Jemma Egan’s art practice looks polyvalent incorporating various structures, systems and concepts. Her experimentation spans through space inspired by ephemeral materials, found objects and different qualities. Presenting her body of work as an open process for deeper consideration, the young artist’s approach usually takes place in unexpected environments that lead to granting uncommon objects a new aesthetic dimension. Egan’s new solo show, Family Member, is currently on the Lily Brooke Gallery in London. The exhibition will consist of a film piece on a TV screen that shows text and also includes sound piece. There will be wonky shelves fitted with small dogs made of pewter and a larger sculptural piece of a vacuum in the centre of the space. Egan has been researching small electronic dogs, which were a craze about a decade ago, and their relationship to the family.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
Jemma Egan (b. Liverpool, UK) is an artist based in London. She graduated from MA Sculpture at The Royal College of Art in 2015. Solo exhibitions include: Turning to dust, Assembly Point, London; Where work happens, Art Lacuna, London; It means more to me than most people, ZCInvites, Zabludowicz Collection, London. Recent group shows include: P is for Portrait, The Art House, Worcester (curated by Division of Labour); Colloquy, Periclo, Wrexham; The 15 Cmdments, The Wrong Biennale, online; Ultra Sunrise, SET, Bermondsey; Identify your limitations, acknowledge the periphery, Vitrine, Basel; Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016, Bluecoat, Liverpool/ICA, London. She was artist in residence at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop in 2017 and artist in residence for schools and teachers at Tate Britain and Tate Modern in 2015-2016.
Art Verge: Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Jemma Egan: I tend to encounter an object, situation or system that strikes a chord with me. It will likely be something simple, everyday or even mundane, but there will be something which makes me keep thinking about it. A few recent examples include the resale market for robot dogs, luxury custom Magnum ice cream bars, the products and practices and language of the wellness industry. I usually research the subject a bit deeper, collecting imagery or footage and reading different sources of information on the topic. After this point if the subject is still exciting to me I will start making as a continuation of the research process. Making things helps me develop my thoughts further, and allows me to link my feelings, my opinion or position on a topic, to the aesthetics, presentation, materiality of a specific object for display, even if I do not end up displaying these initial works. I feel I am constantly working through my feelings and opinions as I’m developing the work.
AV: How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
JE: Fake, Real, Everyday.
AV: Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
JE: Thomas Demand, Heather Phillipson, Gabriel Kuri, Mika Rottenberg are some artists that inspire me. But even more I’d say the people who post videos on Instagram or YouTube. Slime videos (often by kids), resin pouring/demoulding videos, unwrapping videos, tutorials for everything from premiere to cosplay making.
AV: What’s the concept behind your new exhibition ‘Family Member’ at Lily Brooke gallery?
JE: The object at the centre of this body of work is the Sony Aibo, which is a robot dog originally released in 1999. The latest Aibo was launched last year, a really sophisticated model. I found an article in the Japan Times that talked about repairs of old models no longer being supported by Sony and unofficial repair shops opening up to fix them. The image that was used in the article had robot dogs (and bits of robot dog) scattered on the floor in various states of disrepair. I found the scene both amusing and horrific. I started to collect eBay listings, people selling their old Aibos, here in the UK. Initially drawn to the imagery, I became interested in the language used for these pets. Some owners posted adverts that sounded like they were reluctantly parting with a beloved family member while others sounded like they were getting rid of an old household appliance.
The topic taps into my continued interest in the value (both monetary and emotional) that we place on objects and things, and my interest in the crossover between real and fake, particularly when the fake becomes more desirable or valuable than the real. I liked thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of a real versus robot dogs. From this type of comparison, you can start to ‘explain’ the Aibo as an artefact of some aspect of current historical circumstance, representative of wider trends and realties: aging populations, dependence on private rental markets, the planned obsolescence of tech hardware and software, the unique relationships we have developed with our possessions and extensions of ourselves.
AV: Creating a new artwork can be a solitary process. If this applies to you, when you concentrate on a new artwork does it affect your social life at all?
JE: I think this depends what stage I’m at with my work. I’m definitely more of an introvert and actually enjoy spending time making on my own. When I’m working to a deadline it can get pretty all consuming, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable complaining about anything affecting my social life.
AV: How do you know when an artwork is finished?
JE: I would say it varies. Sometimes it’s quite clear to me and other times even when it has been exhibited, it could be shown in a different way the next time. I like to be space sensitive in most cases too, where works speak to the space or other works, so this makes it different for me in deciding when something is finished or not.
AV: What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process and where is it now based?
JE: My studio is in Deptford, it’s a great space and I’ve been there for over 3 years now. I currently share with one other artist, I like sharing for dialogue and also it actually allows for a larger space which has been useful for both of us at different times. It’s a large industrial building split into separate rooms. It has great light and high ceilings, apparently a former propeller foundry for ship propellers.
AV: Which exhibition did you visit last?
JE: Franz West at Tate Modern and Charlie Godet Thomas at Assembly Point.
AV: What do you hope viewers will take from your work?
JE: I hope that viewers pick up on clues to my way of thinking around the subject matter, but I also hope that there’s room for interpretation as well. I like it when someone can connect in their own way to the material.
AV: What does your mum think about your art?
JE: I would say that my parents are confused about my work and still don’t understand why I’m not painting and drawing like I was when I did my a-levels. They like to avoid coming to an exhibition, but they’re still encouraging and supportive in their own way. My dad recently commented that a local (they live just outside of Liverpool in a place called Widnes) artist whose work they bought a print of a long time ago didn’t return as many Google search results as I do, which I took as a compliment.
AV: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
JE: A morning person.
AV: Is the glass half empty or half full?
JE: Half full I hope. I think I’m a natural worrier and a fairly anxious person at times, but still I think I’m a glass half full sort of person..
AV: Which are your plans for the near future?
JE: I’ve been awarded a bursary to travel to Japan later this year for research. It will be my first trip to Asia so I have lots of planning to do for that. I also have plans for new work and a couple of collaborations in the pipeline too. The first stage of these involve a trip next week to meet up with an artist at the new IKEA in Greenwich.
© All images are courtesy of Lily Brooke Gallery and the artist