A discussion on process and presentation with Jill & Alison

A MANY SIDED THING: A Residency of Collaborations is the first of four exhibitions in the 2017/18 Wimbledon Space programme, along the theme of Against Static: Technologies and Processes of Drawing. Mon - Fri 10am - 5pm until Fri 27 Oct. WIMBLEDON COLLEGE OF ARTS Merton Hall Road London SW19 3QA

As a beginner at Wimbledon College of Art I was excited to see the ‘A Many Sided Thing’ exhibition as an introduction for what to expect as the years progress. The intent of the exhibition is to examine what drawing can be, an investigation of collaboration. Prior to the exhibition I decided to interview Wimbledon alumni Jill Evans and Alison Carlier, after noticing them drawing what appeared to be those intoxicating spring door stoppers that, once bent to its elastic limit, flick back into position, emanating a deeply satisfying and cartoonish “BOING”. After informally discussing one of the nostalgic highlights of my childhood, we talked about the intent of A Many Sided Thing. Our discussion held interesting opinions over the exhibition’s idea and exhibiting as a concept.  

Jill studied her BA at Chelsea in Fine art, then furthered her study with an MA in drawing at Wimbledon. She told me her and the notable alumni were asked to submit “an avatar to show what we were about as individuals.” This ‘Avatar’ was to be an example of who they are and what they do. Alison, an MA graduate for Wimbledon College of Arts in Drawing, previously having a BA in Fine Art at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, furthered this by defining the work as a need for physical presence, of being “here”. Despite the brief, Jill found the use of the word to be absent, “It gives me a feeling of being false”. ‘Avatar’ implies aesthetic without substance, as represented in many mediums; film, TV shows, twitter profiles and so on. So, does their work, created for representation itself, hold substance? Jill described her piece as, “A thing I see every time I go in and out of my studio… It’s there, it’s always there, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” Countering the prior argument, the avatar is not a detached imitation to her, rather an opportunity to fill a space with something conceived long before A Many Sided Thing became opportune.

Afterwards, I challenged the exhibition itself. Wimbledon is, to say the last, distant from Central London, a less favourable commute for art lovers. However, Jill believed that it adds to the quality of the exhibition, “All of the people here have studied in Wimbledon. This gives us freedom to be more inventive and to not worry too much about the show – it’s us working, and who we are as a group. If it was in a big showy glossy London gallery, everybody would be more nailed down. It’s about exploring, not ‘this is a finished thing.’” Alison mentioned further, “The nature of the work needs to be open ended. It can’t be polished or finished, that wouldn’t fit with the way we’ve been working”. Location and presentation do not come one before the other, rather simultaneously to create the desired exhibition. If you make the commute to a quieter end of West London, expect to find an informal, active occasion such as this. With exhibitions nearer the centre of London displaying works for sale over presentation, is that a form of presentation in itself, or a lacking of one? “It’s harder to get into that mind set at the commercial gallery” Jill proposed. Alison followed, “It becomes art as product, a different dynamic. In those gallery spaces, is the work as meaningful or would it have been more meaningful in the studio it was painted in, or photographic studio where they were developed” and so on, following with a quote from Zambian born British artist John Latham, “The context is half the work.” 

With that in mind, the works now become dependant on the setting designed with the context as priority over the commercial. However, what if there is no better representation, rather different ways of presentation and the quality of approach to those ways? In response, Alison described what made her art worthwhile, “The participant owns the work, it’s theirs, it’s not mine really. It’s everybody’s experience. It’s like you set the work off across the ocean on its own journey, to be interpreted in different ways.” This suggests works are left to interpretation entirely by the observer. Before the interview began, I told Jill and Alison about how I remember hiding behind the door to my grandma’s living room, flicking the stopper to achieve the famous “BOING” sound effect.  I had no such discussion on my mind. Yet, upon arrival, seeing the door stopper being flicked, it was all I could think about. Our memories give us a totally individual experience. Whether commercial or intricately designed, both presentations are impactful as a result.

On discussing what Jill and Alison wanted to see on the event night for the exhibition, we were brought back to our idea of the exhibition allowing already conceived ideas to be created. “My avatar is not a finished thing” Jill told me, while Alison followed, “The practice of art is going on all the time in your head, you just choose when it actually arises as work”. In regards to the deadline date of the exhibition, Jill said “Because there’s an end, it brings us together, but the work never ends. I don’t think it is wrong for a thing to arrive for a moment and then it’s gone, nothing to sell, just blown away”. “It’s like people, they don’t last forever” Alison concluded. Upon talking to Jill and Alison, I can conclude for now that any exhibition space can be learnt from. The variation of display, along with our minds, collaborate, granting us new experiences and perspectives. By the time this discussion is public I’ll have attended the ‘A Many Sided Thing’ drinks reception, hopefully having met other interesting artists with more to say on the matter of presentation in art.

Charlie Davison