An artist working predominantly with photography in east London, Jess works with themes such as touch, skin, sex and cancer and uses these themes to explore her own relationships, fears and curiosities on an incredibly personal level. On the surface her photographs are very clean, beautiful to look at and are reminiscent of the surreal and eccentric images used to sell perfume or jewellery in editorial magazines. However, once you peel away that serene exterior it is clear that her images are a way for the artist to explore and understand the sometimes hard-hitting issues she faces in her personal life. Like many artists Jess uses her work as a way to document and catalogue her struggles as well as a form of healing and understanding. I met up with Jess to discuss the topics and motives behind her work and to get to know her a little more as an individual, away from the sometimes gloomy subject matter of her work.
Infectum Pellis is an ongoing project in which the artist is further examining her relationship with skin and touch. These photographs show the skin as tense and restrictive, reflecting the way haphephobia, the fear of being touched causes the artist to feel in her own skin. Jessica’s practice is heavily influenced by her relationship with skin, sex and cancer.
It has been couple of weeks now since I met up with Jess in Loughton to get a coffee and I had planned to start our interview with some silly, light-hearted questions just to break the ice and to have a little fun, the ice was broken however when I found myself waiting for her after she found a hoard of old Polaroid cameras in a charity shop and her excitement got the better of her (who doesn’t get excited over old cameras in charity shops though, right?).
Once we were sat down, coffee in hand, we started to chat about how Jess currently works for Polaroid and generally had a catch up. I should mention here that I have known Jess for a couple of years now, having met after being invited to exhibit alongside her and a few other artists at ‘The Body Exhibition’ in Peckham. An exhibition exploring the relationships between artist and body which Jess had organised in conjunction with her degree.
Once that was over with, we started the interview with some quick fire questions!
Q. Do you have a favourite artwork or an artwork you feel drawn to?
A. I don’t think I have just one favourite piece, there are a few that come to mind. But the book ‘Pond’ By Clair Louise Bennett, although not an ‘artwork’ really stands out and is important to me.
Q. Is there a song, a piece of music or a band that inspires you?
A. Again there’s a few, I love listening to Ludovico Einaudi in the studio and when I’m working, its something easy to listen to and have on in the background that isn’t too distracting. I also enjoy listening to James Blake for similar reasons and i also feel inspired when listening and dancing to old Motown.
Picked for the blog –
Q. Can you name 3 artists who have inspired or informed your work?
A. Mia Dubek, Alix Marie and Marina Abramovich. I’m not necessarily inspired by them anymore but they have informed my work in the past. Particularly with Marina Abramovitch, I once loved her work and she inspired me a lot but now I’m not sure I like her at all, she seems to have an arrogance about her now that I don’t like, I know that’s quite an unpopular opinion and very controversial because everyone seems to love her but I am just not into it anymore. (It is controversial but… I completely agree!)
Also see: https://miadudek.co.uk/Publications
Q. What is your biggest pet peeve, and why?
A.I have a lot. But definitely people who breathe too loudly, or people who breathe on you on the tube. I really hate it when you can feel someone’s breath on you.
Q.If you could choose, what super power would you have and why?
A. Errrm, it’s not really a superpower but something I would love is to have the ability to have eaten without actually having to stop to eat. I find stopping what I’m doing to eat very time consuming and I wish I could eat without having to eat. If that makes sense?
Q. Do you have a favourite museum or gallery? Or an exhibition you have visited recently that really stood out to you?
A. I think one of my favourite galleries is the König Galerie in Berlin because of its architecture. It has super high ceilings and the light is amazing.
Q. What do you dislike about the art world as a whole?
A. There are too many people trying to break into the industry and technology makes it too easy and too difficult. Its so over saturated because its so easy to put yourself out there via social media, like Instagram, that its also difficult to get noticed, whether its for your artwork or for a creative job.
Q. Other than art and photography, what interests do you have?
A. Since finishing Uni I have been pushing myself to try new things as a way to stay creative, its hard to stay in that mind set when you don’t really have a space to work in that’s dedicated to art, like a studio or other people to work with and bounce ideas off of. I have recently taken up crochet, needle punch and other yarn-based crafts. I recently started going skateboarding too because its out of my comfort zone and I am trying to push myself. Other than that I also enjoy doing a lot of stereotypical ‘hobbies’ that people say they do, except I actually do them, like reading, cooking, yoga and gardening.
Q. What is your earliest creative memory?
A. The first photo I remember taking was of my family on the beach, I was about 4 I think. I cropped my dad’s head off by accident.
Q. If you could visit anywhere on earth, where would you go?
A. Anywhere with a lot of stars! There is a place in Ireland where you can see the most stars anywhere on the planet because of the way its positioned. I’d love to take a trip there. I also really like Cornwall. I wouldn’t go far, just somewhere beautiful.
