In the Studio with Anne Marie Taggart

Anne Marie Taggart Sculpture

Installation view of “Stasis”, Ulster University Art Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Tony Corey

Anne Marie Taggart’s sculptures are not built upon the past narratives of their curious found materials, but upon the effect of their dislocation. The artist brings once familiar, now increasingly alien forms together: scrambling, interrupting and re-routing their timelines, bridging the domestic and the institutional, and playing with the uncanny effect upon us.

When working collectively, as in Stasis, Taggart’s most recent exhibition at Ulster University, the sculptures evoke a modern, concentrated perception of past life. They are reminiscent of contemporary film props used for a Victorian setting: made to look old, despite apparently being of that period. Yet, at the same time, they suggest something post-human. Their obsolescence releases form from function: the sculpture is a half-living thing, yet delicately, temporarily crafted together.

Anne Marie Taggart Sculpture

Anne Marie Taggart, Untitled, 2016. Glass and Metal. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Tony Corey

Processes and interpretations of cryonics has been one of your starting points for the exhibition – could you go into how this started and where this took you in your work?

Before I started making work for my show “Stasis” I had been interested in the idea of how certain skilled trades, tools, and machines were becoming obsolete. I was thinking about how mankind functions and evolves, perhaps existing without objects in the future.

As a sculptor, I assemble intuitively and then reflect. During the process of making my first piece, which was to become Sleeper, the coming together of objects, materials and form evoked a sense of future and transformation. This in turn led me to the practice of cryonics, the concept of how, in the future, a person who has died could live again, providing that the brain was fully operational. In an unspecified period of time, if ever, that person could function in a different form – not necessarily in his or her own body. Timing and process is of the utmost importance in order to stand a real chance of future revival; the procedure and practice followed by the medical team is reminiscent of Egyptian ritual in preparation for the afterlife.

I read a story about a French couple that, in the 1970s, had embarked on their own homemade attempt at cryonics using chest freezers. Both lived in the countryside and each died separately. They had made an agreement with their son that he would monitor the condition of their frozen bodies after death.  Unfortunately, the couple ended up defrosting over their garage floor, due to neglect and lack of maintenance on their son’s part, and that was the end of that.

Anne Marie Taggart Sculpture

Anne Marie Taggart, Untitled, 2016. Wood, Metal, Wool and Leather. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Tony Corey

As crude as the French couple’s attempt at cryonics seems, it highlights the available technology at one’s disposal. The procedures and tools being used now could be obsolete and considered archaic in the future, rendering the whole operation futile.

This led me to look at surgical tools used to perform operations in the Victorian era, the curious qualities of form and function coupled with old-fashioned methods of surgery.  Tools that once were modern and valued are now relegated to museums as curiosities. 

The stopgap nature of that subject is really prevalent in the mixed, possibly projected narratives at work in your exhibition. The anthropomorphic and ergonomic qualities of your pieces create a really visceral response, especially in how detailed the combinations are and the strength of their silhouettes; there’s something very pictorial about it. Does your drawing process reflect your making process?

In making work with regard to the subject of cryonics, I found if I tried to be prescriptive in what I was doing, the work became too literal and forced. I am much happier and more successful when I play with the materials, free from thought. Sculpture and drawing for me are image driven and have a similar process in their development.  In my drawing practice now, I don’t illustrate – it’s more of an automatic visual response to form and texture I see in the everyday.  Although the drawings are abstract, I find myself grounding them to the floor or suspending from above.  I call these future drawings.  Not sculptures I intend to make but images harnessed and mentally recorded on paper. It’s a form of processing visual information.

The found objects I use in my sculptures have the formal qualities of drawing. I see them as line and texture that I “collage” in the physical making of sculpture. These objects are foraged from abandoned areas of Belfast, where I choose them on the strength of my emotional response to their form. Because of this intuitive way of working, I find this gives my work a more visceral quality. The relationship each object has to the other is also important – such as if it fits inside each other or slots together perfectly, despite being disparate objects.

Anne Marie Taggart Sculpture

Anne Marie Taggart, Sleeper, 2016. Cling film, Metal and Ceramic. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Tony Corey

What has been said about my sculptures is that viewers want to touch them.  I think this is an emotional response borne out of familiarity and knowledge of the object through the viewer’s history and experience of being in the world. A domestic object – be it a sink, wine-rack, handle, or plughole – has been handled by people in their day-to-day lives, whereas in a gallery environment, one is dissuaded from touching. Also, some components, such as in Sleeper, hold an action: the egg slicer and meat grinder mentally proposes the physical violence of an operation.

Another important aspect of how the viewer relates to the pieces is the size of the sculptures – being people-sized and smaller they appear intimate and non-threatening.  I see all my work as having their own personalities, on the cusp of movement and life.

There’s also something appealing about the temporary adhesions or draping in your pieces – is your work ever “reborn” in alternative forms?

When I was setting up for the exhibition, most of my work was transported in huge bags; the technician I was working with was at odds to see where the art was. He laid all the small components on the floor, Tony Cragg style. I then set about assembling the pieces as though from kit form, no glue or nails needed – I rely a lot on balancing the objects within the work and using simple clip fastenings when necessary.  This allows me to work a lot more quickly when creating in the studio, and gives a self-sufficient element to my work.

The difficulty and the reality of being a contemporary sculptor is what to do with the pieces when they have been shown in an exhibition. I have a large collection of small found objects in my studio from which I draw from to make new work, and I am always on the look out for new objects.  I have reused certain objects from other sculptures I have made to create new pieces and would have no problem “borrowing” them again when appropriate.

Anne Marie Taggart Sculpture

Anne Marie Taggart, Parallelaleg, 2016, Wood. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Tony Corey

Alongside playing with a grey area between domestic and institutional objects, you also make some references to other artist’s work.

One of the items you refer to was a small object I found in an alleyway behind my house.  At one time it would have been part of a ceiling chandelier, but when I saw it, it reminded me of The Bottle Rack by Duchamp. Its inclusion in the show is more of a private joke with myself, and a nod to the anarchic and humorous undertones in my work.

Whilst creating this body of work I had been contemplating Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, in relation to its mechanical references, and in particular to the suggested movement within the piece. For some time now I have been interested in creating artworks that have movement: possibly sound or film – this is where I can see my work going in the future.

By Dorothy Hunter

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