My Space: Julia Thompson

  • by Jenna Elizabeth

Earlier this year, ILYSM partnered with artist Canyon Castator & Carl Kostyal Gallery to select an ILYSM4Artists x CARS residency recipient. The Mohilef Studio space was awarded to artist Julia Thompson. 

The following interview is edited from a series of text & email exchanges between Julia and ILYSM's artist in residence, Jenna Elizabeth over the span of the residency.

 Hi Julia! Hope your move in went well ❤️

Hi!! I just started moving in yesterday ❤️ thanks for checking in!! Was a bit behind getting my stuff out of storage and all that. It's such a big space I'm so excited 😊

It will not be this clean for v long lol! [...] I write on wood panels for myself as I work - so I have my notes and references in front of me, at all times lol. My notebooks get far too messy

Woah! What's happening gimme the deets

I think I thew my back out mixing concrete 😂😭 I'm making a bunch of samples right now - trying to reintroduce cement into my work.. in a way that kind of works as a display mechanisms or more directly entangled w the soap casts rather than adjacent to them (how I had it previously) *Had worked w it in the past

But the space is so big I want to work larger scale, which will be a first! Next week I'm actually going to start building a silicone mold for a mattress haha. A single mattress ! 

And hope to make casts (hollow) w concrete w these same kinds of soap puddles along the surface

Makes me happy to know you are maximizing the usage of the space and trying new things with that in mind.

What is the story behind the mattress motif?

The mattress is like a device to have my work grounded in a structure... I've always liked the idea of working with obvious shapes and forms in relation to what I'm responding to, cos the way in which I work is often a visceral response to a feeling.. an unmovable or unfathomable one that doesn't rlly land in language (ie. pain).. So the works begin, in the formal sense, as obvious symbols or shapes to what I'm referencing - like intimacy, trauma, touch, healing... but in a way that the forms casted are so removed from what was once used as the model they become totally stripped from their 'original' point of reference... & the materials I work with (soap, wax, candy) just further instigate this deformation.. all the casts I produce kind of work as an archive; holding onto some memory and trauma whilst actively destroying it.. previously I was (/still am) using the pillow as a point of entry to further learn about these things I'm questioning through material... I'm always seeing how far I can push materials until they've exhausted themselves.. & introducing light, and heat has been a nice addition w this ! I think of all my sculptures & casts as bodies or beings. and it's interesting looking at these externalities.. like climate, light, moisture, time, as effecting a life span... and seeing how these casts extend into space beyond their surface layers? Across the board my works act as forms of protection but the materials and casts are given such mobility / agency.. I love to see how these kinds of entropy take hold.

Sorry for the novel lol 😂

Helps me too haha

All about the novel. Appreciate the considerate response. 

Course

Curious how you have seen your work evolve over the years within these motifs - did you notice a larger pattern emerging that was unintentional from the start. Or specifically with this new work is there something you are challenging?

Yes, the work has definitely evolved, and it feels a little more confident… or I feel more confident in the materials/sculptures holding their own rather than feeling a need to justify / explain every formal decision. But most importantly I think my relationship to the work has changed. I’ve been working w these kinds of materials for years now, and there’s always something to learn through them which is why I’ve stuck with them for so long.. I’ll probably keep going until I’ve exhausted the materials or myself lol.. when I moved to California from NY the climate impacted the way the works live, move and are read as well.. and the way these casts kind of materialise into such forms - which all in turn informs the way I think through the initial points of reference (ie. Pillows, mattress’, etc), and larger foundational ideas.. Similar to memory and trauma, the works are kind of always moving towards new form .. the works are not as much about the specific materials non-permenance, but rather the idea of non-permeance as a concept or method.. coming back to preservation/Conservation (within an art context ofC - historically) as a concept which I also push through the work!

W this current project I think ultimately scale is the biggest challenge and a big one lol, once I have the mold completed I’m sure there will be a whole other set of issues w casting in concrete and candy / soap.. but I also don’t like being too fixated on an end goal and just learn as I go .! These things always turn out different than planned , which is the most exciting !

“Non-permanence as a method” is very much a collective feeling of the now. I think people are craving moments of reflection that offer change. This pandemic in many ways opened the levy, the flood gates are down... There’s an overwhelming sense of questioning - everything really, what is normalized, how many versions of history are running concurrently... and on a personal level ones own accountability and stake both politically and environmentally. I love your work because there are these weighted elements of structure against elements of fluidity. There’s a softness thats disrupting and leaving a mark that maybe would otherwise be discredited in another scenario.

