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Interview: Laura Hudspith's Self Reflection

Interview: Laura Hudspith's Self Reflection

Lives and works in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

I’d love to combine the first and second questions as the answers for each seem to flow into one another with no clear separation.

I grew up in a small city just outside of Toronto. I remember that the garden in the backyard of my childhood home stretched into a forested ravine that served as a small recluse for wildlife and wonder. I’d often wake to a fox and her kits asleep between the trees or a deer passing through. My mother is a physical geographer with a passion for horticulture and Feminism. She instilled a love of ecology and geology and impressed upon me the autonomy of personhood. My father is a structural engineer who taught me how to use power tools and to shingle a roof when I was six. Lately, my mum and I attend political rallies in support of abortion rights, and in turn, I’ve taught my dad how to make molds for his concrete projects.

“Skin Suit [sculpture]” (2020)
Installation view
Silicone, resin, pigment, acrylic mirror, cotton cord, steel hanging apparatus & hardware
60 x 42 x 16”

While I was always making something in my early years, my knowledge of contemporary art was essentially nonexistent until attending an arts high school in Toronto where I majored in visuals. Even there, I was torn between possible pursuits. If I wasn’t going to be an artist, I would have gone into either biological sciences or politics. During my BFA, I began to see the connections between these various fields of research. My work has since evolved from object to immersive and from project to practice. Guided by the ideological frame that the personal is political, my work operates at the rupture where the intimacies of lived experience intersect with art, critical theory, politics, and medicine. Just as we are beginning to understand chronic illness as sociogenic, many begin to reject the primacy of [w]estern medicine and instead embrace holistic and recombinatory approaches including ancient, community-led, and herbalist healing practices.

Inspiration & work in progresss: Photo collection of naturally occuring fungal flesh for transulencent habotai silk printing.
Fall 2020 – ongoing

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

One of my earliest and longest-standing interests has been the relationship between nonlinguistic semiosis and ontology. I’m interested in cultural notions of authenticity and the allure of simulation. Learning mold-making processes early on opened a seemingly endless space for experimentation. Here I found that molding and casting in peculiar materials could radically shift associations of form. When my work began to coalesce around the experience of chronic illness, I taught myself new processes such as body-molding or life-casting. When I first became ill, and although my understanding of the origins and matter of illness has shifted some over the last few years, I started to think of autoimmunity as a new studiomate inhabiting the material stuff of my person. Molding and casting my body, binding and objectifying it, felt like a sort of personal exorcism ritual that opened the potential for healing and action.

This sparked the beginning of my still ongoing body of work, ‘Illness and Objecthood’, which traverses sculpture, installation, lens-based performance, and poetic text.

“Body Double” (2019)
Installation view with photo diptych “Of my presence as if catching a stranger’s wave” (2019)
Plaster, concrete, resin, silicone, pigment, fishnet stocking, wood, paint
55 x 80 x 38 inches

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

I’m going to combine these two questions and answers again.

I’ve always taken great inspiration from other artists, thinkers, and activists working in my local sphere and through my research. I’ve noticed that I can become fixated when seeing large-scale projects to fruition in the studio. Visiting exhibitions shakes my thinking loose in those moments. Multidisciplinary bioartists and thinkers such as Lauren Fournier, Carolyn Lazard, Guadalupe Maravilla, Jes Fan, and Alisa Baremboym come to mind as inspiration for my current work.

Finding resonant theory, poetic, and bioscience readings feed my brain and keep me excited about my studio work. I’m really into animacy theory and thinking about extra-human subjectivities as a healing philosophy. Mel Y. Chen’s “Animacies” and Deboleena Roy’s “Molecular Feminisms” are giving me energy and new concepts to chew on. Considering cellular and mineral agencies allows wonder into the experience of illness. Going for wilderness walks and lately, cultivating medicinal and witchy plants in my backyard has also been incredibly nourishing.

Studio view: Demolding a resin-cast papaya. Small quantities of hand-tinted resin is painted into the mold before rotocasting for a stronger form. Winter 2020

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

The first works within my ongoing series, ‘Illness and Objecthood,’ were made during mid-late 2019 and exhibited at the now-former Kontort Production Space in Toronto during the exhibition, Cuties Who Are Nice. Here, a bed-sized sculpture titled ‘Body Double,’ paired with two self-portraits titled ‘Bound Up in White Fishnet’ and diptych ‘Of my presence as if catching a stranger’s wave,’ were shown alongside a poetic text.

