The Tools of Women’s Work as Arms and Legs: Sculptor Nicole Havekost

Posted by: Elaine Luther

Doll forms whose legs have been replaced by the pointy end of a compass, or a single beater from an electric mixer, or a pattern tracing tool with a work-worn wooden handle, these are the current body of work of Minnesota artist Nicole Havekost.

Dolls aren’t a completely new form for her art.  She began working with doll forms for her MFA show at the University of Mexico, and previously made paper dresses as sculpture.

The work has evolved into the bloated doll forms with scissor or spoons or other tools for arms or legs; the figures are covered with sewing pattern tissue paper. 

On Making the Dolls

“I get the found objects from thrift stores and E-bay mostly. I choose things based on shape and how much use they appear to have, how easily they can be incorporated into the figure fairly seamlessly.

The figures are all so bloated as that is what I often feel like. I kind of think of them as self-portraits. I had an eating disorder for 20 + years and I don’t really have a realistic understanding of my body and it’s shape. I have made several bodies of work with this doll like form starting in my MFA years.

Previously I had been making little sculptural paper dresses, that very much had personalities. Those works started to get at the feelings/ideas I was having about my body and at some point I decided I just needed to make a body. I made it out of muslin and stuffed it with plastic bags because that is what I had; I thought it would just be a sketch and then the next one would get pretty and fancy.

But I really liked how weird and disfigured that first one was, so I made more. I have always been curious about giving a felt sense in the body a physical representation. For many years, I wanted to incorporate found objects into my figures, but I wasn’t sure how. I am not trained as a sculptor and I just kind of make things up as I go along.

A friend introduced me to this commercial doll making clay that does not need to be fired, and I thought that might work for these new figures. The very first one I made with these materials was a gift for a friend, and I knew I was on the right track.

I think the sewing and cooking dolls work differently from my other dolls because they also get at the roles women have and how our bodies are shaped by those roles. I am beginning to think about life-sized figures in wool felt now.

It is becoming really important to me to be able to see the insides of the figure…the guts of how it is all put together….so that is where I am going.”

On Making Time for Making Art

“As far as time for my art….as I have gotten older I have gotten better at determining what will make me happy and what I can let go of. I used to exercise two hours a day and have a clean house. I used to think it wasn’t worth making my work if I didn’t have more than an hour. Turns out making work makes me more content than anything else.

And it turned out that if I changed my expectation of what I needed to make work, then I could make it more easily. So, I go to the gym only a couple of times a week. My house is a wreck. I stopped folding clothes five years ago. I will do the wash, I just don’t fold. Everyone knows where their clean clothes are and it doesn’t bother me if no one folds them. So it has been a lot of that.

I also had to give up that there was a “right” way to make work. Sometimes it was just during naps. Sometimes it was before everyone got up. Sometimes I made really shitty, dumb stuff because that was all I had time for. But I am a better person when I make, so now I let things go so I can do that.

The only other thing I would say is that we have to give up being so goddamned perfect all the time. Make mistakes. Fail at a lot of stuff. Stay flexible. Be curious and work hard. Eat chocolate every day and a grilled cheese once in a while (or maybe that’s just me.) Break the rules.”

On Choosing Curiosity

Havekost writes on her blog about the episode of the Krista Tippett podcast On Being with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love.  (The episode title is “Choosing curiosity over fear.”)

“Elizabeth Gilbert said creativity is our “birthright” as humans, that we are the “maker apes.” And then somewhere along the way, we lose this sense of naturalness or innateness to our creativity.  Many of us don’t recover it; but that living a life of curiosity is also living a life of creativity.  She said that you may not may an object/an artwork, but that you make a life, which is a creative act.  She seems to have given herself permission to follow her curiosity, wherever that may lead. 

‘I think curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And it’s a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available. And so when we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all, there’s a great deal of pressure around that.’ 

-Elizabeth Gilbert

I am finding now, in my mid-life, that I am changing, that the people I love are changing, and that being fixed on passion, or your younger self’s expectations. leaves little room for this organic growth.  Isn’t it so brilliant to give yourself permission to explore in ways you might never have before….and then to have no judgement about that exploration? 

To choose curiosity over fear means to choose possibility.  One of the things I have struggled with is not wanting to feel the fear, or to know it.  But there is no way around that.  There is no life without fear.  There is however that moment, where you recognize the fear and want to run.  You can say hello to it instead, and then choose to not let it make your choices for you.  It is so difficult but unbelievably simple all at the same time.  I think I am beginning to choose curiosity; to explore because it brings me joy.  There is some good stuff in their talk about joy, and gladness, courage and compassion…just some wonderful words that will continue to resonate for me.”

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