Yes ! “non-permanence as a method” is a feeling of the now! It’s something I think about quite a bit in how I understand my work, not just in the practical sense, or even the subject matter I pull from - but how I actually see the work live and move in the world, and how I see myself as a producer. I definitely think there’s a push back in my work to the monumentality we’ve seen historically in sculpture .. I also think about how a work exists even when it’s dissipated or been tossed, etc, so it exists through through memory - how do this kind of ephemera hold value - or does that matter ?

On a practical level, how is it like to move these heavy pieces in the space. Are you often working alone? I imagine it must be challenging or do you have a good system in place

It is quite challenging but I can’t imagine it being any other way hahah. The way I work is through a lot of trial and error and experimentation so it’s always a bit of a mess but there’s some kind of system to it haha . Im a masochist, as I imagine most artists are - It’s all quite laborious / me running around from the hot plate area where I do pours with waxes and soaps, to mixing concretes !! It’s probably pretty manic to look at tbh lol . But I’d hope in an enthralling way haha

Reading and writing really help ground my practice ! And in a formal sense working from molds helps keeps things organized as well

Finding value through memory is really fascinating - on the one hand if a viewer engages with a piece long enough it challenges the very space our brain categorizes or stores the imprint of the work, and speaks on a certain level to the connection one had with experience. It’s a very precious “commodity.” Reminds me of this study that was done on happiness - if you buy something it generates rapid feelings of spiked happiness but they are fleeting. But vacations and traveling - was a longer sustained feeling of happiness. There’s a lot of power and also responsibility in terms of evoking permanent feelings or questions to an audience. I love that.

Absolutely! And I think working with materials like scent speaks to this well in the way it hits the body. I think a lot about the haptic qualities too - how we understand a work maybe through something more corporeal . And. I think working with the materials I work with - which are all materials of capital, have a powder to them cos of their uncanniness - they call to so much but people can rarely pin down what it is they’re looking at .

Well said - a lot to unpack

Logistic wise - I’m curious about your storage and also how you showcase the work. What’s that process like for you. Some of your work is made into the space directly... Do you keep any lingering remnants or are things discarded.

Most things I’ve tossed ! That’s also cos I’ve moved quite a bit and these are hard to keep. I do have a storage in New York still that’s filled with some concrete casts - those are incredibly heavy and yes difficult to move around ! Need a dally for those ones. With the soap , candy works it kind of depends .. they’re all a pain in the ass though lol . I usually wrap them in clear wrap when I’m transporting them or keep them in their silicone molds if I can (always best to do that - even though it makes them much heavier! It rlly helps to retain its form), but when I was living in New York for example the candy works wouldn’t hold by the time it was May/ June - it was too hot. But if I needed them for a show or something I’d had to temperature control the room . Soap / wax / candy is all so sensitive to touch, as well as climate, and even just playing around with them in different display mechanisms - it can get v messy/ slippery quick. In terms of display I often work from the floor - that’s something I’ve stuck with for a while now. But as of late I’ve been placing these puddle like casts into the concrete slabs that stand up right. This does do something different to the work in the way the light absorbs/ reflects it !

How has a change of space affected your work? In our earlier messages you mentioned scale potentially being the largest challenge but not wanting to become, “too fixated on an end goal."

Looking back, did being in the space push you in a different direction than what you initially had planned? Did any of the original themes you shared with me, evolve to another place since our earlier messages?

The space was fab ! Having so much space really pushed me to move outside and beyond the scale I had been working in. I felt like it would have been a missed opportunity if I didn’t do so. I made a silicone cast of a mattress.. which is a project I’ve been attempting to work on for years but never had the room to do it. That was a big moment for me haha. I surprised myself technically, and beyond that - casting with the same materials I’ve worked with for years, in bulk taught me lots about the material properties of glycerin, candy, concrete.. how these things move.. retain shape.. hold colour, and this ultimately lead me into a new body of work that I’m still working through now! :) 

Julia Thompson is an artist from Toronto, ON, but currently working in Los Angeles, CA. She works in sculpture, video, and installation, often employing materials that decay, harden, soften, move or transform. She reflects on the surprise of everyday experiences that conjure up a feeling once felt, of something distant yet familiar. At the crux of her work is the experience of time, investigating its qualities of freezing, stagnancy, and passing. Her work expresses conflicts with time as something in and out of her control, in the ways it provides possibility of escape or comes about as an abrupt, even subtle, interruption. These materials are ways she communicates a convergence of time, a resistance to a “linear reality.”

She is interested in the middle stage, or, the potential for something to happen. Through her investigations of materials that can change states - stick, melt, solidify - she questions if material forms can ever exhaust themselves.

These unstable moments stemming from her everyday experiences grounds her work; in response, her work serves as a testament to liminality. 

*Images and video courtesy of Julia Thompson & Sasha Fishman

For more information about Mohilef Studios please visit here.

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