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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Siân Williams

Photos by Amber Harrison

When I first met Siân Williams in her studio at Bloc she was skilfully weaving shiny cellophane, which eventually became a piece called Disco Drape that featured in the 2018 Bloc Projects Members Show. This work typifies Siân's thoughtful and almost whimsical approach to art-making – seeming irreverence jostling with political poignance, and the reassigning of familiar materials like tinfoil to something more intriguing and meaningful. Her sense of craft underpins and adds significant and serious psychological weight to her artwork.

Siân Williams is originally from Guildford and came to Sheffield to study an MA in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam, having previously studied at Falmouth. She's recently been on tour with Katz Mulk, including performances in London, Cardiff and Glasgow, and when we interviewed her was focusing on producing new pieces towards a show of works-in-progress at Site Gallery in August 2019 as part of the Freelands Artist Programme.

Update: during lockdown, Siân is making short films using her phone, her hands, a patch of floor space, and whatever she has access to in her flat. Follow her Site Gallery Instagram Takeover on 6–13 May where she'll share her work and contemplate on touch, proximity, and intimacy.

How would you describe your work?
I work primarily with sculpture and often reference processes that might be considered "feminine", such as weaving and crochet. I am interested in the sculptural qualities of these techniques but also in the narratives they invoke. Recently I made a quilt with members of the University and College Union who took part in the strike over pensions. Making the quilt provided a space to reflect on what had been quite a profound experience for many, and I was interested in how the work might embody that collective narrative. Since 2017 I have also worked as part of a performance collective called Katz Mulk. Our performances combine crude electronics, field recordings, dance, and sculpture to create what could be described as a sticky, radiophonic syrup.

How do you choose the themes you work with?
I don’t really have themes. My work is responsive and often what I end up making comes as a surprise, even to me! For example, a few months ago I would never have imagined bringing together a group of people to make a quilt. That really came out of the experience of being on strike and standing on the picket line every day for two weeks and wanting to find a process through which I could explore that. I have a sculptural practice that is grounded in an interest in materials and making processes, but how the work manifests itself constantly shifts and changes.

What's your workspace like?
Unfortunately it’s usually quite messy. I have an ongoing problem with storage, which I’ve tried to solve by hanging everything from the ceiling in bags which now look like weird cocoons. I’ve just been to Bergen in Norway with Bloc Projects as part of their Artist Exchange Programme and all the studios we visited there seemed so nice and cosy – someone even had a hammock! I feel inspired to try and make mine a bit more homely now. I’ve got a beanbag and some rugs so that’s a good start.

What, who or where should be better known in Sheffield?
There's a record label called Singing Knives who work with lots of really interesting experimental musicians and sound artists. Womp Studios, which opened at the end of 2018 in Kelham Island, is one to watch too. They’ve just had their first open call and have started a programme of film screenings – I’m really excited to see how they develop.

What would you change about the city?
I would try and shift the focus away from the city centre. There are some really interesting parts of Sheffield that feel quite ignored because everything seems so condensed into the centre.

What are you working on at the moment?
I just finished a collaboration called Dystopia and Resistance for Festival of the Mind, which the quilt was part of, so at the moment I’m not working on anything specific. I’m looking forward to spending time in the studio without having to think about deadlines or exhibitions. I think having time to withdraw and reflect is really important.

Having said that, I have got some exciting things on the horizon. Katz Mulk have been commissioned to develop a new performance for the PRS Foundation’s Beyond Borders tour this year and we have got a couple of events coming up before that too. I have also just been selected as part of the first cohort on the Freelands Artist Programme which means I will be working with Site Gallery over the next two years as part of a programme of development and support. It’s a brilliant opportunity and feels like it couldn’t have come at a better time. My practice has developed a lot since I finished my MA in 2015 and to have the chance to really push those new directions and take risks is really exciting.

This profile is part of a series on artists funded by Making Ways, a programme supported by Sheffield Culture Consortium through Arts Council England to showcase, celebrate and develop the exceptional contemporary visual art produced in the city.

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