Area of specialism
I draw in the ‘expanded field’; I’m interested in how drawing can be taken off the page in a way that challenges, blends, reframes and expands conventional drawing methodologies. I tend to draw from observation (which might be sensory or experimentally alongside more representational drawings) before translating them into other artforms, such as sculpture, print, collage, installation and community participation. Layers and connections are important in my practice; the intellectual, sensual and material often sits in relation to the concepts, subjects, media and contexts. My approach is investigatory and critically reflexive in nature.
I like big, deep, mind-bending grey areas of discussion and I use drawing to articulate my thoughts and ideas around them. For the last 3 years, my art has been rooted in environmental philosophy and the climate crisis, more recently branching into Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), and has been influenced and supported by my involvement in various grassroot activist organisations. I’m interested in how drawing can positively affect physical and social change in relation to environmental ethics and the natural world, specifically how ‘line’ could directly enhance or support wildlife and challenge audiences to reflect on their own relationships with the Earth.
Concern for the environment has led me to pursue a sustainable practice – I tend to not buy new materials, preferring instead to use what I already have, found, recycled, repurposed or natural materials. If I need something new I make a point of choosing second hand, borrowed or biodegradable options. This principled approach is important to my practice.
Community and Activism
Participation and coproduction is important to me. I believe art belongs to everyone and so there are often themes of this within my practice. Sometimes my exhibited work has an element of participation or interactivity embedded within in, other times I programme a series of workshops and events to teach skills, share ideas or support people to coproduce their own offshoot initiatives.
I also pay special attention to access and inclusion; for me, that encompasses disability, class, ethnic background, educational attainment, age, confidence, poverty, isolation, location… anything that serves as a barrier to inclusion, opportunity and/or generally feeling part of the local or wider community. This is often reflected in how I choose to share my work and/or ideas and my tendency to challenge decision-makers.
The Critical Fish
Fish is an extension of my practice. I co-founded it in 2018 (with my friend and former HSAD tutor Jill) in response to a lack of criticality around visual art within Hull, and continue to Co-Chair/Co-Lead the organisation. Fish has grown into a fluid, artist-led collective of freelance creatives and researchers who together promote critical yet accessible writing – and by extension thinking – about art and visual culture. We see ourselves as a forum for debate, connecting artists, writers, organisations and audiences through cultural conversations… where everyone is invited to speak at the table. At our core we are an academic journal that publishes and promotes critical, creative, collaborative and experimental writing surrounding the visual arts. Yet because our approach is broad and inclusive, we often produce participatory initiatives and invitations to make art in response to art, alongside other development opportunities which support both the current and next generation of artists, writers and academics. This inclusive approach to art is also important within my personal creative practice.
I write, sometimes, both creatively and critically (and sometimes combine the two!).
Intended development plan
I’m ready to build upon what I’ve explored already about our collective relationships with the Earth, and instead begin focusing on my own relationships and experiences. My theoretical interests have been moving towards better understanding an ‘old knowledge’ of the Earth – I’ve been researching (both theoretically and practically) a lot into herbalism, folk beliefs (especially that of my own heritage – Irish/British), magic, ritual and nature-based spirituality, from both a cultural and scientific perspective. I want to continue diving into this field of research, both theoretically and through practices such as meditation and gardening, and explore different materials and processes that best articulate my findings and thoughts. From that, I intend to build a body of experimental but sophisticated drawing-based work.
I figure that the next threshold of my creative practice is not only stretching my own understanding of what drawing is and could be, but also doing something more larger scale, more public, more ambitious. There’s two general practical directions I’m interested in pursuing – if I can make them complementary, all the better, but if one makes more sense than the other, that’s fine too.
Firstly, this idea of introducing a more digitised element to my work, especially as there’s a public and funder appetite for digitised mediums. I’ve been curious about drawing using VR, LIDAR and/or projection mapping – not in a gimmicky ‘spectacle’ way, but in a way that elevates or enhances my practice. Going digital is also environmentally beneficial as it’s less materials-based and therefore a lot more zero waste, but not doing something directly to take action on behalf of the planet feels a bit Nero-esque (fiddling whilst the world burns).
However, I also want to create work directly within the environment (and by extension, local communities), as a kind of public art piece. I have not yet had the opportunity to properly develop it, but I came up with this concept of ‘living lines’ and have been thinking a lot around it for a while. This is an idea of directly using line in the natural environment to enhance or benefit nature in some way. Small scale, this might be drawing onto surfaces using ‘moss paint’, or creating aerial walkways for wildlife amongst treetops. I’ve been trying to find suitable funding (in partnership with East Yorkshire Council, the Uni of Hull and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) to carve drawings into the sea defences at Withernsea. This is based in scientific research that demonstrates that holes and grooves carved into coastal rocks enhances local biodiversity and increases site environmental health. If this project moves forwards in the timeframe I’m doing my MA, I’ll likely weave this into my studies.
I’m also due to do a residency at The Art House in Leeds in July 2022, and a Campaign Bootcamp programme at some point. If there’s a way to bring these into my studies, I intend to do so.
Although I want Fish to remain separate from my own arts practice whilst doing my MA, if there’s appropriate opportunities to bring it in as part of my practice/modules I will. I fully intend to focus on my actual art-making practice more than anything else – I have had to prioritise Fish and the paid freelance opportunities over the art I make for me.
Documentation: I’ll be keeping sketchbooks throughout most likely, supported by a blog on my website (www.laurensaundersart.co.uk/macp) to keep research, thoughts and digital imagery in one place. I’ll likely use Fish as a vehicle to share critical reflection and develop external opportunities.
