A fascinating #CreativeProfile on local Artist Jane Samuels: ‘Activist and vegan, psychogeographer, prolific drinker of cheap whiskeys. Inventive dancer.’ Basically, my kinda woman…
Terrain/Anatomical Landscapes: (Lungs) “Terrain/Anatomical Landscapes: Leighton Moss”
1. First of all, thanks for being our Creative Profile! We love your work, but also your twitter description (especially the bits about prolific whiskey drinking and inventive dancing!) For now though, let’s stick to the art. You describe yourself as a Psychogeographer; what is Psychogeography, why do you do it, and what relationship does it have to your work?
Ha! The whiskey fuels the dancing! Psychogeography at its most fundamental is about connection. It stems from the work of Guy Debord and the Situationists, who felt that the city is alienating, and that new approaches were needed to fully connect with the environment and with life. It involves walking practice: the derive (‘walking’ is the used term, but it’s important to add that the derive can be done with assistive technologies like wheelchairs too: I’m keen for it to be an inclusive practice). By exploring the environment and really taking notice, or by using spectacle and intervention (unusual events in familiar places), we use space in new ways, and invite deeper engagement. It’s this connection with place I’m looking for in my own work: making little discoveries.
2. Rewinding back a couple of years, what did The Abandoned Buildings Project involve?
The Abandoned Buildings Project is a long-term, ongoing part of my practice, though it’s on hiatus right now. It involves exploring abandoned buildings (houses, hospitals, factories, asylums…), and trying to find something of their former lives while also acknowledging their emptiness and the strangeness that takes over when places are left behind. I take a cast of people with me dressed as Pooka (an Irish sprite that comes out when people are absent), and we create scenes that respond to the space. Back in the studio I build the photographs up into three-dimensional models, recreating the spaces and inviting people to carry out an exploration of their own. The hope is that this offers the audience a glimpse into places that most of us don’t get to see.
3. Can you tell us a little about the projects you’re currently working on?
Currently, I’m working on my drawing series Terrain: Anatomical Landscapes. It deals with the human body and our deep connection/conflict with the land, and combines human anatomy with elements of landscape. Each piece represents a single visit to a single location, so is narrative, and some also address bigger political and environmental debates (currently I’m working on Terrain/Anatomical Landscapes: Gloucester, which looks at the ongoing Badger Cull). It’s a return to my first and main love in that it’s graphite drawing. That felt like an appropriately organic process.
4. Terrain: Anatomical Landscapes sounds fascinating and is a departure from your previous work in terms of form and aesthetic. What is its relationship to your earlier works?
The main thread that runs through Terrain remains the same as runs through all my previous work: it’s about place and the deep and often difficult human relationship with it. The drawing, sculpture, photography and writing are all different ways of searching for that same understanding and connection. For the Abandoned Buildings Project, the photographic constructions give me the element of realism I wanted. This time the pencil work lets me really play with the space.
5. The writing on your walking blog is starkly beautiful, and very poetic. Has writing always been a part of your practice?
There’s a long tradition of walking and writing, with writers like Will Self and Robert Macfarlane being particularly popular at the moment. It’s a way of capturing and sharing experience in a way that photography and drawing maybe can’t, and it’s long been something that helps me understand the world. I’ve written and explored less this year (a broken leg has kept me indoors), so I’m really exited to be starting that process again.
6. You’re both an artist and an activist – or an artivist, as they’re now calling it! What’s the relationship between art and activism to you, and how do you balance the two?,
Ha! I don’t know if I’m an artivist. Political ideas in my work are usually less overt than say Banksy, but my activism centers around rights and freedoms, and my work is a natural extension of that. I have a lot of thoughts about how we use urban and rural space, and for me, it would be impossible to explore those environments without those thought processes creeping through somewhere. My work sometimes reflects my activism (and challenges it too), sometimes it forms part of it. Much art can in some way be read as political: even when not overt or even intended, it often speaks of the political contexts of its time.
There’s also a charge that psychogeography is too white, male, ableist and middle class. While I believe those male voices are important and welcome, I and other women from all backgrounds, belief systems, politics and disabilities are busy challenging that stereotype by just keeping working in the field.
7. When I see your work I observe multiple paradoxes, between the natural world and the man-made or public and private space, for example. What are your thoughts on this?
There are a lot of those conflicts in there: the work often comes from the tension they create. What happens to the familiar when it’s fundamentally changed? How does the public live in an increasingly private city? What happens when you push the boundary a little? I see Urban and Rural as less of a paradox and more different sides of the same coin. On the face of it, nature is often the antithesis of the urban disconnect. We go to the wilds to ‘find ourselves’ when we’re lost in modern living. But in reality, the UK countryside is as carefully managed and constructed as the city. We’re there because we’re allowed to be, and there’s often some conflict there too. We’ve denuded our wilds and created monocultures in places that were once forested, and our development is stamped all over the hills. Just like the city, there are conflicts between man, the individual and the environment, so paradoxes yes, but profound similarities too.
8. Looking back, how did you get to where you are now, artistically? What points on the map were instrumental in leading you to your current artistic incarnation?
My walking really started during my degree, not least because my partner and I were skint and living in a flat so dilapidated the internal walls collapsed. A local kid had started letting himself in through the bathroom window (which was funny because the front door didn’t lock): we started to spend our time outside, walking the city. We were just completely in love with the streets and the people we met. I started reading walking theory that fed into my work, and by the time I did my MA walking became practice and theory. Around that time, I was lucky enough to get involved with a Manchester Psychogeography festival called Terrains Reimagined: International Perspectives (or TR:IP), which allowed me to meet people working in the field, and lead to other exhibitions and TV and Radio coverage.
Since then, social media (especially Twitter and Instagram) has proved invaluable. It offers a community of artists and theorists, real world opportunities, lots of new ideas, and I’ve been lucky enough to have been picked up by bloggers and writers. That led to my inclusion in “the Instagram Book” last year. It keeps me working too: there are people to talk to who keep you rolling.
9) What’s next?
Next year is looking busy. I’m continuing the Terrain: Anatomical Landscapes series, and beginning a new project called “The Year of Living”, which will begin in January and involves asking my social media followers to send me to their favorite places and creating works about them, once a month, for the year.
The Loitorers Resistance Movement is a fantastic Psychogeography group based in Manchester, lead by Morag Rose. I’m working with them towards their retrospective next year at the Peoples History Museum, Manchester, for a three Month program of films, events, walks and gallery show. We’ll be selecting contributions in Jan, then curating the show next year. I’m incredibly excited about that: I’ve just begun looking at the proposals and there’s some great stuff in there.That’ll also be my first showing of Terrain/Anatomical Landscapes which is the realisation of a great deal of work. Finally I’m thinking about beginning some walks in Calderdale, for a new Calder Psychogeographic group. I’m hoping it’ll be the start of something interesting.
Visit Jane’s website http://www.milliondollaryack.com/GhostStations/
Follow Jane on Twitter @ JaneSamuels