A posthuman land under a lilac sky: Q&A with Kat Hall
Alumnus Kat Hall was announced as the winner of the highly coveted KARST Graduate Residency 2018/19 at our annual Degree Shows last year, since then they've been working on a new series of artworks, set to be unveiled at contemporary arts space KARST on Friday 25 January 2019.
We sat down with fine artist Kat to talk about the upcoming show, breaking down creative blocks and the process behind their posthuman landscapes...
We were blown away by your work at our Degree Shows, can you tell us about what you’ve been working on since then?
Thank you! Well, I took a few months to relax and focused on my writing. When September came around I was ready to open up my sketchbook again. I focused my time at KARST on foraging for materials in Plymouth Play Scrapstore - all of the objects in there are imbued with their own personal histories. I have a tendency to see them as beings rather than as objects, and their time with me is only temporary.
A lot of the stuff that we use in our contemporary lifestyles is going to outlive us, and I used my residency to think about what might happen to these objects once they are no longer in use. In this sense, the scrap store is like a lens into the future: a world filled with forgotten objects.
How did it feel to be awarded the KARST graduate residency?
Amazing! Ever since I found out about it in second year I knew I wanted to apply. I told myself I wouldn’t cry when they made the announcements but there’s a picture of me all red-eyed and weepy on the Grad Show slideshow in Studio 11!
Tell us about the experience of working in a studio at KARST.
For the most part, I was working alone. KARST does provide support in the form of tutorials and crits, but it is very different to the support provided at college. Being in a studio for two rather than thirty plus means that you have no distractions, but it also means that you have to trust your own judgment.
College was a place where I could learn with my peers, whereas at KARST I was teaching myself as an emerging artist, and had to hold my own hand. I have learned a lot of invaluable lessons about what it means to be a practicing artist outside of an educational institution.
In what way has the residency influenced your practice?
I have become much more process-oriented than I was at college. Although I love the theory behind Fine Art, I did find that it would sometimes get in the way of me making, as I was thinking through ideas and dismissing them before I’d even got to the experimental stage. At KARST, however, I made a conscious effort to ignore the voice in the back of my head going: “yes, but what does it mean?” and just trust the process. Through this, I gained confidence in my material expression, and the knowledge I had already gained during my degree.
Can you give us an insight into your working process? How do you get from start to finish?
A lot of my work is temporary, like my degree show work ‘real posthuman hours’, and one of the series I made in KARST, Lost & Found, consists entirely of found objects that I arranged, documented, and then disbanded.
I like to work with pre-existing objects, as I am intrigued by their history. Quite often, they make it into my work only to part from me and continue on their own journey. Because of this, I don’t think of my works as having a concrete start and finish; it is more like the materials are temporarily experiencing being part of my artwork.
What themes seem to occur or reoccur in your work?
Throughout the course of my degree, I developed an ongoing dialogue between my role as an artist/human and my chosen medium’s role both as a material and as an independent object. A lot of my work involves creating sculptural bodies from a mixture of traditional artist’s materials and found objects, which I then use to navigate contemporary ecologies and explore posthuman futures. This has stemmed from my anxieties of growing up in a politically, socially and environmentally volatile world.
What gets you through a tough studio day?
If I’m really not feeling it, I’ll give myself an hour to complete a relatively simple task. Once done, I quite often find myself getting back into the swing of things. If, after the hour, I’m still feeling rotten, I’ll pack up and go home. It’s important to take care of your physical and mental health - more important than that email, drawing, or whatever that can almost definitely wait until the morning.
What do you read, listen to, or look at to fuel your work and find inspiration?
I follow a lot of artists, curators and galleries on Instagram, and use the save function for works that inspire me. When I’m feeling at a lost end I can scroll through it, and it often helps spark creativity.
I also read a lot of dystopian sci-fi, post-apocalyptic and climate disaster novels that discuss the human condition and our relationship to the planet. Some of my favourite authors include J.G. Ballard, John Wyndham and Maja Lunde. Currently, I am reading Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, set in Kent 2000 years after a nuclear war. The novel is written in an imagined dialect of future English, giving it an enticingly alien quality.
Tell us about your time at the college, what was a highlight for you?
To be honest, I almost failed first year and was worried I wouldn’t be allowed back in September. That gave me a massive kick up the butt and made me realise that I had to put in the work to get to where I wanted to be. So in second year I made an effort to improve my attendance and volunteered to help in The Gallery. This opened up new possibilities such as showing my work as part of Noam Toran’s The Jungle, and from then on my productivity snowballed.
I was approached by the Students Union to put on my own show in The Refectory as part of their Green Week campaign. Other opportunities I got through Plymouth College of Art included working on the team for Artist’s Jamboree as an ‘Observer’, running the social media accounts and writing up reports. I also worked with alumni on their projects, such as Elena Brake’s Metal Detectives and then Cleaning in Progress the following year. These experiences led to new friendships and connections, and they were all thanks to the support and opportunities provided by the college.
Based on your experiences, what advice would you give students who are due to graduate this year?
Network. Graduate life can be lonely, so finding a support system in the form of other creative people can be great. Schedule meet-ups with your friends over lunch to discuss how your projects are going, and any new opportunities you have spotted. Keep an eye out online, a-n, curatorspace, and VASW are good for regional, national and international opportunities.
But also, don’t panic if you don’t want to pick up your sketchbook for a few weeks, or even months. Completing a degree is exhausting, and you deserve a break. I didn’t touch my sketchbook for 10 weeks after the show!
What’s next for you?
Once the show is over I’m going to turn my attention to MFA and studio applications, I am currently looking at Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle. I’m a northern kid at heart, and although I have fallen in love with Plymouth and its charms (minus the sea, it’s surprisingly similar to my hometown of Sheffield), I think after three and a half years it’s time to go and experience somewhere new.
What can we expect to see at the KARST Graduate Residency exhibition?
Lots of things… little things, big things, soft things and hard things all experiencing their own version of the world. Having come together under a lilac sky, they are no longer serving an objective purpose. Instead, they present to us their material identity as uncanny agents in a posthuman land.
See Kat's work at the KARST Graduate Residency 18/19 Exhibition from Saturday 26 - Sunday 27 January 2019, 11am - 5pm. See a preview of the work and a performance piece at the opening night on Friday 25 January, 7-10pm, free & open to all. Hear Kat discuss the work at an Artist Talk on Saturday 26 January, 4-5pm.