Berger:
Without a home at the center of the real, one was not only shelterless, but also lost in non-being, in unreality. Without a home, everything was fragmentation…
Home was the centre of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed a horizontal one. The vertical line was a path leading upwards to the sky and downwards to the underworld. The horizontal line represented the traffic of the world, all the possible roads leading across the earth to other places…
Perhaps at the end of this century of unprecedented transportation, vestiges of the reassurance still remain in the unarticulated feelings of many millions of displaced people.
Emigration does not only involve leaving behind, crossing water, living amongst strangers, but, also, undoing the very meaning of the world and – as its most extreme – abandoning oneself to the unreal which is the absurd.
– John Berger, “Here” in And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos
The absurd, the surreal, these sensations are starting to arise in my painting (such as Ugly, or Extraction). Recently I have also found myself working with intimate spaces, as well as the public, politicized, or even symbolic places that featured in a lot of my past work. In this respect, work is harder to make; but I really want to contemplate what it means to imagine spaces we’ve never experienced, but really do exist somewhere else. It is an attempt to break through the simulacrum that never lets us touch reality. An example of my installation work that relates to this is Simulacra/an escape… from 2013, which was in part inspired by Marilynne Robinson’s haunting novel Housekeeping.
I am very interested in how this relates to contemporary political environments, in particular with a focus on detainment, on transient accommodation – tents, for example, are a favourite motif of mine. Recently a very influential book for me has been Displacements: Architecture and Refugee by Andrew Herscher. He writes about the history of architecture, specifically the camp, and its conceptual division from the history of humanitarianism and displacement; his references to “bare life”, and thinkers such as Giorgio Agamben and Hannah Arendt, have sent my research into rich and challenging directions.
AMS: A number of your works depict objects & partial objects removed from their context. Can you talk about this displacement and disorientation?
KH: This is important to how I am trying to relate to the ‘body’ in my work, and in many ways this connects to what I was saying previously about my interest in architecture. Earlier this year I spent a lot of time in museums, specifically the British Museum, visiting often to make drawings of the white sculptures standing formally in their casements, or behind their railings. I wanted to learn what I could about the physicality of the Parthenon Sculptures in particular, because of their political and historical significance (their complete displacement from their origins), but also because I liked how from many angles they became lumps of stone and white rock again. The backs of them, for example, once translated into marks on a page, become alien objects in grand spaces. Quite an absurd idea really. Paintings such as Long White Legs and Carapace/Caves were particularly influenced by these visits.
The way mediated or assimilated language relates to this notion of ‘body as object’ is also interesting to me. Words like “body counts”, “alien numbers”, or “extraction”. The painting Extraction came about from re-watching Zero Dark Thirty, the fictionalizing of “the greatest manhunt in history” (official film tagline). But it was a body hunt, a story ending with a green body bag photographed by torchlight, the object of fervor – justified or otherwise. I wanted to mention this because in the painting the ‘object’ – ie. the body bag, copied from stilled shots of the film – floats, dislocated from the surrounding landscape. This was an intentional ploy to invoke a sense of absurdity, and give it a supernatural quality. In this story it is the only thing that matters.
AMS: Can you discuss your use of both text and imagery in your work?
KH: I have a preoccupation with the relationship between writing and drawing. Sometimes I go as far as to feel as though it’s the same thing, just variations in the marks to be made. I know there is a boundary where the concept of language comes into play, but there’s sometimes a moment where the two appear seamless. The poem (A new kind of) body, and the drawing Straps, for example, still feel very interlinked– and the drawing came first in that instance.
I have concentrated solely on writing poetry and stories at times – although these things are now inseparable from the way I think about the visual work I make. I have characters that have appeared time and again in these stories, in pieces of writing, and I see them stood in these landscapes, or I am speaking to them in a poem. It’s a comforting part of the making, actually, because sometimes it can take me by surprise when one of these fictive (or yes, sometimes real) figures crop up. The creating is intertwined, rather than contrived.
But another significant reason why I use text is because so much of my source material is written word, and I love to play with this, to mix up sources and find links. Reading is a big part of my life, my practice, and writing a natural progression with my making.
AMS: What drew you to psychology, depth psychology, and psychoanalysis?
KH: I have never studied psychology in an academic setting, so for me I am often skirting around these ideas, dipping into different models of thinking about psychology – and for now, I like this chance to follow my nose, or rather follow, and guide, my creative process. It gives me a kind of freedom to pick what I need from where; plus, my engagement with the Stillpoint community gives me plenty of insight into different schools of thought, which I am very happy about.
