Dr Julia McKinlay

Dr Julia McKinlay


I am an artist and curator based in Leeds. I have a studio with East Street Arts and curate Threshold, an open-air exhibition space for sculpture in Burley, Leeds.

I joined the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in Fine Art in January 2022. Before joining FAHACS, I was a Visting Lecturer in Postgraduate Studies at Leeds Arts University (2021–22) and previously Bartlett Teaching Fellow in Print at Newcastle University (2016–2017). 

I studied sculpture at Glasgow School of Art, and The Slade School of Fine Art. In 2018 I was awarded a scholarship to undertake a practice-based PhD at Leeds Beckett University in collaboration with Yorkshire Sculpture International and gained my doctorate in 2022. My thesis ‘Acid-Soaked Molluscs: a xenophoric approach to practising sculpture and print’ examined the production of three bodies of work and the subsequent evolution of a xenophoric research methodology after an encounter with a xenophora snail specimen. Xenophora are marine gastropods known for their collecting behaviour, they gather shells, stones, coral and other detritus from the sea floor and attach this material to the outside of its own shell. They become museums of the sea floor, specific to their locality. The methodology proposed in my thesis shadowed the marine snail xenophora’s habits as a creative process and was contextualised in relation to the growing field of New Materialism, and particularly the theories of Donna Haraway, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing and Jane Bennett. 

I work primarily in sculpture but print and drawing are also significant to my practice and research. My work takes the form of large-scale installations, collections and artist’s books. I use material processes that mimic nature, utilising chemical reactions, heat, and pressure to make installations that represent semi-fictional environments, and question the boundaries between nature and the human-made. Previous works have explored the edge of the world, an obscure garden and the back of a snail’s shell. Archival research in natural history museums as well as visits to quarries, foundries and workshops have often been the catalyst for new work. I often work with metal for its plasticity and strength and since a visit to an iron foundry in 2018 have also incorporated magma, the waste by-product of metal casting in my work due to it’s similarity to volcanic rock. 

In 2021 I launched Threshold as a space for outdoor exhibitions of sculpture in the front garden of a traditional back-to-back terrace in suburban Leeds. The 2021 programme was supported by Arts Council England, Leeds Inspired, East Street Arts, CuratorSpace and Index Festival, and included exhibitions by Alice Chandler, Victoria Lucas, Jacob Farrell and myself, and Emii Alrai. Running alongside the public exhibitions was Threshold Editions which published a limited edition publication for each exhibiting artist, and was a vehicle to sell affordable sculpture editions. The ambition of Threshold is to provide space and professional support for artists to develop their sculpture practice by making work for the unique context of a Leeds terraced street and the next programme is due to take place in 2023. 

Other recent curatorial roles have included working with Messums Yorkshire on Routes North (2022); the Freelands Artist Programme with Freelands Foundation (2021–2022); and Kuroko with Index Festival 2019, Leeds, (2019).

I have participated in several residencies including: YSI Sculpture Network 2020, Leeds (2020); Mokuhanga Innovation Laboratory, Kawaguchiko (2018); METAL, Southend-on-Sea (2018); Skaftfell, Seyðisfjörður, Iceland (2015). Recent exhibitions include: Scoria, Threshold, Leeds (2021); Undergrowth, BLANK_, Leeds (2021); Material Matters, Sunny Bank Mills, Leeds (2021); Kuroko, Index Festival, Leeds (2019); MI-LAB Basic Training Programme Exhibition, CfSHE Gallery, Tokyo (2018); The Factory, Djupavik, Iceland (2017); Village Green Festival, METAL, Southend-on-Sea (2016); Oh For You! I Would Do Anything, Tritongatan5, Gothenburg (2015). 

In 2021 I was awarded an Arts Fund Commission by Leeds City College to produce a new series of sculptures, which then became a stage for a new piece of choreography by students. Also in 2021 I was awarded an engagement commission with Yorkshire Sculpture International to work with a group of children from Rycroft Leisure, and deliver a series of workshops culminating in an exhibition in Wakefield. 

I am a founding member of Plant Embedded Research Network.

Research interests

Research interests include:

  • sculpture and the agency of materials
  • the inherant three-dimensionality of print
  • multiples
  • the role of print and drawing in natural history
  • art/science collaborations
  • artist-led spaces
  • embedded research in arts organisations
  • curating contemporary sculpture
  • art festivals 
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD Fine Art
  • MFA Fine Art
  • BA Hons Fine Art: Sculpture and Environmental Art

Student education

  • BA Fine Art, BA Fine Art with History of Art; BA Fine Art with Contemporary Cultural Theory
  • MA Fine Art
  • PhD Fine Art Practice

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>