Is scale important to your work?
Yes. The Degas Dolls sculptures are deliberately awkward because they’re too big for dolls, but too small to be statues.
The doll as a device is a fantastic, potent thing and a lot of that is a question of material and scale. Everyone who has a doll when they are growing up undresses it to look at how it’s made. You see the plastic limbs and the soft body and the perverse discrepancy between the two; you understand the false naturalism and you somehow want it to be more convincing. I think everyone has had that kind of experience with objects that pretend to be real.
I am leaving the Degas’s Dolls on their armatures in the installation because I want to prevent them being too autonomous or alive; they’re not supposed to be believable in that way. That’s also why they don’t have faces: rather than being individuals, I want people to be able to project onto them. I am interested in the tension between subject and object.
How will the figures be installed?
The work will engage with the theatricality of the Academy’s Life Room, its history and its use. I want the room to feel inhabited by the sculptures, which will appear to be “in progress”. The installation will also include a proliferation of objects, drawings and studio equipment: I often make reference to the material process of making in my installations.
I will also work with the Life Room’s display of historic casts. The casts are a particularly dominant and important feature of the room, and they’re mostly male figures. I’m going to dress, drape, protect or obscure them with soft coverings.
Will visitors be able to see the installation?
The RA Schools is usually closed to the public, so people will be able to visit the Life Room in timed ticketed tours. They will be guided by an RA Schools student through the back entrance of the Schools – the whole thing will have a “back of house” feel to it, which is in keeping with the work and gives an insight into the life of the Schools.
You are also leading a two-day masterclass within the installation. What will you do there? The masterclass is called Exquisite Corpse.
We are going to spend the first day making drawings and collages based around the installation and on the second day we are going to be building figures in clay and other materials. There will be a lot of invention, collaboration and chance involved.
The installation will be restaged in Brighton. How will it be different there?
The installation will be shown in the University Gallery as part of Brighton Festival. It will be in a large room with windows onto the street, like a huge shop front. I will work with students to build a set, a “ghost image” of the RA’s Life Room.
The University Gallery is a very different space. At the RA I think the figures will seem tiny but vibrant against the lush velvet curtains and wooden benches. In Brighton, they’ll seem much more vulnerable and exposed.
Life Room: Anatomy of a Doll is installed in the Life Room of the RA Schools, 1–14 April 2017.
Cathie Pilkington discusses her project in an artist talk, 1 April 2017.
Exquisite Corpse, a masterclass with Cathie Pilkington RA, 8–9 April 2017.