“I'm interested in how we operate within ourselves and how this extends to the world around us. How we become both influenced by, and shape our surroundings. An exploration of both perfection and imperfection.”
Interview by Simek Shropshire
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I was born in Northampton in 1993, I was raised in an area called Kingsthorpe in the town centre before moving out to villages until I was 19. Living in a village I lived a very tradition based, rural life. I didn't travel abroad until I was 18 and I spent all of my holidays growing up in seaside towns, I went about four times a year and absolutely loved it, this would later massively influence my work. When I was 18 I moved to Liverpool to study Fine Art at Liverpool Hope University.
It was Liverpool Hope that awarded me with my first major commission at the end of my degree when I was 21, I'll talk more about this later on. After graduating from Liverpool I practised from a studio in Stockport, I was in residence at Manchester school of Art and worked part time in Manchester for various design companies. In 2016 I won the Cecil Lewis sculpture scholarship from UAL. This allowed me to move to London and study MA fine art at Chelsea College of Art.
During my masters I was selected to represent the UK at the (BJCEM) Biennale of young artists from Europe and the Mediterranean in Tirana, Albania. At the same time in London I designed installations for the Zabludowicz Collection and the Victoria and Albert Museum. I graduated in 2017 and have since had exhibitions in New York, Madrid, Beijing, Australia, Greece, London and Moscow and my works are in private collections internationally. Initially building work from my apartment and a table in a garage. In 2018 I set up my studio in west London. At the end of last year, I was awarded the Red Mansion Art prize - a fully funded month-long residency in Beijing and a prestigious group show at the Royal Academy in London.
You have described your role as a 'facilitator in a visual and tactile performance of objects' would you say that your role as a facilitator extends also to the performance of viewers? I'm thinking specifically of the kinetic sculpture "untitled struggle". The work has a running time of six minutes, a slightly longer period, and triggers the attention span and investment of the viewer; as a result, their engagement with the sculpture becomes an integral element of the performance.
Yes and no, I see it as providing opportunities for intrigue should an investment in the work be made. We live in an instant culture, we get our information quickly. Even to the point of Instagram stories in which we condense our day into a series of five seconds posts. We can think of this further as the production of like bait visual stimulus that resonates with us only via Instagram for its punchy aesthetic properties and lacks any form of investment in experience or our physical human relationship to it. Untitled Struggle is a kind of reaction against this, I tried to create a performance that encapsulates the various attitudes or preconceptions towards the act of viewing something physically in the 21st century.
When engaging with the sculpture I wanted to present the viewer with a series of predetermined visual and spatial opportunities, with the viewer learning more about the work as further attention is given. This formation of these choices works similarly to a magic act performed on the stage. The viewer is presented with a seemingly ordinary stack of something on a bright yellow table. This stack may appear to look like concrete or stone from a distance. As with stage magic - the initial act of engagement is to take the aesthetic at face value. As further attention is given, more is revealed. In this instance a power cable, a stack of foam, an angled mirror and a concealed back panel.
When developing the work I did multiple live tests to work out a timing that was slightly too long to wait for, six minutes. After six minutes the painted foam stack abruptly and mechanically implodes on itself. People on average initially spend around 30 seconds looking at an individual piece of static work. I liked the idea that you could see the same work twice in a space and each time it would be different. I wanted to create an opportunity for visual investment, the viewer that investigates the work fully and is present at the point of crushing would get a different experience to the viewer who ignored the work or came back to it at a different state.
The bold, striking colour scheme and pop-esque nature of your works are often accompanied by text that taps into underlying social anxieties, culturally-induced fear, and emotional insincerities. Why this dystopian underpinning of your practice?
If you begin to imagine a fairground in a rain storm as a metaphor. All the lights on the fairground covered in raindrops. The lights themselves appear brighter because the rain enhances their glow, blurring the light into beams of vivid colour. At once this is both a depressing scene and a beautiful one. The function of the fairground has been rendered useless and unsafe, yet its aesthetic beauty is enhanced under the muggy grey clouds, the fairground takes on the form of an abstract light show painted in the rain.
I prefer to think of human emotion in this way, every set of opposing emotions has a midpoint, a pivotal point in which we feel most alive. I think we are both fragile and powerful creatures. I'm interested in how we operate within ourselves and how this extends to the world around us. How we become both influenced by, and shape our surroundings. An exploration of both perfection and imperfection.
