Zoe Laughlin on the Materials Library that always draws her in

Zoe Laughlin on the Materials Library that always draws her in

Artist, maker and broadcaster Zoe Laughlin explains how the Materials Library at University College London’s Institute of Making (which she co-founded) always draws her in – as well as the quiet seascapes of Sandwich in Kent…


A ‘hole-and-corner’ is an old English term meaning a secret place: somewhere you go to escape, to be inspired, to contemplate and to create. Where is your ‘hole-and-corner’?

I feel very lucky in that I have lots of spaces like that. The Materials Library at the Institute of Making is a place that is incredibly special for me to go into. And the other is when I’m standing on the beach on Sandwich Bay in Kent. What I love about it is that it’s incredibly flat. You get horizon all the way round, with all sorts of combinations. If the weather’s right you can see France – then you get the flat marshes behind you, and either side you have the White Cliffs of Dover to your right and the Isle of Thanet rising up to your left.


Can you explain why they are so special to you? 

I was born and brought up in Kent – both my parents were farmers in that area, so I’ve always gone back there. And the Materials Library is full of the most extraordinary things – from stuff donated by NASA to things that were in my grandfather’s shed. I was looking at jet engines yesterday and these amazing ceramic materials they’ve invented for them. To be able to take a bit of that and put it in the Materials Library… that becomes a palette of elemental experience I suppose – which is also about the places that I’ve been.


Is it important to you to have somewhere to escape from the hustle and bustle of life?

I don’t mind hustle and bustle. It’s not about escaping for me, it’s just about having a change, I think. I have a studio space at home and it looks just like a mini version of the Materials Library – only it’s more private and more experimental. So it’s more about simply needing time with my things. And that might be in the studio, or the Library, or it might be going out and finding more things, wherever that might be.


What elements do you think make a perfect ‘hole-and-corner’?

Ever since I was a child, my mum would always despair that I couldn’t come home without my pockets full of stones or sticks that I’d picked up. I love the different mixture of materials you get on the shoreline. And that’s now become my life. I go all over the place and I’ve made it completely legitimate to be able to find things and bring them back. I do like flatness too. But strangely the beach isn’t really about what it looks like for me – there used to be a power station there, which they demolished, but I really liked that. It’s about what it feels like, the different textures. It’s a journey through time and space that you could never record in a photograph.


Is it private to you or do you let other people visit?

The Library is open to the public for ‘Discovery sessions’ – the beach I share with friends and family, but I do like going off for a walk on my own and not having to have a conversation, just having some time to look and touch things, really.


What’s the best advice that you’ve ever been given?

I’m not sure if I was ever told this or it’s something I’ve picked up and always believed, but you cannot underestimate how starting is the best way to get things done. Just give it a go. It sounds like a Nike advert! Don’t talk yourself out of things before you’ve even started them. Do it, and then work out what you want to be next.





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