Studio conversation with Studio Holder Svetlana Kondakova Muir
When did you come here, to the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop?
I came here in July this year, but I feel like I’ve been here for much longer, I think it’s because I’ve been made to feel very welcome. It may sound strange, but I haven’t felt like a real sculptor until now, probably because I’m from a painting background, I studied Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art and I always thought that painting is more my thing.
I ended up doing sculpture almost by accident. First, I got an opportunity to be a project manager on a public art project and I worked with another sculptor. Then I had another opportunity to create an outdoor sculptural artwork which I designed myself and managed the overall project. However, until now, I had always subcontracted the main fabrication aspect to someone else.
During the pandemic, I taught myself the basics of 3D modeling and made a small aluminum sculpture of a puffin, developing a method which I could scale up if there was an opportunity to make a bigger artwork. Eventually the opportunity did come up and I was commissioned to create the Dormouse by Test Valley Borough Council. This was obviously exciting, but also a little terrifying because I had no idea what I was going to create at the time of commissioning. They had hired me because they had seen my track record of community projects and they wanted a design that would come entirely from the community.
The dormouse shape was selected via a public vote, following nature-themed creative activities with local residents and school children. In Andover, there are a lot of conservation projects around dormice: a little dormouse bridge, so that they can cross over a road without being run over, little boxes where they can nest and little tunnels to record their populations. This animal is a protected species and is so elusive that you would be very lucky if you ever saw one.
So, I had a theme and a challenge I had set myself and I came here. I spoke with Gordon Munro and Stephen Murray, and they said they could accommodate me. There was also an application system, you have to tick some boxes in order to be eligible to use the workshops at ESW, I fit the criteria and was able to rent out a temporary Project Space.
Did they offer you consultancy for all the steps?
They’ve been absolutely wonderful; I cannot say enough just how helpful and supportive the staff here have been. Stephen Murray, the technician, helped me a lot, especially with assembling the dormouse sculpture, which was difficult. I was also able to subcontract Emma Hislop, who is an artist, a studio holder, and a part-time workshop assistant at ESW, to come down and install in Andover with me. I simply wouldn’t have a sculpture without their help.
And you use this method you’ve discovered.
What I find very useful about the method I developed for the dormouse is being able to model everything very precisely in advance. I think I particularly value this because I’m not a confident free hand sculptor. I began with a small-scale model and created a 3D model using photogrammetry (where you take lots of photos of an object from different angles and then a program recreates the object in 3D). Every 3D model is made up of lots of triangles, like a digital image being made up of pixels, and you can reduce the number of triangles you would like. So I reduced and reduced until it still looked like the rounded shape of a dormouse, but you could also clearly see the triangles it was made of. Then I ran it through another program which unraveled the whole thing and gave me a 2-dimensional template with all the measurements and the angles on it, that cut out a lot of the math.
What do you want to do? Are you going to continue working as a sculptor?
I think I can safely say that I am a ‘real’ sculptor now and I definitely want to keep going, I love making things with my own hands. I will always be a painter as well and I also do mosaic.
Big size things.
Yeah, big. I’ve always preferred a bigger scale, whether it’s painting or sculpture, the bigger the better for me!
Do you have a project in your mind, or in your heart, that you come back to from time to time?
I have had an idea for a while now, to create a really visceral, realistic and meaningful memorial to the witches. I think it relates a lot to us today as I feel like the witch hunts have never stopped.
Studio conversation with studio holder Svetlana Kondakova Muir. March 2023
More about Svetlana’s work here