Studio conversation with studio holder Emma Hislop

All my sculptures inhabit a space, like an installation. I build worlds. So, although they’re sculptures, they become objects that populate a world, it becomes an installation, also it comes apart and can come back together in different ways.

What was the project that you loved the most? 

I don’t have a clue, I love them all for different reasons, whether it’s been the research, the journey,  to get there, or maybe the connections with my thinking or memories. Some of them are related to childhood but rooted in scientific research and then some were really interesting to make and some were really difficult to make. Like this one, Phenomena System (Xiade’s Machine), 2019, the first thing I ever fully made in metal. I was really proud of when I did that. I’m also really proud of making such a big bronze, Apprentice Pillar, 2022, that was difficult as well. I currently really love this work in progress which is a ceramic artefact, a totem pole of stacked vases.

When did you finish art school? 

I graduated in 2019.

Did you find your voice since?

That’s a really good question. I don’t think I’ve ever looked for it, when I work it feels like divining and something speaks through me.

Metal is your first love

It was definitely my first love.

And you work as part of the technical team at ESW as well. How do you find it?

I love it. I’m a workshop assistant here. But yeah, I really like being a technician, and having my studio at the same time is incredible, because there’s a lot of benefits to that. It also makes it really hard to separate workshop life from studio life, and then if I’ve been working, and I decide that I’m going into artist mode now, I needed a couple of days away from here to swap hats to get my mind back into it. I’m still trying to find that balance.

Do you have an idea or a project that you always return to thinking about? 

One that haunts me? I don’t think I do. Maybe that, one day, I’d like to work with an architect on sculptural architecture or some interruption that intertwines them… I would love to do something really super large scale.

A more functional sense?

I try to make work while thinking of it lasting forever and not be wasteful, also something that has a life of its own and it grows. A presence to mark a space.  Every time I make something I try to make it have a function. There’s only a very small handful of things I’ve made that don’t have a function per se, and are purely artistic or aesthetic. I’d like to make things that are somewhere between art and MIT Media Lab and Neri Oxman. She’s someone I can only dream of being.

For how long do you have your studio here?

I’ve been at ESW for two years at least. I first came as resident, after winning an award during the Royal Scottish Academy New Contemporaries exhibition, the Graduate Research Award. I moved to Edinburgh for it because I was really excited by ESW.

Currently I’m working with the University of Stirling Art Collections. They have an incredible art collection there and the curatorial team there are so interesting. I’ve been working with the deputy head curator Emma McCombie, PhD candidate Maddie Reynolds and one of the professors of natural sciences Zeinab Smilie on a project that’s crossing natural sciences, the doctoral research and the collection with myself as anartist to do some outreach. We’ve been doing a series of workshops for different groups of people. I’m also working with Alliyah Enyo, who was on the Youth Bursary here. Along with artists Kiera Saunders, Sophie Thornton and Claricia Paranussa on a project for the Hidden Door Festival and there’s something else that I’m working on that I’ll maybe keep under my hat.

You are interested in interdisciplinary projects, you are a people artist, and conversely also you value a lot your studio privacy.  

I realise that maybe I don’t like sharing a studio because I need the space to look at all my things. Maybe that’s very selfish. It just needs to be my space. I really love being in this studio because before when I’ve had studios, it’s just been in an office building or some horrible hovel (that’s damp and mouldy), alone. Being here with this community of artists is really valuable, that’s why I always leave my door open, and people will pop by and we just have a cup of tea for a minute and maybe chat a little. Or we have more of an in-depth conversation. The balcony is for in-depth conversations, I think.

What inspires you? 

It’s mainly the surrounding environment. The landscape really inspires me and how mystical it feels. The way the wind blows, you always get a sense that there’s something else. It’s the unseen what inspires me. And from that, come things in pop culture and connecting people to science, because I think science uncovers the unseen in history.

If somebody asks, what is this and what is that, what do you answer? 

I generally tell them about all the research and the project behind it, but quite often I describe things as either artifacts or devices. There’s always a hidden humor in my work mixed in with the esoteric, I like to see if people can spot it. For instance, I have made a pastiche of The Apprentice Pillar at Rosslyn Chapel. Its intricate carvings hold an incredible story of the apprentice, and how his work drove the master mad leading to the apprentice’s murder. I don’t know what that says about me and Stephen Murray.

Do you think of you as being his apprentice? 

No, I think of myself as his friend, but he definitely has taught me an incredible amount.

And what is with that piece of chemistry here? 

Currently I’m fascinated by stalactites and stalagmites. Specifically, I’ve been obsessed with this place called Mother Shipton’s Cave forever, so I’ve been trying to make my own stalactites.

It’s a long burner, but I’ve got this vision of a work that I want to make.

Have you kept the desire to draw?

I do more drawings now but in the loosest sense of drawing. I’m not doing artistic sketches as often. Sometimes I like to do exploded drawings – because my family have a background of engineering and shipbuilding. There’s also something in there with my love of mechanics.

 What are you going to do with your passion for science? What about a residency within a factory or a science lab?

My passion for science, I think, is one of the things that drives my work at the most. I would love such a residency. I’m addicted to residences. I’d love to do one in a lab somewhere like CERN in Geneva. I’ll never get that residency. I’d love that. Or also just going to strange places and responding to what’s there.



Studio conversation with studio holder Emma Hislop, March 2023. More about Emma’s work here