‘Folktales and Fairy Tales Inform our Identities’ – Interview with Jill McKnight

By December 13, 2021

Art & Photography. Leeds.

Nick Baines, courtesy of Hyde Park Art Club, 2021.

I met Jill McKnight on Zoom on a snowy Sunday morning, at a point where the relationships between her recent and upcoming exhibitions are overlapping like a venn diagram. ‘Confabulations’, at the Hyde Park Art Club (2nd November- 29th November 2021), has just ended and ‘A room in which many of the parts of our lives were placed’, her first London solo exhibition at VITRINE is set to open in January 2022.

At the centre of this venn diagram is her residency at The Art House, Wakefield, from June to August this year. It was a productive time for McKnight, providing her with an opportunity to explore “quite a sprawling subject area” as she refers to it. What came out of the residency was a body of work with a range that couldn’t be contained within the themes of the exhibition planned for its end. The residency gave McKnight space to work intuitively and pursue ideas without knowing where they came from. She explains:

”It was exciting not knowing where it was going to lead. I was making mind maps to try and work out the themes within the work – industry, family, identity and the sea – I was looking at what those things might mean and ‘holding on’ and ‘letting go’ was one of the points I arrived at.”

These themes inform her practice. McKnight interrogates her working class experience across feminism, identity, domestic life, the home and labour through the lens of lineage:

“I’m looking at lineages as an interesting history of what’s gone before. Disparate strands – separate but overlapping strands – that I fit within. There’s a feminist, a working class, an artisitc lineage. I see them as parallel but with some overlaps. Quite often there are references to huge artistic figures like Picasso or Anthony Caro. Looking at these macho artistic figures and where I sit alongside them as an artist who’s mainly worked in sculpture. I see sculpture as having a relationship to the post industrial, the hands on making, so that’s a working class strand – family members working in the shipyards and factories and what it means to be an artist now. ”

David Lindsey, courtesy of ‘The Art House’ Wakefield, 2021.

McKnight’s sculptural works often represent everyday, domestic objects in a playful and colourful way. She suggests that:

“… there’s often a tension between their objectness [domestic objects]- so sculpture as an object and very often they have elements of the human – limbs are a recurring image within the work. There’s a suggestion of the objects coming alive, they might have the potential to move like a human. There are also references to machinery and equipment – the body as a technology, so a sort of overlap.”

For the exhibition ‘Confabulations’, in addition to sculptural works, McKnight introduced prints (which are still being sold on the ‘Hyde Park Art Club’ website). In one print, shown below, a figure of a girl is kneeling on a bathroom sink and she’s leaning into the mirror. It’s a reference to an illustration in Alice in Wonderland of Alice as she is about to go through a mirror hanging over a fireplace and McKnight explained that this represents her “in my bathroom rather than a living room setting.”

‘Through the Bathroom Mirror’ Jill McKnight. Prints being sold on the ‘Hyde Park Art Club’ website.

‘Confabulations’, the title of which was inspired by John Berger’s book of the same title, explored the real and the fictional. McKnight explains:

“Confabulation is a term within psychiatry where people fictionalise parts of their memory. It’s a misremembering. To confabulate, you are bringing the fictional into the real and that seemed to capture perfectly what I was looking at within the exhibition – how folktales and fairy tales inform our identities. I was looking at the real and the fictional – autobiographical elements alongside references to different stories from childhood.”

Writing, is also a key element in McKnight’s practice – providing a context to the sculptural works or as an integrated element. She first used text in an exhibition at SERF as “there were lots of stories behind the sculptures, but there was no way of knowing it from the works alone.” Therefore McKnight created ” an audio track a bit like a museum audio guide” to go alongside her work to  her work, as well as a publication named ‘Confabulations’, which featured poems and writing, contextualising the sculptural and paper works.

Text will also feature in her upcoming first London solo exhibition at VITRINE in January which also includes work from The Art House residency.

Nick Baines, courtesy of Hyde Park Art Club

Right now, McKnight is in the middle of a residency with the British Library and Leeds Art Gallery called ‘Collections in Dialogue’. McKnight is working with sound recordings from two collections in the British Library – ‘accents and dialects’ and ‘world and traditional music’ – and works on paper from the Leeds Art Gallery’s collection.

The residency will focus on how people in Leeds have represented themselves within the two collections. She stated that she:

“…wanted to look at the works on paper because it’s the largest area of the Leeds art collection with over 5000 works. A lot of them have never been shown because of the delicate nature of works on paper. I’m looking at artists who were born or living in Leeds. Within the sound recordings, people from the Leeds area.” McKnight is working towards an exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery which will open in March next year.

You can find more of Jill McKnight’s work on her website and instagram and be sure to check out ‘A room in which many of the parts of our lives were placed’ which is set to open at the VITRINE , London from 23 January 2022 – 6 March 2022.