Artist's Statement: From Vogue and Elle to Topshop, Agent Provocateur and top fashion events, Nicola Malkin's colourful, large-scale pieces have made her one of the most in-demand sculptors in the UK, winning a string of awards along the way.
For her latest work, Crafted Footnotes, she's delved through a collection of 60,000 books and 5,000 objects for a show at the Women’s Library in London…
"I usually make large-scale one-off ceramic sculpture, and I was asked to create a new body of work in response to and for the collection. Their archive is completely to do with women through the ages.
There's so much in there that I just picked out stories, themes and things from the archives that I thought were interesting, and then did little pieces in response to each one. It's awful really, I've always been a bit intimidated by libraries. But they had so many things you didn’t even know were there until the librarian pulled them out.
It took ages. I wanted to get all these 2D mementoes and turn them into 3D objects with library classifications which would lead each person to wherever it is in the library, whether it's on a shelf or in an archive. I took lots of stuff.
I wanted them to be in unusual places, not just in an exhibition space. They're going to be under tables and shelves – really obvious, but unexpected, if you see what I mean. I want people to be in there, all serious, looking for their books, and then say 'why is there a giant teabag in between the books?' That kind of thing.
The most obvious one is they're having a big exhibition on domestic craft in the home, so I found this photograph of Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette, knitting in prison. It’s a really cool picture, so I thought I had to do something to do with women keeping themselves busy.
I did these huge knitting needles which have got library reference numbers on them. You know how the heads of needles are like cream and have a big colourful spot on them? That bit’s ceramic, and then the metal bit is steel and it's powder-coated, so it looks exactly like a knitting needle but it's five foot tall.
I intended to make just a couple, and I’ve ended up doing 12. I'm really short so everything's really huge to me anyway. I just got carried away.
I've got big groups of ladybirds, inspired by this archive on Greenham Common. There was a big group of women protesting against nuclear war, so I had to do something about crazy women getting together.
At the same time I was decorating my house and saw a cluster of ladybirds. They're like really weird little nests. They’re really funny, they all cluster together in a little lump.
I thought that would be a really nice representation of women getting together, so I’m going to have a big nest of ladybirds coming out of a bookshelf. They're ceramic, about the size of my palm.
Another thing I found was a file on babysnatchers. I was like, 'what the hell are they?' It's this whole archive dedicated to women who have stolen babies. It's horrible – I thought, 'oh God, these evil women…'
Then you start talking about it and actually they were usually having a really hard time and they'd lost a baby or some other kind of trauma. They thought they could look after these babies better than their mums, so they've got really heartwrenching stories. I've made a bunch of teeny little babies that are wrapped up and hidden, dotted around the reading rooms.
I want people to see their tiny heads popping out and come across them by accident. They’re actually tiny enough to nick and I thought 'wouldn't that be interesting, if people do steal them?’ I hope they don't, but they might.
I've made big bars of soap – the women's library used to be a washhouse, so I had to do something about the history of it.
I've been working on this show since February, but I could have gone all year, to be honest. I spent most of my time researching – the making didn't start until July. Just going through the archive takes so long and these are heavy subjects, so you don't wanna take the mick, belittle them or anything like that, although it was good fun.
A big part of the archives are women campaigning for or against something, and a lot of the most interesting things for me showed what strength women have. The pieces do get quite dark, but they're more intriguing than depressing, I hope."
Crafted Footnotes is at The Women’s Library from October 28 2010 – March 26 2011. Visit the exhibition online for more details.
For more of Nicola Malkin's work, visit her website.
Crafted Footnotes is part of museumaker, a prestigious national project involving 16 museums across the country. museumaker is unlocking the creative potential of collections through imaginative interchanges between the heritage and contemporary craft sectors. It is supported by Arts Council England (ACE), the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and its Renaissance Programme. As well as offering new experiences for existing museum visitors, museumaker is establishing innovative ways of developing audiences. Each museum has commissioned one or more outstanding makers to create intriguing new work in response to the venue, its associations and collections. The programme also includes opportunities for partner museums to develop new products for retail. For further information on museumaker, see www.museumaker.com