I am a child of the internet, I remember all the early stages of MSN, MySpace, Bebo and Dial up. Over the years the internet has grown up as I have. I can't shy away from the fact that I have an intimate relationship with it. Because of this I am very aware of it. Now it has become so intertwined with existence, it shapes the way in which we live. We've never been more informed, aware or frightened. With this I believe we inadvertently become creatures of habit and devise coping mechanisms to deal with this constant shifting of enthusiasm and heightened self awareness of the world. I use my work to act out these mid grounds, fears, optimisms, internal monologues and morbid predictions as a way in which to understand them. We all have bad dreams, thoughts, illness, anxieties and fears. But we all also have passion, joy, health, pleasures and hope.
One of your interactive installations, The Boost Project, is an inflating, white, plastic orb that was installed at science gallery Melbourne. It emulates the mutable feelings of acceptance and rejection that are caused by social media usage. Whenever the orb received a positive interaction on social media, such as a like on Facebook or a follow on Twitter, it would be doused in an array of coloured LED lights, emit a roar, and inflate to its capacity. Contrastively, it would deflate if ignored on social media. How did you conceive of this Project?
I initially came up with the idea for The Boost Project early 2015 whilst I was in my final year at Liverpool Hope University. I think my very first drawing of it I named it the 'fame bag', it was an ambitious idea to build a form that responded to its own social media popularity in some way. I saw a group on the train posting selfies and getting increasingly excited about the likes they were getting, this made me think about air going into a balloon, the act of expanding and contracting, the feeling you get when you are in the limelight.
The opportunity came up to pitch for a FACT + Hope University production residency. Awarded to a graduate for the production of a project - I pitched my idea and was awarded the commission on the evening of my degree show.
I then spent six months developing the idea in house at FACT, I worked alongside new media artists, designers and technologists in residence at the FACTLab. At first the work started as a tiny model with electronic solenoid valves and an air compressor, building a code that would switch the air in and out of an elastic balloon. I displayed this prototype at Liverpool library at 'Makerfest' to generate some excitement around the upcoming work. Over the next six months I worked closely with an inflatable manufacturer to scale the design and fabricate the 5m x 5m orb. It was a massive engineering challenge; balancing the social media elements, weight, gravity and airflow. It needed to be extremely large because I wanted it to be big enough to block out the light and have a looming, attention seeking presence in the gallery.
When a video of The Boost Project inflating and deflating is sped up, the orb looks like a pumping human heart. Was this anthropomorphic characteristic of the installation intentional?
The anthropomorphic nature of The Boost Project was intentional, I wanted to create something that appeared alive; to have a life force. A performance fuelled by external factors. Once the work is turned on, it remains active 24 hours a day for the duration of the exhibition. Sometimes for up to four months. In this period its performance is solely dependent on social media interaction. It could be fully swollen at 3am in the dark inside the gallery. I have limited control over the amount of attention it receives so there can be periods where it remains completely swollen at its max capacity for several hours. The organic nature of this live performance, and the relinquishing of control begins to render the work as an almost independent entity. Also - by giving The Boost Project its own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. I wanted to give it an online identity as a thing, a person or avatar. Something that can be directly interacted with and that would respond.
The orb fills with a small injection of air each interaction. It takes on average around 3 - 4 minutes to fully inflate if attention levels are high. It then falls gently with a natural deflation. It was important to create this relatively slow inflate / deflate process as I wanted to present the viewer with each subtle ripple of pvc; the form slowly manipulating as it deforms in and out of its orb state, almost like a slow dance in the air. When this is sped up, it begins to take on more human characteristics. The timelapse allows the work to be captured in its various states simultaneously, producing more immediate references to the human body via a fast breathing / pumping action. It becomes archival footage, referencing the documentation of a heartbeat. It was filmed over a period of 6 hours of interaction and the timelapse has since been exhibited as a film piece on its own and acts as a fundamental extension to the physical piece.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I went to see the Sven Lukin at Hollis Taggart in New York and it was phenomenal. Sitting between form and function, the high sleek aesthetic that could work both in an art space or as furniture or architecture. The works are incredibly playful and look as if they are ripped straight out of the sketchbook and painted directly into the space. Lukin's use of colour and form is outstanding and always feels contemporary even though the works were produced in the 60’s. I’m really keen on this idea of something that has a timeless aesthetic or a recurring set of aesthetic properties that feels contemporary and difficult to place in time.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
In the studio at the moment i’m currently painting a lot. I’m also developing a new series of sculpture as well as a new kinetic work that I have just started. Alongside this I’m building work for my solo show at Lungley Gallery this October in London and working on a major commission for a London venue which I can't say too much about at this point - but i'm very excited. I'm also working towards a group project with the UK Young Artists (UKYA) and Platform Nord that will take place in October in Kristiansand, Norway.
All images are courtesy of the artist
Publish date: 21/08/19