Resilience in Clay | Q&A with Artist Kate Viner

17th May 2023
News category
Art and Music

Conceived from a calling to share the lives and experiences of those around her, artist and sculptor, Kate Viner's latest project is a moving and thought-provoking look at the stories behind a selection of people who have found a new life in and around Chichester. 

Exhibiting this summer at Chichester Cathedral, Resilience in Clay is a collection of seven sculptures that embody the values, cultures and religions of a select group of sitters, bringing inclusion and acceptance to the forefront of our ever-evolving community.  

We visited Kate at her Chichester-based studio to chat about the upcoming exhibition and what it means to her… 

Kate Viner sculpting

Q: How did you come to create this project? 

The initial idea stemmed from conversations I had with several people new to the Chichester area, having sought refugehere from persecution. With a growing number of people now living together in the UK from all over the world, I recognised the opportunity this gives us to learn, share and embrace cultural values and connections, and by doing so enrich our community.

A lot of the work I do is inspired by women, war, religion and persecution - human concern stories. This new exhibition is all about celebrating human diversity, resilience and cultural growth. 

Resilience in Clay comprises seven sculptural portraits. When you really take the time to look at the human head, you immediately empower the person represented. We can see this in a lot of the sculptural work found at the Cathedral, which represents many great and powerful figures from Christian history. It was important for me to portray the people in this project in a powerful and mindful way. In the changing face of society, more people are realising that there are so many exceptional people, on all levels, who are simply living and sharing their lives, but enriching us all in doing so.

Kate Viner sculpting

Q: How does the physical process of creating the sculptures take place? 

At the start of the process the sitter and I talk, drink coffee and share stories and experiences. Getting to know one another whilst also gently encouraging the sitter to relax into the process enough to share themselves with me through art and engagement. I knew many of the people involved, in some capacity, prior to working together, but during the process, we have built a strong connection.

Each sitter spends around 24 hours with me over eight, three-hour sessions, and I start the process with a series of drawings and sketches.At the beginning, it can be difficult, spending so much time, sometimes in silence, staring at one another. A lot of people require a distraction from the intensity of the process, so whilst I have been working with each sitter, they have also been creating artwork of their own. 

All the time we spend together, even if it is not whilst sculpting, I am continually looking at the sitters’ face to capture all the minute moments that I can bring back to the sculpture. Capturing that emotion is the most important thing. Some people bring their children with them while I work, which is an incredible experience. Seeing how they engage with their children gives another dimension to the sculptural representations - expressions I may not have seen otherwise.

The relationship with the subject is so important. Unless you have trust, you are not going to glimpse those moments, but when the trust comes, you connect with one another and are able to catch the subconscious, as well as reactive emotions.

Kate Viner sculpting

Q: What is the message behind this project and exhibition? 

Our values. Through the process of creating the artwork, the sitters and I have been talking about what we value. Community and connection have been discussed continuously. I learn something new from each person that sits for me. 

Family is a theme that has come up with every person involved in this project. The concept of hospitality and sharing are other common threads connecting all the people represented in this exhibition. These all stand as key values to every community, whether through faith, family or friends. 

It is important to me to make sure that each sitter feels appropriately represented, but also that I am doing them justice and representing not only how they look, but who they are, where they’ve come from and what their new lives in Chichester have brought to them. Unlike other work I have done in the past where there has been an agreed narrative to the artwork, these are not commissions, but representative pieces. 

Artwork created by the sitters

Q: What is unique about this project? 

This project is all about celebrating community, connection and human resilience in the face of persecution, through art and representation. 

When you look at a sculpture of the human head, you do not need to know anything about the person, but as you connect with the piece and discover your own understanding of their personality, you begin to feel that you do know them. A sculpture is one thousand moments, and through this experience you, as the audience and me as the sculptor, get to know each person, intimately, through their expression, their gaze, their eyes. The eyes are a window to the soul and as you view the full 360 degrees of the head, there will come a point where their eyes meet yours and you’re connected.  

In response to the work, each sitter has created an embroidery as part of a collaborative piece called A Common Thread (pictured above). Many of the subjects involved in this project are incredible seamstresses, so we chose this as the medium to share their thoughts and feelings in their own words and first language.  

Kate Viner sculpting

Q: How are you hoping the audience will respond and connect with the exhibition? 

Art is a powerful way to connect with one another. I am hoping that by coming to Chichester Cathedral and experiencing this exhibition, we will begin to consider the people around us with more depth and understanding, without even knowing them.  

My hope for our community is to have a greater compassion for each other, and to be excited by the opportunities that are coming from the growing diversity in our city. 

The changing face of Chichester is one to celebrate and embrace in our ongoing development as a community.  

Resilience in Clay will be on show from 12 June -  31 August 2023 and will be supported by a programme of events including an Artist’s Tour and a portrait drawing workshop. Activities will also be taking place as part of Refugee Week, from 19th – 25th June 2023.

Supported using public funding from Arts Council England

17th May 2023
News category
Art and Music