mily Jones is an artist living in London, UK.
Can you build a bridge with gumdrops and toothpicks? Why does Penelope Cruz have four gold needles pierced through her ears? How would you organise collective life without representatives? I understand, the ice groans, shrieks, and thunders, life-to-earth magnetism. (decarbonise prosperity)
Recent exhibitions include Folk Hall for a Village, VIE D’ANGE, Montréal CA (2018) Sand Dollar Sea Biscuit, Prairie Chicago US (2018); Just Us, First Continent, Baltimore (2017) and Half Earth, VEDA, Florence (2017) emilyjones.info
Image: Emily Jones, This Is Us
Nacre: When we first spoke we talked about several things and one of them was internet as a platform, with its various communities, that has helped you on graduation from university built both your audience but also sounds like, helped you to think through the work. So my first question is about the shifts in the online life that have taken place over the last decade since you first started to be a part of it. How would you describe your own progression through platforms and the relationship to the online community as you have traveled through time, making the work or thinking about its representation and documentation?
Emily: My website is an important tool and when I got one in 2009 I think it really changed my memory. Before then I couldn’t recall in conversation with myself or someone else or sometimes what I had actually ‘done’. I think having a website made something that was continuous into discrete events which certainly was helpful to start to see things.
Nacre: The thing that connects to the discussion of the online culture that we also began to dissect in our first conversation, is hype. I often think of the reverse image search as a sort of immediate surface way with which various people have talked to me about dispersed works, including curators or gallerists who seem to have been drawn to a colour palette or making connection in a purely formal way between works that to my mind are fundamentally – apart. You spoke of distinction between community and hype, where in terms of sustainability hype isn’t useful to you. I am interested in two things here: one is sharing – against hermetic or reclusive tendency. Where do you find a distinction between marketing and a dialogue with your viewers for yourself?
Emily: I’ve used tumblr, flickr, twitter, facebook, instagram, google plus and my website as platforms for my work in ways that are exciting to me. The liking of posts is really difficult for me. I always think about it as an animal leaving their scent on something. It’s just a bizarre action and it has a funny weight to it, I can’t really work out how to escape it but I’m sure there must be a better way or at least one that isn’t so measured. When I was using tumblr the reblogging added this extra life to something because you saw your post get siphoned into someone else’s stream and the image can take on another life, or another angle. I’m using instagram a lot right now, I’ve been trying to find a way to make stories exciting but I can’t get away from it being a way to prove something to an imagined someone, and the fact that you can see who saw it really feels like way too much information. I am still using flickr to organise all my research images for shows and twitter is also still really important for my work but then these spaces are more hermetic in my mind.
Nacre: Hype could behave as a form of erasure, or loss of sense of discovery, mystery or ambiguity. What does the notion of relevance mean to you?
Emily: That’s really hard. I think there’s a way that you can be tuned into the general pool and then what you’re making is ‘relevant’. I mean if you desire to make it and you do then maybe it just is relevant because you managed, or you tried. I think there’s something about honesty, which has also to do with fear and being open, like going towards your fear and being open enough to be guided, to let the world show you things and to change course. Like to be flexible or responsive. I think those actions are relevant.
Nacre: Having to take on side jobs to sustain our practices is common, but isn’t talked about nearly enough as the art industries are professionalized, with trade-fairs and factory like studios and Instagram business accounts with stats and user data. The preferred outwards appearance of an artist is that of an independent practitioner with an almost double life. As an artist that grew to gradually have a gallery representation, how did the trajectory of moving at your own pace and working elsewhere to support your studio time affect the choice of subjects and materials for you?
Emily: I have tried really hard to make everything that could be a barrier to making work into rather, something that can feed the work. I started looking after children as my job when my daughter was 18 months old. Being around kids is amazing for creativity, they always give me ideas, I think I also needed to vicariously experience the nuclear family structure as that isn’t the shape my family is making in the world (I think I found self-forgiveness through this). It’s also very mundane and kind of grounding to have your job be to accompany children, cook them dinner, tidy up. In terms of moving at my own pace, I am very fast, like too fast sometimes, I have a lot of energy and in that sense I was always working and writing stuff down and thinking about stuff and pushing. Not like pushing to get something but pushing because I just feel in service of the work and I really need to make configurations of stuff to make stability for myself. Right now I’m trying to use that energy to relax a bit, or just more breathing, haha.
Nacre: Continuing thinking about materials I would like to ask some questions about your show Folk Hall for a Village that is still up at Vie D’Ange in Montreal as I write. I was drawn to your work quite viscerally. Despite not actually having been able to be there in person to see it, the images of documentation had a very strong spatial grip on me, a sort of feeling of being embedded and there with the objects. How did you make the show, how much of it was site-specific and how much was pre-planned and brought with you or shipped?
Emily: The works I make are always site-specific and maybe quite hard to move somewhere else, or I guess they would just make a different kind of sense in another space. I made the mural based on the dimensions of the gallery but then once I had made it I checked the size of Guernica and it was really close to the mural. We got the onions from the market and made the rack from wood we found outside in the street.
