This January we welcome the 17th edition of the Gladstone’s alternative art and design event, Come Up To My Room. As the hotel’s longest-running annual exhibition, CUTMR inspires new conversations and alternative ways of thinking about the intersection of art and design. Using the historic hotel as a platform for site-specific and immersive installations, artists challenge themselves and take risks in an unconventional setting, and visitors explore these new ideas and engage in conversation with the artists.
We had the special opportunity to take a look behind the scenes with participating artist Heidi McKenzie, exploring the ideas behind her project and process for CUTMR 2020. Seeing a work in progress sheds light on an artist’s decision-making process, highlighting their individual ways of fabricating, their consideration and their genuine nature of dealing with the expected and unexpected while creating.
Embracing ceramics with a sensitivity to its changing state and unpredictability, Heidi connects her personal health journey dealing with chronic illness to the history of clay as a material.
A short walk from the Gladstone is Heidi’s home studio. We’re immediately welcomed into an artistic environment with a collection of works from her own practice, other local ceramic artists and teachers along her journey line the shelves on her walls.
Introductions and small talk lead naturally into the kitchen where we had our choice of handmade mugs to drink a welcoming pot of ginger turmeric tea.
Making our way down narrow steps, Heidi leads us into the space where the creative magic happens. For most ceramic artists, a major part of their practice is going to a community studio to fire and glaze their works, but Heidi built everything she needs in her small and compact, yet highly organized home studio. A table is filled with works in progress, shelves are lined with glaze tests and containers of natural pigments, and an electric kiln sits in the space formerly occupied by a bathroom.
In ceramics, the functionality of an object often takes first priority. Pieces like wheel-thrown cups or bowls are designed to hold a hot drink or food, and then their aesthetics are considered. Ceramics may be less known as sculptural material. Heidi works with both functional and conceptual methods of making, but for CUTMR, she uses ceramics as an art material, the cornerstone of a multi-media installation.
One component of Heidi’s project focuses on geometric shapes that are created with custom hand built vices, where clay is carefully poured inside forming sculptural pieces. Abstract images of her body are transferred onto the surface of the clay, by firing iron oxide-rich waterslide decals on to the faces of the shapes. Relief sculptures depicting her body’s organs add to the narrative.
Using clay, sound, and video Heidi’s installation asks — what is it like to embody a human vessel that is invisibly fractured?
Heidi’s experience with clay has been an important expressive outlet during her personal journey of living and coping with her chronic illness. Dealing with the unexpected nature of chronic fibromyalgia and congenital kidney disease, Heidi continuously uses her body as inspiration for her work.
“I want to create a space where people are immersed in the awareness of the fragility, strength, and resilience of the human body. I feel that many people take their health for granted, and by sharing my experience of chronic and congenital illness from a positive outcome perspective, it will make them reflect on the condition of millions of other people who live with compromised health.
Some days feel full of struggle and defeat; other times I am filled with gratitude, serenity and optimism. It has not been easy but I have created these works: their very existence affirms, “yes, I am here.”
Heidi’s installation embodies the spirit of CUTMR. Giving artists a platform to explore ideas from their own unique perspectives and encouraging storytelling through personal experiences is what makes the event so special. Immersive installations like Heidi’s, invite visitors to physically step into an artwork or design experience and create connections to their own lives, while learning about someone else’s.
This year’s artists bring projects that will make you consider, critique, reflect, inspire and even laugh out loud — all part of the magic of Come Up To My Room.
Interested in seeing Heidi’s project and more at Come Up To My Room 2020?
If you are interested in helping out behind the scenes at Come Up To My Room 2020, please email email@example.com about volunteer opportunities!