UnEarthed: Kathryn Parsons

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UnEarthed: Kathryn Parsons.

Kathryn Parsons is one of the artists who has taken part in a residency based at John Clare Cottage in Helpston, UnEarthed. UnEarthed is a partnership between five artists and the John Clare Trust to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the poet’s death in May 2014. The five artists involved researched the life and work of Clare. This has culminated into a contemporary art exhibition, which was held at John Clare Cottage between July and September 2014. The exhibition is currently on show at Northampton Museum, but will be returning to Peterborough to be exhibited at Peterborough City Gallery from 7th – 30th November.

I was lucky enough to have interviewed each artist whist their installation was up at John Clare Cottage. Here is a taster of Kathryn Parsons’ work whist in residence at Clare Cottage, be sure not to miss the exhibit at Peterborough City Gallery.


(Ruth) How has your work developed throughout your residency at John Clare Cottage? Has it changed much since I last saw you at Peterborough Museum?

(Kathryn) Yes, in terms of practical elements really. The ideas that I first came up with when I was making the trial pieces out of the porcelain, a lot of the same shapes and plant forms have stayed quite similar. The difference is they have to be much more robust as they are placed outside here at the Cottage. That’s actually quite hard for me as I love the delicacy of the pieces indoors (Kathryn also has an installation of sculptures inside the cottage). The ones outdoors still are delicate but they just had to be that little bit chunkier, its not so much coping with the weather, but coping with the real plants that are there and these enormous snails that go crawling up the wall! So adapting to the practical really.

(Ruth) It must be quite nice that it’s the nature interacting with the work that is the danger of damaging it? You were saying earlier the plants growing were pushing them away. 

(Kathryn) I wanted it to look very life like – as if they are really growing, because he (Clare) used to bring plants he’d collected here and plant them. He didn’t go for all the pressing flowers and pinning insects and stuff that a lot of other Victorian collectors did, so I wanted them to look like real living plants.  Growing out of the wall in the garden was just ideal. It’s the same stone as the cliff in Swaddywell, the same type of limestone, its got that connection with places that he knew. At the bottom of the garden they are just rebuilding a dry stonewall. That’s probably the same wall that he would have known, so although the wall that I have planted into isn’t the original one, that method of dry stone walling and that stone really does link with him and places he would have known. Part of making them real was putting them in that context.



(Ruth) Your pieces are very site specific, attached to the dry stone wall, your jars placed on the windowsill in the kitchen. When you created the work did you envisage that they would be exhibited in this way?

(Kathryn) Yes because it’s a kitchen, and it was his kitchen. They are in jam jars because they are preserves. As soon as I saw the windowsill I was hoping it was going to be deep enough and I love them there, the way the lights comes through and the colours. I think they look so beautiful and fragile.


(Ruth) Are all the objects in the jars things you have collected on your walks through Clare’s environment? 

(Kathryn) Yes, they’re from three places that were all special to Clare. There’s Royce Wood that’s really close by about half a mile around the back of the cottage. He wrote about that quite a lot, it’s one of his favourite places. Lolham Bridges, when he left Helpston he said he would return every year to Lolham Bridges to see the river flood, because the noise was just phenomenal. Then the third one was Swaddywell, which is different to the Swordy Well that he knew but is very close by.


(Ruth) Have you had a good response from visitors?

(Kathryn) Yes, well especially when I was attempting to try to find ways to fix the plants to the wall without damaging it, I spent a lot of days here trying different methods and that was brilliant because I would be sat at the wall holding these bits of white porcelain and that would get loads of conversations going. That’s been the best time to talk to people about my work. People were intrigued, a lot of people thought they were real, which was interesting, as they are not coloured, so that was quite intriguing.

(Ruth) Each artist who has taken part in the residency has echoed Clare in some way. How do you feel you have echoed him in your work?

(Kathryn) I think the echoing has really been about the places, the locations for me. I was intrigued by how intimately he knew this area (Helpston) and although I only live about three miles away and have driven through it I hadn’t actually walked through and got to know the place. So that was something that really appealed to me. By going twice a week, over spring and early summer, I was amazed how much these places changed. Now to him  (Clare) that would have been normal because he’s seen this year after year, but for me I was seeing it for the first time. For me that’s the link. He was also very much a collector. He collected all sorts of things. All my work here is about collections as well or collections of things, either found things or things I have made, collected and then arranged. For me the pieces in the wall, and the jam jars particularly, they are like my poems for those three places.

I have called the piece out in the courtyard, ‘I Found the Poems in the Field’. That’s something that he said and it felt like that’s been the theme all the way through for me. The finding of the things, real things and then creating work from there; it’s been about the process rather than talking about a particular poem, echoing the process where he would go out observe and then respond.



A short video clip of Kathryn at Peterborough Museum prior to the finished exhibit at John Clare Cottage.



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