Molly McAndrews, BA Fine Art final-year student at University of Plymouth speaks to Rachel Marsh.
“This feels like an investigation, like a tool to learn new things”
“What I focus on is the departure of thought from the body.” Molly McAndrews sits at a plain wood table, fresh fruit snacks at her right hand a nd plain bound sketchbooks filled with text, notes, photocopies and diagrams on her left.
McAndrews’ table is a point of calm surrounded by artistic chaos. The BA Fine Art studio at Royal William Yard is roughly divided into separate spaces for each student, filled with exactly the compost of artistic experimentation you would expect to find – chicken-wire frames, paint-spattered laptops, large canvases.
A few metres away, McAndrews’ installation space waits for us, windowless, a projector and a globe-like arrangement of circles of clear thin plastic hanging from the ceiling by barely visible threads.
As is fitting for a series of investigations into the nature of thought, McAndrews’ answers become abstract as we discuss her work. But far from being cerebral, McAndrews puts the viewer at the centre of the experience, allowing them to contribute to and affect the work.
Once I’m in McAndrews’ installation space, experiencing in reflected light the magic of what she describes as the diagram, the excitement she shares becomes real for me too. It’s a sculpture in light that gives agency to every part – a network of thought made visible.
Why is text so important to your work?
I chose to study in Plymouth because of the library. It’s absolutely incredible – for me there was no other place I would rather be. But in my first week of university I lost half my sight. It meant I couldn’t read, which I think is why I probably write a lot more. It’s ironic, really. Luckily the university has great software that will read photocopied pages to you.
Words would get me thinking, but then in order to read and understand I have to make a visual product. Everything I read was really dense, and really hard to take in by listening alone, so I would draw what I thought it looked like.
For example, Being and Becoming is a diagram I made from the Gilles Deleuze text Difference and repetition, I see it as we are constantly in shifting states of being and becoming in a diagram, where we have the past and future in direct contact with our existence (creating the living present).
How has the way you work changed during your time at Plymouth?
In my first year I started by automatic writing. Letting ideas just simmer on a piece of paper. Afterwards I would think ‘what shape does this thought take? It’s here, but can it be somewhere else?’
And then the writings began to overlap: things I’d written and things written by someone else. It felt like it was a collaboration because I let my thought and someone else’s thought unravel on to this field.
Tell me about your investigations into the diagram, what you describe as “thought-to-matter assemblages”. How do you use photocopied pages of books and your notes?
I put a light box behind them, or was scrunching up the bits of paper containing the words into little balls, overlapping them. Then I wanted to see what it would look like through a hole – maybe I was trying to use my eye in a different way. I used a template around my camera lens to record them, which ultimately made the “thought atoms”. I used projection, cameras, sound, light in order to see things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, for example the dust collected on sheets of cellophane. It’s a journey from my imagination, to my fingertips, to a machine, through a machine and out the other side in a digital existence. The other digital realisation for me was that I was utilising technology to try and reach some kind of interior of the diagram, trying to get closer (almost like a telescope).
Your eye condition led you to be confined to the dark for several weeks, and then you discovered the philosopher and political theorist Jane Bennett’s theories on the vitality of things. How important was that?
It changed everything. It created a whole new system for me to look into and I used touch so much more and smell and things like that. Jane Bennett made me realise that light could be sculpture and that I could feel light. [It also made me realise that] I am not the only actant manipulating the diagram, therefore, an element of control is lost within the process.
What are you planning for the degree show?
I’m using my Being and Becoming diagram as a starting point, and thinking about where we connect to the thought network. At my last assessment I had four mirrors representing each person’s little bubble – little portals. And they would spin round and I invited people to sit on the floor and ground themselves and breathe through their feet. And just experience their thoughts passing by, just over their heads… It’s all down to everyone coming together in that moment, to kind of make the living present. So, for the degree show, I’ve no idea what it will physically look like but I know what it will feel like.
Did you come to Plymouth with this investigation already in mind?
Oh no. I used to volunteer for a refugee rehoming business in Doncaster. My work was the fire I had about the fact I wanted the world to be a certain way and it just wasn’t. Our first module, although I had my eye condition, I was still thinking about refugees. I was thinking more and thinking more about thinking. I needed to analyse what was going on in my own world and find my language and then perhaps I can help other people understand.
And what will you do next?
I’m hoping to stay on to do the Research Masters degree. I enjoy the writing part equal to the making part… it’s a controversial opinion! I’m going to continue along these lines, absolutely. I’m not done with feeling all these things and I don’t think I ever will be. This feels like an investigation. It feels like a tool to learn new things, not only about yourself but about other things too.
Degree show: An online exhibition and physical show is currently under development, dates to be confirmed. www.plymouth.ac.uk/
Interview by Rachel Marsh, one of eight a-n members on the a-n Writer Development Programme 2019-20
1. Molly McAndrews, Actual and Virtual, 2020.
2. Molly McAndrews, Looking Down, 2020.
3. Molly McAndrews, Network of Thought.