Lou Baker is a late developer. She’s been a maker for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was 50 that she began to realise that her skills in knitting and stitch were readily transferable to making art.
Her original intention was to become a doctor, and at 19 she went to Bristol University where she studied Medicine for 2 years. However, at the end of her second year, she failed a resit and was asked to leave. Utterly shocked at the time, she now acknowledges that she was too busy growing up and wasn’t ready for the gruelling rote learning required. She’s conscious though that her years of medical training greatly inform her current art practice.
She worked for the next 10 years as a bookseller, then as a full-time mother. She trained to teach when her son started school and taught part-time at City of Bristol College, where she worked with adults and post-16 students with a range of learning, physical and mental health disabilities.
It was when her son started 6th form that she began to make art. She sees it as a very positive kind of mid-life crisis. Encouraged by one of her tutors on a short Textiles course, she enrolled on an Art Foundation at Bristol School of Art in 2010.
She was hooked.
Balanced between form and formlessness, Lou Baker’s sculptural assemblages are fragmented, changeable, precarious, unravelling. They inhabit the ambiguous spaces between a number of binaries – self/other, embodiment/disembodiment, public/private, masculine/feminine, absence/presence, comfort/discomfort and, ultimately, life and death. Boundaries provide certainty; considering them as thresholds acknowledges them as flexible which leads to disquiet and provokes a range of conflicting responses.
Baker makes visible this tension of opposites and an ongoing struggle for balance. Jung’s individuation, a process of finding meaning in life, which he says needs to occur in mid-life, involves balancing our multiple selves with the dark side, or shadow, of our self. Failure to acknowledge this shadow can result in fragmentation and associated mental health issues. It’s ultimately a preparation for death. Freud’s uncanny locates strangeness at the border between the familiar and the unfamiliar; Kristeva claims that the abject exists within these margins too, defining the self by creating a boundary between self and other.
Baker knits together materiality, process, meaning and critical thought. Making is thinking. Labour-intensive, repetitive, transformative processes induce Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, a state of meditative timelessness, leading to a deep and different way of thinking; performative making leaves traces of the form and force of her body in her work. Her research into the transformation and synthesis of materials, the change in control brought about by processes of alchemy and the sculptural and mark-making potential of her intentionally sloppy craft challenge conventional representations of the body. She creates an uneasy tension in aesthetics, evoking a bodily presence with notions of absence and the abject.