Seated in the canteen of the Chapter Arts Centre where she works as an exhibition guide, Kathryn Ashill is comfortable answering questions about her art. Maybe it’s the degree in fine art from Swansea that makes her so confident fielding questions, or perhaps it’s the fact that a question and answer session pales in comparison to the courage required for her other performances.
As part of the cultural olympiad, a government-sponsored bonanza of cultural work timed to coincide with the Olympics, she ate four kilogrammes of cockles. Billed as an attempt to “reclaim her Swanseaness” the Cock[le] Pit event saw Ashill work her way through a big chunk of stereotyping. You want Wales? Here it is, four kilos of it, I’ll eat it in front of you now.
In another provocative display celebrating the opening of the artist-run gallery G39, she scrubbed the pavement, decorated the front door with roses, then took a piss on the doorstep.
Ashill’s recent body of work For Future Reference has centered around responding to a prediction she was given by a psychic in 2007. The medium placed her hand on a lump of amethyst and gave a reading that included the conclusion that “you’ll never be a mother, you’re too selfish”. Ashill says the reading had a lasting effect:
“At the time, aged 23, i’d always imagined that I’d have a life and children. Being a mother is almost as important to me as being an artist … But she just killed it.”
The series is an attempt to process, consider, and even reject or accept the future presented to her by the psychic. Earlier this year, Swansea-born Ashill returned to New York to perform a work called Future Target as part of the series that deals specifically with the incident.
“I invited people to throw amethyst, polished amethyst, at me. In an action to reference the pain that I felt in that reading. I was trying to think of something that visualised how aggressive that felt, I installed in the gallery an explanation of the 2007 predictions. Then I threw a lot of the amethyst at that in anger, it was quite cathartic.”
The set has also seen her perform Mother Time in the National Museum of Wales in October of this year, a display involving the artist going around to everyone in the room and whispering in their ear “remember, you will die”.
Sensing a news bent that will make this interview topical, I ask if this is something that young people will relate to. A whole rank of wannabe artists and hopefuls left behind by an economic system that didn’t live up to the promises of a university degree and quiet self-determination.
“Yes, especially our generation. You’re told you can have everything, and as a woman you’re leaving it much later for everything. I’m at a point in my life where i don’t have any commitments, I’m not married, I don’t have children, it’s an interesting time to question time.”