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

Claire Lee

Claire Lee (or Clee) is a sculptor working predominantly with mild steel wire – a material often associated with the maquette, a preliminary model often made in preparation ahead of the final, often larger, sculpture. Her works resemble amorphous natural forms, skeletal and cavernous, yet balance between being both fragile and solid. The visual comparison with the maquette helps to understand Lee’s relationship with other types of creative practice, such as dance and performance. There's the feeling that the work is in flux and could easily shift to represent a different form.

Often installing works in natural spaces, Clee is interested in the interplay between the natural environment and the rusted patina of her mild steel sculptures. This juxtaposition results in an interesting material contrast and the works often dance under the sunlight, sitting almost like ghosts in the woodland. Her process is intuitive, while the material itself presents particular possibilities and limitations, leading to unforeseen occurrences and features in the final sculptures.

Traditionally, the vision of the sculptor is of a somewhat isolated and solitary figure, working away in the studio. Clee bucks this trend by working collaboratively with other artists, many of whom work across multiple different media. The process of collaboration seems essential to her creative drive, and sharing ideas and approaches are what help the work to continue moving forward.

How would you describe your work?
My work includes installation, sculpture and live art, but most people know me as a sculptor who makes things in wire. This is perhaps the most tangible of my work at the moment, despite it sometimes being difficult to see and a nightmare to capture on camera. I work mainly with mild steel wire, which is a bit dirty and can rust, and is why I like it. I weld and weave the wire into ethereal forms that are often perceived as abstractly figurative or bodily. With the combination of light and sometimes sound, I create large-scale immersive installations.

I also collaborate on transmedia projects and experiment with dance, voice and performance work with other artists. This work is more recent, but you might see more of it in the future.

How do you choose the themes you work with?
Unless I’m working on a commission or a themed project, the end product emerges as I work intuitively with the material or I improvise with other artists. I’m particularly interested in the concept of liminality, and that can be applied to anything from the personal to the political. I’m aiming to generate a feeling that exists somewhere in the realm of uncanny. Bodies, agency, life/death, and in-betweenness are themes that seem to repeatedly choose me.

What’s your workspace like?
"Watch your eyes" is what I say to anyone entering my space as there are rogue wires emanating from all directions – the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Otherwise my studio, at Yorkshire Artspace's Exchange Place Studios, is adorned with paraphernalia from my travels – pebbles, bits of tree, bones, teeth and rusty metal, as well as works in progress. It’s an interesting environment to many people, scary to some. I have a large window overlooking the demolished old Castle Market and will have balcony box seats to the archeological excavations when the regeneration project begins. I can’t wait.

What, who or where should be better known in Sheffield?
It’s really amazing to live right on the edge of both the city and the countryside that leads directly into the Peak District.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m always working on different types of things at the same time. I’m just about to set off to Slovakia to explore ways of working with wire – a research and development project which forms part of Making Ways. I’m exhibiting work and running a series of wire weaving workshops at the Hannah Bennett Sculpture Garden in Eyam over summer 2019. I’m engaging in local residencies and collaborating with artists working in different media on both short- and longer-term transmedia projects, which aren’t quite ready to be talked about. And a few other bits and pieces.

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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