Spend Thrift

Hannah Harding talks to Kate McDonnell about her one kilometre drawing amongst other pieces.

HH: Tell me a little bit about the four pieces you submitted.

KM: Firstly, I’ve got two works from my Spendthrift series. One is called Spend Thrift: One Kilometre Drawing. It is 1km of till receipt roll completely redacted with black ballpoint pen. It’s coiled on to a table. It is about overspending and the sickening feeling when your finances fall apart. My work is very process-based – taking an action and trying to run with it. In redacting, there is an implied shame.

The other Spendthrift piece is made of used till receipts that have been redacted in the same way but is instead mounted on the wall. When you use ballpoint pen it has different qualities on different papers. It ends up looking multi-coloured – it is quite dark, so you’ve got blacks and blues, some of it goes really metallic. You can’t initially tell what it is made of – it doesn’t look like paper, it looks like metal.

HH: When I looked at the image of this piece on the online gallery, I did notice the different tones and wondered if it was a different pen – I was wondering what was happening there, how do you even get that quality to the same material.

KM: It is one of those things that you wouldn’t know that until you sat down and started redacting. The process was all done by me by hand. I had to limit myself, I could only do an hour a day eventually, so it took me a year because it is both sides of the paper.

HH: You think you’re done when you have finished one side, and then all of a sudden you realise you have to flip it over!

KM: I did a bit and then turned it over because it would have been a bit depressing doing it one side at a time!

HH: I can imagine. Then you have Screw Up, Repeat and Rant, Regret, Repeat – those are the other two pieces you have submitted.

KM: Rant, Regret, Repeat, again, has an action of shame as part of the process. The ranting is the writing – done very quickly in big black letters. And then the regret is the scrubbing away with wire wool. And then the process is repeated. Sometimes it is difficult to know when to stop, but the repetition is important because it makes the work bigger without occupying more space. There is a labour involved that is interesting to explore. It’s good to work on aluminium because I can be a lot rougher with it than I can be with paper.

The final piece is Screw Up, Repeat, which came from a group show called Blue Monday. The idea of the show was that all the artists used the same blue tissue paper – and amazing, different types of work came out of it. I made an entire wall of scrunched up paper. So again, it is that action of taking the paper, scrunching it up and then regretting it and trying to flatten it out again. There is a destructive act, and then an almost caring one, and then the cycle repeats over and over again. I take it up to the point just before the paper falls apart.

HH: What has really hit me as you talk about these pieces is this time element that accompanies all of them. Like you said, there is this labour, which I think brings each piece a whole new depth. It is nice to see something that is even more about the process than it is about the product that you present.

KM: I call it “purposeless activity”. It is that agitation where you can’t sit still; you’ve got to do something. It comes from that, but it is also based in post-minimalism and process art.

I think what is also interesting is that the work ‘doesn’t look like what it is’. And that is slightly unsettling. There is certainly an allusion to mental illness, and the uneasiness that a lot of people carry around inside them. But I am not a “mental health artist” and I don’t want anyone to think that I am being expressionist – that is a line I am trying to balance at the moment. I find it difficult to navigate. What I am trying to do is be a little bit more objective in my approach. When you talk about mental health people automatically go “Oh, it’s a terribly sad story, tell me more.” There’s a sensationalism about it that I find exploitative.

HH: I think regardless you’re doing it very successfully! How do you feel your style has developed over the years?

KM: Thank you! I graduated from my MFA in 2018 at Bath Spa, so all of this work is new since then. My work was completely different at the beginning of my MFA, so I learnt a lot! Before that I trained as a designer, and studied Design Management at De Montfort University, and I did a postgraduate at Central Saint Martins in Design Studies. I’ve worked as a magazine designer for about 20 years and I am still doing it as a side hustle.

HH: How did you find the shift into the fine art world?

KM: I always wanted to be an artist. When you’re young you’re told that art isn’t a real job – it’s that old story. But I definitely transferred a lot of my design skills. Being able to put together a presentation and a nice looking proposal, knowing how to run a photoshoot and being able to edit images is incredibly useful.

HH: You mention this knowledge of photography, and being able to faithfully capture your work must be important because it is so physical, it is very much in the space, from what I have experienced of the pieces anyway – how have you found the extra shift to the digital that we are going through at the moment with the pandemic?

KM: It has been interesting because documentation is such an important part of installation art anyway but is has certainly prompted me to put more of it out there over the last year. Actually, when I finished my MFA, I didn’t have any work, because I burned it all to make pigment for my final show. I only showed two pieces, and I’ve been busy getting a body of work together. And of course I haven’t been able to show anything recently – half of my post-MFA career has been in lockdown.

HH: All that extra time inside seems to have given you even more opportunity to focus making!

KM: I’ve started doing some more video work, because I was lucky enough to win a SANE Creative Award, and they’ve paid for a whole bunch of photographic equipment – a steady cam and some studio lights. So I have been playing around with those and making my social media a bit more interesting.

What’s also been fun is making installations in the flat. A gallery space is usually very precise and beautiful, and everybody understands it, but as soon as you put it into a domestic setting, the work starts taking on different meanings, bringing that darkness in the home. It’s something I wouldn’t have done if it wasn’t for the pandemic.

HH: It must be nice to utilise the different skills you have to showcase your work on a different platform, whether on social media or in your kitchen! It is always fascinating to me to see how people translate their own work into different exhibition ‘spaces’. And what advice do you have for someone who wants to start in sculpture and installation?

KM: I think the most important thing is to try and get an education. Get yourself to art school. When I started my MFA I really had no idea what contemporary art was. I knew what it looked like, but I didn’t really understand it. Half-way through I went, “Ohhh, right”, and that is when my practice went into three dimensions. I just followed the ideas.


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