As I’ve been working with others to put up our group exhibition, I have been enjoying getting to see and understand a bit about the work of sculptor and performance artist Kerry Collison. You will be able to see her work at the old Top Shop, St Catherine’s Walk, Carmarthen, from 10-17 July 2021, or online at the Carmarthen School of Art virtual show.
Kerry has studied iron-pouring and casting at Carmarthen School of Art as part of the Fine Art Sculpture course. In her writing, she investigates and describes the symbolic connection between furnace and womb. The associations are ancient – those of iron with earth (earth as mother), and smith with midwife or co-creator.
“Iron Casting retains reproductive significance. The furnace assumes the role of the mother and gives birth to embryonic iron… As if to experience birth itself. When I run a furnace this is what I achieve.”
In this body of work, Kerry has been creating rituals with these connections, and making sense out of her own body experiences. For medical reasons she has been unable to bear a child, which is of course one of the key ‘metrics’ which we habitually use to qualify our womanhood. There are painful contradictions held within our ideas of what a ‘woman’ is – to my mind it is a category that is both impossibly large, and at the same time too narrowly-defined for real usefulness.
Kerry’s work is a means of taking action, a reworking of some of our damaging cultural stories about infertile women’s bodies as ‘non-functional’ vessels.
“Kerry’s extensive writings on the furnace’s reproductive paradigm is an insight into her relationship with infertility. She strives to experience spiritual pregnancy through performing quantitative actions and following fertility rituals.”
As you enter the gallery, the first encounter with Kerry’s work is the form of a circle on the ground: the cooled iron pieces which are the traces of the performance in the photograph above. This performance is an investigative alchemy – she constantly circles around the ideas of the furnace and the vessel in this whole body of work – here she literally circles herself inside the space with the furnace, as a healing action:
“Two hot bodies in the centre of an Iron circle. Together the ability to give birth is transferred between us. The ritualistic action of pouring hot metal around myself and the furnace removes the outside world. We are trapped in our own bleeding motions, our joint experience is critical; nothing else matters.”
You’ll also find some extremely beautiful vessels in Kerry’s exhibition; castings from the cooled iron left in the ladle used to pour the iron. As she was taking them out of the box, she told me that she loves the broken ones, the fragments.
Kerry’s work can in some ways be understood as move to re-value and re-contextualise the broken vessel. She speaks to what we know at a deep level – that we are all broken vessels of one sort of another. It is so moving to be shown the beauty and the value in that.
[The quotes above are from Kerry’s artist statement]