Laura Potter discusses New Jewellery, her family, her love of fiction, and her alter-ego
TLJ: Talk me through your new project.
LP: The premise is work made by a woman that’s me but didn’t go to arts school. It’s part me, part exaggeration, part fiction. She’s similar in terms of family, age, views and opinions but has no legitimate outlet for her ideas and anxieties, the legitimacy that allows you to do crazy things without being crazy. She doesn’t have any of this. She puts her ideas into objects made with the mundane materials she has easy access to, with no specialist or technical knowledge. She borrows ideas of craft from her childhood, when her mum or auntie or grandmother made stuff.
TLJ: I’m intrigued. What has she made?
LP: Every Christmas, her mother-in-law gives her an embroidered bookmark kit. She cuts them up and reconfigures them, stitching the outcome. She’s doing what her mother-in-law wants but in a way that expresses dissatisfaction; looking for something beyond following instruction. She could do something big, but knows she’ll never find the time to finish it. She bought a cross-stitch kit of The Hay Wain and cut up the pattern, scrambling the stitching code, but never stitches it. That’s her grand gesture – she explores the image but never actually stitches it.
TLJ: It sounds as if making is how she takes control and establishes agency.
LP: Yes. She gets angry about things. She’s made paint and smoke bombs to ruin her neighbour’s laundry – composed of ceramic figurines, kitchen utensils and sash chord. She makes missiles designed to be thrown through Starbucks’ windows – because it makes her feel inadequate that everyone in there looks like they’re in an advert, it’s an unreal space, people are effortlessly managing their lives. She’s found the closest nail polish colour to the Starbucks green, and paints stones with coffee orders and the postcodes of coffee shops. But she will never throw them – this is about repressed intent. She knows that there’s nothing wrong with her life – there’s no big trauma. She’s comfortable, but she finds that uncomfortable.
TLJ: Is this all a way to rethink your practice?
I don’t think these objects are detached from me – they’re not outsider art because I’m not an outsider, but they’re as near as I can get to freeing myself from my habits of making.
TLJ: She’s inspired by her childhood. So do these objects connect with yours too?
LP: Hugely. I spent a lot of time as a child trying to learn how to paint my nails, only to learn that it is an irrelevant skill. My mother went through a period of painting massive pebbles for doorstops – so there’s a clash of those two memories in the Starbucks pieces. My auntie made 3D pictures, and all my relatives tinkered with embroidery. I made a lot as a child, and I was really observant of what grown-ups were making, which to my child’s eye were more sophisticated. I was working towards those big kits, the Hay Wains.
TLJ: So what happened?
LP: I went to arts school, and that’s the thing! If I hadn’t, would I be following these patterns now? Studying taught me skills – including a thorough introduction to metalwork. I could transform material into stuff, and then I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. So I did an MA to investigate.
TLJ: What work were you interested in when you were studying?
LP: At A Level it was Dada and Surrealism. I was interested in machines and made little contraptions. In Foundation I was into the New Jewellery – I started to read all the books you should read. I loved work that tested boundaries of jewellery through scale or material like Pierre Degen’s piece made out of ladders – it made me feel uncomfortable about what I thought jewellery was. It is such a small world: the people that I looked up to then I now know, and that feels really strange! People like Caroline Broadhead and Hans Stofer. They’re no less heroic to me, but I know them now.
TLJ: Who or what inspires you now?
LP: I moved away from jewellery, and if I’m honest, reading is where I get the most stimulation. It’s where the triggers are for my own thought processes: Kurt Vonnegut and J. G. Ballard.
TLJ: Now you’re making a novel in objects?
LP: I think I’ll creep towards that idea. This is a first effort to see what that looks like.
Laura Potter’s Fictional Final Goal is at Marsden Woo Gallery, London from 14 January to 14 February