The Student
Louise Giblin at Edinburgh Art Fair 2019

Lulu Spence talks with Louise Giblin about her piece ‘Sea Change’, presented at last weekend’s Edinburgh Art Fair.

There was a huge array of incredible artwork on display at Edinburgh Art Fair 2019, but Louise Giblin’s stunning body sculptures caught my eye more than the rest, and the meaning behind one piece resonated with me.

Starting an open conversation with Louise, it was clear that the award winning, internationally recognised sculptor wanted me to write about her piece ‘Sea Change’. A work of art that, she admits, was not necessarily created with the expectation of commercial success, yet still cost thousands to produce. Even before Louise explained her inspirations behind the piece, it would be clear to any surveyor that the weathered metal torso carries an emotional weight upon its shoulders.

Louise passionately explained to me that the tears, imperfections, crevices and bolts in the piece were borne out of her own daughter’s struggle with mental health and suicidal thoughts, triggered by awful acts of bullying from school friends in her teen years.

It is impossible not to be moved by this piece of art, especially as a young woman almost the same age as Louise’s daughter is now. Louise in our conversation ardently stressed her belief in the difficulty of teenage and young adult years, and that this difficulty is particularly present in the so-called social media generation.

I heard in Louise’s narrative echoes of my own mother, with whom I often talk about the constant pressure that is imposed upon today’s young people: growing up for members of ‘Gen Z’ is, in many ways, far harder than it was for our parents. Louise explained to me that this lies in an inability to switch off and escape, be it from bullies at school or from the constant and overwhelming influx of images of some ideal and impossible ‘perfection’ (whence the devastating and far-too-prevalent body image issues in young women of our generation).

Nonetheless – despite these pressures – Louise also wanted me to emphasise the hope which emanates from her work. The delicately feminine form, though scarred, is supported by a strong internal structure. Yes, it might be harder in many ways for today’s young women to emerge unscathed from their youth, but Louise wants the casting to show that we will be stronger for having to deal with and overcome these new demons. The contrast between worn exterior and strong metal core is essential to the message of the piece.

It is rare to find a sculpture so orientated towards the struggles of often criticised younger generations, and rarer still to find a piece like Louise’s which encapsulates so powerfully both timeless and modern experiences. The relationship between a mother and her daughter so poignantly acknowledges the universal truth that, as Louise put bluntly, “growing up is tough” yet also that each generation has its own unique set of challenges to face.

Emerging from my conversation with Louise at the 15th Edinburgh Art Exchange, I felt inspired and empowered. The piece, I think, has a twofold effect: knowing the story behind it, it has the power to open up a conversation about modernity and mental health. But at the same time, it can inspire a private triumph in any young person who has struggled or is struggling, hopefully proving that your scars can and will make you stronger in the long run.

Image: Lulu Spence