Born in the Northeast of England, Michelle Marie Forrest’s family home was built on a filled mine shaft, which was subject to structural shifts. Buckling under the weight of too few rooms for too many children, her father (a builder) and mother (a housewife), took a belt and braces approach to embrace two families as a nuclear unit

As a sickly child, Forrest observed her parent’s strong work ethics. When well, she recalls emulating her mother’s cleaning and decorating rituals, but growing stronger, she favoured the tools of her father’s trade, where at weekends, she became his budding apprentice and played the role of a ‘Brickie’. Though her parents admired their daughters determination, it being nigh impossible to align any project to the wonky walls, they less favoured her critical eye.

Looking to channel her critical thinking and become the first family member to attend higher education, Forrest saved to fund her undergraduate study by training as a Developer of Database Management systems. A profession she would illustrate to her parents as; ‘an electronic form of building and cleaning a very tall, anti-Ballard ‘High Rise’ apartment block, where, akin to a Rubik cube puzzle, each apartment could be repositioned, so that residents could live alongside one another, as equals, beyond the limitations of wealth or systems of class’.

Graduating with a First-Class Honours Fine Art Degree, in 2007, she recognised that an enquiry had begun to form between work, labour, and her practice. Moving to London to catch-up on the world of contemporary art which had never been available to her growing-up, while saving for her postgraduate study, she took a part-time contracting role, within the capitals financial district, where she witnessed the crash of 2008, which is when, her sculptural forms began showing signs of impact from this economically unstable climate.

Awarded a Creative Technician placement at Battersea Arts Centre, in 2009, it was during this period that Forrest began to produce site-reflective installations beyond the gallery environment. Responding to two semi-derelict, yet financially flourishing postcodes in the heart of London, ‘Still Life’, 2010, and ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, 2010, drew on her mothers cleaning rituals and incorporated soap to explore the notion of what it meant to cleanse an environment literally, socially, ethically and spiritually.

In 2014, Forrest was awarded an Artists Access to Art Colleges (AA2A) residency, where, appropriating forms of construction and domestic labour, she started to explore situations of instability. Building a series of architectural, Bourgeois-esque cells, she began to redact the items she originally suspended within them. Retitling this series ‘Moratoriums’, 2015-2016, she considered the precarious act of counterbalancing the empty cuboidal spaces as a potential breaking point, where the compulsion to harbour unhealthy rituals or beliefs could be released, rather than held onto.

Graduating in 2017, with a Master of Arts Distinction and a ‘Best Student’ award, as Forrest’s portfolio of work began to reach new heights, the aftershock of the 2007/8 financial crisis perhaps became the undercurrent impacting her giant, physical spreadsheets on the brink of collapse, in ‘Blind Faith’, 2017 and ‘Flex’, 2017; the forceful union depicted in an architectural Venn diagram, titled ‘{a violent intersection}’, 2017, the tumultuous sound of cut crystal on a spin cycle, titled ‘Kalopsia’, 2017, all of which she live-streamed, in ‘(net, work}’, 2017, in which, physical forms became virtual converging and diverging conversations across space and time.

The following Autumn, Forrest was invited to spend 6 weeks exploring the Peak District’s mythology, topography and geographic histories, through collaborative and experimental practice, funded by Quad Gallery, in Derby. What peaked, arose through serious play, where the hollowness of language and image were explored through contradictory figures of speech, titled ‘The Mountain and the Cave, 2018‘ and a live-streamed, virtual image of a proposed mythological site, titled ‘Rev{o,e}l{u,a}tions, 2018‘.

