in conversation with Gabriel Kidd
Words by Niamh Quigley
In my interview with Gabriel Kidd, we discussed the themes and experiences that fed into the creation of their exquisite textile work, surrounding the theme of Queer Ecology. Transitioning from a rural to city life, Gabriel illustrates how this change affects the approach to not just this piece of work, but to all their practice. I had the chance to explore how, as a contemporary artist, Gabriel would maneuver with the ever-changing shifts faced by the textile industry, and to what extent they feel that historical perspectives contribute to his artistic practice.
How have your personal experiences fed into your work?
Personal experience is the starting point to all the work I make really. I feel that your own well of experience is a pure place to draw narrative frameworks from; key events, kind words from friends, less kind words from others and observations that get stuck in my brain all feed into the thinking/making processes. Semi-unwelcome flashbacks to teenager times during lockdown have had me consistently surprised, warmed, and a little saddened by the circumstances my younger self found themselves in – and that mix makes for a perfect launch pad! An example I’ve been fond of revisiting recently was an evening in early secondary school where I found myself hoping to make new friends in the local park. The usual interactions ensued as I realised how many jokes began to turn repeatedly on me, but still, I remained stubborn in trying to keep from disturbing the delicate social hierarchy; to be the joke was bearable and would have to be endured with a smile! I remember absolutely refusing to cry in-front of them when they casually split the egg on my head and also decided that I wasn’t going to call my parents, the shame hit so hard that only I could know about it. Instead of looking for help, I turned around without saying much at all and tried to stand tall as I stumbled up and away from them. The only problem with this was that we had recently moved to a new house and I was not so familiar with how to get back, so I got completely lost on my walk home. I spent what felt like hours speeding around, covered in egg, becoming increasingly flustered and upset. Worst of all, I chose to walk along the bridle paths, to avoid cars that might see me, only to quickly realise that every dog walker in the area had also taken this time to enjoy their evening stroll. But I still didn’t ask for help, call for help, do anything for help, just kept wandering literally in circles, so stubborn that no-one could know about this despite making everything worse for myself. In the end I found my way home and quietly resolved to just reject any offers from potential new friends for a little while. It’s a familiar story to anyone who experienced any sort of othering in school, treading a fine line between a little tragic and comedic with enough years having gone by to almost forget the rawness of it. For me it’s an ideal ‘personal experience’ to work from; I can build compositionally by extracting key elements: from the number of people, to exploring the egg as a symbolic object that comes to signify the distilled feelings within the story. It is not so heavy that I need to question how it can be comfortably discussed but a clear example of a response to shame I still recognise in myself today that I’m enjoying unpicking.
Would you say your relationship with your work has changed from moving between rural and a city life? Is there a situation where you feel your work is more true to your own experiences, if so, where and why?
I think my approach to making definitely changes depending on where I am! I spent some time locked down at home in the hills this past year and the bits of painting and making I got round to felt much more playful. I could be more generous with the amount of paint/materials being applied to heavier surfaces, this is something I get weirdly hesitant about when I’m working in the city. The surfaces seem more precious and any approach on them quite a bit tenser? Maybe I’m just more tightly strung when feeling hemmed in.
At what point of the creative process do you feel most aligned with the theme you are depicting?
I feel most aligned at the point before actually making anything, mostly during walks. This is where materials are collected, structures and shapes are sketched down, and runaway thoughts are given the space to join together. I suppose when I’m thematically concerned with the relationship between my queerness and the hills it grew up in, these walks become all about planting myself back into nature; receiving it and allowing myself to share the space a while. I’ll often spend a walk mostly talking, asking questions or discussing ideas out loud in the hope that the landscape around me will prompt some answers. The moors where I grew up have a strange sentience about them. They’re relatively tame as far as moors go, but they seem to recognise their position as a delicate liminal space between concentrations of people, feigning its apparent emptiness. You feel at home along the tops whilst being aware that, were they any bigger you might instead feel quite unwelcome. These sort of natural spaces that nestle between urbanized areas are my favourite for this sense of fragility.
Do you think the tension/relationship between the two spaces is something that is perhaps subconsciously present in all your work or strictly just surrounding the theme of queer ecology?