How can we think up a future? How do we manage to imagine pasts we’ve not lived? How does imagination work, especially in relation to memory? Why do certain images from my dreams and memories flash up for me when I am working on a piece about some-one or -thing totally unrelated to me – like copper mining in Chile, or a religious preacher from Kansas? How I relate to all these multitudes of things and places and people and bits of information, and how the way I am informed by them influence that relationship…these are the kinds of questions I was asking myself when beginning to define myself as an artist. And it was these questions, the kind that lingered on the nature of how the mind works, that drove my thinking.
John Berger’s words come to me again now: “I hope you will consider what I arrange, but be sceptical of it.” I like this, because it implies a constant need for questioning. An exhausting, but never exhaustive, way to work.
AMS: Yes, and what did bring you to Stillpoint?
KH: I happened across Stillpoint by chance. I found a leaflet for the London Lab’s launch last March, and at the time was beginning to become very interested in psychology as a field. I wanted to know more about how to discuss the questions I was asking. I was reading Siri Hustvedt’s A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, which is an incredibly multi-disciplinary book of essays, and in it Hustvedt writes with the implicit intent of breaking boundaries between established and inward looking areas of study – especially the sciences, neuroscience and psychoanalysis in particular. She began to be a real influence on me during that time:
Rather than charting correspondence between two distinct realms, psyche and soma, we can look for meanings in a lived body that is socio-psycho-biological, with each hyphenated segment mingled into the others, rather than neatly stratified. Nevertheless, creating a model for this merging is difficult. Where does one start and another begin? Human beings seek out patterns, boundaries, and hierarchies, and we, as speaking and writing beings, often get lost in semantics and mistake a map or model for the thing the map or model represents.
– ‘I Wept For Four Years and Then I Was Blind’, in A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women – Siri Hustvedt
So I saw in the list of events and performances for the Stillpoint launch something that resonated with me – a combination of creativity, deep thought, and a socio-political engagement. I had recently started making work in a more serious way, and realized I had been needing to find somewhere that could provide this combination of thinking. At the launch I met Stillpoint London Director Aaron Balick, and began working here a couple of weeks later. A pretty lucky find, that leaflet!
AMS: What is your title & role at Stillpoint? What parts of this position particularly excite you?
KH: My official role at Stillpoint London is Front of House Manager. Day to day this involves looking after the London site, which has five consulting rooms, and The Lab and Library spaces; I make the space comfortable and engaging for the membership and community members, and run the events that happen here too. But I also work closely with the rest of the London team – Director Aaron, Community Coordinator Sissy, and fellow Front of House Rashida, to develop the events programme, promote Stillpoint, and administer many of the background operational tasks that go along with running a project like this. I also get to speak with artists and work with them to curate the spaces here in a meaningful way. This is a particularly exciting element to my role, because it is a perfect way for me to interact and work with the space – and I get to have some really interesting and in depth conversations with others about their practices, while at the same time creating something new. I don’t see The Lab as a gallery space, but more as a research space that has its ideas manifest in a whole spectrum of ways – including the visual, the performative, and the collaborative.
AMS: In one of our conversations, you mentioned that working at Stillpoint is a continuation & expression of yourself as an artist. Can you say more about how the work you do at Stillpoint relates to your work as an artist?
KH: Curating – in terms of space, yes – but also managing projects, has always been in my nature. I have found myself taking up the challenge of curating exhibitions or trying to define a venture with someone, often without realizing I’m doing it. I tend to define my practice as a solo one, especially when talking about the mind, and memory, and personal narratives. But I think it would be misleading to describe myself like that, because I have naturally gravitated towards collaborative art projects many times. Stillpoint embodies this sensibility for me, which is what I have probably referred to in the past as being harmonious. But I am also not a utopian, or even an optimist: I know how doing this is hard, and it’s hard work, however small the project, because it relates to the larger issues at hand for me too. And Stillpoint is not a small project! So contributing to it is a great challenge for me; in a political sense, too, this challenge feels vital for me to engage in.
Kate Holford is an artist with a practice based in South East London. She graduated (BA)Hons Fine Art at Falmouth University in 2013, specialising in installation and drawing, and has curated numerous independent exhibitions across London and the South West of the UK. Since March 2017 she has worked for Stillpoint Spaces London as Front of House Manager, and was previously a Bookshop Manager for Waterstones. She is interested in collaborative projects and welcomes suggestions for new joint ventures, especially those that cross boundaries – both physical and disciplinary.