"Whether they last a week or several months, residencies allow me to experience a new place and think in new ways."
Katie Spragg, ceramic artist
Katie Spragg: Animating Nature in Finland
Katie Spragg is one of the most exciting ceramic artists working today. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, her pieces have been collected by major arts organisations, from the Victoria and Albert Museum to the Garden Museum in London. Her animations are currently being shown in Finland at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA). British Council Finland spoke to Katie about making, teaching and the importance of the natural environment.
Your work is intended to highlight the forgotten sources of joy that surround us. Have you found this to be a helpful guide over the last year, when the world had been turned upside down by the pandemic?
During the first lockdown in the UK back in March 2020 I was unable to make much art. But as the weather was so warm and sunny, I spent a lot of time outdoors watching other people enjoying nature and observing the environment. I noticed a curiosity in ‘roadside botany’, and the way in which a slower pace of life and personal experiences in a so-called ‘smaller world’ heightened people’s interest in the local world around them.
Are your pieces supposed to comment on how we think about and treat the environment?
My pieces appeal to different people in different ways, often depending on who is looking at them, where and when. It’s heartening that the three animations that are going to be shown at the EMMA, and which feature my ceramic work, have been chosen for Finland. I’ve never been to Finland and I am not sure how the curators found out about them. But it is quite reassuring to know that they’re regarded as potentially interesting for a Finnish audience. My work is often developed around the question of what defines our relationship to nature, from the cultivated garden to the uncultivated garden, as well as the way in which various plants live amongst one another in the same way that we humans learn to do the same. So many of us dwell in urban spaces these days and would seem that a wider appreciation of nature is also teaching us to think about new ways to live together in a more harmonious way. My animations are attempts to reflect how nature, like life, is never frozen in time but constantly changing and adapting. My films explore the temporality of things.
You’ve completed several residencies during your career, from Scotland to Korea to Denmark. How have these, and the ability to be ‘mobile’, helped develop your work?
Residencies, such as that taken in Denmark in 2018, are really important for my evolving practice. Whether they last a week or several months, residencies allow me to experience a new place and think in new ways. One of the animations being shown in Finland, ‘Cheese Grows Blue’ was created whilst in Denmark possibly because just being away from the UK and my normal day to day life allowed me to find the time and space to make it. It explores the place the moon plays in our imagination and also the relationship plants have with the moon, some opening only in moonlight or pollinating once a year during a full moon. The title is taken from a poem about the moon, that I wrote as a child and then rediscovered it in the attic as an adult.
Why is teaching so important to you?
Even though much of it has been online, teaching others over the last year has been one of the things that’s kept me going. I’ve been a Tutor at the Royal College of Art for around three years and have always enjoyed teaching all ages in various ways and in different contexts. I also teach those suffering from dementia, the opportunity for people to dial in and be taught how to work with clay for a while seems to really help with their overall wellbeing. It allows participants from all over the country to come together, share stories, ideas and enjoy a sense of being and working in unison. I don’t think about teaching as anything other as collaborative and a joy. Making and creating things is so important, and something that helps us all get through tough times. It’s interesting to see that the Arts Council England have named their 2020-20230 strategy, ‘Let's Create’. In essence, it aims to celebrate and encourage creativity in us all.
Many of us have been ‘locked up’ due to the pandemic. Has lockdown helped you evolve in any way?
In some ways I’ve relished the time alone and find that it is good for me. In other ways, I feel I need physical interaction. Maybe this is quite normal!