For this latest blog post, I talked to landscape artist Katie Taylor. Katie has lived in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, since she was born and is currently studying Contemporary Art Practice at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen city. She was recently involved in a residency project at Citymoves Dance Agency SCIO and took part in their 15th DanceLive festival.
As an inherent part of Katie’s work, the natural world is a recurring theme throughout this article, speaking of hiking in the hills; moving and dancing to explore her relationship to the landscape; or finding ways to connect others with outdoor spaces. Read on to find out more about Katie's visual art practice.
Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?
I work in both my home studio and a studio at my art school, but both of these places have been quite difficult to create work in recently. Neither feels like a base for me at the moment so I'm finding that most of my ideas and developments of work come from being outside. My practice is in being in the outdoors, usually hiking in fairly isolated places with no one else around.
I work very well when I have never been to a particular place before. I enjoy the sense of being alone in the unknown. Last week I went hiking in the Cairngorms (a national park in the northeast of Scotland), which is where I make a lot of my work. I went there by myself to do a shoot and it was lovely! I’m going back next week however after that I probably won’t go there again. I enjoy instinctive working – if you find a place and it feels right, then stick with it. There is always a need for a comforting place to go back to, which for me, I guess, is Aberdeen as a whole, but I do enjoy exploring the new.
How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?
In the past few years, I have worked with film and video editing, and a lot of the time it was less about the process of filming, and more about how I was editing it. That became a practice in itself. But recently I have felt the need to stay away from the screen! I didn’t want to be completely digitally based; I wanted to be more tactile. When creating, poetry and thoughts often come first, questioning "What do these words all mean?" From there, I start generating ideas. Film photography is a main medium but this comes from the poetry.
Performance and movement is also part of my practice. I’m a dancer - I have been since I was two years old - and it was sad for me when I decided not to go to a vocational dance school to pursue art school instead. Therefore I always wanted movement to be prevalent in my work. I do a lot of movement that interprets the landscape and moving as if the body is part of the land, often exploring skin and contact work.
I did a residency project in January called Open Sessions with my artistic partner Laura Booth. We worked with musicians, dancers and visual artists – it was hard to define the words movement artist, visual artist, audio artist as we are all artists doing different things! All nine of us were improvising, using movement, drawing of movement, and further movement happening in response to sounds. All of it was feeding off each other. Mark making plays a big role in allowing movement to develop.
What is the main subject of your inspiration?
Bodies and their senses, and how they connect to outdoor elements. I often question what happens when one sense is lost? How does this affect the other senses? There is this balance between humans and the landscape, or humans on Earth, and I’m trying to figure out what this balance is. Being based in the outdoors, nature and the ecology of a place are also important: the people, the trees, the sounds, the smells, these aspects all make up a place.
We wanted to travel with the work we created in January for the residency project as it's interesting to see what makes the work different when in different places, and asking yourself "What do you need to do to adapt to a different place?" There is a dialect that has to happen with the place you are in. This is unique for everyone as people react to different things. This is why I’m interested in questioning what makes up a space and why?
"I'm inspired by bodies and their senses, and how they connect to outdoor elements. I often question what happens when one sense is lost? How does this affect the other senses?"
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m focusing on how to connect with people, and whether this is relevant now or not. Are online platforms still a genuine place of connection? I have been looking into cyborgs, which are a type of cyber organism, and questioning whether they are authentic. For example: there is something called a “Hug Shirt,” and someone can put it on to feel the same hug and warmth as you would with another person. Is this our way forward? Is this how we are going to adapt in this current climate?
