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Featured Artist: Jill Gibson

Participating in Ephemereye's Plague and Locusts 2020 virtual show with her video work, Jill Gibson is first of all a sculptor. Her distinct voice is as recognizable in video as it is in her sculptures. Jill shared her thoughts about her life and art in the pandemic and how unexpectedly video has drifted in her practice.

JG: I am a multi-disciplinary artist, working across platforms including sculpture, drawing and installation. My practice is an ongoing exploration of material and form – an enquiry into how we communicate through our bodies and through language and through the objects we surround ourselves with. My response is subtle, personal, even intimate: one which I hope evokes a sensuality and eroticism and is often ritualistic.

I am originally from Sheffield, an industrial town in England, and studied my first degree at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland in the early 1980’s. I completed an MFA in Sunderland, northern England in 2012 and I currently work between two studios, Cullercoats, Newcastle U.K. and in the Charente, France. More recently I have concentrated my practice solely in France where I have lived during the pandemic.

E. How did you get involved with video art?

JG: Working in video as an alternative way to show work has been a relatively recent development. I was invited to participate in a show located several hundred miles away which was not funded. Faced with the transportation costs of shipping larger sculptural works this initial problem became an opportunity. By producing a video piece instead of shipping the work, enabled me to show sculpture in a different format – a two-dimensional projection of three-dimensional works. The videos I have created are images of my own work, not a comment on the external environment, but very much an extension of my work visualised in a self-constructed context.

The show - a four-day event, included a broader discussion about women working in sculpture, and more specifically older women sculptors. The discussion included materiality, form, space and the manufacturing of larger works and showing nationally and internationally. The event culminated in a pop-up show in East London, January 2020 where I presented my first video work. I wanted to create a feeling of intimacy for the show, not simply place several works on a plinth, but to place the sculpture in a considered context and show the work as inter-related, evocative images.

I had worked for several years producing large scale works using an architectural technique called fabric forming. The work had developed utilising a wide variety of materials with considerations regarding weight, form and scale which demand a large workspace and manufacturing facilities. Video has offered an alternative dimension to the work. It has enabled me to create a more intimate context in which to site the pieces: a closer perspective, intimate almost, and one that is more personal. It can be an immersive experience, enabling me to create a context within the medium.

I can also produce work at home, which has been specifically useful during this time. The process still involves producing sculpture, which is then augmented by projecting other works onto the forms. The projections are often drawings, other videos, photographs or other sculptural forms. I then stitch these images together in a rudimentary way using Imovie or Movie Maker and project them onto a sculpture and then video the images moving across the work. I am, however, limited by my lack of knowledge in video production, but this seems less important in many ways, and throws up some interesting results. I am not young, and the technical challenges can be daunting, so I use software that I feel comfortable with, my naivety becoming part of the creative process, the mistakes are obvious, and I deliberately leave them in place – an integral part of the work and also a reflection of the human condition. During the pandemic, I have been exploring the seemingly endless options that video technology can offer. I am predominantly a maker, a traditionalist in the sense that I enjoy the physicality of making work with my hands, so video has not been a natural progression. However, I now consider it as an integrated part of my practice.

Unknown Pleasures, Jill Gibson, 2020

E. Are you finding these conditions very hard? Or is it a welcome break to be able to concentrate solely on work, rather than do other, money-making things?

JG. Both! I moved with my partner to France from the UK during the pandemic. We had hoped to start a small-scale residency programme here in rural France which has now, sadly been put on the back burner for the second year because of the pandemic. This move arose initially from the political situation in the UK (Brexit) as opposed to a move solely because of the pandemic. However, we are very remote here, compared to living in a large city in the UK, so I am affected more by the isolation which can be challenging. In addition, work opportunities have diminished over the last few months. My fabricating studio is in the UK and it has been extremely difficult moving to a country where I do not currently have the language or an adequate working environment. Hugely exciting on the one hand but incredibly challenging on the other.

My concentration ebbs and flows. Sometimes it is frenzied, other days it is the opposite and can be borderline catatonic….. some days I lack focus and clarity where the world is a complicated and confused place, other days, there is clarity which brings with it a tremendous sense of freedom and joy and a great need to produce. I tend to generate lots of ideas during this time, a kind of coffee percolator scenario…. a slow steady drip feed, some ideas may be developed further, some are fleeting and fanciful. I try to draw daily, capturing thoughts and ideas and I often often play with materials and ideas on the dining room table. However, the sheer enormity of the situation – both the pandemic and Brexit, has brought about an involuntary narrowing and isolating situation; one which currently lacks in opportunity for both developing work and for showing work – a situation which I do find challenging.

I want to make work; some days it can be the only thing I can do – I become almost possessed. I find the work is cathartic and provides an outlet, but it can also be frustrating as I lack familiar equipment, adequate studio space and materials to facilitate my urge and need to make.

I have always preferred to work alone, so in many ways, yes, for me there is a certain resilience, but we are human, there is a fragility and we ultimately need the support of others. There is no guarantee that we will be resilient against a potentially deadly virus, which in turn, its very presence, brings with it a set of imposed and/or of self-imposed rules to keep healthy. We have had our previous (prior to the pandemic) perceived freedoms removed and that, for me, is challenging. I suspect it is for all of us.

E: How do you think the role of the arts may change post-Lockdown?

JG: I imagine that much funding for the arts (specifically in the UK) will be scarce. This will affect all arts and it is without doubt that many organisations will be forced to close or reduce staff numbers and rethink programmes planned. While this may be catastrophic for many, for some it presents new and exciting opportunities, I expect many arts professionals will continue to produce work with lower financial capacity, and perhaps we will see a ‘grass roots’ development emerge.

E. Do you think this whole event will alter the way we engage with the world afterwards?

JG: I think it will for some people. Those who lost family during the pandemic will of course be directly affected by the personal tragedy of this pandemic. I think many will change their working practices and home working will become the norm for many. This will have a vast impact on our large cities, but for most, many will return to life pretty much as it was prior to the pandemic. They will still consume material goods, still drive fuel-based cars, still take flights several times a year for holidays…… My concern has always been much more focused on the environment. Our level of consumption and the way we use our resources must change. I do not think this pandemic will alter how we continue to rape and abuse our environmental resources particularly. More people are dying, will die and will be directly affected, specifically in terms of human migration, by global warming and global pollution than the pandemic will ever do.