Preview: Make Shift

Emily Speed’s artworks reflect her preoccupation with buildings – but not for their sense of permanence, says Femke Colborne

Hero image

For Emily Speed, home may be where the heart is – but it can also be a symbol of fear, disorientation and uncertainty. The 31-year-old Liverpool-based artist, whose solo show Make Shift opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on 16 July, is fascinated by the idea that buildings can make us feel safe and protected but are also ultimately fragile and transient.

“I’m very preoccupied with the compulsion we have to build things and the fact that they will become ruined, with the inevitability of decay,” she says. “Home is the ultimate place that shapes us, and people are very tied up with where they live because it’s the place where we spend the most time. But ultimately what I’m interested in is the precariousness of things – how we are all quite close to things falling apart.”

The title of Speed’s upcoming exhibition reflects this preoccupation in two ways: a play on the word “makeshift”, it points to the precarious nature of many of the works in the exhibition.

“A lot of my sculptures are propped or wedged – not very stable,” she says. “There is a focus on the makeshift, substitute, temporary – it’s about things being held together precariously.” But Speed’s work is also about movement, how we carry bits of places and memories of them with us through our lives – how we make them shift.

The exhibition, which will be on show in YSP’s Bothy Gallery, includes a number of new works made by Speed using the space in the sculpture park over the past few weeks. The 500-acre park is currently being re-landscaped with a grant from the EU, but it still contains a number of derelict buildings including an old student hall block from the 1960s. Speed was given access to this building and has used the old furniture to build various dens, which she has photographed for the exhibition.

She has also built floating “homes” for use on the park’s lakes, documented with both photographs and videos. These include a coracle – a small boat that people carry on their backs. It’s one of many works in the exhibition that symbolise the idea of us metaphorically taking homes with us through our lives.

I found the park difficult because I was not used to making work in a landscape,” says Speed. “But landscape is all a construction anyway – it’s not countryside but a man-made garden.”

Make Shift is Speed’s first solo exhibition, although she has previously exhibited in Austria, Milan, New York and Edinburgh, as well as London, where she studied at the Wimbledon School of Art. She has been working with YSP for the past two years after winning the Feiweles Trust Bursary, an award that involves residencies in local schools, and she feels it is an appropriate location for her first solo show.

“It’s been an incredibly supportive place to be working,” says Speed. “People here have really invested in the place and there is a great feeling among the staff. It’s just an amazing place – and it’s interesting for me in terms of its scale also, because quite often my work is either on a miniature scale or bigger than life size.”

Despite her unconventional views about homes, it seems Speed is as attached to her own hometown as the next person. “Being in the north is quite important to me,” she says. “There is a freedom to working here.

I did my MA in London but here there is a different feeling of having space to make the work and a focus on getting the work made.”

Make Shift is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 16 July-18 September

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Preview: Make Shift

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.