A Common Thread

A Common Thread

Works by Harriet McKay and Sam Gold

Touch and the haptic are fundamental aspects of material and process-oriented art practices. Intimacy between bodies and materials during long periods of repetitive physical engagement engenders artwork that is guided by the procurement of material knowledge, and processes that activate relational and often cathartic experiences. Sam Gold and Harriet McKay explore these processes of connectedness, a common thread aligning their distinct approaches to making.

Gold draws attention to the labour of hands that manipulate threads of clay. Repetitive movements conjoin body, material and mind to form voluminous structures that lay bare the rhythms of making. McKay’s intensive processes of layering threads of naturally dyed felt, calico and raw canvas, form rich and worn textured surfaces. McKay’s fibrous collages disclose the reiterative hand and material interplay.

Time is fundamental to Gold and McKay’s individual practices because both artists embrace repetitive crafting, as does Adelaide textile artist Sera Waters who refers to her own practice as ‘using time to make time …’[1] Waters describes a repetitive body and object interaction as opening space for thinking about the world in a different way. Therefore, immersive making may be understood as activating an interconnection between body, material and mind. As philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty argues, all our senses are connected, both body and mind are needed to form experience.[2]

From the perspective of the viewer, art objects that reveal enduring acts of making can trigger a prolonged moment of consideration. The duration of the making and the artist’s time is often noticeably apparent, and the viewer reciprocates by spending time with the work as its fullness unfolds. [3]

Gold’s groupings of stoic, bulbous forms emanate a silent strength. The viewer is able to glimpse inside these vessels, through mostly small openings, that provide access to a hidden, mysterious inner space. For Gold, the vessel’s interior holds significance. Her new series ‘takes inspiration from seeds, what emerges from the internal space, what could grow from within…’. [4]  The simplicity of Gold’s forms also allow for a greater consideration of the exquisitely coloured clays, oxides and traces of finger marks imprinted within each coil. 

Form and colour are also a strong aspect of McKay’s paintings but in this instance, her reductive, coloured configurations redirect the viewers’ attention to rich and textural layers of naturally dyed felts, calico and raw canvas. Material narratives, their histories and memories are of great importance for McKay. ‘Felt holds resonance to me, the smell reminds me of my grandmas’ house in Adelaide and I cannot move away from the nostalgia it stirs in me - I love the weight of felt, the comfort of the material, and the warmth which it omits’. [5] 

In our visually dominant world, the significance of mind, body, material relationships can be easily set aside, particularly during our current Covid-19 crisis, when visual media has become our dominant channel for social connectedness and experiencing art objects. Gold and McKay’s exhibition is a dynamic reminder, a testament to the importance of knowing the world by physically navigating materials and allowing the hand to think through ideas of making.

Dr Julie Bartholomew
Ceramic Artist and Educator

[1] Sera Waters, Crystal Palace Exhibition Interview, Flinders University City Gallery, July 8, 2013  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGGGc--w-ic

[2] E Grosz, ‘Merleau-Ponty and Irigaray in the Flesh’, D Olkowski and J Morely (ed), Merleau-Ponty, Interiority and Exteriority, Psychic Life and the World State, 1999, p.147

[3] J Millner, ‘Conceptual Beauty: Perspectives on Australian Contemporary Art’, Artspace Visual Arts Centre Ltd. Sydney, 2010, p.189

[4] Email conversation with the artist, 25 March 2020.

[5] Email conversation with the artist, 25 March 2020.