Meet the makers of monuments by Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor and other well-known artists

Catherine Hyland showcases some of the makers behind the magic we see in the world of art, and highlights the division of labour between artists and fabricators.

14 September 2023


Trips to galleries and museums can often feel overwhelming and downright unbelievable as some works of art have an almost unsettling grandeur. They make you take a step back and wonder how long it took the artist, and why they – instead of you – were blessed with such patience and the ability to delay gratification. But, more often than not, from the paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling to the commissions in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall by some of the world’s leading contemporary artists, these works of art aren’t created alone.

Curious about this very phenomenon throughout the industry, photographer Catherine Hyland set out to explore the division of labour prevalent among the British arts with her new project Puppy Biscuits. “I would go on long walks during lockdown and kept seeing this building with strange objects coming in and out of it. I felt like I wanted to know what was inside and when I did find out, it was so rich in terms of material, it has kept me occupied ever since,” she tells us. Looking at the relationship between the makers of some of these sculptures and the people who employ them, she set out to gain an understanding around accessibility, care and facilitation. “There has been an increased interest in public sculpture over the last few years and we have seen some really unique moments in history with public statues being removed. It’s a very political topic and I wanted to look at the people behind these monuments, bringing them into the public view,” she adds.

Puppy Biscuits includes documentary photographs and film that varies from portraits of the workers surrounded by their work stations to close-ups of the materials and sculptures as works-in-progress. The series is named after the 20th century building that the foundry is located in. During its time, it was the largest dog food factory in the world, before later being adapted for other purposes. “The building is steeped in history and you can feel it when you visit. A film was the best way to share this information with an audience in more depth. I wanted to take the ideas further and include the changes in light and sound throughout the building,” she tells us.


Catherine Hyland: Puppy Biscuits (Copyright © Catherine Hyland, 2023)

Located in “forgotten corners,” of London’s East End, Catherine sees its location – as a forgotten part of “old London” – as a metaphor for the workers who go unacknowledged for their contribution to some of the country’s most prized artworks. “As with most places in London, there is a tension between keeping spaces like this going and the pressure from developers in relation to gentrification. Geographically there are a lot of contradictions in the area, it’s just minutes from Canary Wharf, one of the biggest financial districts, yet the area around Poplar and Limehouse has some of the highest child poverty in the country,” she adds.

Fascinated by the “choreography of making,” Catherine strives to find elaborate ways to record moments in time documenting the makers. “It feels like there are so many entry points when documenting sculptural works, as the process itself is in a constant state of flux.” She adds: “I started to see the mould makers, wax workers and metal workers as performers, with their own individual rhythms, and focused on my desire to make them visible.” And, for the accompanying film, Catherine most enjoyed the opinions that some of the workers had toward to sculptures they were producing, changing her views of the industry and the art of sculpture as a whole.

All in all, Catherine seems to be forever changed in her view of art and the art-making process, and hopes that you are too. “When I first viewed the small maquette of Tracey Emin’s The Mother – which was being fabricated at the foundry at the time, ready for Emin’s opening at Munch Museum in Oslo – I was really touched. The final sculpture is a nine-metre bronze sculpture weighing 18.2 tonnes and the largest bronze sculpture to be produced by the foundry. It expressed so much about the human condition to me and I think that was because of the materiality and permanence of the bronze casting process.”

GalleryCatherine Hyland: Puppy Biscuits (Copyright © Catherine Hyland, 2023)

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Catherine Hyland: Puppy Biscuits (Copyright © Catherine Hyland, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) was previously a staff writer at It’s Nice That. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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