Sally Hackett on The Fountain of Youth

Article by Isabella Shields | 29 Jul 2016

Sally Hackett discusses her latest ceramic sculptural commission Fountain of Youth for Edinburgh Art Festival, and collaborating with pupils from Tollcross Primary School

How did you respond to the programme’s theme of monuments?

"My exhibition is about missing monuments and under-representation, while the programme involves under-used spaces."

Like how there are more statues of dogs than of women in Edinburgh?

"And absolutely none of children. Children’s work is also so separate from the gallery or museum space, which seems stupid to me because of how amazing it is. I like work by untrained artists, so the idea here was to get children’s work to the forefront as well.

"It’s also a play on the idea that people come into contemporary and modern art galleries and say, 'My four-year-old could have done that.' They couldn’t have, because they don’t have that kind of thought process or direction, so it’s a tongue in cheek take on the naïvety of that."

Is that where Tollcross Primary gets involved?

"Yeah, so the exhibition is a literal interpretation of the Fountain of Youth – putting childrens’ work into a fountain! I’ve made all the ceramics and done workshops where I asked children questions about the advantages of youth, but also the disadvantages. People look back on being young nostalgically and they don’t remember how frustrated they were.

"So I asked the children questions like 'What’s the most annoying thing about being young?' and got them to draw what anti-ageing cream does to your face. The show is the visual response to that in a way that makes sense to these kids and to adults.

The focus on anti-ageing also brings in the idea of commodifying the impermanent.

"The Fountain of Youth was meant to rejuvenate in the same way these creams are today. The idea of the Hero of Alexandria making the first vending machine dispensing holy water is connected to the idea of the mythological properties of water, and through that it’s connected to the Fountain and face cream.

"The beauty industry has been the same for thousands of years and we haven’t moved on. I don’t think anyone knows if anti-ageing creams work, but most of the kids have an awareness of the products.

"I found out from asking what they wanted to be when they grew up that a lot of them wanted to be YouTubers. I wanted to be a Spice Girl, but they want to be YouTubers. The idea of documenting themselves continues In the vein of self-expression and being the best possible version of yourself, and the historical aspect of that was particularly interesting to me.

Since YouTubing is pretty ephemeral, how does that tie into your use of ceramics and the permanence or monumental quality of a work?

"People associate ceramics with fragility and preciousness but the way I work with it is less perfectionist and more playful. It’s more about making things three-dimensional and the idea of me trying to break the rules of the medium. There’s no point in making work if you’re not challenging yourself or what’s been done before.

"Glazing elevates the ceramics into being artefacts, and the idea of the pieces that were painted by kids suddenly having that status gives the kids this huge opportunity, and gives other people an opportunity to see their work. Children have great ideas and we can reconnect with that part of ourselves as adults, but only to an extent.

"It’s more about relearning how to think in that expressive way without aesthetic consideration, where feelings and movement are more important. The kids came out of the workshop saying 'We’re making history!'"

The Fountain of Youth, Museum of Edinburgh, 28 Jul-28 Aug