An Interview with Grace Woodcock

María Gracia de Pedro interviews Grace Woodcock.

Grace Woodcock is a British artist based in London. Her latest solo show GUT-BRAIN at Castor gallery in late 2020 examines the gut’s role as the original brain, 1960s space-age and soft furnishing. 

MG: I discovered your work thanks to my friend and curator Linda Rocco during the pandemic and I really felt in love with your practice. What I saw so far are sculptural works, but when I looked at your CV I could see you own a MA in Painting. Please, tell me about the evolving process from painting to sculpture. 

GW: Thank you so much! I studied painting at undergraduate too but sculptural elements were already coming into my work. I’d cast wax and silicone elements, make table-like works and stacked, layered paintings. At the RCA I was struggling to achieve the tactility that I wanted through image-making. I started padding out flat work and bringing in textile and upholstery elements on flat forms to begin with. Then it was through learning to use 3D software that something clicked. As you use these programs you have a working view from the top, front, right, and perspective profiles. The wireframe line drawings generated by the software completely changed the way I was imagining new sculptural work. 

MG: What is sculpture for you? What do you want to communicate through your artworks?

GW: This is a huge question that I’m always reassessing. My sculptures are a way for me to think about the limits of a body. Medical and scientific developments inform my research to contemplate what it means to have an intelligent, feeling body; to be enhanced, or to be physically manipulated. 

MG: Could you please explain to us what is “Sensory Surrogate”. I see it as a sculptural work with strong performing attitude. 

GW: Yes they are quite performative! The works I made as sensory surrogates were my attempt at making a sculpture that could be a vehicle or conduit for a physical sensation. Touch without touch; a kind of eye massage. Most of these pieces were wearable, designed to support, massage or treat certain parts of a body.

MG: I see how you use constantly latex, neoprene-jersey, perspex, foams etc. Please, explain to me, what do you want to transmit with the materials you use in your works?

GW: It really comes back to the idea of trying to elicit a tactile sensation. I know I respond to these materials and the palpable squish of the cushioned surfaces in a corporeal way, it’s a kind of twist in the gut-type desire or urge to touch.

MG: When I see your works, I want to touch them. The shapes and the materials provoke me, what is the reaction that you want to create on the viewer?

GW: It’s always so great to hear that others do experience this desire to touch the work! The urge to do it is more interesting that actually stroking the work I think. Touch has a double meaning – it covers affective encounters as well as physical interactions. The way we use language shows how interlinked emotions and tactility are. Things ‘touch us’ and ‘move us’ all the time. Even really young children understand what we mean when people are described as ‘slimy’ or ’soft’. I’m interested in immediate belly feelings like butterflies or dread – those feelings that our bodies just know before we process them.

MG: You are an emerging artist but I would love to ask you what advice would you give to someone that is starting her/his career? Is there something you did that helped you at the beginning?

GW:  Keep reading about whatever it is you’re interested and keep learning new skills to help you push the work.
MG: In your sculptures I can see futuristic references, but at the same time the textures and shapes make me thing on the skin and our bodies. Some of your sculptures hidden other materials inside, could you please let us know more about the creation process?

GW: Space Age aesthetics from the 60s and 70s are hugely influential to my work. I love the brilliant sense of fun in the curvaceous optimism of everything ‘futuristic’ in that time and the way that everything was designed around the shape of a human body. I’m interested in how we understand our environment and objects in relation to the body and that feeds back into the forms in my work.
I treat the sculptures like bodies trialling out alternative therapies. Layers of foam and textile are hijacked with traces of spirulina, prebiotics and zinc oxide infused into silicone, charging sculptures with organic energy as if live tissue. I find something palpable in all the magnets, teas and scents that I pull into my work. It could be the medicinal value or even the unquantifiable power in the placebo effect. With magnets or acupuncture needles, it’s the way the thing physically affects what it touches. Upholstering work lends itself to being read as skin. There’s a stretched membrane covering the body of the work, the work is padded to about the same ‘fleshiness’ as the base of your thumb. 

MG: Last but not least, where can we see your works soon? Do you have any upcoming?

GW: I’m going to be showing a new work in a Castor offsite group show, installed on a rooftop but for viewing online. It should be up in a couple of weeks!

Grace Woodcock (b.1993, Luton UK) lives and works in London. She combines 3D design software with experimental upholstery to make soft sculptures, wearables and furniture. Solo exhibitions include GUT-BRAIN at Castor, London in 2020 and Flicks and Licks at SWG3 in Glasgow, 2018. Selected group exhibitions include Softer Softest, Andrea Festa, Rome; Habitual, Castor; Can’t Touch This, Chalton Gallery, London; Lost Senses, Guest Projects, London; TH4Y, Generator Projects, Dundee; Law of Materials, Glasgow Print Studio; RSA: New Contemporaries, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh; and X, East Street Arts, Leeds.
Photos courtesy: Grace Woodcock, Castor gallery.
Photographer: Nicholas Constant.