MEET THE MAKER: CHARLIE BIRTLES

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Charlie began her six month placement on the Cultivated programme back in September. She produces conceptual pieces, often wearable, from readymade elements influenced by her interactions with found objects. Two months into the programme, we sat down to find out more about her influences and ambitions.

What’s your most interesting item in your studio?

I couldn’t pick out just one interesting item in my studio, rather a collection of tools and prompts during my making process which I find interesting…

My cutting mat – not for the purpose you’d think. The grid-like structure upon the mat acts almost as a frame for a composition of my ideas; bits and bobs, fragments, and works in progress.

My peg – it shows the marks and scars of craftsmanship. All the marks are individual to the needs of each of my pieces; the right angle to file that down, the right hole to enable that cut.

My ‘found’ shelf – a collection of all the bits and bobs I have found along the way; some directly relevant, others just intriguing, others “naff” and unusual.

Who are your craft heroes?

I’m drawn to quite a variety of craft practitioners.

The work of Hans Stofer has been key in the development of my own creative practice. Rather than defining himself by his training and skills, he presents himself as a ‘creative thinker’ which ultimately influences his output, whether it be jewellery, objects or compositions. His thought process is the key to defining his practice, creating an intrigue about his odd pieces, which for me justifies ways of working such as my own.

I love the variety of work from Lin Cheung. I recently purchased her new book Tomfoolery, an insight into the making of her portfolio of jewellery and objects over the past ten years; it’s a beautifully inspiring book. The most resonant chapter for me is a screen shot of a series of email correspondence Lin had sent between herself and Caroline Broadhead; the conversations are really quite frank and completely hit the nail on the head with the constant doubts and quibbles you have whilst developing a creative practice.

I also love the work of Stuart Cairns. His visual language between photographic snapshots of wanderings, drawings and objects is so beautifully clear, not to mention his stunning objects – the beauty of the found. I’m taking real inspiration from seeing his work in our current Language of Objects exhibition here at Unit Twelve.

Is there anything that makes you frustrated within the craft world?

I get slightly frustrated at the emphasis on traditional craft techniques. ‘Craft’ is suceedingly more blurred within the boundaries of art and design. The preservation of traditional techniques is important, but I don’t feel craft should be pigeon-holed as being backward-thinking and old fashioned. Traditional techniques should inform the making, but thought is equally, if not more so, important to give integrity to the work.

When I was studying, I constantly read all the papers published by the European initiative ‘ThinkTank’, following on from the exhibition and discussions they held each year from 2005-2010. They held some really prominent yet varying debates on skill, value, time in regards the applied arts. The articles proved as real food for thought for me.

Where would you most like your work to be exhibited?

Although my pieces make reference to the everyday, I feel they work best in a gallery environment. Placing them in such a space, I think, changes our perspective on how we view them – we no longer look at them as useful. I like playing with ways of displaying my pieces, creating compositions and landscapes to show a thought process.


What’s so special about the materials you use?

The majority of materials I use are recognisable, everyday objects, deconstructed and used for a new purpose. There’s initially nothing particularly special about the materials themselves, they are often undervalued. It’s my ability to see past this to their potential, as a newly formed beautiful object or composition, to be able to pose this alternative to the viewer.

Do you ever question what you’re doing?

I continually question what I am doing; playing, reflecting, refining. I read regularly around issues and debates in the art/craft field, which often prompts reflection of my own practice and where I sit contextually. My notebook acts as the format of my reflection, posing questions and marking down notes.

What do you do to take time out and relax?

I think I rarely switch off! I do find myself taking photos of odd things even when I’m out and about just because I think it’s a lovely composition.

Have you got a favourite book? What are you reading at the moment? 

Collecting books is my weakness.

I constantly flick through ‘In Flagrante Collecto Caught in the Act of Collecting’. It’s almost an encyclopaedia of various miscellanea, containing all sorts of intriguing objects and collections. I use it as a source of inspiration in appreciating the wonder of everyday objects.

My favourite novel is a charity shop find, ‘If nobody speaks of remarkable things’. It follows the lives of a whole street of individuals over the course of one single day. The language used within it is so thoughtful, poetic, it really emphasises to the reader the wonder of the mundane. I regularly re-read it; I find it provides an escape from my making process to reflect on my inspiration behind it.

What’s your greatest achievement so far?

I’d struggle to pick out one main achievement. I’m very proud of what I have achieved since graduating: exhibiting at new designers, showing as part of the Young Meteors at Lustre, being selected for Unit Twelve’s Cultivated programme. It’s all a journey, and a massive learning curve, so I’m not taking any opportunity for granted.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

No, it’s all a learning process.

What have you got coming up?

Having just showcased as part of the Young Meteors at Lustre, I’ve now got the chance to reflect upon the experience and think about the future of my practice during my remaining time at Unit Twelve on the Cultivated support programme, the conclusion of which will result in a final group exhibition in September 2016 involving all four of us graduates.

 

You can see more of Charlie’s work, and follow her time here at Unit Twelve, on her website www.cbirtles.com

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