I have just finished working on a project for DanceLive Festival in Aberdeen, which I would describe as a big instinctive, collaborative, play: Clearing was my project within this, with Laura. It was challenging to create something that was still authentic without being able to bring a large group of people together in one space. We had a look back at our time in lockdown when the sea was a special place for us. We would go down to the beach to clear our head and gain a clearer view, which is where the name Clearing comes from. This instinctive joyous practice allows everyone to join: this could be organising and stacking rocks, or stacking some cutlery in your kitchen; or looking at the blue sea, or looking at your blue wall. We wanted to build a space that was ours, being by the sea, but also make it universal so that anyone could be involved. We chose the beach as we realised that everyone was already doing it: a child was playing in the sand, a family was stacking rocks, people were in the sea… We wanted to create a platform to celebrate this connection. We have a few more residencies lined up for this with the hope that we can keep exploring how to bring people together.
There are a lot of interesting patterns happening right now. I have been exploring this patterning and mapping of people, and questioning why we are all circulating around these certain points. The Earth is still the Earth – it hasn’t become restricted but we have become restricted to these particular areas.
What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?
In the broadest sense, this is noticing what is around you. There is a complete awareness, which I link back to the ecology of a place: the smells around you, what you can hear, people walking past you, or trees moving in the breeze. I find it challenging to define!
Sense of place is definitely relevant to my work. I look at the senses a lot. There are seven senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, plus the two extra ones which encompass your balance and knowledge of where you are in space (vestibular & proprioception). I often take one sense away and see how this impacts upon the others. Recently, I have been on a few foggy hikes and you can’t see as much as you would do normally, everything is white and hazy, and this heightens your sense of sound for example. We often don’t realise what we have until it has gone. This is something I want to explore more of. At the moment, during the pandemic, we are all experiencing a lack of touch, so we are all in this new sense of place where touch isn’t allowed.
Are there elements of your work that connect with or are inspired by the natural world?
At first, I almost needed to give myself permission to let myself be a landscape artist, and whether this was a relevant field to explore. But the natural world resonates with so many people that of course it’s relevant! Now I would say that all of my work in connected to the natural world. I think it’s the way forward. Everyone’s talking about everything else going on in the news, but the natural world is the most relevant thing in my opinion. This is why I make art that is related to it.
I have two extremes of landscapes that I am drawn to: I love being in the sea and I go wild swimming every week; but I also love being in a very vast landscape with no one else there, which is why I’m drawn to mountains and hills, particularly the Cairngorms.
Does the natural world have a part to play in your everyday life?
The natural world is at risk right now and we need to protect it, so I guess this comes into my everyday actions through recycling, or walking instead of driving. More awareness is needed in how to sustain and protect the natural world.
I often question, "Why do I live in a city?" I find so much peace and sanctuary from being in the outdoors! It’s such an essential part of life, which is why I think everyone should be able to go outside more often. I get such joy from it – why can’t everyone experience this? This is why I am aiming to connect more people with the natural world. We saw during lockdown that people found safe sanctuaries outdoors to go to and I think it’s important that everyone can identify where that is for them.
"I find so much peace and sanctuary from being in the outdoors! It’s such an essential part of life, which is why I think everyone should be able to go outside more often. I get such joy from it – why can’t everyone experience this?"
Do you have a favourite artist or creative individual? Someone who has artistically inspired your work?
Nan Shepherd, a poet whose writing is based in the Cairngorms. Recently there was a beautiful film made about her poetry by Simone Kenyon and Lucy Cash called How the Earth Must See Itself. Shephard’s poetry inspires a lot of my work, using the words as a stimulus. It opened up a new way of working for me – I make work about my experiences, starting with my own words.
Other inspirations are Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long, both of whom are land artists. They both have a lovely way of capturing things in a certain moment, and they question the idea of documentation.
What would your top piece of advice be for creatives navigating their way in the arts industry today?
Be authentic. Don’t change yourself. At times, I have been making work and I have to remind myself to just do what I love and enjoy. You have to be confident with who you are as a person.
Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?
A quote that often comes up for me is “You can’t beat nature.” This relates to so many aspects of life: you can’t beat human nature sometimes, so just let it be; if it’s raining, you can’t change it, so just let it be. Ultimately, the world will be what it will be, but we need to take care of it.
Second Image: Rafeal Bernal Coates.
All Other Images: Artist's Own