Judging by the appreciative audience which packed South Square Gallery in Thornton for the launch of Couples on 13th January 2011, the combination of Michael Stewart’s poems and Carole Griffiths’ sculptures and paintings, is a most fertile partnership. Although they had previously met at a surrealism seminar, this artistic match was made at Bradford School of Arts & Media’s MA Visual Arts show held at the Yorkshire Craft Centre in September 2010. Michael, an established writer, recognised the perfect foil for a series of poems he had written about couples when he saw the subversive humour of Carole’s work, and approached her about collaborating.
Carole explained, “A lot of my work at the time was to do with desire and so this project followed on really nicely. I was still using the domestic objects that came apart or formed something else. I started thinking about couples and pairs; objects I had originally worked with like the peg, then the hook and eye, then old style Bakelite light switch, needle and thread, press stud, knife and fork…I was looking at pairs and how things are attached to each other, how difficult they are to prise apart; that tense relationship between them when they are together and when apart.
It was the idea of couple I focussed on, its dualism and duality, not the poems themselves. As a sculptor I am most interested in the materiality, for instance, I made light switches out of porcelain which became more disturbing and almost brought them to life. Mundane objects, functional in everyday domestic use, become something else once you start ripping them apart and rearranging them, like catalysts for opposing relationships.
It works as an installation as the poems and the objects both work separately as well as together. We did a film together which is both humorous and surreal. We took the idea of a couple and put them in different scenarios – a graveyard, a disused building, having a picnic in a layby. There is no conversation between the two – it shows that mundane state when a relationship reaches a certain point. We have also done a limited edition book which we may revise and publish on a larger scale. Since the exhibition has been so well received, we are looking at touring it. I would like to show more pieces that I made for it which did not fit into this space, and also develop some more ideas. This is my first show not as part of a group, so it is nice to have the support of someone else who has been out there and had recognition.”
Carole is a passionate advocate of the benefits that artistic practice brings to her role as a lecturer. She said “My own work is a way of teaching. Any technical question I have worked on myself I bring back into the studio, for instance my use of shellac. I run two courses: Level 2 First Diploma in Art & Design and the Level 3 Creative Design for Stage & Screen, as well as teaching on the Foundation course. When I was doing the MA my students responded really well to it. They see more of a purpose in what you do if they can see that as well as teaching, you can still practice your art, keep learning and share with them. You can get a buzz off each other and students realise that there is no end to learning. I still believe in the tradition of making which is coming back in fashion. Making is where things can happen and discoveries are made. I tell my students that it is about the process as much as the end piece. If you don’t get pleasure out of making, you will not enjoy the end product.”