Cathy Wilkes is best known for her imaginary environments, which variously recall interiors: the sickroom, the deathbed, places of loss and catastrophe.
Wilkes makes installations, sculpture and paintings, experimenting with all kinds of media and materials, including paper cloth and clay, and collecting treasures and ingredients, which together have made a body of work spanning twenty-five years. Production – or what we see in the end – is the accumulation of all of these constituent parts. Equally important, though, are the contemplative, sensorial experiences for which it stands.
To make art is to conceive of something outside body and mind; to release and expand ourselves beyond what defines one human being as separate from others. This opening out is a thrilling and terrifying endeavour full of mystery, which Wilkes has described as a transforming force of nature. The artist’s work, which is fiercely introspective, challenges us to consider the impossibility of a clear meaning, why something is as it is or why it is there at all, but also the mysterious place where art moves inside us.
Wilkes’s work Untitled (Possil, at last) (2013) was included in the exhibition The Encyclopedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013). Here, four child-like figures in antique clothing and bonnets stand around a male figure who is crouched over an empty bottle. There are two infants, one is a bride; another figure might be a shepherd. As if in a garden, a taller girl stands before an expanded field of broken pieces, unearthed from the ground where Possil Pottery once stood. ‘The work is inhabited by both the living and the dead,’ the artist says. ‘Then it’s understood that there is both materialisation and disappearance of physical things. It’s understood that it is a natural retreat from material reality. It’s understood that the forces of nature are electric and defining.’ Wilkes’s exhibition for GENERATION continues these themes, engaging with the fabric and raw materials of Tramway’s gallery space.