In the confusion of the present, it can be tempting to think that the past is a simple, uncluttered place, and that the further back you go, the simpler things become. The objects that survive from the past become symbols of belief, or artefacts of an idea of a way of life. This is at the root of nostalgia, but it also underlies how we construct a sense of self, building on the foundations of a distant, and spurious certainty. Acknowledging that chaos has always been with us: that there is no clear narrative, and never was, and that history is just a set of stories colliding with myth, peppered with ideological and idealistic approaches, causes a fracturing of identity that is distinctly uncomfortable, and yet all too human.
This is the space in which Francis Upritchard makes her creations, resurrecting everyday objects and raising them to the status of veneration as faux archaeological discoveries: a biscuit jar as a funerary urn, a gold coloured cigarette packet standing in for an ingot; or fashioning figures, sometimes colourful, sometimes monochrome; and animals from clay, leather and fur. When we speak, I have just come from seeing her three Monkeys, which were made for an exhibition at the Vienna Secession in 2010, and are now installed at Visual Centre for Contemporary Art, Carlow, in the Irish Midlands, as part of the exhibition Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland. There is something pathetically vulnerable, and yet also remarkably self-contained about them. Made from old charity-shop coats and leather driving gloves, they squat and stare up in engaging appeal, while retaining a quality that is essentially unknowable. Given Upritchard’s interest in anthropology, Monkeys is made yet more complex by the realisation that these are the beasts from which we have descended, our ancestors, part us.
Born in New Zealand in 1976, Upritchard moved to London – where she now lives and works – in 1998, sharing a studio space in Hackney with her husband, and frequent collaborator, furniture designer, Martino Gamper. Upritchard is focusing, as we talk via Skype, on how to shape the way visitors to her forthcoming exhibition at Dublin’s Douglas Hyde Gallery will see her work. This is where Gamper comes in, as many of her plinths, if that is the correct word for the range of stages on which her sculptures may sit, are made by him. Upritchard left New Zealand in order to have access to more of the works she hungrily devoured in art magazines, at first hand, and to be part of a larger art world. At first studying painting, she had moved into making, discovering that she loved the sculpture department so much more, and that her way of working feeds her eclectic interests in metalwork, crafting, sewing, woodwork, sketching and shaping. Arriving in London, she didn’t follow the path of so many newcomers by taking an MA in order to create a set of contacts. She didn’t go to art college in London at all, she has… Subscribe to read this article in full
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