Q&A with Plymouth College of Art Degree Show Graduate, Sophie Holland

The end of year art show at Plymouth College of Art sees the college transform into a dynamic public exhibition space, free to visit and explore, with curated works from students across our Undergraduate and Pre­Degree programmes. Bold concepts and fresh techniques, across an eclectic range of mediums both modern and traditional are to be expected, and with many students still finalising their works for the show, the time has come to reveal the first glimpses of work by some of the college’s most ambitious, innovative and technically brilliant graduates. Sophie Holland, one of the graduating students talks to Aesthetica about her artistic practice and what she’s been working on throughout the course.

A: You use a variety of different materials in your work, including glass, metal, 3D printing, pewter and silver. With such a diverse range of media, which do you find is the easiest to work with, and which is your favourite?
SH: Pewter was the easiest medium to work in. Unlike silver, I was able to cast the pewter bangles and rings in the workshop – the casts were the cleanest and the finishing on them seemed to be the simplest.

But my favourite pieces to make would be the glass and silver rings, which changed a lot from the original design. Both rings were experimental and took multiple casts, pushing how small and thin the sound waves could become. The silver elements of the rings were solutions to issues I had, but I feel that they have enhanced the pieces by making them wearable as well as sculptural. Overall I like these pieces the most because I overcame issues to produce something I think was better than my initial design.

A: In a world where the digital age is only advancing, what it is it about combining the old and new techniques that you find so fascinating? Do you think that emerging artists like yourself are keen to exercise a sense of nostalgia in their practice instead of immersing themselves completely into technology?
SH: Working with CAD and 3D printing has really opened up my practice. Pieces I couldn’t produce or – if it were possible to – just wouldn’t be time efficient to make, are now accessible to me. Mixing the old and new seemed like the right thing for my practice, I like traditional silversmithing and didn’t want to lose that element – but CAD techniques can enhance these to produce something new and imaginative.

I think there are a lot of artists who may be reluctant to use 3D printing as an aid or extra tool, but I also think that in our evolving industry it’s inevitable that most at some point will have to develop at least a basic understanding of this technology. Whether we like it or not, design and production are already digitalised and becoming more so.

If you don’t learn about the new technologies out there you can easily get left behind by the industry, but equally you need to know the old techniques and processes so you can identify what is realistic to produce using CAD with precious metal or different media.

A: You mention that you are influenced by emotion and environment; does this help produce a sense of ownership with your work? Do you think that an artist can create works without attaching an emotion or memory to them?
SH: Yes, the combination of my emotions and environment means a piece of me is has been included in each item I’m making. I think it brings a little something else to the piece too, a story or dialogue. I do believe that an artist can produce work without attaching an emotion to it. Sometimes it’s necessary, and in everyday work we can’t always afford to be overly protective or attached.

A: Could you talk a bit more about your practice with sound waves; how are you hoping to incorporate a subjective sense into your physical compositions?
This collection is my interpretation of the songs I chose. I can make commission pieces of my design using songs according to a client’s requirements, whether that be a song personal to them, a word, a phrase or poem. It could be their voice or the voice of someone that they love. This collection is adaptable and isn’t unique to me. This collection began the development of a dialogue between memories and materials. It started off very experimentally and that’s why there is such mixed media in the collection.

A: How do you expect your work to be received; if your sound wave series is based upon songs that mean something to you on a personal level, do you think there is something universal that can be touched upon with any audience, or do you think that there is more value in the production than there is the reception?
SH: The collection is personal to me but I don’t think this element is a main focus – I hope the songs I have used will be able to connect with the audience with or without my story. In some pieces it isn’t completely obvious that they are complete soundwaves. I think there is a value, too, in the production methods I have used, which could be more interesting to the audience than the connection that makes them personal to me.

A: You summarise your work as “unconventional silversmithing design” – what is it about your work that sets you apart from others? Do you think it’s important to bring something unique as an artist? If so, do you think anything can be original in contemporary culture?
: My concept may not be completely original, I know there are artist and designers out there working with sound waves, jewellery and 3D printing, but my designs are definitely unique. I have incorporated sound waves into my work differently to anything else that I have seen, keeping it as simple as possible. I haven’t used programs or coding to reproduce the sound, the designs are my interpretations of the songs. In relation to my bangles and vessel, I have worked the sound wave vertically instead of horizontally, and have also designed them to be movable or layered so they aren’t completely obvious as sound waves.

I think it’s very important to bring something unique as an artist. It is so easy to be overlooked, you need to create something that differentiates you. For example, on social media I’m competing with millions of other images of 3D printing and contemporary jewellery. I need to catch people’s attention while they are scrolling and I hope that my unique designs can do this. I think there is still originality in contemporary culture.

Plymouth College of Art, 11-24 June, www.plymouthart.ac.uk

1. Sophie Holland’s bangles, created using soundwaves from Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. Courtesy of the artist.