Artist of the Month: September 2014, Liv Pennington
Liv Pennington, The Standard Package Part III, 2011
This month we talk to Liv Pennington about Twitter portraits, idealised images of beauty and the Folkestone Fringe
Ruth Wilbur: Can you give us a brief introduction into your work?
Liv Pennington: I consider what it is to be human, to be female and in particular what it is to (try to) be ideal. Aspects of my work are autobiographical in the sense that there are correlations between points of interest in the wider world and my own age and biological condition.
I enjoy speculation, conversation and reciprocation of ideas and concepts in contemporary media, news and popular culture, and I assimilate these ideas into my practice.
RW: What first attracted you to photography?
LP: The idea that I could control a moment. The opportunity to stage and construct a story that still left potential for the viewer to ask questions. I also love the community aspect of working in a darkroom.
Liv Pennington, The Standard Package, 2008 - 2011
RW: Tell us about your series of work 'The Standard Package' (2008 - 2011), where you explored idealised images
LP: ‘The Standard Package Trilogy', 2008 – 2011 was my first digital photographic project and I employed the services of online retouchers who knew that that I was the photographer but not the model or an artist. I kept communication to a minimum asking for the standard service and stated that I trusted their judgement on the level of retouching needed. I always accepted the first image sent back.
It was fantastic to receive the different final images and I was surprised at the choices made. One of my aims was to create a work which questioned the pursuit of the ideal by seeing if there was a universal standard. I love that there are quirks and that the retouchers' personal preferences, and their ideas of what makes a better photo and a better looking girl or woman is evident.
RW: What have you learned about yourself through making work?
LP: I've learned that I enjoy the process of developing ideas, sometimes to the point where I find that I'm not making work quickly enough, and at times the process of making and the backstory of work can be more exciting than the final image.
I've also realised that, annoyingly, I crumble and remove my image from my work because of my own fear of other people's perceptions. I was playing with representation through using text along with my physical outline in my recent work 'Action Photos', 2014 . I'm currently fighting with myself over how I am included/should appear in my next series following on from this.
RW: How do you think the ways in which we consume images and information is changing? What impact does that have on our own sense of self?
LP: Viewing images is no longer an event; people are no longer invited into our homes to see our carefully edited and displayed snapshots or the professionally taken studio enlargement - they don’t even have to really know us to view our images. Photographs are viewed online or shared by offering up our mobile phone. It's interesting to see how this changing physical relationship with our self-image influences our understanding of others and ourselves.
In terms of personal portraiture, family albums are, and always have been, edited by the collector of the pictures. Photographs are left out, people physically cut out or covered up pre-photoshop. Writer David Campany describes our concern with how we are perceived by others. He writes: 'When we pose we make ourselves into a frozen image. We make ourselves into a photograph, in anticipation of being photographed.'
Given the advancement and accessibility of photo-manipulation technologies, I'm interested in whether we consider ourselves in a state of anticipation of our images being edited and then shared, particularly as this behaviour becomes more and more prevelant.
RW: You are involved with the steering group for fringe events at Folkestone Triennial. What does this involve?
Being part of the steering group for the Folkestone Fringe has been a fantastic opportunity. It has encouraged me to consider the impact and possibilities of arts regeneration and given insights into the politics and potential benefits of community engagement.
For me personally, whilst it is important that we bring art, artists and opportunities into Folkestone that might not usually be found here, it's also crucial that we support artists based in Folkestone to get funding and make sure their work is seen nationally and internationally too.
RW: Can you tell us more about what you have planned for this year’s Fringe at the Folkestone Triennial?
LP: As part of the Fringe curated strand, I have initiated a project called Collecting that will develop online and be hosted physically in the Withdrawing room in our family home. It will be the second Triennial that we have used our house as a project space for invited artists. Collecting takes the longstanding practice of swapping of artworks between artists and makes the swaps public as a way of looking at relationships, value, personal taste and reciprocation.
I find the emotional and political responses that come with the rituals of giving and receiving behaviours exciting. Current social media stresses the importance of visible validation through our digital 'liking' and 'endorsing’ and being seen to ‘share’ and 'link’ creates traceable networks. I am interested in reciprocation and how that can be initiated, expected and forced.
Liv Pennington, Twitter Portrait No 1, 2014
RW: Your new work directly refers to our changing consumption habits, with a series of portraits using Twitter...
LP: Yes, the Twitter portraits are a break from my larger body of work. The portraits look at how people are choosing to represent themselves through text and image and this series will grow and perhaps at some point make it into my main body of work.
RW: Can you tell us about some of the interesting art spaces in Folkestone and further afield?
In addition to Folkestone Triennial and Fringe, there are loads of other interesting spaces nearby to visit. B&B Project Space in Folkestone is a much-needed space for testing work and has a great formal exhibitions programme run by Matt Rowe. Kent Women's Art was set up by Jen Thatcher and has a really good talks programme. Strange Cargo’s Cheriton Light Festival is brilliant and their exhibition space Georges House Gallery delivers high-quality participatory arts.
The Kent coastal towns are all really active with their own events, galleries and studios. Turner Contemporary and LIMBO arts in Margate and The De la Warr Pavillion in Bexhill are all amazing. I'm also a member of the Blue Monkey Network - a group which runs a really useful professional development programme for artists based in Eastbourne.
Interview by Ruth Wilbur
Published September 2014
Collecting is part of the Folkestone Fringe festival. You can see work by Lisa Castagner, Rosalind Davis, Peter Kennard & Cat Phillips (tbc), Suzanne Koszyk, Lynda Ni Duil, Sally Penfold, Raine Smith, Eva Stenram, Hermione Wiltshire as part of the exhibition at the Withdrawing Room, Harbourside, 14 Wear Bay Road, Folkestone, CT19 6AT, 24 October – 2 November 2014. More details can be found at withdrawingroom.co.uk
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