Donna Nicholson Arnott

Recently, WATM caught up with Glasgow mark-maker Donna Nicholson Arnott to discuss her work. Here's how it went:

WATM: What's been your favourite piece of work so far?

Donna: I'd say my favourite piece this year was No, I will not swing. A small diorama I made out of balsa wood, wire and paper mâché. It's one of a small series of works exploring themes of performance.

WATM: What gave you the idea for that?

Donna: I've been thinking about non-verbal performativity and identity for a while, and got interested in whether what might be called a non-performance, perhaps outside of a discourse, was in fact simply a different performance within the discourse. I wondered about what happened when one had all the accoutrements of a particular performance, all the uniform, all the tools, but did not perform what was expected, or what in a sense was agreed. I began exploring these thoughts with a clown, and the tiny wall art piece, No, I won't juggle.

Once I'd made that piece, I wondered about other circus roles. I made a non-balancing elephant, a non-dancing bear, and was thinking about a non-swinging trapeze artist when I got involved in an art swap with the Glasgow artist Jane Gardiner. I wanted a couple of her drawings, and she wanted one of my little dioramas. She had been painting trapeze artists a bit herself at the time. So, "No, I won't swing" was made for the swap.

I liked the amount of engineering I had to manage with this one. I wanted a crouching sulky figure, who looked like she could easily get up and start trapezing at any moment. And I needed a swing that would swing. And it all needed to stay pretty small.

WATM: How long did you wait between having the idea and getting started? Did the idea change during that time?

Donna: I'd been wanting to make another diorama for a while, before the swap was arranged. I had thought to make a properly trapezing trapeze artist, because that's what Jane had been working with. But when it came to the making of it, the figure wouldn't trapeze, and that was that.

WATM: Did the work inform itself in any way as you worked on it; did it change through being made?

Donna: From a practical point of view, I initially couldn't imagine this one small enough. This was the first of the four models that I'd tried to draw and plan out before making, rather than inventing as I went along.The mechanics of the thing seemed to me to demand height. But I didn't want to force a three feet high thing on Jane when she was obviously expecting something in the region of three inches. So down and down the scale went. And jointed limbs had to become wire and paper mâché; the wings, instead of gauze covered wire, balsa wood shards. I made a slightly triangulated box to accommodate a need for recognisable height in the piece scale-wise without having a shoebox of a thing. As I work on these models, I make a photographic record and as I reviewed the shots each day, I could see modifications that were needed, or new ideas popped into my head that I couldn't see before - the wings being too big, or how I should position the figure's arms. I thought her arms might just hang by her sides. But with the rather upright body I carved for her, I could see she really wanted to have her arms crossed. It's been odd to work with these little performers. Each time I make one I expect to create a figure who is perhaps a little saddened by the role of not performing as expected - a figure who is resigned to non-performance only because there is no other choice and performing the expected role is too difficult/baffling - and each time I've ended up with cross-looking characters, who have a definite 'No' about them and express resistance.

WATM: Did you collaborate with anyone else on this project?

Donna: I whittled away in my wee room by myself but unlike the other three, I was acutely mindful of making something Jane might like, rather than just what pleased me and we conferred about the scale and size issues as I worked through them.

WATM: Did you experience any setbacks or feedback which helped or hindered the work?

Donna: Mostly relating to the issues of scale, because a trapeze act naturally requires some height and height takes up space.

WATM: Care to share any of what you’re working on at the moment?

Donna: I've been drawing a lot with the new iPad. Odd to finger paint again after all these years. And my friend gave me a cardboard automaton kit by Keith Newstead to build, which has reignited my interest in making things that move.

You can pick up some pieces by lookingalittledrawn at her Etsy store.