Frame 61

Josie Perry

Frame 61
Josie Perry

"I use materials and forms that engage with the visual language of theatre, hoping to achieve sculptural character that treads a line between the makeshift theatrical prop and elegant furniture design, with a note of Sci-Fi-esque absurdity. "

Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?

I am about to graduate from the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University. Prior to this, my background was in music performance. I studied singing at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester for two years, an experience that has fed directly into my work as a visual artist. 

Your work is very playful, some of your work is displayed in public spaces, could you tell us a bit about that and what your work is about?

People often tell me that my sculptures look like children’s toys, theatrical props or postmodern furniture. In fact, all of these playful languages are influences I draw upon, amongst others that span music, film, books and architecture. A recurring theme in my work is the empty or waiting set, alluding to props and utility but denying explicit narrative context or function.

I use materials and forms that engage with the visual language of theatre, hoping to achieve sculptural character that treads a line between the makeshift theatrical prop and elegant furniture design, with a note of Sci-Fi-esque absurdity. Sometimes I create collisions between these objects and existing architectural or ritualistic structures, encouraging spirals of open meaning and association in site-specific locations. 

I use performers in some installations, actualising the theatricality implicit in my sculptures. I often collaborate with musicians and composers on these projects, in which I reflect on transitory states such as rehearsal or planning. This has parallels with my 2D work, which features impossible spaces and the architecturally in-between areas of corridors and staircases. In a society that encourages perpetual forward motion, these works embody a desire to focus on the isolated, evanescent moment.

Waiting Room 1, 2016

Waiting Room 3, 2016

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?

I draw every day, sometimes as a tool to help plan sculptures or performance projects, but mostly just for the fun of it. I spend a lot of time doing research that might inspire my studio work; looking up artists, reading, watching films, going to exhibitions. My studio is very chaotic – with the scale I work with, there isn’t much room for me in there along with my work! I used to recycle old work because of space issues, but I’ve been getting more sentimental recently and this has resulted in a cluttered environment of precariously stacked, flat-packed art. Because of the mess, I view my studio less as a place to experiment and more as a making zone where I just do the technical work, which is a shame really. I tend to do my conceptual work and drawing outside of the studio, where I have more space to play with ideas. 

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

My favourite exhibition of the year so far was Marguerite Humeau’s ‘FOXP2’ at Nottingham Contemporary. It was an extremely ambitious installation bringing together sculpture, sound, fiction and scientific research. Humeau presented the bizarre futuristic situation of elephants made artificially sentient on an industrial scale, mounting elegant white sculptures linked to laboratory apparatus on clunky carpeted plinths, amid a colour field of startling pink. A sound piece in an adjacent darkened tunnel (representing the development of articulate language in humans) provided an ethereal, slightly disturbing accompaniment. It isn’t often that I find an artwork can successfully play on so many levels of visual, conceptual and sensory engagement, though I’ve come to expect great things from Nottingham Contemporary’s exhibition programme, which is consistently ambitious and exciting.

Untitled, 2016 (front)

Untitled, 2016 (back)

Untitled (drawings), 2017

Storage Plan for J&L, 2016

Where has your work been headed more recently?

Recently I’ve been focusing less on site-specific work and more on self-contained objects. With an ongoing series of sculptures called ‘Portals’, I’ve been combining the physical immediacy of a sculptural object with the imagined possibilities suggested by drawing on its surface, providing ambiguously diagrammatic clues as to its purpose or contents. I’m interested in making hidden spaces, in provoking questions about an interior that remains teasingly off-limits. I like art that doesn’t give everything away, and enjoy the challenge of trying to best draw the line between access and denial. 

How do you go about naming your work?

It depends on the work, and I don’t try to force titles: if nothing fits, I’ll leave it for later. Sometimes a title will naturally attach itself to a work or project from the outset, and sometimes I’ll stumble upon something that works along the way. My favourite titles tend to be simple and refer to moments of transition, which makes sense given that I often try to evoke suggestions or traces of events in my work. I called a recent set of paintings ‘Waiting Rooms’; I was thinking a lot about David Lynch’s filmic dream sequences, how they exist as surreal, timeless pockets outside of narrative structure’s linear flow. I hoped that my paintings would evoke a similar feeling of a space temporally warped and structurally in-between.

Portal, 2017

Portal (2nd view), 2017

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I’m currently planning a new major project based on the opera ‘Curlew River’ by Benjamin Britten, which was inspired by the composer’s experience of Japanese Noh Theatre. I’m designing a performative installation based on the instrumentally-accompanied robing ceremony that occurs both at the beginning and end of the work, in which the characters put on and remove their costumes in full view of the audience; I’m interested in how this blurs the boundaries of onstage and offstage, as well as the viewer’s understanding of the time frame of the performance.

My installation will involve the ‘unrobing’ or unfolding of a large fabric sculpture by four performers, hopefully accompanied by an ensemble of musicians performing Britten’s music. The sculpture will be based on elements of the narrative, as well as a potential floor-plan of a full staging of the opera. I’m also working on a joint venture with emerging pop musician Sal Para, which will involve filming a sculpture partially buried on a beach and stranded in the sea. This will be the third work in my ‘Portals’ series.

All images are courtesy of the artist
Published date: 5/4/17