Leanne O’Connor in conversation with Tom Glover
Leanne O’Connor is surrounded by shards of glass, projectors, sketches, and fragmented plans for her industrial sculptures that dot the brickwork in her studio. There is a sense of experimentation and of trial and error that permeates the room, as seemingly disconnected hands and eyes share space with diagrams of doors, gelatine and slivers of cardboard. They will come together to form a celebration of the arts and crafts stained glass artist Florence Camm, a figure hitherto consigned to history. Florence was a fascinating and powerful woman, ‘profoundly’ deaf and immensely talented, with O’Connor’s fixation on her hand gestures highlighting the subtlety and care that has infiltrated Camm’s work.
Leanne’s practice navigates themes of a sisterhood, the steel and glass structures engage with feminism through simply existing as traditionally masculine materials, a subversion reflecting Camm’s role in the arts and crafts movement. Florence is one of the many important and innovative women that have been forgotten, a female pioneer left to the archives, leaving her legacy to gather dust in the council collection of her local Smethwick. As a result, in O’Connor’s work there is a desire to uncover, rediscover, and reconstruct the history of this woman and her area, fostering a pride and recognition through her laser cut, reinforced, industrial sculpture. The impossibility of ever fully rediscovering history’s forgotten women is recognised, placing a heightened importance of remembering and celebrating who we can see. The process of excavating these women is an essential part of her work, there has been care and love and attention taken to explore their lives and their achievements that would otherwise be left unseen. Florence Camm is worthy of this focus.
Running through O’Connor’s work is an obsession with discovering this forgotten history through an excavation of the unknown, journeying through the archives and bringing their importance to light. Much of her inspiration is found in how places, communities, and individuals choose to be remembered, from a family photo album to Birmingham’s archival collection, asking who is allowed to see them and how they interact with one another. Thus, the notion of collective history holds a deep resonance in these sculptures, the shared experiences of the people who live and have lived in Smethwick, in the Black Country, the process by which they are made is grounded in local people and their lives and their histories. The most playful example of these themes is Leanne’s take on heritage and remembrance, with her transparent ‘Flo Woz Ere’ plaque. Echoing those blue plaques that litter the homes of the important, those 3 words bring Florence a universality, as everyone has etched, or seen someone etch, ‘… woz ere’ on a tree or a toilet door. The plaques will be stuck to her former house and her old workshop (now a takeaway pizza establishment) and will allow Florence Camm’s memory to travel by word of mouth through the area she was so invested in and gave so much to.
Leanne O’Connor has submerged her craft in the history of Smethwick, the history of its people, the history of Florence Camm; unearthing the forgotten, celebrating place, sisterhood, and the haunting of the archive.
Leanne O’Connor – Studio Holder at Odox
Website – www.lfoconnor.org
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Insta – @steelfrau