Nacre: “Replica of mural made by children on the topic of peace” on the list of materials as well as the bat conservation trap, open many doors of thinking to me that I am excited to walk through. I am thinking of the cultural conversation on overlapping issues of inherited legacies that are simultaneously unfolding across cultures, globally. The idea of replicating childrens drawing, in relation to often problematic practice of appropriation, albeit inevitable as the world increasingly becomes a shared texture, invites the viewer to look in all together another direction above, beyond and below and through the pastiche surrounding us, to the forthcoming and not yet formed generation. Repeating their mark on the scale that you did seems like a potent way of talking about the future. How did the mural come about and how was the replica made? What was your thought process as you transferred the initial drawings to be a soft drape with applique? Was the scale changed or the colours?
Emily: So the mural is a lifesize replica of a mural which was made by blind children in India, they made it as part of this global art project called Kids Guernica where groups of children make murals about peace that are the same size as Picasso’s Guernica. I had a very small image to work from but the colours are as close as I could get. The mural is divided in the exhibition (it wasn’t originally) and I placed a (model of a) harp trap in the gap in the middle. Scientists were previously catching bats in nets which frequently harms the bats, the harp trap results in hardly any injuries to the bats and is seen as a good way to monitor bat population and health. The traps are placed outside the bats nest site and material is draped around it to create a tunnel, meaning they are really likely to fly into the trap. Part of this work is also a blind spot mirror which is maybe 5 or 6 meters away from the mural.
Nacre: The mural connects us to the history of painting and craft, I am wondering how you position yourself within these two worlds, if at all? Perhaps this is a good place to talk about the name of the show, too.
Emily: The title Folk Hall for a Village is from this architectural drawing of a folk hall for a village which was hanging in the toilet of a National Trust house my parents took me to. It was the house of this person who was really obsessed with collecting handmade ANYTHING and he filled this big house with all this handmade stuff and lived in a really tiny building in the garden. It reminds me of this documentary I watched when I was about 18, it was about this old lady who lived in a wooden house in the forest and she just sort of let all the insects and rodents come and live in her house with her. She was describing how she would fold back into the earth soon and she enjoyed living in this way where she could see her house doing the same thing.
In terms of your painting/craft question I find myself increasingly doing things that feel like painting, e.g I made a mosaic last year, and this year I’ve made three embroideries and making the mural felt like how I imagine painting to feel. It just feels funny to be going towards that.
Nacre: The Christmas Pyramid – is the object in the show I want to know least about, not because I don’t desire the knowledge but because I want to resist overtalking the work. So the last thing I would like to know is if the object was purchased, found or made? What is your relationship to these methods of working?
Emily: I bought it. As I bought the ball-jointed doll for Half-Earth and the nanoblock lego models for Orange House Action Clinic. Sometimes that’s just how the work comes and sometimes I need to make it in other ways.
Nacre: I am on the fence about asking artists about other artists as if they must define their lineage. Which can be off-putting to me personally. It is important to state that referencing names is not really as definitive or direct as saying so-and-so had influence on me hence my work is an evolution of their ideas, maybe it’s quite the opposite, nor is it sculpture for sculptures, ceramic to ceramic, kind of thing that interests me which can be rather predictable. So if it is relevant to you – what have you seen or been thinking about, from someone else?
Emily: I love this instagram al_khzam, the person is posting in these prolific bursts, a lot of videos, some of them are so tender: a child taking a chicken from his father and setting it free (the father was going to kill the chicken) a man being measured for a hat only it seems for a while they are putting a knife around his head, someone removing parasitic grubs from around the beak of a bird, children smashing the tiles of the floor in their house, there’s a lot of harvest imagery, it’s really human – land interactions, human – animal interactions, human – human interactions and it’s always on the cusp of turning violent somehow, or you can’t really tell for a while what’s really happening, these three people leaning over a huge hole in the road and one person sort of pushes another person out of the way and lays down in place of them and then they haul a dog out of the hole, and the dog just sort of runs off down the street. A young person kind of wrestling with a young cow and the cow keeps butting the person over and then you realise the person is trying to free the cow as she’s trapped in a fence. A bobcat catches a white rabbit in the snow. A man opens a big cage and so many doves fly out.
Nacre: What are you working on next?
Emily: I’m doing a show at Centre d’Art Contemporain – La Synagogue de Delme in March next year. I’ve written a play called Sorso which means sip in Italian. I’m trying to make a space for something which doesn’t progress, like doesn’t slowly build something up but rather feels like it’s constantly undoing itself, but for this undoing not to feel hopeless or like nonsense.
Nacre: What are you reading? Do you read fiction, or theory or periodicals or art criticism and magazines etc?
Emily: I’m reading The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing which really soft but also hard, quite zoomed in. She says “I’ll admit it’s hard for me to even say this: there may not be a collective happy ending.” It’s heavy but I find the starkness comforting. I’m reading Spells edited by Sarah Shin and Rebecca Tamás which is a poetry book. I’ve also been trying to read the 3rd part of Sloterdijk’s Spheres Trilogy (FOAMS) for quite a while now, I think because the first two books had a really profound impact on my thinking especially of outside & inside, I’m sort of holding off finishing the last book because it’s about now, it’s about climate change.