Artist of the Month: January 2014, Jenny Mellings
This month we feature Jenny Mellings, an artist and gallery educator. She tells us about the art scene in the South West, her views on art education, and new work based on changing behaviour and social media.
Ruth Wilbur: Tell us about the South West art scene. Where would you recommend visiting?
Jenny Mellings: Exeter has lots going on - I would really recommend a visit to the city. Spacex Gallery has for decades been an exponent of uncompromisingly ‘front line’, international contemporary art. Exeter Phoenix is worth visiting for its strong and varied programme of exhibitions, events, music, film, and theatre. Close by is the newly refurbished and very splendid Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery.
Culture in Plymouth is also going from strength to strength with several high quality venues such as Peninsula Arts, Karst, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and Plymouth Arts Centre. There's also lots of activity around the Bridport Area with Diva Contemporary (film, sound art and digital innovation projects) Bridport Arts Centre, and B-Side Multimedia Arts Festival in Portland/Weymouth.
RW: You recently won the Marsh award for excellence in Gallery education. Can you tell us about the award?
JM: The Marsh Awards for Excellence in Gallery Education are new annual awards set up by engage to recognise those working in Gallery Education. This most unexpected honour was for long service as a workshop leader at Spacex. Spacex is tremendous fun and it’s been a privilege to work with my colleagues in our endeavour to include people from all backgrounds and ages in the appreciation of a very diverse programme of art events and exhibitions.
RW: Why is galley education important?
JM: Gallery education is important because it helps every visitor learn and absorb information about whatever is on show. It can also supplement the curriculum for those who may want to become an art historian or curator (particularly when art history A-level subject choices have been reduced in recent years). It's a good thing that education events take place where you can access artefacts, sound recordings and film archives, so that the qualities of objects can be appreciated through multiple senses. Gallery education is also for the whole community, from those wanting entertainment right through to serious study.
RW: Do you think art education in schools should change?
JM: Maybe at this point more drawing and working from life is needed again, and more projects involving tactile materials so students don't literally 'lose touch' and become over reliant on new technology. It seems that the most interest art today has been through processes involving both old and new media.
Art in some schools is probably better today than it was some years ago. There are many adventurous and sustained projects going on, particularly involving artists. However, there doesn’t seem to be equal provision for this kind of experience.
Art has been, and still is, the cohesive element between so many subjects – science, maths, philosophy, languages... Schools where art is valued generally seem to be more successful all round.
RW: You're currently making work about our changing behaviour and engagement with information online. Can you tell us about the work you are making and your decision to convey ideas through painting?
JM: Internet technology is complex. Rather than receiving visual, textual and auditory information in an order determined by someone else, your experience is expanded or limited by information communicated by multiple others eg. on social media websites. Some of this direct communication can produce intense and real emotions, which have an impact on daily life - from the forming of relationships to acquiring detailed, personal responses to events elsewhere in the world. The fast pace of these exchanges and the consequent bombardment of mental stimuli can lead to profound connections between people. On the other hand, information is almost like a shared dream, quickly edited, replaced and forgotten.
My current work uses information derived from my personal experience of the internet. I've taken images from online sources and begun painting them. With the increasing amount of information available online, I feel the need to linger over information, to make the traces of events more 'time fast'. The act of painting feels like it makes the fleeting and transient more solid.
Jenny Mellings, Correspondence no. 1, 2012
RW: Your work 'Correspondence no.1', 2012 is based on a ship that was lost in the Japanese tsunami in 2011. Did this come from something you saw online?
Yes, particular themes from significant internet conversations are also a focus of my work. The painting is of a ship that was lost following the Japanese tsunami. The ship was found drifting after a year. The image taken from a news website has been juxtaposed with painted samples from Ukiyo-E prints, representing cultural and traditional life and landscape in Japan in earlier centuries. These prints in the shape of an emoticon pattern are taken from gmail. The juxtapostion references how we see serious and playful information in rapid succession.
Jenny Mellings, Correspondence 4 Périphérique, 2013
RW: Tell us about the format of your work - what made you move away from a traditional surface to work that contained multiple smaller components in your new piece 'Correspondence 4 Périphérique', 2013?
JM: This work is based on a disorienting car journey I took around the periphery of Paris in January 2011. It relates to an earlier work 'Correspondence 2 France Nord Janvier', 2012, where I took another journey and used a google map view of the area between Paris and Calais in preparation for a trip.
In this piece the ‘map pointer’ shapes were cut from plywood, then painted separately so that they can be rearranged in multiple formats. This seemed a logical response to the non-linear bombardment of ideas and sensations people now experience. Maybe it also begins to describe the bite-size pieces that we absorb from different sources and the way that information is becoming increasingly fragmented.
Interview by Ruth Wilbur, January 2014
About Jenny Mellings
Jenny Mellings is an artist and educator based in Somerset. Her work investigates ways in which visual imagery and other stimuli (particularly those arriving via the virtual world of the internet) relate to direct or phenomenological experience of life. She explores these ideas through painting, drawing, stop-motion animation and other media.