I was introduced to Kate Newby through a mutual friend, and when we met for quesadillas at Julio’s in Hyde Park I knew we would be friends. When I asked her to collaborate with me on a project for testsite, her first solo exhibition since moving to Texas in 2020, she enthusiastically accepted. Before she embarks on a project, Newby spends a substantial amount of time looking and thinking about the space where her works will temporarily dwell, observing and noting the prominent features of the site: the details, the interstitial spaces, of the built as well as the natural environment that surround a structure. Does the space have windows? Is it surrounded by a garden? Who uses it? And, for what purpose? These kinds of questions motivate Newby’s research process.
Observation and an attentiveness to perception and experience are also fundamental to her practice, which spans a range of media and processes, including textiles, ceramics, casting, glass, and more recently, metal working. She produces objects that often fit seamlessly into the architecture or grounds upon which the works will reside. Her works are always embedded, strung, and placed with an attention to their materiality, their form and functionality. In recent installations, she strung pieces of hand-blown clear glass across handmade ropes, transforming weighty glass blobs into optical devices that upend and shift our perspective, altering how the viewer perceives the world around them. This kind of subtle gesture is indicative of much of Newby’s practice. In other installations, she has incorporated clay-based objects that take the form of tiles embedded with marks or flora or both or strung long ceramics together in strands that resemble stalagmites or wind chimes that delineated spaces and functioned as instruments that make sounds when hung out of doors. More recently, Newby has begun carving bricks by hand, placing them side by side on the ground of the exhibition site. These brick installations can only be accessed by stepping directly onto their surfaces, and are further altered by the footsteps that contribute to the process that started with the artist’s hand. As such, Newby’s multi-part installations demand the viewer’s participation, and invite holding, touching, and a true engagement with the objects on view. They are not static objects, they are inherently ephemeral, and meant to be interacted with and enacted upon. Extending the possibilities for what sculpture can be is a byproduct of her expansive practice.
For Feel noise at testsite, Newby created a number of new works that are primarily installed in the backyard of testsite. Glazed tiles climb the fence along the west side of the garden, their shape given by local collaborators; ceramic pieces are configured into a “dirt mural” on the far side of the house; and glass pieces are suspended with ropes and positioned to reflect the greenery and houses on all sides. Together, these elements direct our attention to the support structures of the home: the fencing, the garden beds, and the armatures that suspend shaded canopies, which provide containment and care.