Yeah, I think something on the relationship between the two always makes its way in. My particular interest when it comes to the two spaces is the position of queer identities within them. I’m not entirely convinced that the city should be the cultural home for queer folk; talking points like queer ecologies help to carve out an exciting way to look at natural spaces that place queerness right at the center. The urban and rural are always present in my thinking; I try to pull narratives from experiences in both spaces, sometimes a story based in the urban will be paired with materials or shapes related to the rural to re-situate it and vice-versa. In social terms the two spaces are actually really similar I think; what they offer and how their structures effect the people living there have similar beats. There’s this ongoing back and forth between being hidden and revealed, in the rural landscape you’re hidden in its remoteness, a trait that can also make you feel super exposed if it turns on you. Similarly, the physical structure of a city and its population size, provide so much cover whilst also placing you under constant surveillance. For me the terms are really reflective of each other; always in a tense conversation where one accuses the other of being different. When it comes to making, I’ve been really into trying to work out how to use materials to set a stage for dynamics of the experience of being seen/unseen and queerer goings on to play out.
With the shift in textile culture, how as a contemporary artist do you maneuver within these shifts?
So, I think there are a couple of major shifts in textile culture that have allowed contemporary artists to sit quite snugly in the medium now. The mechanization of production hugely opened up the accessibility of fabrics and mid-century cultural changes in the west have blurred the lines between craft/fine art & masculine/feminine crafts. I feel like the culture is easier to move in and out of more than ever! A widening acceptance of textile within art circles and gendered expectations around the craft loosening opens up a lot of space for engaging with textile in a contemporary sense. My favorite point of access is through a historical perspective; physically connecting my hands with textile using needlework and hand-dyeing creates a small through-line to the communities and movements that have similarly utilized the medium. Maybe not so much a dialogue but more a placement on the timeline?
The historical and traditional approaches to queerness often provide brutal, inhumane narratives. Your work shows a conscious recognition of historical perspectives, is this something you consider a vital element of engaging with the piece you are creating? If so, do you believe reflecting on historical and traditional perspectives will be centered in future pieces?
Yeah, I think engaging with the historical narratives/perspectives that underpin whatever subject you’re working through is really vital! Especially when working through queerness, whether it's your own or the wider queer experience, I’ve found it both integral to my practice and incredibly personally fulfilling to really work on digging into queer history for myself, both in an academic and cultural sense. So much of queer culture is built on the back of a long line insider codes, winks, and nods that have always worked to evade the notice of heteronormative society, whilst acting as a recognizable beacon to other othered folk. Our queer aesthetics and ways of living have evolved through this language born in the cracks and seams of straight society, slowly working their way out like stubborn tree roots in the pavement. It’s this side of the history I like to play with: the symbols, colours, and objects that have each accumulated their own queered subjectivities. I think a lot of my work acts like a stage for collections of these nods; almost all the figures are pulled from photographs or drawings by artists whose work has developed a certain queer presence; whether or not they themselves had intent for the work to read in that way, now they’re actors in a gay play. Using the work as a way to host these collected bits and bobs allows me a really playful route to articulating what I’ve been reading or have found digging through archives of queer history. A friend of mine sent me an essay on ‘thingness’ a little while ago and ever since I’ve been really into the potential of every ‘thing’ acting as a direct throughway to a history, a ‘thing’ can emit narratives, brutal or joyous, that weave together with other ‘things’ you may position it with – I guess in that way, reflections of historical and traditional perspectives are present in some of the more object-heavy work as their ‘thingness’ mingles! My knowledge on these histories is in no way exhaustive, and I’m really just deep in the learning process, both historically and in understanding my own identity! Making work is a way of extending that process, taking what I’m learning and re-articulating that information by applying it to personal narratives.
I would love to explore more direct ways of tackling historical narratives relating to the community in the future, there are so many stories that need uncovering and telling. I’m a stubbornly lone worker though and I feel like, for these sorts of projects, collaboration is really key. There’s also the issue of which narratives I should be reflecting on; in our current climate especially, the beautifully rich history of our trans and non-binary kin needs to be seen and shared. My experience of queerness is not that of the trans experience of queerness, so, if my practice evolves to a more focused intent on reflecting queer history it will need to do so in collaboration, through research, support, and a wider engagement with community outside of my own reading!