Essay: Laura White. A laboratory of possibilities
By Andrew Renton
Laura White’s work pushes at the limits of what materials can and should do. Constraints of form, time, context and circumstance all contribute and disrupt the process of making. On the one hand, we can see her increasingly diverse practice as a nod to scientific rigour – a laboratory of possibilities. On the other hand, it’s messier than that. Things don’t do what you expect or want them to. The expectation of formal resolution is always suspended or on the point of collapse. And at the same time the work emerges from a desire to grapple with materials for their inherent qualities and the traditions which accrue in their wake.
Object-making as forms of learning. Or perhaps whatever its opposite might be – unlearning, dismantling, renegotiation?
White’s work has long explored the relationships between depth and surface, between material and illusion, between the immovable and the ephemeral. She engages with the legacies of making, from readymades to Royal Worcester. (Even porcelain slip, as raw as it is, comes with its own baggage.)
White’s critique is part disruption, part redemption. If there is a lesson here it is that these contradictory impulses can be engaged simultaneously.
It could be as simple as a new surface which makes you read the object anew. Or the challenging conjunction of objects or materials destined to resist each other. She also explores the nature of those materials in themselves and the obligations of ‘handling’ which they demand. Learning to paint or sculpt belong to a well-defined tradition. But equally, how to enter into the same contexts with alternative ‘crafts’ – sewing, baking, butchery, weaving, even writing?
The work of art, then, as evidence to the testing of the materials to hand, as well as testing her own ability to manage those materials. You might understand these collective practices as a kind of subjective research, where the artist consciously enters, even contaminates, the experiment. The outcomes of this research are materialised through exploratory objects, which continue to question their place in the hierarchy of made objects, long after their making.