“Bound Up in White Fishnet”
Archival photographic print
24 x 36 inches; framed: 26 x 38 inches

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

Nearing the end of 2018, I began making molds of medicinal plants like giant aloe vera leaves and my first body molds, unsure of the reason behind their draw. I don’t often work on pure intuition, so I was curious to see where this work would take me. Soon afterward, I started experiencing my first autoimmune and fibromyalgia flares that would eventually keep me bedridden for several months between hospital visits. With each new autoimmune flare that occurred in tandem with what I call ‘neurological nonhappenings’, another part of my body felt like it was in revolt. From bed, I began a diaristic-poetic writing practice as an attempt to grapple with my somatic reality. I suspect that the impetus to start molding medicinal plants and towards life-casting was some kind of subconscious or cellular awareness of percolating illness.

“Skin Suit [sculpture]” (2020)
Detail 2
Silicone, resin, pigment, acrylic mirror, cotton cord, steel hanging apparatus & hardware
60 x 42 x 16”

I started thinking of my body as a duplicitous double, a traitor. My immediate reaction to autoimmunity and nerve pain was to escape it by forcing a separation of mind from body. Valuing a holistic approach to embodiment that enables access to the innate form of intelligence and power that Audre Lorde calls “ the erotic,” this urge alarmed me.* Nevertheless, I began to enact a process of the disjuncture and salvage of my body and agency via its molding and casting and disembodying lens work. These somatic sheddings haunted me as evidence of self-imposed objectification, and yet the process offered me temporary psychic relief and a reclamation of agency.

* Lorde, Audre. “Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power.” Brooklyn, N.Y.: Out & Out Books; Out & Out pamphlet no. 3, 1978.

“Bed of Nails” (2020 – )
Durational sculpture; 2021 documentation
Stripped mattress form, aloe vera cast in pigmented resin, wire, light, & community healers
Dimensions variable

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

The work felt very empowering, but I knew that the methodology behind it was ultimately unsustainable given the circuitous, even backwards trajectory of its ideology. Although I no longer think of chronic illness or my person in this way, these works formed the basis of my current and future works. I began researching the causes of illness and considering the role of culture in epigenomics. I’m curious to explore the possibilities of community in healing. If illness can be sociogenic, or socio-cultural in origin, perhaps some measure of curative properties might be drawn from within the same sphere.

“Body Double” detail 2
Plaster, concrete, resin, silicone, pigment, fishnet stocking, wood, paint
55 x 80 x 38 inches

What are you working on now?

I mentioned earlier that I’m drawn to animacy theory as it crosses matter kingdoms. Briefly, I am currently working on a site-specific and living fountain installation that considers the relationship between human-made structures and nonhuman subjectivities. The work will be installed in September of this year at The Plumb in Toronto.

Over the next year and beyond, I’ll be focussing my work and research around illness, ritual, and salts in healing practices. I start to think of the body as a collection of not only socio-cultural agencies but also cellular and molecular autonomies that happen to coalesce for a short while. Across dozens of hospitalizations, I’ve encountered the word “mysterious” followed by “saline”. In my experience, saline drips have come to represent a liquid acknowledgment of illness without the ability to treat it. While ER's are not set up for the more elusive ailments such as my own, there is something to be said for the temporary powers of medicalized salts and saline solutions. For a moment, the sick body reanimates. Between curative and corrosive, and from sacred circles and lachrymatories, there is mystery in salts that I am eager to explore. With an interest in theories of animacy and the decentering of human subjectivities, I begin in turn to question the animating potential versus the agential qualities of salt.

“Body Double” detail 4
Plaster, concrete, resin, silicone, pigment, fishnet stocking, wood, paint
55 x 80 x 38 inches

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

Hah! Well, my studio can become a life-sized Tetris game at times, given the scale of work that I tend to make. So, I’d either tell myself to stick with small-scale 2D works and/or take more university-level microbiology courses. It’s never too late, at least for the latter.

“Harness for Self-Reflection” (2021)
Installation detail
Inkjet prints on habotai silk, copper, cotton cord, acrylic mirror
116 x 116 x 85”

About the Artist

Based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Laura Hudspith holds a BFA from Concordia University and is pursuing her MFA at Carnegie Mellon University. She has exhibited her work and participated in residencies in both Canada and the United States, notably with solo exhibitions at This Month Only, and Project Gallery, Toronto; and such residencies as the James Black Gallery, Vancouver; Wreck City, Calgary; and the Red Lodge Clay Center, Montana. Hudspith’s work has received recognition from national and international granting bodies including the Toronto Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council, The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, and the Studio for Creative Inquiry.

View Artist Profile

Headshot photo credit: Tamara Léger