Community update with Margot Yale
Margot attended our summer programme Art on the Farm in 2012. She is now in her final year at Princeton University studying art history. On a recent trip to Ireland, researching for her senior thesis, Margot took time out to visit us during our final session of 2016. She spoke with the students about her current research, her experiences at Princeton and sat in on our final critique. Margot generously agreed to answer a few of our questions to reflect upon how her experiences at Cow House Studios continue to shape her interests and professional pursuits.
CHS:What is your most vivid memory from your summer here in Ireland? How did your time at Cow House inform you as an individual?
MY: I can think of so many wonderful memories from Ireland and visiting Cow House last month prompted me to recall so much more. One that really sticks with me is just getting to Cow House and sitting on the metal swing out in the field. I had just finished exams and had left junior year of high school early to come to Ireland so all of a sudden I went from being in this really stressful environment to feeling so relaxed at Cow House and I remember sitting on the swing just trying to process this major change in my environment surrounded by all these really amazing people I had just met. There are so many more too- the potato chip taste test, biking on the Aran Islands, and decorating the old outhouse in preparation for a painting, to name a few. At the time, I was attending a math and science high school that devoted very few resources to studying and making art and Cow House affirmed my passion for art and my interest in pursuing art making further. My teachers, the artists, and my peers at Cow House taught me how to form and push my ideas further and gave me greater confidence in my own creative process.
CHS: When you were an Art on the Farm student in 2012 we visited the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin to view the work of Willie Doherty. The photographs on show were quite influential in your chosen senior thesis research topic. Can you explain a bit about your interests and what in those images stuck with you after all these years?
MY: I think what stuck with me most from Doherty’s series Lapse was how these large-scale black and white photographs were hung low to the ground, inviting me to step forward into the composition. Through the lens of these photographs, we learned about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. As a high school student, I was disappointed that I had never learned about the Troubles and I really appreciated how these works functioned to question viewers’ collective memory of the Troubles. Doherty had taken these images in the late 1980s and early 1990s but chosen not to exhibit them until 2012. So there was this incubation period for the photographs when they acquired new layers of meaning and I was really captivated by this idea. A lot of art historians and students talk about their “Aha” moment with art and I think this was mine. It was the first time I experienced the emotive impact of a body of art. I’ve returned to Willie Doherty’s work a few times over the past few years; in particular, I chose to study his work in a class on literature and photography in which we discussed the impossibility of photography capturing a moment and the role of time in photographic production. When it came time to select a senior thesis topic, I realised that this work, and a whole body of other works produced by Irish artists in response to the Troubles, was something that I wanted to explore further. With some research, I found out that the first major retrospective of artwork responding to the Troubles was held at the Ulster Museum in 2014, so the timing seemed right, too.
CHS: You made wonderful paintings during your time with us. Your considerable academic coursework has left you little time to make art. Do you have a desire to return to painting? Do you think that making art has given you a unique perspective on art history?
MY: I’d love to start painting again. It’s frustrating to spend so much time studying the creative output of others but not have enough time to really produce my own work. I think making art is really important to understanding art history. I took this course last year where we created works in response to contemporary artists’ writings. Each assignment was a challenging exercise in understanding an artist’s creative practice by making. The work I produced in this class was more installation and performance-based but I think every art history student should have to produce or even stretch a canvas at some point- it gives you more appreciation when studying an artist’s work and creative process. And I think it offers important insight into art history. But I also think it’s a two-way street, I imagine that when I do return to painting, having a stronger understanding of what others have made in the past will better inform my own work.
CHS: You aspire to pursue curating as a career. Is there a particular time period that fascinates you? Can you see yourself working with contemporary practitioners? Do you foresee working independently or within a larger institution?
MY: I really love modern art, particularly American art produced between the wars. I’m really interested in how the WPA created influenced the landscape of American art, particularly through printmaking. Working on my thesis is my first exposure to really engaging with contemporary art at this level and I am really enjoying it. I’m working on art produced in the 1970s and 1980s, so it’s contemporary, but there’s been some time for critical response to accumulate. I definitely would be interested in working with contemporary practitioners and I’m hoping to talk to some contemporary Irish artists this year while working on my thesis. I’ve always loved museums, so I foresee myself working at a larger institution but I think it’s still premature to know for sure!
CHS: We were so happy to have you visit us during Art on the Farm this past summer. What seemed the same, what had changed?
MY: I had such a great time visiting this past summer! So much still seemed the same, it really seemed like I had just been there. It was hard to believe four years had past. Everything looked as I remembered, the creative energy was still strong, and the food was still incredible. One significant change is that tea cakes are no longer students’ fuel. When I visited, I sat in on the final crit and I was so impressed by the students’ work- it was all so creative and well executed. It was also really cool to see how well all the students got along and collaborated- I think Cow House really fosters that culture.