Expected final outcomes
I imagine there will be some sort of solo exhibition of a curated body of work as the final outcome, complete with an accompanying programme of inclusive events (e.g. workshops, talks, eat-and-greets, accessible visitation times) for the public and possibly targeted groups (e.g. schools, students). I will likely invite relevant partners to utilise the space too, and make sure Fish has an independent, critical presence. I’d also probably want some sort of accompanying print and digital publication.
I’m not interested in pristine white cube spaces necessarily, so I’d like the exhibition to be in a non-traditional venue – it depends on the work! I’m open to seeing how things pan out.
Skills / Development Review
I want a more sophisticated, confident, making-based creative practice. To achieve this I know it includes being better at the things I already do yet also want to stretch myself and my practice as far as possible (on that note, I also want you to push and challenge me! But nicely!). Aside from the general things, there’s a few specific skills I would like to develop:
- I want to develop my core drawing practice and generally cultivate a more skilled approach and nuanced understanding of markmaking; this involves exploring new contemporary ways of drawing (conventionally and experimentally) and the communities that surround them. I need to engage with more opportunities to draw.
- I want to learn how to make my own drawing pigments and inks, using foraged materials.
- I can talk confidently about Fish or something external to myself, but I still find it difficult to talk about my own work. I am self-concious that my work is quite cerebral and complex, and might come off as ‘pretentious’ (something I challenge in every area of my practice and in life) and as a result I don’t always explain myself very well or with much confidence – especially to non-artist audiences. I need to get better at speaking publicly about my work.
- I want to learn how to draw in VR, and find applications for it that are relevant to my practice.
- I’d like to explore ways of mapping the environment (and if it can then be applied within VR?), so I’d like to learn how to do projection mapping or how to do LIDAR.
- I need to find opportunities to discuss philosophy (especially environmental ethics) in a critical way, with actual people. There’s only so much that books and Reddit can help with since I retain things better through conversation. I feel like I need a better critical understanding of the philosophies that influence my work.
- I need more experience working creatively with children and young people, as this is what always lets me down when applying for commissions.
Key Theory / Professional Practice
- Expanded Field of Drawing (EFD)
’Expanded field’ is term devised by artist Robert Morris in 1946, this is the idea of investigating one discipline through the lens of another. EFD is loosely based on Rosalind Krauss’ 1979 essay ‘Sculpture in the expanded field’. EFD is an interrogative approach to drawing that extends into other creative fields whilst also offering insight into ones own personal relationship and definition of drawing.
- Environmental Ethics
A branch of environmental philosophy that concerns itself with defining environment and nature, how to value the environment, the moral status of animals and plants, our responsibility towards endangered species, problems with environmentalism, the aesthetic value of nature, moral duties around the restoration of nature and consideration of future generations. Branches also include environmental hermeneutics (interpretation), environmental theology and ecofeminism.
What do we mean when we talk about nature? What is the value of the natural, that is the non-human environment to us, in or of itself? What do we mean when we talk about environmental challenges? How should we respond to environmental challenges? How can we best understand relationships between the natural world and human technology and development? What is our place in the natural world? Do rivers have rights? Is there such thing as ‘wilderness’? What are the ethical and practical problems raised by the philosophies / practices of environmental conservation, restoration and policy?
- Deep Ecology (George Sessions and Arne Naess)
A philosophy that promotes the inherent worth of all living things regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus the restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with these ideas. The basic principles are as follows: (i) the wellbeing and flourishing of non-human and human life have value, (ii) the richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realisation of these values and are also values in themselves, (iii) humans have no right to reduce this richness/diversity except to satisfy vital needs, (iv) the flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease in the human population, (v) present human interference with the non human world is excessive and the situation is rapidly worsening, (vi) policies must be changed – affecting basic economic, technological and ideological structures, (vii) the ideological change needs to appreciate the quality of life and (viii) those who subscribe to the points have an obligation to try to implement changes.
- Nature Connectedness (NC)
NC is an internationally recognised psychological construct but is a relatively new term (first used around 2000 before gaining momentum around 2015), and is currently the focus of The University of Derby’s NC Research Group. It isn’t necessarily about logic and science (although that of course plays a part in it’s research) but more about a ‘oneness’ with nature. This goes beyond merely having contact with nature, its about ‘senses, emotion, beauty, meaning and compassion’.
- Permaculture (Earth Care, People Care, Fair Shares)
System of sustainable agriculture emphasising the use of renewable natural resources and enriches local ecosystems to nuture balanced ecologies that are sustainable, harmonious, efficient and productive.. Nature leads the way. The philosophy can also be applied to homes, gardens, life and communities.
- Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin is a North American Indigenous Leader and Botanist who writes about her experiences. She shows how the factual, objective approach of science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of indigenous people in her book Braiding Sweetgrass; Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge (currently reading)
- David Abram
Philosopher who bridges phenomenology (structures of consciousness from a first-person POV) with ecology. Author of books, including ‘The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World’ (currently reading). Founder of the Alliance for Wild Ethics (excavation of stories that live in the land through rejuvenate oral culture) and ‘Deep Time Walks’.
- Josephine McCarthy
Occultist, Magician, Western esotericism, teacher and author of Quareia (a free-to-access comprehensive, in-depth and down-to-earth magical training course). Practical applications, rituals and patterns that help develop links with Otherworld consciousness, using elements, ritual and intention to interface with the land and divinity. She places a lot of emphasis on respecting the Earth, environmentalism and animism.
- Coproduction / Participation
- Accessibility / Inclusion