Julia Maddison’s work deals with loss, sex, secrets and lies. Her installations encompass sculpture, drawing, photography, textiles and found objects. Maddison has exhibited widely, and curated ‘I am ready for you, darling’, a show about history, secrets and sex in an abandoned shop in Kings Cross. She was Artist-in-Residence at Stephens House in North London where she created an installation about suburban secrets and the misery of war, inspired by the history of the building and the local area. Maddison is currently exhibiting in Dear Christine, a touring exhibition reframing Christine Keeler, a woman castigated for her role in the Profumo Affair, a notorious political scandal in the Sixties.
WIA: What are you doing today?
Julia Maddison: Mostly worrying; worrying about money, worrying about the hole in the roof of my unspeakably squalid home, and worrying about having to sit on a panel to discuss my work next week.
WIA: Tell us about your creative process.
JM: I’m not sure if I could call it a process, it depends what I’m working on; I might be reading, walking, sitting and thinking, and not actually “creating”. I do a lot of collecting; scraps, fripperies, fragments, photographs, piecing together new narratives from the flotsam of forgotten lives. Making can be a very long drawn out odyssey, casting aside many an idea or entire sculpture along the way….
And sometimes I sew pithy comments onto knickers – just to make a quick buck.
WIA: Describe where you do most of your creative work.
JM: I have made a lot of site specific installations, so, obviously, they are pieced together on the spot, be it in the woods, a disused shop, an old stable. The preliminary work would, ideally, be done in a studio but I am currently working largely from home in one of north London’s less glamorous neighbourhoods, on top of and underneath any surface I can find, often the bed.
WIA: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
JM: In 2017, I had a residency in the cellar of a huge Victorian House. I had the space for 6 months and got very involved with the building’s history; it had been used as a hospital for war blasted soldiers during the First World War, and the cellar might well have been a temporary morgue. The cavernous basement was lit by flickering strip lights and a gloom clung to the space, not unlike the pervasive sickly, shadowy light described in Zola’s Therese Raquin. I built a number pieces around the cellar, culminating in a kind of interactive theatre set of paper nurses’ aprons, hanging like a forest of war torn battle flags from the ceiling, with tiny “islands” of reworked Edwardian relics, gleaned from the house and from my family, secreted in the tenebrous recesses.
It was a vast and wonderful space to do whatever I wanted with. Unfortunately, the opportunity coincided with a rapid decline in my elderly mother’s health, so I was forever torn between looking after her, or visiting her in hospital, then scurrying back to the strange underground hospital I was creating. It was an exciting and yet anxiety-inducing time; something that I think showed in the work (which I feel was never fully resolved when the residency ended). I also used the space to show a short film about anxiety (Ansia,2017), that I made with Luca Bonomo which was screened in Venice during the Biennale that year (with thanks to Vanya Balogh).
WIA: What made you decide to become an artist?
JM: Apart from a brief and illogical determination to become a jockey, there’s nothing else I ever thought of doing. There’s nothing else I can do.
WIA: What are you currently working on?
JM: I’m quietly on the look out for a space to curate a show; somewhere shabby, neglected and probably off the beaten track. In 2015, I curated I am ready for you, darling, a show about secrets, sex and misremembered histories in an abandoned delicatessen and its upstairs flat in Kings Cross; I’d love to get my teeth into another project like that, putting a different artist in a specific room, and agonising for months about each tiny detail. I have a couple of artists in mind; I just haven’t found the ideal spot yet.
I’m also making a series of (rather wonky) monoprints about my chaotic existence; a sort of cartoon diary in sporadic episodes.
Oh, and I’m slowly putting a book of photographs together, mostly morose self portraits, often in the bath.
WIA: What are the key themes in your work?
JM: Sickness, sex, secrets and memory. A lot of it is autobiographical, often without it meaning to be. I am slowly putting together a kind of Bagpuss shop, full of lost/altered/subverted objects. I think of myself rather romantically as a foundling (I was adopted, but quite comfortably so) as a baby, so I am always looking for something….
WIA: What would you like people to notice in your work?
JM: Something they can recognise, or that makes them think. Sometimes my pieces are hidden in the shadows in exhibitions, or in secret corners, so just for them to be noticed at all means the viewer has had to do some work; I like people to have to work at things a bit. A lot of my work is about a melancholy undercurrent, about whispered secrets, suburban unease and lies; I would like people to pick up a sense of disquiet, even if merely from the fragility of some of the more ephemeral items I make.
WIA: What attracts you to the mediums you work in?
JM: Often I have to work with what I have around me, what I can scavenge, or what people give me (I am given all sorts of extraordinary items by friends and fellow artists). I often replace an expected material with something else; I recently made some clothing (suggesting the remnants of a drowning incident) by cutting and sewing pieces of tissue paper. Another recent piece is a swimming costume made of discarded corner shop plastic bags (for an exhibition about Christine Keeler).
WIA: What equipment could you not do without?
WIA: Who or what inspires you?
JM: All sorts of things; film, the news, novels, other artists, other people’s lives, other people’s deaths
WIA: How does gender affect your work?
JM: My work is very obviously made by a female, I suppose, and most people who have a really strong, intelligent reaction to it are women my age; I am happy with this. A lot of my work is about me, and issues that have affected me, and I am a woman but gender is not necessarily at the heart of the work.
WIA: What’s your favourite gallery, or place to see or experience art?
JM: Often, I prefer to see work outside of traditional gallery spaces. I like to be (pleasantly) surprised. Sometimes galleries seem aggressively didactic, or sometimes just a bit too dull. I have seen some very interesting things in woods, graveyards, abandoned chapels – but it all depends on the work of course.
WIA: If you could own one piece of art, what would it be and why?
JM: Maybe one or two of Goya’s Los Caprichos, or the full set. For the darkness, the subversiveness, the criticism of “civilised society”.
WIA: What’s your favourite colour
JM: Ha ha. Black.
Dear Christine, to 9 November 2019.
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