Sophie Bottomley – the Shape of the Mouth

When I encounter an orchid in full bloom a strange, kinky sensation overtakes me. I want to consume the flower, touch it, smell it, and be close to its erotic presence. And when the plant is erect in its stance, minus the bloom, it is still seductive; it’s sensual presence both fantastic and real at the same time.

When I step into Sophie Bottomley’s studio it is the unblemished space and bright light that echoes similar sensations. Sophie’s studio is chilly and she wears cosy slippers – yet the room feels warm and full of sensual energy. Her studio is not unlike the soil the orchid resides in, here the filament fiber, tracing paper, beads, thread and concrete, are the creative soil – the everyday materials waiting for transformation.

I am in awe observing Sophie’s fingers laboriously wrapping, weaving and repeatedly grouping these materials into abstract forms that conjure emotional and physical responses of excitation. The outside area of the
three-dimensional spaces created in these objects arouse instant curiosity and a desire for the secret inner spaces to be revealed. These everyday materials have created extraordinary objects that summon physical sensations somewhere between intimacy, the sensual, the sexual and the erotic.

In reflecting on Sophie working in her studio I continue to uncover the still-ness of this tranquil private domain – the site where magic prevails through labour and endurance. The artist making art, and their relationship to the studio has been an ongoing topic of curiosity and discussion for some time. Artist Kiki Smith, for example, has said that her way of making art is also a form of playing…remembering how as a child “she always made things”. Scores of artists have used similar expressions.

Interestingly Sophie Bottomley has commented that her work of repetitive labour “creates interior and exterior spaces to evoke emotional responses in the viewer…hopefully imbuing the object with emotional content”. Here the studio can then refer to a site of wonder, a site that can be unforgiving to the artist or a place filled with the artist’s desire. And the question of what comes out of the studio and what remains in it often arouses one’s curiosity.

In her solo exhibition, the Shape of the Mouth, Bottomley presents her newly created objects of wonderment, including shiver, an object constructed from fine filament line and metal. (It’s interesting that the term filament actually means a slender threadlike object, including the fibers found in animal or plant structures; intriguing too that in botany the term can refer to the slender part of the stamen that supports the anther). The filament in shiver induces the viewer to do just this – shiver. If one could touch it, then all is revealed and no words can quite interpret the feeling, except perhaps the strange sensation of goose bumps, or hairs standing on end. And in the case of shiver, from the tension created by the artist methodically inserting hair next to hair, almost touching…

In the book The Studio: Documents of Contemporary Art, a range of essays and artists statements explore questions around issues focused on the inside and outside of the studio as a space for creation and participation. One artist, Phillip Zarrilli, director and actor, says, “The studio…a location where words count less. Where something comes of nothing; sound from silence. Action from impulse”.

The words of Zarrilli outline my perceptions of Sophie working in the studio. She is an artist that examines and observes with introspection. She is in complete control, commanding the materials and labour in her objects, inviting and encouraging personal interpretations; does the viewer imagine the body, or intimacy, repulsion or perhaps romance? A precise answer is not crucial to an understanding of the artist’s work.

In Sophie’s object moment before, hundreds of meticulously strung and connected salmon-toned beads are assembled into something reminiscent of the beginning or ending of a kiss. The object has transformed the humble bead into a sensual object that hovers between the erotic and physical endurance, between frustration and meditation, or between intimacy and love. Is the moment before mirroring the shape of the mouth, or the shape of the tongue, or perhaps the physical permutation of the space between the two?

The shape of the mouth, or the shape of the tongue or importantly, the space that occupies the place between the two brings me back to the orchid. The bloom is exquisite but on closer scrutiny it is abstract and the desire to consume myself inside it, impossible.

Debra Porch


Enberg, Siri; Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, Minn; 2006; p. 44.

Hoffman, Jens, (ed); The Studio: Documents of Contemporary Art; Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press; London; 2012; p.104.