“With all my work I’m trying to give the viewer’s body something to map onto, to reflect back a feeling it knows, a memory of a sensation”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
GW: I’m from Luton, a town north of London. I feel very lucky to have parents who are designers and were always interested in art themselves. Some of my earliest memories are of running around the Henry Moore Foundation, or of day trips to the Tate with my mum and family holidays to visit Barbara Hepworth’s garden in Cornwall. Those early encounters have really shaped the art I love now. I’m getting to relive that sense of wonder when I visit shows with my goddaughter who is just one and a half, I love to see what captures her attention.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
GW: I’m always aiming to elicit a tactile response. 23.5°, my current show at Castor references the axial tilt of the Earth. This angle is drifting and Earth’s rotation is accelerating as melting glaciers and groundwater extraction is shifting the balance of the planet. I wanted to distill this research into a simple question – how does an adjustment of our physical alignment or position in space alter our perception? All of the sculptures in the room subscribe to 23.5°, all leaning into the same direction and the end wall in the gallery space tilts away from you to this degree too. It has the effect of the room slipping away, it’s very slight but somewhat disorientating. I hope that this sense of suspension is palpable for the viewer.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
GW: With all my work I’m trying to give the viewer’s body something to map onto, to reflect back a feeling it knows, a memory of a sensation. Something of a framework for that which I am always coming back to is the neurological condition of mirror-touch synaesthesia. It’s this rare synaesthesia where a sensation of physical touch is felt in response to what is seen, most commonly when observing physical touch to another person. However, a small minority of these synaesthetes experience a bodily empathy with inanimate objects – they might feel as though their body has taken up the form of a bulbous glass or elongated like a lamppost, or the indentations of a particular texture will feel impressed upon their skin – their sense of their body is pulled out of shape. It was researching this synaesthesia which pushed my work from painting into sculpture back in 2018. It’s been in the back of my mind in the studio since, thinking of my sculptures as a kind of sensory surrogate for an embodied way of seeing.
Exhibition view of “23.5°” at Castor, 2023
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
GW: I am always led by new research. Once I move away from the reading and get into the studio it’s interesting to see how old interests bleed back into the new projects too. I’d say I have a practice which intersects biological and sci-fi influences and is rooted between the histories of soft-sculpture, minimalism and aesthetics of Space Age design.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
GW: My emotions cycle around depending on what part of a project I’m working on. There’s a lot of joy and excitement around when I get the first taste of a new idea, one that feels like it has legs to run with, and that generative feeling is one of the best. After quick initial sketches I’ll start to draw up forms in Rhino, a CAD software, it’s a process that is slow and methodical. At this point I have an idea of the final thing in mind and it can be frustrating trying to reach the shape of something which feels ‘right’ according to that. I get into a real flow-state while re-organising these designs ready to be machine-cut into sheet wood.
Building the sculptures in the studio from the cut components can be a really physical process, it’s always surprising and refreshing to be confronted with the forms in person, especially once upholstered. I learn a lot from each piece I make, so every work generates new possibilities for the future.
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
GW: I just have to trust my gut on that one.
Recalibrate 23.5°, 2023, Wood, textile, primer, oil paint and stainless steel ball bearings, 226 x 21.5 x 11.5 cm
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works?
GW: So many! Lee Bontecou, Marta Pan, Eva Hesse, Elizabeth Murray, Anicka Yi, Richard Smith, Margueritte Humeau, Louise Bourgeois, Ron Nagle, Haegue Yang, Rebecca Horn, Diane Simpson, Oskar Schlemmer, Verner Panton, Nairy Baghramian, Piere Cardin, Hussein Chalayan, Hiroyuki Hamada – and then I’m always inspired by the work, insights and approaches of my close friends too – Sara Sigurdardottir, Mina Heydari-Waite, Rafal Zajko, Christopher Mayer to name just a few.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
GW: I really love to be physically making. The process is most rewarding when combining different skills and materials. I love the fine detail and patience in crafting fabric work through upholstery or sewing – a world apart from that is the grimey and loud energy of a metal workshop with angle grinding and welding – and then somewhere in between is all the dusty rawness of machining and hand-finishing wood work. The camaraderie of being in a workshop is the perfect counterpoint to a solitary studio practice.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
GW: It can be a really useful tool for reaching new audiences and opportunities but it is no replacement for real life encounters with art. I use social media to keep up with all the shows I’ll make sure to see close to home, or exciting projects happening in galleries/ museums/ artist’s studios that I can’t visit in person. I don’t find sharing my work on socials very easy or natural so I try to keep some distance but it gives artists a lot of autonomy.
AT: What is your opinion about the development of Web 3.0 (NFTs, Metaverse, etc.) and their impact on the art world?
GW: I’m not sure, I really haven’t engaged with them, I don’t think that area is for me. I am more interested in the capabilities of AI systems and am surprised by how useful a tool like chat GPT can be.
Regrounding 23.5°, 2023, Textile, primer, oil paint, wood and aluminium
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
GW: Where to start!
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
GW: I find the most challenging aspects to be the lack of security and sometimes, the loneliness – the freedom of working alone can be a blessing and a curse. I find working alongside other artists on their projects deeply rewarding, so I try to help friends out in their studio work where I can.
It can be an amazing feeling to see work you’ve been so close to for months in the studio take on a new shape through its installation in a gallery environment. Particularly where I have been able to make an architectural intervention in the space – like the slanted wall in my current show, 23.5° or the sunken living room style pit we built for GUT-BRAIN (2020) both at Castor in London.
AT: What do you do besides art?
GW: I love to read, to look at other artists’ work and exhibitions, I love to knit, to build things for my home, to cook and eat with friends, and also to travel when I can.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
GW: I’m planning to develop more wearable and adaptable sculptures and I’d love to collaborate with dancers who could inhabit them.
Exhibition view of “23.5°” at Castor, 2023
Grace Woodcock is a London-based artist whose work intersects biological and sci-fi influences to consider what it means to have an intelligent, sensing body. Her sculptures are formulated to give the viewer’s body something to map onto, to reflect back a feeling it knows, a memory of a sensation. Her work draws from 1960’s Space Age architecture and how the era’s energetic optimism and pursuit of the unknown is reflected in its design choices. By combining experimental upholstery techniques with CAD software, Grace makes installations, soft sculptures, wearables, and furniture.