FEATURED ARTIST: Interview with Marina Dempster
Marina Dempster is a sculptural fibre artist who makes contemporary objects employing traditional craft techniques. View her collection here.
We were sewn into an intimate narrative of how Marina “collects and connects dots” through her crafting process.
Q: How has your work evolved over time?
My sculptural fibre work has naturally become more conceptual as raw materials and experiences, both literally and figuratively, have either accumulated or been shed. While the forms and materials of my work may change, words have always been my muse in some way or another—I am a lover of metaphor.
The titles of my pieces always invite playful yet discerning engagement with layered nuances and sometimes paradoxical definitions, meanings, and implications. I am increasingly interested in the narratives we create for ourselves with the words that we use in our inner and outer dialogues. I use words more frequently as ironic characters in the narratives that play out in my experience and work. These are an invitation to stay with the stickiest of questions that arise and embrace that the answers may be both elusive yet gloriously mutable.
Q: What is most important to you in your art?
In my work, mundane materials and practices can take on a divine quality in their reclamation and reinvention. I delight in using abandoned forms, rejected materials, and foraged natural or inherited treasures that invite both disruptions and a renewed reverence. My pieces become artifacts that can remind us of our ability to sculpt our realities through nurturing new and intimate relationships with materials, ourselves and each other—fostering curiosity, wonder, and potentiality.
I intend for my work to invite cause for pause (for myself in its creation and for those experiencing it) and trust that it has the power to ignite something in the heart and spirit while transforming something in the mind. My work is vibrant, whimsical, and cerebral, which I consider to be a celebration of the nature of the human imagination, demonstrating that renewal and growth are encouraged by personal practice and awareness. I believe that when a practice or work is shared in a communal context, the impact is exponential.
Q: How did you learn about the methods you use to make your work?
My fibre practice was ignited in my early twenties when I was fortuitously invited to help facilitate a workshop hosted at the Gardiner Museum in partnership with the Textile Museum of Canada. Huichol artist and shaman Alejandro Lopez Torrez travelled from his remote Indigenous community in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain region of Northern Mexico to generously share the pre-Columbian technique of 'transformational yarn painting'.
I was instantly hooked by the aroma of beeswax and pine resin (cera de Campeche) into which yarns are delicately embedded with fingertips, and the powerful symbolic resonance of material, pattern and colour. I loved the simple yet skillful technique that leant itself to intuitive improvisation.
My practice now embraces many traditional craft techniques—such as hooking, punching, knitting, sewing, and tufting—learned through workshops that taught me to paint with threads and yarn. I am particularly grateful to multidisciplinary maker Arounna Khounnoraj for introducing me to both punch needle and tufting. Her generosity in sharing her skills, resources, and explorations have inspired new ways of embellishing and sculpting with yarn.
Q: Who are you hoping to engage with your art?
My work has travelled extensively: art museum settings in fibre, sculptural, wearable art and craft contexts. I am hoping that my work can be more widely accessible in public spaces engaged in nurturing health and well being, as well as in domestic settings where they can reveal embedded layers the more they are lived with. I enjoy helping to create shared, sacred, and inspired spaces. I hope that those acquiring my pieces can routinely feel a heightened sense of connection to their own creativity, empowerment, community, and consciousness.
Q: How do you navigate that art world?
I have avoided being obsessed with what is ‘in demand’, but rather have tried to keep my focus on consistently working at responding to my creative impulses and persisting with the ideations that insist on taking hold over time. At present, I am working at making it easier for the art world to access and interpret my work through taking the time to share my processes and musings.
The way I choose to navigate the art world is to be a connector and champion of other artists in my community by sharing practices through curating collective projects with other makers and intergenerational mentorship. Showing up for others forces me to consider and articulate my motivations, practices, and impact—allowing for my motivations to be mutable and part of a greater discourse. I need to remind myself that I am most efficient and successful in my process when I can find my own rhythm. I like to believe that to be deeply resonant is to remain true.
Q: What’s something people would be surprised to learn about your process?
Often the materials speak to me first—serendipitous finds and collections that present themselves to me: rusted washers on the street, giant thorns on a country walk, snippets of conversations overheard. I am a dot collector and dot connector—I take joy making meaning through what is being reflected to me in my environment. It is through intuitive art journaling in response to these ‘foragings’ where seeds of bigger ideas most often take root.
Q: What habits have you developed in your practice? How do they help or hinder your creativity?
I thrive on nourishing creative habits that remind me of our innate and limitless creative potential. Many of my ideas come to me through things such as art journaling, mash-up poetry, reading, movement practices, or immersion in nature—sometimes alone, other times in community. In these moments I begin to 'connect the dots'.
Self-directed artist residencies have been a beautiful way to connect with my own rhythm and flow. They offer freedom from other unrelenting demands whilst I remain hyper-aware that although the possibilities are infinite, time never is. I'm obliged to treasure my time and process.
For me, joy is when it is clear that the language of my intellect is meeting the language of my intuition. The foraging of materials themselves propels me farther forward. In my arts process, I am experimenting with how these materials behave and what they can contribute metaphorically.
Q: What is a defining moment that has influenced your practice to make it what it is?
I am currently the inaugural artist-in-residence in an innovative creative space called the Orchard Lyceum on Queen West in Toronto (commercial gallery meets a small private arts-based middle school). I mentor the students to earn my light-filled studio space and a coveted spot on the exhibition calendar. By virtue of being in this context, every day is a prize and a surprise; an opportunity to create, innovate, curate, and collaborate. My 12-year-old daughter is one of the students, so she and I have the very special opportunity of studio schooling—witnessing and supporting each other in our element at an exciting time of development for all of us.