Q and A: Fibre Artist Molly Kent

Forest Arts’ Emily talks to Edinburgh-based artist Molly Kent about process, contrast and doubt.

How would you describe your art practice?

My practice sits within the fields of fibre and installation art, with my practice concerned with representing my personal doubt in the digital age through the traditional medium of rug tufting. I draw on contemporary existence with reference to social media and living in an internet driven environment through the visual aesthetic of glitch art. Through acidic/toxic colours, unsettling phrases and organic amoeba like forms, the work intends to overwhelm the senses and mirror the feeling of doubt. Taking the domestic form of the rug and shifting it in presentation, the objects I make begin to climb walls and morph before us resembling viral or bacterial forms. This plays on the idea that doubt can be perceived as a disease that, overtime, shifts and morphs to continue its hold over us.

While my work comes from a personal starting point, the phrases are somewhat ambiguous, and as a result the viewer can attach their own meaning to them. So when entering the installation space the objects are destined for it becomes about their own doubts, seeing the projection of the emotion and sensation of doubt in a physical, tangible space they can interact with. 

What attracted you to rug tufting and how long did it take you to master the skill?

I’d reached a stage in my practice, where previously I was working with print and collage, but wanted to push forwards with expanding the potential for surface texture to be a defining feature of my practice. I’d previously worked with textiles and embroidery, and so working with textiles in some way felt comfortable and appropriate, but I knew I wanted to try something new. I’ve always been a big fan of trying to teach myself new skills, and after seeing a few artists in Instagram and online working with rug tufting, it felt like the perfect fit! 

I’d definitely say I haven’t mastered it. It’s taken me the best part of a year to find the equipment and materials I need to make the most successful work, and even then, you learn more as you go. I’ve gone through so many different fabrics, had some absolute disasters, and have a cry here and there when machinery has gone a tad wrong. While I’d say I have a good grasp of the medium now, there’s always something new to try, which I think is what keeps me so in love with the process. 

Your work is such a pleasing blend of traditional craft and modern concepts. I feel like we’re seeing that combination more and more in contemporary art practice. Can you talk a bit about ‘art vs. craft’ and if that mix of old processes and new ideas holds any special significance for you?

Art vs craft is an interesting one, because I think coming from a more formal arts education, working in communal art studios, what I make is always framed through the lens of art and art history. But I’ve always loved crafts, I helped run the knitting club in primary school, and did volunteer work for a few arts organisations helping them teach classes where I’d usually work with yarn or sewing. So in that sense craft is important to me, and is maybe the reason I’ve circled back to working with it, it’s a comforting and therapeutic practice which is very important to me.

I definitely think that the mix of old and new is important coming from a background of art history as well, my interests either fall into contemporary practice or very early production of objects. So something like rug making which has a huge cultural significance worldwide and being able to understand its previous uses, but reinvent this into something that sits within contemporary existence is interesting to play with. I’ve been doing some research into rug making, and for example rugs would be commissioned by wealthy families to commemorate important events like marriages or births, and in a sense ultimately offering us a snapshot into life at the time through imagery and heraldry etc. Ultimately, I’m trying to do something similar. Offering a record of my personal feelings within our current landscape, that could be looked back on in future as a record of a shared experience.

There are many contrasts in your work: organic shapes vs digital imagery, unsettling words and colours vs. soft materials. Your work seems to straddle the line between comfort and discomfort – would you characterise it that way?

Definitely, I’ve created a strange paradox that makes for (in my opinion) an interesting reading of the work. There’s a constant battle for dominance in what matters most. I suppose it’s developed from a wide array of research, the organic shapes from looking at amoebas and virus structures, and digital glitch as a representation of what doubt is, a glitch in our minds that turns rational thoughts into something far more twisted. Then, when brought together, links begin to form that interlink the research quite well and so the paradox between the physical properties and underlying meaning works quite well. 

Your use of words and lettering in your pieces is really successful. That’s not an easy thing to achieve! Do you have a literary practice as well?

The honest answer is no, I’m actually quite dyslexic. I first started using text within my artwork during my foundation year, using single words to try and aid in bringing across a particular emotion and feeling, as I’ve always struggled to find the right words to do this verbally. But carefully and with consideration, choosing a single word or phrase that represents that feeling, to then give to the viewer works best for me. I think the reason I’ve continued to use text in my artwork is to challenge myself, I’ve struggled through education to write in a coherent way. Using it within my art gives the words a new purpose, so challenging me to craft phrases that have a strong presence, and furthering that through the visual presentation of them. 

In terms of the visual portrayal of text through my work, I’ve been interested in graphic design from a young age and so have learnt bits and pieces over the years. I’m definitely not an expert by any means, but say learning the difference between open and closed fonts and how this alters the reading of the text, has been beneficial to my practice. Learning more about typography is something I’d like to graduate more time to once I’ve graduated this summer. 

Rug tufting and fiber arts are quite process heavy and I imagine require a fair amount of tools and physical space. Has the pandemic affected your ability to make work? Are you able to work from home?

I’m extremely lucky to be able to work from home as normal, as mine and my partner’s flat has a spare room. Some of the machinery I use is quite noisy, and so when I was getting to a stage in my practice that I was needing to use the rug tufting machines daily, I migrated most of my production from studios in Edinburgh college of art to home. But it’s not entirely ideal, the rugs are made by tufting into a backing fabric that has to be stretched across a frame to be drum tight, and in order to scale up my work, my current frame is 2m across and takes up a large amount of space in the room. Not to mention the amount of yarn each rug needs. My newest pieces use between 2-4kg of yarn each, so tying to store enough in the flat is difficult. The spare room is currently overrun with yarn bought in the case that I couldn’t make any orders, as well as the underneath of our bed taken up by boxes and boxes of yarn and fabric. 

The pandemic has brought us into a new era in which we are even more heavily reliant on the digital world and less connected to physical space. How do you feel about that? Have your doubts intensified? Has this new normal influenced your work in new ways?

It’s an interesting question, because whilst my work looks to be completed with a level of confidence and assurance, there’s days where I’m so overrun by doubts it’s difficult to make it at all. Which is a side to the work people don’t see, but a lot of the phrases come through self criticality as a result of my PTSD, and when people are able to connect to the work in some way, it does help ease some doubts. Often when planning and then making one of the rugs, the entire time I’ll be convinced that it’s terrible and going to turn out looking awful, but when I get lost in the physicality of the process, that ebbs away, albeit temporarily. Having now lost communal studio spaces where I could seek out advice and constructive feedback from tutors, with that gone, the process seems more intimidating than it once was.

But at the same time, being inside 24/7 has led me to seek out new communities through social media, and explore different avenues to receive feedback. I’ve been lucky to have had such a positive reception to my work so far, and it’s the lovely comments and people even wanting to buy my work that helps lessen those doubts for a while, because if other people can see the worth in what I’m doing, it helps remind me that I must be doing something right. These comments also do influence the way I work, if a particular work has a better reception to another, I’ll often pick apart the differences and try to identify what must be working well in one, to implement in future work. So in a way, the shift towards digital viewing of the work has been great, but ultimately I want people to be able to see it in the flesh. The concept for my degree show was an installation space that was meant to engage the senses, with an emphasis on sight and touch. Hopefully, when safe to do so, I’ll be able to exhibit the work and invite people to interact with the work, and explore the surfaces of the rugs for themselves.

Molly will be sharing some of her work on our instagram page and will give a live demonstration of her process on Tuesday 28 April.

See more of Molly’s work here.

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