Emilie Taylor is a ceramic artist based in Sheffield. Tubthumping is the result of a collaboration with Glyn Hughes, the exhibitions and collections manager at the National Civil War Centre. The show looks at the roles of women during the 16th to 18th centuries compared to the present day through objects from the museum’s collection alongside Taylor’s ceramics.
What was it like working with the museum?
It has been a rich process that has developed my thinking – and my knowledge – beyond what I could have imagined. Alongside discovering new inspiration, I have also found grounding and context from the past for the issues that concern me now.
How did you work with the curator on the exhibition?
I was lucky that Glyn was happy to work organically. We had no plan at the outset, and alternated meetings at the studio with meetings at the museum. The free flow of conversation was where ideas took root and things developed accordingly. I was awarded a Developing Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England to fund the research phase and some materials. When we were ready, Glyn, and freelance curator Verity Smith, applied for a further grant to put the show on and to run a socially engaged project that I will lead this summer for women living in Newark, where we will continue thinking about the ideas in the show.
How much time did you spend on research?
We spent two years working towards this show. I was relatively unaware of the events during the 16th to 18th centuries so consumed a lot of books, including The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution, which focused my interest on land ownership and enclosure. Another book, Unbridled Spirits: Women of the English Revolution, inspired me with accounts of female activism.
I also read more current texts such as The Book of Trespass and The New Enclosure, as well as history books. I was moved by the hard lives of the women, and that they were still committed to activism in the face of efforts to suppress women’s voices and any power they held. The killing of many women across Europe – the “witch hunts” – in this period has always stood out to me as an attempt to silence women into submission.
The Silvia Federici text Caliban and the Witch dovetailed my separate interests, bringing together the atrocity of the witch hunts with the move towards a capitalist society and the attempt to remove power from women and shift their role into reproductive labour. I spoke regularly to Glyn, who has extensive knowledge about the historical era, and I returned to look at items in the collection. Making began about six months in, and the work changed and developed, along with my ideas, into the body of work on display.
How important was it to you to focus on women?
I have long been concerned that the murder of women in the European witch hunts has not been recorded, researched or thought about adequately. During this residency, I delved deeply into the social and political context of the time, and I was amazed by the women’s knowledge and strength. I understood how political decisions of that time, and their impact on women’s roles and their bodies back then, have contributed to women’s roles and views of women today.