At this junction, to ponder Forrest’s visual language, where forms of labour do not work towards a resolution, rather, highlight complexity as a thing in itself, the underlying quotes from the polymath Raymond Tallis and the political theorist and philosopher Jane Bennett, come to mind;

“The language in which we talk to ourselves as we endeavour to make sense of what is around and within us…and which in part lifts us above a world in which we would otherwise be drowned, is itself a wonder…I no longer dream of rising above the great sea of language to make sense of it from some imaginary extra-linguistic vantage point. But I still rejoice in its million nooks, its thousand lights and shadows and its endlessly folded depths”

Tallis, R. In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections. Acumen. 2012. p5

Wondering about the multifarious connections which persons of wide knowledge draw upon, to acquire a breadth of vision required to traverse the gaps and interdependencies between disciplines, both quotes strike a chord with the forms of inconclusive language that Forrest’s practice attempts to communicate.

“Why not suppose that thinking is not in alignment with the world and not upright in character, that it can be contrary toward things outside of itself and can be playful and ill-mannered as well as upright? Under this set of contestable assumptions, thinking becomes a conglomeration of intentions, leaps, intensities, trace elements, and accidents, out of which emerge the surprises that temporarily jar humans out of the stupor of their duly sequential representing and recognizing.”

Bennett, Jane. ‘The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics’. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001. p52-53

Starting to refer to her sculptural installations as models, which she considers ‘at work’ or ‘working’ when subject to structural changes, by working with processes of change, Forrest plays with the potential that physical adjustments may bring about potential shifts in thinking. Referring to Bennett’s 2010 text, ‘Vibrant Matter: A political Ecology of Things’, here Bennett shifts the focus from human experience to nonhuman forces and speaks to a ‘destructive-creative force-presence’ with an active energy that has the potential to impact change and bring renewed vitality;

“A life thus names a restless activeness, a destructive-creative force-presence that does not coincide fully with any specific body. A life tears the fabric of the actual without ever coming fully ‘out’ in a person, place, or thing. A life points to… ‘matter in variation that enters assemblages and leaves them. A life is a vitality proper not to any individual but to ‘pure immanence,’ or that protean swarm that is not actual though it is real: ‘A life contains only virtuals. It is made of virtualities.”

Bennett, Jane. ‘Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things’. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. p54

By bringing spreadsheets into physical existence, Forrest transfigures the virtual into forms that perhaps, aim to shed a human-centric worldview, to consider the agency of the digital medium, reflect on how it effects human thought and shapes aspects of life.

By 2020, Forrest’s mashup of unconventional working processes piqued the interest of the South West Creative Network (SWCTN); a £6.5 million project that explored creative approaches and responses to the Automation, Immersion and Data generation, by expanding the use of creative technologies across the Southwest of England ( Awarded a 10-month Data Fellowship by SWCTN, as a New Talent, Artistic Researcher, she was invited to take a psycho-techno-archaeological approach to unearth the evolving nature of data and consider the complexity of its use, misuse and meaning (more so, lack of meaning), when the context of digital information was lost or used out of context.

Concerned with sense-making rather than common sense, Forrest’s Data Fellowship took a Frankenstein-like approach, by forming a symbiotic relationship with machine learning. In an attempt to inject humanness into algorithmic processes the cost of computational efficiency was lost to slow-processing, to contemplate what it meant to work with a broken heart.

Not wanting to work with beginnings or ends, or any particular viewpoint, Forrest appropriated Robert J. Sternberg’s Triarchic love theorem and formed a hypnotic pattern formation process that left her spellbound. By recording and documenting her working-memory processes, executed through a fusion of colour-coding and word-associations, sourced through web searches and curated within spreadsheets, her human-machine interactions materialised in the form of data abstractions. ​While losing herself to this laborious yet spontaneous process, to date, a kaleidoscopic series of 50+ diagrammatic drawings have evolved, titled ‘Love by Proxy’ 2020-ongoing.

Today, Forrest continues to mediate with matter(s) as a means to unearth communication breakdowns. Curating constellation installations as a form of endless conversation, she focuses on a sense of incoherence as a form of inconclusive language, which speak through processes that may never be fully processed and spatial connections that may never be fully formed. What culminates is a wholehearted performance (or even a performance full of holes) that require intuitive leaps to be taken.