Sidonie knight

Sidonie Knight

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your studies at Leeds?

I have recently completed my BA Fine Art degree at the University of Leeds. During my undergraduate studies on a 50:50 practice:theory programme, I greatly improved my organisational skills and my ability to balance research, written work, reflection, creative practice and external obligations. I gained a broad understanding of cultural studies, undertaking modules ranging from ‘Cinema and Culture’ and ‘Live Issues’ through to a range of art history subjects.

Studying these topics provided me with a holistic understanding of different artistic applications and contemporary thinking. Being able to combine such theoretical understanding within my studio practice has allowed me to develop as an artist and as a critical thinker. Specifically influenced by my second-year studies into contemporary cinema and culture, I chose to write my 12,000 word dissertation which explored the film Tanin no Kao (dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966), examining the impact that facial disfigurement may have on human interaction, focusing on concepts of ‘otherness’, stigma, and face, all contextualised within a post-WWII Japanese culture. During this research project, I uncovered an array of literature that warrants further study, especially in the area relating to the treatment and ‘othering’ of facially disfigured Japanese soldiers in the post-WWII era.

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

Having originally applied for psychology at the University of Leeds, I remember coming up for an accommodation open day in June of my art foundation year- the Psychology School is just opposite the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies so I thought I should pop my head in to look at the Fine Art building. I met a final year student who kindly took me around the facilities and studios, explaining what she was doing in her creative practice - we ended up looking around for 2 hours! The way she spoke about the course so passionately, specifically about the support network provided by the tutors and the strong community atmosphere between peers really excited me. Also, the workshops looked so vast and the fact that everything was contained within one building, which also was open 24 hours a day made me decide to switch to the Fine Art course. She was right about all of what she told me!

As a city, Leeds is just so full of life. There is something for everyone and the inclusive and expansive range of opportunities available really appealed to me. The campus also looked so active, and I remember saying to my parents that everyone I walked past seemed to be smiling. That really sold it for me.

What aspects of the course do you enjoy the most? 

I have learnt a lot about myself during my undergraduate degree and this is largely due to the collaborative, people-centred nature of the BA Fine Art course. Through group crits between tutors and peers, I have gained new insights and inspiration, and the technical assistance and advanced facilities have allowed me to create some very ambitious works, which I could not have executed without such amazing support and equipment.

Can you give us an insight into your academic interests?

In my creative practice, I explore the interrelationship between skin and touch, using my body as the starting point. The processes I engage are closely tied to my bodily material and personal experience of psoriasis, an immune condition causing the visible overproduction of skin cells. Over my final year of study, I was able to develop a collaboration with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) researcher at the University of Leeds which allowed me the opportunity to examine my psoriasis under intense magnification, to closely understand what is left behind after a moment of touch.

I also explore the behaviour of living bio-materials, conceptualising the shedding of skin as an excess bodily material. I cultivate a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) as a substitute for my own skin as it mimics its transient nature. This material exhibits its own behaviour, like psoriasis, constantly changing and growing unpredictably. Playing on the grotesque, I challenge the stigma associated with bacteria and skin conditions aiming to show the inherent beauty within these entities.

In my recent Degree show, I created an immersive space which included the display of a living bio-sculpture made using a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts, a medium which I cultivated as a substitute for my own skin. I have recently been selected to be a finalist for the 2021 FUAM Graduate Art Prize, which rewards the artistic excellence of students completing BA studies in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, and the School of Design at the University of Leeds. My work will therefore be exhibited in a virtual exhibition run by the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

There is so much to get involved in, both through the student union and societies within the university itself, and externally. I have practiced kickboxing, attended weekly life-drawing sessions and gone on an amazing ski trip with university societies. Externally, I have spent time training with a local woman’s football team, as well as attending regular life-drawing sessions at Left-bank Leeds and elsewhere. I have also taken part in a peer-led exhibition, curated by Lottie Macaskill (another BA Fine Art student) which has raised money for a local charity in Leeds.

What do you plan to do when you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed so far at Leeds will help with these plans?

I am going to Central Saint Martins to complete a Masters in Art and Science, as a combined area of study. The MA programme is the next step in continuing to develop and refine my practice. I would like to combine the skills that I have developed over the past three years to continue my artistic investigations and am keen to further my knowledge in scientific realms, particularly to explore other ‘skins’, be that of animals, foods, objects, or cultures such as bacterial growths. I would also like to advance my scientific understanding of the chemical structure and function of psoriasis, furthering ideas about skin as a boundary between the interior and exterior of the body, considering where psoriasis as the over production of skin cells fits into notions of skin as a boundary.

My ambition is to be a full-time studio artist working in collaboration with the Bio-Art community, full of like-minded people whose interests lie in exploring how to visually express normalities and abnormalities of nature in a language that brings fresh understanding.

Using high-resolution electron microscopy to show otherwise invisible detail of human touch I hope to be able to use my work to communicate to the general public, businesses and political thinkers: the exchange of material from the skin has ramifications from the obvious concerns about contamination that we have had to confront during the pandemic, to the less obvious such as the treatment of the Hibakusha women (who were most often facially disfigured) following the nuclear bombs in WWII. I confront stigma by highlighting the beauty of a disfiguring skin condition and I plan to continue this work, possibly in collaboration with charities to create fund-raising and/or educational materials. 

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

DO IT! It is a wonderful course full of inspiring individuals and exceptional technical and academic support. If you want to aim big and be surrounded by people who can help you achieve ambitious and exciting ideas, Leeds is the one!