Alexandra Errington is a multidisciplinary artist, working primarily with sculpture, and also with painting and video. She has an MA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art, and a BA from the Institut Supérieur de Arts de Toulouse. She has two upcoming MA degree shows: the Chelsea MA show from 18 – 21 September, and a student organised exhibition in Hampton Wick from 4th – 10th October. Alexandra will also have work exhibited at Cruautés Exquises in Toulouse, France from December – April in 2022.
These are all recycled materials, mattresses from the street, carpets, blinds, springs. Most of the objects I choose are processed or manufactured. I have these rebonded underlays, that are composed of shredded foams, that have been recycled and moulded into sheets. They are used to line carpets in houses and are thrown out when floors are being renovated, so you can often find bags of these in the street. I like to see this material as post-industrial sedimentary rock or terrazzo. I search for materials that remind me of natural substances or structures.
I also find it interesting to take a dirty piece of mattress and make it kind of appetising for the viewer. Colour plays a big role in this, and perhaps it also speaks of these materials, it seems that toxic/processed substances can often have an attractive colour palette.
What’s the process when collecting these materials and transforming them into sculpture?
I analyse the properties of the objects and play with them, bend them, explore their limits and confront them with one another. I also fuse them into lumps, I chop them up and make cross sections to explore their inside. The process of transformation is guided by the material and fluctuates from project to project. This one [pictured below, on the windowsill] is tanning. This material is so alive, depending on how you mould it or dry it can mean many things. It’s like cooking, different recipes for different effects, this work looks a bit like bread or bone marrow. A lot of my work is inspired by microscopic imagery and research I do with my digital magnifying tools. I observe objects and plants up close, looking for textures that inspire me.
Where do you collect all your materials from?
Most of them are found in the street, I try to buy the least amount possible. I also like to source materials from markets or from weird industrial suppliers online. These burger boxes were found in the market. I chose them for their physical properties, when strung together they act similar to an exoskeleton of some kind, like a modular puppet moving into different forms. Most materials I do find on my daily walks around the area, I prefer using disregarded objects and I hope to develop my ways of sourcing found materials. Perhaps working with local businesses soon. With plastics as well, there’s so much plastic that needs to be used.
Aside from mattresses, and how frequently these are discarded and not given a second life/in rotation, what other furniture do you find a lot of in the street?
Chairs, I find a lot of chairs. These are springs from chairs [pictured below], now I’ve used the chair structure itself as a shelf.
Basically that’s the whole process I am exploring at the moment. I’ll get the object and I’ll strip it down and with each layer see what I can do with it. I’m looking at the patterns that are happening, they are like specimens under observation, each with a unique structure to be tampered with.
Can you talk about your wall pieces, which are like 2D imagery versions of your dissecting of discarded objects.
I made these with blinds. The process for these is also sculptural – it’s inspired by scientific observation and the practice of “staining” organisms and cells under a microscope. They put the dyes on the slide and you see it go all purple, it’s a process that allows the observer to see the different components to understand the anatomy of a structure. For a human eye to better grasp how the elements are interacting. This is a fragment from a blind, so inspired by that process, I take objects and fibres and inject them with ink, and stencil them so I can create traces. I arrange and interact with them on this flat surface, I try to push the materials almost to breaking point and see what trace it makes. This project is in progress, I chose canvas as it’s quite porous allowing the inks to sink in, but next I want to develop this by using plastic surfaces.
Is there a starting point for your practice?
The starting point for my practice is a curiosity for how forms evolve: forms in nature, manufactured structures, or even in the evolution of my own body through time. These “mechanisms of change” have patterns, laws that resonate from one scale to another, from one material reality to another. I have a desire to better grasp these motions of growth and change, through my human sensitivity and through sculptural actions, my work always starts off with material research.
What’s your biggest influence on your practice?
My work is very inspired by the natural sciences. I am fascinated by microbiology, evolutionary biology, botany, geology, and the processes used to observe these different worlds and structures.
I was also very influenced by my family, who all share an interest and passion for nature. My grandfather is a landscape gardener, my grandmother is a florist and my mother is a wildlife illustrator and photographer. I grew up working in my family’s pet shop (that sells all sorts of reptiles, fish, insects, birds and small animals), this experience shaped me a lot by confronting me with all sorts of textures and processes, I’m a big animal lover and being in such proximity with all these different creatures really inspired me.
Is your work where you want it to be?
I feel like I am only scratching the surface for certain of my projects. I feel like a cook inventing a recipe, looking for the perfect balance of ingredients, many of my processes are speculative and chance based. I have a lot to learn about controlling and developing these techniques and finding the best way to express my discoveries. Often a small thing can click or be injected into the practice that makes all the rest make sense.
How do you order your time?
I spend a lot of time collecting and researching my materials, looking at images, and reading books. The process of making my final piece can sometimes be quite instantaneous so a lot of my work goes into organising, thinking about balance, tension, weight, preparing and experimenting before I create the work.
Do you have a mantra?
I like to remind myself there is energy and hidden potential in all material things. My goal as a sculptor is to understand and nurture these energies.
This larger sculpture I’m working on at the moment is for my degree show in September. It’s made from polyurethane foam, used for insulating houses, this is what I often use as a binder. Here I’m using it to create shells around some of the softer foams I collect, it’s like a cartilage holding the fleshy material together. Once they have been moulded, I displace them, playing around with the configurations and combinations, to see what forms can appear. This research is inspired by bone formation and the process of moulting in invertebrates. It is being created in relation to my project “Rebond”, which focuses on actions of dissection, layering and the mechanisms of rock formation. I see both projects as different steps of the same process. This work is the step before the filling and dissecting.
Some great advice I got was that an art routine should feel natural, it should express a way of life and fit naturally within it. Feeling like the two don’t fit means either my way of life needs to change or what I make needs to evolve.
When I am creatively stuck, I love taking videos, it really triggers me. I walk around observing the material work evolve and unfold around me, construction sites, ducks walking around their pond, ambiguous reflections in water or windows, etc. I try to observe things from a different perspective, to see them in a non-passive way, for what they really are as material moments.
This practice started when I was doing my BA in Toulouse. We had a great class that sent us out each week to make improvised videos. I would just linger and observe the world go past waiting for something to happen, this also pushed me to pay more attention to the objects discarded in the streets. Also, coming from France where street harassment is an important and current issue, holding a camera in my hands gave me a sort of shield or purpose to be present. It really grew my confidence as an artist and as a woman in public spaces.
Is narrative important in your work?
Subjective narrative is important to me, I want the compositions and forms I create to fluctuate within the viewer’s mind. I want to provoke a feeling of both alienation and familiarity to my work, allowing them to make associations to more than one narrative. I also like the idea of Haiku poetry, which is a brief composed verse that explores the essence of a moment in time. I feel my work has a similar rhythm; it hopes to freeze a movement into a form, and express a specific aspect of the materials.
Does place inform your work?
Each place influences a composition, with its unique colours, textures and lines. Place is important to my installation process as well as the making phase. During the lockdown I resorted to using an astro turf near my house as a temporary studio, I took a large piece of material with me and just experimented. It really added a new dimension I would like to develop. I see the studio as a grow house, if you work in a huge space your work will grow bigger, if you work in a small space you will most likely scale down, working outside in the open air, out of the studio context was very liberating and thrilling.
Do you like mistakes?
Chance is my most valuable tool, I feel like it pushes me to stay curious and excited by making art. I search for unpredictable materials that have a life of their own, a hidden DNA, that way I am constantly surprised and always learning more about the objects in my studio. I consider a mistake like a mutation and I feel like some of my best discoveries were made by observing these uncontrolled events.