Jasmine Johnson: Maker In Residence

We caught up with Jasmine Johnson, who has just completed her Maker in Residence at Machines Room, to find out her thoughts and responses about the experience:

MR: Can you tell us a bit about your background as a maker, and your practice and areas of interest?

JJ: I am an artist and I work across different media including video, sculpture and drawing. Making means a wide range of activities from shooting video by myself or with a production team, constructing CGI architectural spaces using open source software like Blender, sculpting using clay, drawing and writing. It has also meant the construction of stage-like spaces in which to set videos or for an installation – in the case of the work I was doing at Machines Room. I employ different methods of making depending on the specific project. An ongoing project is a series of video portraits of real individuals in globally disparate locations who in some way are able to articulate human anxieties. These video works form the core of my practice and tend to inform the way I introduce 3D or 2D elements.

MR: You’ve been based at Machines Room for a month, can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on?

JJ: I have been working on a new commission from Jerwood Visual Arts entitled Upright which is a wall-based installation in which a large-scale cut-outs transforming the cafe into a watering hole scene in an African Savannah. For this project I worked in collaboration with the Powell-Cotton Museum in Kent, which houses the diverse personal collections of hunter and explorer, Percy Powell-Cotton. The collection is comprised of stuffed animals that were brought back to the UK over 100 years ago using ground-breaking ingenuity at the time. With no machinery Powell-Cotton invented ad-hoc techniques to skin several thousand specimens of animals including elephants and giraffes in the remotest parts of Africa.

The installation at Jerwood Project Space is comprised of CNC cut-outs with images of animals from the collection as well as grasses and trees which are mounted onto the walls. Among the animals is a conservationist on a step ladder who is carrying out repairs on a large crack on the neck of one of the giraffes. (This was borrowed from an image from an online report for Arts Council England that I found when researching into the conservation efforts at the museum.) The conservationist is poised precisely between being able to hold himself up and losing his balance. In this gesture his quintessentially human efforts, to hold things together for the purpose of maintaining smooth functioning, to back-pedal human effects on ‘nature’, are crystallised. 

MR: Has having access to the machines, expertise and community at Machines Room influenced your work and practice, if so then how?

JJ: The work I proposed to make whilst on the residency at Machines Room forced me to become familiar and capable using entirely new processes. I hadn’t any experience of the workflows of technologies such as CNC and laser cutting. The culture at Machines Room means that practitioners from widely varying backgrounds (which included people working in design, fashion, programming, education, mobility among many others) are in close proximity. The opportunity to work at an intersection between these disciplines and to exchange ideas and advice was infinitely beneficial. A unifying ethos among those that work at Machines Room (on residencies, as workshop users or as staff) seems to be a drive for innovative solutions to real problems. Value is ascribed to functionality and usefulness in a much more pronounced way than in art – where value is measured by very different criteria. So this was an productive environment not just practically in terms of making but also in that my existing approach was challenged in a way that will continue to affect my work after the residency.

MR: What have you found most challenging?

JJ: The process involved taking hundreds of photographs, photoshopping out branches, leaves, glares from the glass, reconfiguring the selected animals for the Jerwood Project Space, tracing the outlines (including a whole tree) to create paths for CNC cutting, mounting billboard which involves soaking the paper in water and wallpapering onto MDF boards. I used thin sheet material so when billboard was applied all of the twelve 8×4 foot sheets of MDF warped into shapes that are in no way compatible for the exceptionally accurate and expensive machinery.  A large part of the process was managing these unruly sheets as well as calculating the paper stretch (from the soaking) to reprogram the machine to cut around the shapes as accurately as possible. This slightly chaotic process was a first at Machines Room and at points seemed like it would never work but Machines Room’s Mark Dale was incredibly patient and mastered the process while teaching me how to do it for myself which was superb.

MR: What has been the highlight of the experience?

JJ: Finally installing the work into the Jerwood Project Space was a great moment. The scale and magnificence of the images of these 100 year old animals within the social space of the Project Space is quite impactful. If you look closely at the trees or the giraffes in the space you can see the glitchy digital collaging which I think allude to the unrelenting processes required to sustain the image of the supposedly uncomplicated world. Other highlights came along the way when small parts of the process were learned and mastered in the way that comes with learning new skills.

MR: What is next for you now? Are you planning to continue this stream of work or start a new project? 

JJ: This residency has absolutely opened up possibilities for working using these techniques and processes again. There is a lot of scope for me to push the formal tensions that this project has thrown up: the digital crispness of the machine cut edges in contrast with a more handmade finish, the flat pictorial quality with folded or protruding almost three-dimensional sections.

Upright is on show at Jerwood Project Space until 10th December. I am currently in the final days of mastering my new video A Perfect Instrument (Kristina) which Jerwood are presenting at Genesis Cinema on 25th October. I also work in the group MoreUtopia! and we have an exhibition recently on show at ANDOR Gallery in London Fields.

Jasmine Johnson b.1985, Brighton, UK. Solo presentations include: Jerwood Project Space;  Jerwood Visual Arts presents @ Genesis Cinema; ANDOR with MoreUtopia! (all London, 2016); ASI & Fabrika (Moscow, 2015); AC Institute (New York, 2012). Group exhibitions and screenings include:  Mono (London, Mexico City, 2016), Daata Editions @ Frieze, Government Art Collection (both London, 2016); Bloomberg New Contemporaries (Nottingham & London, 2015); 21st Century Graduate Screening, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2014). She holds an MFA Fine Art from Goldsmiths, University of London and a BA Fine Art from Nottingham Trent University.
Photo © Hydar Dewachi