Whenever a material comes too close to reminding us of human skin, we tend to feel slightly disarmed. Nothing comes as close to replicating the intimate curiosities and vulnerabilities of skin as hosiery – so when a viewer is confronted with a piece of art that takes that hosiery yet corrodes, melds and rusts it together, a visceral kind of discomfort sets in. Although artist Katherine Soucie thoughtfully plays with the presence of discomfort in her work, it isn’t quite meant to alarm us about our bodies – it’s to make us think about our environmental responsibilities.
“Hosiery is constructed to be like a second skin, but the material isn’t biodegradable,” Soucie tells me from her textile studio on Powell Street in Vancouver. Soucie just graduated with an MFA from Emily Carr, and recently exhibited the aforementioned piece in the 2013 Emily Carr Grad Show. “With the piece in the grad show, Post Mordant, I was using a rusting process to decompose the material because it is the only thing that will decompose that material. Over time, the piece will start to corrode and turn into iron fillings. I was trying to bring the material back into the earth with my process.”
In fact, an environmentally-conscious mindset is what drives Soucie through most of her practice. After moving back to Vancouver in 2003, Soucie studied fashion at Capilano, where she quickly learned that mass produced, impersonal materials and a business-driven, minimally creative industry weren’t her callings. She abandoned a formal education in fashion for the freedom of a fine arts post-graduate degree at ECUAD. “I have this relationship with clothing that I am still trying to understand,” she tells me. “I will produce it on my own terms but don’t want to engage in mass production. In fact, I try to salvage the castoffs that result from that mass production. It’s important that I’m working with pre-consumer waste than post-consumer waste. I’d rather transform something that hasn’t even had a chance to do anything yet.”
Apart from reshaping and redefining textiles in her fine art practice, Soucie has also been running a fashion business, Sans Soucie, for 10 years. She’s been balancing a fashion career, a fine art practice, and a dedication to research about materials and textiles practically ever since. “Emily Carr gave me the freedom to integrate my day job with my artistic practice. As an institution, they allow you to dissect aspects of your work, to theorize, to explore your practice. It allowed me to gather a better understanding of my practice. We’re at an interesting time in the visual arts because there are so many different aspects of the applied arts being pulled in.”
Soucie also recognizes that the act of pulling the applied arts into the visual arts is traditionally the mark of feminist art. Although Soucie isn’t actively working to express a feminist message, she feels that it comes through her work naturally. “The feminism is inherent in what I do. I’m trying to revive aspects of that feminine process, like mending, in my work. I’m not trying to force my beliefs on people but I feel that my work is an education in and around feminism.”
Now that Soucie has finished her post-graduate degree, her next steps are to take a few minutes to breathe and decide whether Vancouver is still capable of providing her with the necessary inspiration. “Vancouver, as a city, has been really influential on my work,” she explains. “Because Fashion Industry had left here, I started my practice by collecting old, broken tools.” She points to an old T-shirt hemming machine which she now uses as a drawing tool, and to recent art pieces composed of piles of sewing machines tightly wrapped in yarn. “My work is a lot about transformation, and in a way, Vancouver reflects that.”
Only time will tell if Vancouver is still the right place for Katherine; but for now, you can find her at her studio on Powell Street, continuing to explore and deconstruct materials and second skins to bring them back to their origins.
For more information visit www.katherinesoucie.com
By Polina BachlakovaArt, BC, British Columbia