Moving onto the more serious questions I wanted to talk about Jess the artist, I wanted to find out about her thought processes and the motives, themes and inspirations behind the work she creates. So I started off broadly..
Q. To start, what exactly is it that you do? In terms of what mediums do you use, what do you aim to explore and what do you want to portray to the audience?
A. I take photos as a kind of therapy, I find that it’s a way to talk about something and communicate with the world without being static. I often think of myself as being very monotone in the way I talk about things and the way that I explain things, photography is an easier way to be expressive and show more feeling.
I also chose to use film because it’s much more tactile than digital, you end up with a physical object to hold and a process to follow – it mimics the idea of being about touch.
Old Wives Tales is a diptych of self portraits. The photographs show a perhaps uncomfortably literal version of the artists memories. From a young age, the artist would bathe with her twin brother and whilst she would make ‘potions’ with whatever shampoos she could find, her brother played with rubber sea creatures. Their mother once told them a story of how the rubber octopus might use his suckers and tentacles to wrap around their feet and pull them down the plug hole. The second photograph shows of a hoop earring being pulled, looking back at when she was told that to wear them would meant that she would one day ‘rip’ her ear out.
Q. What themes do you use in your work and why?
A. I used to work with skin as an object – how you use it to communicate with the world. My twin brother was diagnosed with melanoma, skin cancer, it really started to affect me and unavoidably my work began to be influenced by both his struggle and mine. I also use my work to explore the tense and restrictive way my haphephobia, the fear of being touched, causes me to feel. At the same time I also started to investigate how skin can be used to convey more of a sexual message, separate from my other work.
Through my series One of Two I was able to show the relationship between my twin brother and I. Shot in our home studio, The series uses natural light to show the organic nature of our relationship and how although we are growing together, we are also growing apart. Using a white background allowed me to show him as one. This project was a way for me to acknowledge how independent we have become from each other.
Q. And what made you think to make art about this subject matter?
A. It came completely naturally, when something so significant is happening with your home and personal life you can’t help but let it spill over into other things, in some ways making work about everything that was going on was cathartic, it was a way to release it all into something, it was freeing. While I was making this work I also had a separate project that was sort of documenting a relationship and a person who was absolutely nothing to do with my home life. I feel like I had to have this project running alongside my other work as a distraction.
Q. Where do your ideas and inspirations come from? What kind of research to do you?
A. I read a lot, both literature and poetry. Weirdly I don’t look at other photos or photographic artists, I get a lot of inspiration from watching videos, films, specifically home videos. I also like to just talk to people. You get a lot of information just by talking. And people watching. I guess my research style is very non traditional, I like to collect things and getting lost in Instagram.
Q. Are there any inherent qualities that your work has that you dislike?
A. I don’t like that it has a trendy aesthetic and a trendy colour pallet, it means that people don’t ask the right questions and a lot of the time they take it at face value. I also feel like it needs to have more writing to accompany it at shows because people don’t get it. But that defeats the object really.
Q. What is the most memorable response you have had to your artwork? (coincidentally, Jess asking to exhibit my work after seeing it at Free Range the year before is mine!)
A. My work was shown in the largest photography exhibition in China, they asked for my work to be sent as a digital file with printing instructions which I did. They ended up printing it on the wrong paper, the wrong size and then hung them in the wrong order. It was crap and I was really disappointed. What I thought was a great opportunity was ruined.
One of my brother’s friends has recently got his own place and wants to buy one of my photographs and not just because we’re friends, he genuinely wants to buy my work and it’s a massive compliment!
I’ve also got my work onto the front cover of the Royal Photography Society magazine which is a huge achievement and I am very excited about.
Q. What is your dream project? Art or otherwise?
A. I really want to try printing onto latex and making garments. With latex though, it’s extremely hard to work with and expensive which is holding me back. I don’t have a space to work in at the moment or anywhere to store stuff.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
A. ‘You are responsible for what you’re doing’, there is no use getting stressed about your art work because it is only what you make it. Sometimes it is good to be reminded of that. And also ‘you’ve got time to do what you want to do’
Q. Professionally, what is your goal?
A. Right now my goal is to have my own studio space – to find people who I can collaborate with – I just want to be making. I also don’t want my job to be my artistic practice, I want there to be a break between the two.
I would love the opportunity to exhibit my work in the RA Summer exhibition and I want to go back to Uni and study for a MA at Bournemouth.
Q. And lastly, what’s next for you? What can we expect to see from you in the next year or so?
A. I want to start a new Polaroid project, maybe something to do with collage. I like the medium, I like that its instant. I’d like to start putting myself forward for more opportunities and exhibit my work more, possibly across Europe?
I just wanted to finish by saying a big thanks you Jess for her time and if you want to explore Jess’s work further you can do so by visiting her website or via social media, links below!
Instagram – jess.a.nash