In the Studio: Emily Pickthall – MA Fine Art
Ahead of the MA Summer Show opening Saturday 3 September, MA Fine Art student Emily Pickthall explained her art practice as part of our In the Studio series.
Describe you experience at Chelsea in 3 words.
Traversing galatic egos.
Please tell us about what you are working on for your final show.
I have recently self-published my own artist’s book entitled ‘Kim’s Grimoire’, which incorporates slogans and poetic sequence with found/stock imagery and original photography. Situated within Kimcorp, an imagined corporate universe, the book engages with the following: the linguistic coding of text and advertising; identity formation within late capitalist and neo-liberal systems; and the discourse of self-development industries such as health and fitness.
For the final show I am magnifying the landscape of this text through a large scale sculptural installation. Original pages of ‘Kim’s Grimoire’ are set to be blown up into high gloss corporate retail posters, arranged on one wall as a pyramid playfully reminiscent of imagery from the Illuminati and management diagrams.
Alongside this pyramid of text are a series of three sculptural assemblages composed of a substantial and chaotic selection of found and hoarded objects. These are entitled ‘Woman Laughing Alone With Salad/The Pyre’, ‘Ketosis’ and ‘St Vitus Trainers’.
These include everything from objects still symbolically coded with utility and desire, seducing viewers into specific consumer myths of health and happiness (for example: an exercise bike, a blender, an Adidas sports bra) to abject waste matter, the debris from bodies, construction and consumption ( for example: cement, ashes, resin teeth, empty deodorant bottles).
My intention is to create networked monuments to the (post)human body without any figuration of the human body at all: instead these sculptural assemblages examine the traces left by the body in spatial and psychic environments, uncanny and extended experience of the body through technologies and objects of consumer desire, and the body as a technology in itself.
I’m also intrigued by themes of dystopia, post-apocalypse and the transitional time between the end of one civilisation and the beginning of the next. For these reasons, I can feel my final show space becoming a site that feels charged with ritual, magic and even archaeological energy. I feel that this is particularly potent as we move towards a post-capitalist era and speculate about the state of culture and civilisation in these phases. I’m excited to also be working on fragments of sound and spoken word to feature throughout the installation, based on writings from ‘Kim’s Grimoire’.
What has been your greatest challenge so far in working towards the degree show?
Negotiating final show space was always going to be one of the most turbulent activities of the year. Visualising a body of work in a proposal and then activating an allocated space with that work are two very different things, no matter how many diagrams or models you make. Many people’s needs and desires adjusted once they were in their space and there was some serious reshuffling to be done, all the while ensuring that no one felt compromised.
It took a substantial amount of time to play around and visualise what would be happening within each space, and how the energy from each artist would be distributed, but I feel that after a couple of weeks we have reached a strong point in our negotiations – everyone seems much more comfortable with the space they are sharing. Sometimes its worth putting practical work on hold until discussions have gone completely underway. Learning to clearly assert my individual needs within a group as an artist has been one of my greatest personal challenges this year.
Covering the cost for materials has also been an ongoing test of my ingenuity and resources, more than ever with the build up towards the final show. Hopefully my expenses will come full circle! However, it is interesting to me that my practice has adapted and evolved in parallel to my financial concerns over materials throughout the year. I started recycling materials between projects and utilising found objects and trash in order to save money, and my art practice actually became a study of trash aesthetics and waste within late capitalist societies.
What do you see yourself doing after you graduate, what are your career ambitions?
My aims in completing this MA were to make my transition into the professional art world, expand my mediums, and locate my practice in a social and theoretical context. Ultimately I aim to take my studies through to a practice-based PhD, researching text as visual practice and languages of sculptural composition in the exhausted landscapes of late capitalism and neoliberalism.
First, however, I feel that I will need to take the inevitable time to adjust to life outside the institution and learn ways of living (surviving) as an artist in contemporary society. I am ominously optimistic about this adjustment period. I am looking forward to seeking more experience through collaborations, open calls and residencies. Most of all, I am looking forward to meeting new people to work with and having new conversations. I would also like to travel more whilst my flexible routine allows it. Eastern Europe appeals.
I am a firm believer that the most effective artist research is fixed in having direct experience of the ‘real world’. I don’t think that artists live outside society and its routines, and I also think its idealistic to believe that as an artist you have an obligation not to sustain a salaried job. This can work for some, and its also totally financially necessary for others. Given that my practice is already situated within the discourse of corporate industry and branding strategies, I have this sardonic drive towards actually finding employment in some sleek digital marketing or creative communications agency. Something 9-5 that involves consumer storytelling and offers its employees a free gym membership. Something that I’ll probably be fundamentally and spiritually against, but will be wicked fun to dissect from within as long as I last.
What have you enjoyed most about studying at Chelsea?
Having emerged from a fairly conservative BA English course in the sleepy southwest of England, making the transition into the fine art world and London as a whole couldn’t have been facilitated better than at Chelsea. The ethos of risk taking, deconstructing and reconstructing your art practice is something that I feel would have been harder to find elsewhere. The total immersion into the lived artist experience – attending private views, meeting and collaborating with new people in your field, learning the language of materials, the absurd missions I have undertaken across London to retrieve certain materials – was all a welcome change from the world of university academia.
At Chelsea, I have consistently felt that my emerging from a background alternative to the fine art institution was something positive, that could reveal new perspectives, rather than something that would limit me as an artist. I feel that what makes Chelsea unique is this openness to disciplines and backgrounds that don’t necessarily fit the traditional ‘fine art’ classification. The regular questioning of what an ‘art practice’ even is, or how it can manifest, allowed me to gain the confidence in using text and language as the starting point for my projects.
I’m ready to move on to developing a professional practice and network outside the institution now. However, I also know that I will soon yearn again for being surrounded by such an intensely hard working, dynamic and energetic group of talented people on a daily basis. There has always been someone there in the studios to offer a new perspective or critical observation of your work.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about doing your course? Any advice?
Don’t be anxious or afraid to let go of what you are familiar with. The MA in Fine Art at Chelsea is singular in its encouragement of deconstructing and reconstructing your practice, but don’t allow yourself to feel that the course is about vandalising your practice or abandoning yourself.
From my experience, if you take risks regardless of that fear of the unknown, you will find that you unlock potential elements of yourself and your practice that you weren’t even aware could exist. For me, this meant parting ways from hyperrealist oil painting in the early days of the course, to shift into writing, installation and sculpture, an exhilarating shift for both my studio practice and how I understood myself as a person.
You’ll feel much more fulfilled after this one intense year if you take these risks, avoid second guessing yourself, and openly consider criticism that may at first sound abrupt. If you’re experiencing conflict with a piece of work, then that’s probably a positive sign! It indicates that you have something to take break apart and further develop.