Emma Witter

London based Emma Witter utilises intricate bone structures to create fragile, flower-patterned forms. To her, this organic material conveys beauty and spirituality rather than mortality. These opposing facets inspire Witter to bring to the surface the relics of domestic animals. She acts as a bone collector who salvages her medium from restaurants, butchers and her own cooking waste along with combing the river Thames. After earning her diploma in Art and Design, Emma received a first-class honours degree in Performance Design and Practice from Central Saint Martins. On graduating, Emma won the ‘Seed Fund’ Award’ from the University of the Arts London – a grant to set up her own studio practice. At the same time, she was awarded a start-up grant from The Princes Trust Enterprise Programme. After a year of studio practice, she was nominated for the ‘Best New Business Award’ during UAL Enterprise Week 2014, and won. Emma has undertaken residencies at Selfridges & Picton Studios, Sarabande, the Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation, and Mark Hix’s Tramshed Restaurant.

Artist

Emma Witter

London

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THE PROCESS

Witter, who grew up in Hertfordshire, was immensely inspired by Henry Moore’s bone derived sculptures and visited Moore’s maquette studio regularly. She has also been influenced by Eileen Agar’s approach to nature and transformation through found objects and the unorthodox juxtaposition that challenges our macabre relationship with bone. Artists and craftsmen have always been fascinated by bone, their work often exploring the dichotomy of nature and artifice: it is an investigation of life and being. However, contemporary society mainly associates bones with suffering, demise and as a gloomy substance, rather than as a tool of expression and voyaging. Interested in the history of this hard, whitish skeletal tissue and its past use, Witter states: ‘the material reveals much more and dictates the works’. She does not sketch her ideas onto paper, she works with her hands, engaging in small three-dimensional experiments, testing how the individual segments assemble and embrace each other. Her method is visceral, envisaging her finished effigies.

Q&A

1. What motivates you to make?

I’ve had a lifelong compulsion to collect seemingly insignificant detritus and try to make sense of the world through them. I’m desperate to touch things, test them and break them apart to see how they’re made. My whole life I’ve kept strange treasure boxes of lost things, insects, photographs…

When everything feels overwhelming on a big scale, it’s the micro that I find comfort in. To hyper focus on intricate forms and experience ASMR through textures of materials is an escapism and a visceral pleasure. There’s a specific sort of satisfaction to committing all of your energy to bringing an object of beauty carefully into being, with paraphernalia that would have otherwise been discarded.

To take something humble and to ‘save’ or elevate it through a repeated, time consuming, embalming-like process - the attention and the love that goes into it - there’s something that feels quite religious. The repetition is ceremonial, ritualistic and the action is grounding for me.

2. What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?

I’ve always been extremely interested in London history and food history, from royal feasts to the use of food matter as a sculptural material in non-art materials.

I love the assemblage sculpture of Eileen Agar and the sculptural dust clouds of Igshaan Adams. The tiny treasures that Romilly Saumarez-Smith creates with found artefacts make my hair stand on end, they just vibrate with magic and longing of a time passed. I love the crossover of art and design in the work of Claude Lalanne, with the way metal - a hard, unforgiving element - has been softly coerced into fragile, gentle and feminine forms. The maker as Geisha. I’m particularly drawn to work that doesn’t have to raise its voice and beat its chest to be heard.

3. What is your unique approach to your craft, and how have you honed your skills?

My approach is very intuitive and experimental. As an outsider artist I’m drawn to materials that aren’t already loaded with rules about their construction. That way I can explore freely.

Although I’m not tied to them, I’ve loyally revisited bone and shell as my main ingredients for a long time, and through practice given them my own visual language. I like to keep circling back and re-exploring the same materials as I find it exciting that they can be endlessly pushed into different directions through new applications and processes. I gather material from my own cooking, dinners with friends, butchers, restaurants, and the shores of the Thames.

I’ve taken evening classes in plaster casting, carpentry, welding, kiln-formed glass techniques, copper electro-forming - a variety of techniques that I can apply to, or disrupt my key materials. It’s like having a hot-pot bubbling close to me always, and I want to go through life always adding new experiences and techniques in there to make it more and more delicious.

4. What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?

I’m most proud of being recognised for a new way of working and forging a path for myself outside of a traditional route. After receiving a seed funding award from Central Saint Martins after graduation to develop a studio practice in Food Sculpture - I subsequently won that year’s UAL Enterprise Award for Best New Business. As a young person, dipping a toe into the art world with a made-up job, this was a very meaningful and much appreciated marker of recognition. Awards like these are so important in giving young people the confidence and belief to keep going.

Another proud moment was when I was part of the Collect programme last year. My piece ‘Gloria’ was selected for discussion by Dr Christine Checinska, Art Historian and Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Anne Toomey, Head of Programme and Reader in Smart Textiles at the Royal College of Art, for ‘Collect Selects: Textiles and New Materials’.

5. What is your dream project?

I would love to scale my work up to large, site specific installations. I would also love to collaborate more with scientists to push boundaries with ancient materials. Most of all, I would love to expand my studio to a factory scale, and really see what I can do to help tackle restaurant waste in our incredible city.

ALL PRODUCTS

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2 Products found

  1. Cardinal Chandelier by Emma Witter
    Cardinal Chandelier
    Emma Witter
    £5,340
  2. Fortune Chandelier by Emma Witter
    Fortune Chandelier
    Emma Witter
    £4,000
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2 Products found