Catz Scout exhibits at Oxfordshire Artweeks

Every year, in May, the Oxfordshire Artweeks Festival gives local artists and designer-makers the opportunity to exhibit their work across the county in free-to-access exhibitions.

One such artist exhibiting this year is Julia Sotkiewicz. An artist by night, Julia also works at St Catherine’s as a Scout, or housekeeper.

Her current work is a selection of glass lamps and pictures; using recycled materials, Julia’s work is inspired by her everyday encounters.

We sat down (virtually) with Julia to discuss her work and her inspiration.

How do you describe your work?

My work is closely related to my life. I don’t stick to one art discipline or one technique, such as drawing or photography, I select techniques and materials for a given project.

I am currently working on four different projects: lamps, glass pictures, macramé (a type of braiding) and envelopes. I don’t create everything at once; for example I will make an envelope before working on some glass pictures. Then, when I feel like it, I reach for the macramé. This is how I work.

My projects are open; most of them I started a few years ago and I come back to them when I feel the need. My latest project is glass pictures.

I also use my work to thank others for something.

The glass you use in your art is recycled – why did you choose this material?

I would like to give a second life to items that are thought to be useless or destined to be thrown away. I enjoy creating a new shape, new destination, new quality, and a new life for them.

I know that art is not necessary for life and I don’t want to produce more waste by buying new materials when there is so much out there already. If I can use second-hand things, materials that I can recycle and use safely, then I do it.

This is very important to me. If I can care for nature in small ways, and at the same time create something with a new value, then I am very happy.

Ecological art arose out of the need to awaken people from the feeling of being the rulers of our planet – because we are part of nature. We are here to serve her, not the other way round. People have forgotten how connected we are to nature and how dependent we are on it.

What is your inspiration when creating your pieces?

I find inspiration everywhere: I simply watch, listen and feel.

I am inspired by emotions and the simple, everyday experiences with nature, people and myself. This could be small things, like a shadow on the floor or the wall, or it could be more sentimental.

I grew up in the mountains in Poland, where my father is a mountain guide, so I have a real connection with these beautiful landscapes. I once read about the death of Polish mountain climbers in the Himalayas; this was very sad but it gave me inspiration to create art to help remember the memories of all those who have died.

I filter experiences that I have through my heart. Although it is not always easy to hear what it says, I find that glass pictures are a subtle dialogue between what I think and what I feel.

Julia with one of her lamps

Do you take inspiration from other artists? If so, who?

I am inspired by so many artists – I could list them endlessly – but their inspiration is not always literal.

For example I admire the work of Marina Abramović, even though performance is not my medium. I really appreciate her dedication, how she thinks about art and what she represents. She breaks boundaries and gives her audience agency, and I like that.

Another inspiration is Teresa Margolles, who inspires me with her steadfast attitude, courage, determination and fight for the truth. Her work highlights the problems of living with a high murder rate in Mexico; she does this by working with the bodies of victims, using artefacts not accessible to most. She gives viewers the opportunity to get closer to death while also making a tribute to those who died. This creates a mystical bond between life and death.

Jason deCaires Taylor is another artist whose work touches me particularly strongly. His underwater sculptures are amazing objects that not only look beautiful, but most of all, they become a way to recreate the ecosystem of the oceans. Taylor said, “The main goal is to draw attention to the fact that the oceans need our help”. I am close to his viewpoint in caring about nature.

What does your art mean to you?

I believe that as an artist it is impossible to focus only on your own work. It is very important to learn about the history of art and follow new contemporary artists. All this gives the opportunity to analyse and draw conclusions. This knowledge also gives a broader insight into the field of art. It also opens up your own mental horizons.

Thanks to this, I am constantly learning something new and discovering new artists. The more I read, watch and learn, the more I understand art trends. It’s easier for me to move around in it. It gives me a lot of knowledge and inspiration. This knowledge enriches me and thanks to it I can develop creatively.

You are originally from Poland. What brought you to Oxford and to St Catherine’s?

I was studying for a PhD in Poland and found out about working in college while on vacation as a working student. So, I first came to Oxford in 2015 and then again in 2017 – and was supposed to stay only for vacation.

Shortly after my arrival, a friend asked me if I would be looking for a long-term job. I replied that if something came up, maybe I would try. A few days after this conversation, I found out that a position as Scout had become available at St Catherine’s. I went to the interview and found myself this job. My life changed in a split second. I went back to Poland and closed down my old life.

I didn’t have any prospects of working at my university in Poland after my PhD, so I left my studies, packed up my stuff and went back to Oxford looking for happiness.

Since then, I have been working at college, and in my spare time I am engaged in my art.

What do you hope to do in the future?

My dream is to become an independent artist. Time will show whether this will happen.

You can see Julia’s work exhibited at St Andrew’s Church, Headington from Saturday 8 to Sunday 16 May. Details of other venues across Oxfordshire hosting exhibits can be found on the Artweeks webpages.

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