Caitlin McCormack is an artist based out of South Philadelphia who sculpts animal skeletons with string and glue. While these eery sculptures may seem simply macabre, there’s more to these sculptures than what’s present: There are memories, there are empty spaces, there is a family legacy, and all the ways these things change and reconstruct themselves over time. When I reached out to Caitlin McCormack I didn’t realize she’d turned up on Make:’s radar before, but I’m glad I got to hear in her own words the ideas behind her work.
How would you introduce yourself and your work?
My name is Caitlin and I spend a lot of time crocheting animal skeletons out of cotton string that I stiffen with a slurry of glues in my studio, which is a room with a drop-ceiling leading to the bathroom in my house. I live in South Philadelphia, where I like to go for long walks at night. I also like to pet cats.
Why did you begin crocheting skeletons?
I started working this way in 2010, after graduating from college, when my grandparents passed away. My grandmother was a very talented crocheter, and my grandfather was an exceptionally-skilled bird carver. Something about the receptive process of crocheting seemed to help me to cope with their absence. I eventually decided that it would be fitting to create a synthesis of their two crafts, by using my grandmother’s ancient, worn, and stained cotton string to construct what could be viewed as the fibrous innards of a carved, wooden bird.
What is your process for making one of these sculptures?
The animal forms that I construct all correlate with specific memories. Once I decide what type of creature I want to make and complete a series of sketches, I use a tiny hook to crochet each individual bone. That material is dredged in a mixture of glues, dries on a flat surface, is dredged again, and so forth, until the desired level of rigidity is achieved. I sew the tiny bits together and position them, add more glue, and eventually wind up with a skeleton, which is typically pinned to black velvet, like a specimen. There’s a lot of glue all over everything, always.
Do you crochet using a reference? If so what skeletons do you use as a reference?
I spend a lot of time observing skeletal structures in books or in person (if I’m lucky enough), at places such as Philadelphia’s Wagner Free Institute of Science. I usually tear myself away from the reference source after completing a few drawings, and render a form from memory, in order to depart from the creature’s structural authenticity. That’s when I let my own visual biases and the inconsistencies of my memory take hold.
How does this work fit in with your other illustration and sculptural work?
My illustrations consist of photographs of tiny, handmade sets and dolls. While I was in college, I enjoyed drawing and painting but felt the need to develop a more tactile way of producing imagery, since that’s always been my preferred way to work – to make things that at least start out as objects that can be touched, positioned, etc. Studying illustration definitely improved my ability to communicate ideas. Even though constructing sculptural work with more obscured meaning takes up more of my time than making 3-D illustrations with clear narratives does, the combination of a tactile practice and a desire to disclose very personal ideas is present.
What inspires you?
When I began experimenting with this type of work, I lived in a very old house just north of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, which sort of stood alone in a parking lot and was surrounded by decrepit old warehouses and abandoned factories. Something about seeing that environment whenever I looked out my window made me very aware of the ways in which matter can simultaneously consist of both substance and nothingness. The way our memories change over time, and the manner in which all things inevitably crumble and eventually reconstitute themselves in numerous, and sometimes unforeseen ways, might be the things that inspire me most of all.
Where can people see your work? In person or online?
I currently have a two-person show up at Antler Gallery in Portland, OR, which also features Jason Borders’ beautifully intricate, engraved animal skulls and bones. I’m represented by Paradigm Gallery + Studio in Philadelphia, PA, through which a lot of my work is available online. They represent an incredible array of talented artists and I’m honored to be included among them.