Joanna Sluman explains her sculpture practice within the BA Painting course
Joanna Sluman is from South Croydon, and living in Balham while at Wimbledon. Although her work is mainly sculptural she is a final year student on BA Painting. In the lead up to her final Summer Show Joanna explained her final show piece, her practice and answered our questions:
“The plaster manifests itself into lumps, swells and sags, calling to mind small sections of our own fleshy bodies. Surface and sensuality is at the centre of what I do and what I make. I try to construct a dialogue between the form and the uneven, giving rise to the anthropomorphic. Scenes in my work tend to show these limbs caught between dismemberment and reconstruction giving rise to this pseudo medical territory. More recently a domesticated space has evolved, cupboards that I create are quite familiar because we all have these spaces in our homes. I like the way they hide things and they can be secretive. I have been placing objects inside of them and having them crawling out, I like to create a sense of movement with the work. You can imagine looking away and everything shifting and then looking back and it’s all frozen again – a play of imagery.
These objects on their own are very artificial materials, but somehow the way I control them they end up becoming very similar to our own bodies. When you look at them you can see the resemblance to a leg or a foot, they are full of creases and folds, just like the way our bodies have all these natural lines and indentations. My work always naturally ends up reading this way and I like the soft supple nature of flesh and things that are very tactile and squishy. The body is so ingrained with that, it is all of these strange imperfections and small details and lines. I find it really intriguing and erotic in an innocent way.”
Why did you choose to study at Wimbledon
I did an art foundation at Reigate School of Art. I always knew I wanted to do art, but I didn’t know what course would suit me. I went into foundation thinking I would do graphic design, but inevitably I fell into the fine art category. I was doing a lot of 3D sculpture and model making from a painting perspective. I decided painting was the right pathway and I looked for a specific painting course rather than a general fine art one. I was very much influenced by my tutor, he went to Wimbledon and he said a lot of good things about the college. When I came here, the work in the studios were above and beyond anywhere else I had been to see, it really stood out for me. I wasn’t 100% sure on moving to Wimbledon because I lived so close and I always had this idea of living by the sea and because of that I had this idea of going to university somewhere else, but I just felt like the course was perfect for me and I decided that had to come first. Now, here I am three years later.
Please tell us about your current practice:
Although I am on the Painting course, I am probably what they would say painting in the expanded field is. I am actually more sculpture based and my work is centred on materiality and object making. I use a lot of materials like plaster and PVC, I recently made furniture type-objects out of wood and metal. I probably haven’t even picked up a paint brush in all three years I’ve been here. It has been quite weird for me being surrounded by painters when I am working with other materials, but I have never felt like it has stopped me from being free. My work is all three dimensional, installations, I set up these arrangements and stage different stories and narratives with all of these casted objects I make that sit around it and amongst it.
Our practice year on year changes for everyone, even just a little bit. It’s a case of what year you felt you progressed or a year you found a niche in the work that you are making. My work has changed a lot from first year the third year. I would say right now, having found this way of working that really excites and challenges me, I have really enjoyed this final year to just experiment and do things I have never tried before.
In first year I was doing things I did on my foundation, although I did enjoy that, I was very much caught in that safety net of things I have already done. I was a little bit scared of trying anything else because that was all I knew and it was working for me at the time, but then I just grew out of it and saw people using other things which made me want to try it out. I discovered plaster casting and using jesmonite to make all these structures, I realised this is what I really like. It still carried a similar concept to what I was doing, but it developed into more of my own style. This year has been a really good year to gain that confidence in what I am making.
Please tell us about your final piece(s) for the summer show:
It all happened in the last year, I’ve been making abstract furniture, plinths and platforms, because I developed this process of casting plaster or jesmonite objects which have a fleshy and sensual nature to them. First I had them on the floor and scattered around were some digital prints and then it moved on from that. I thought I would quite like to lift them off the ground and pair them with bold materials like wood and metal in their raw form, I thought the pairing complimented the sculptured nicely.
In the last few weeks I have been making metal platforms and these two big wooden cupboards. I don’t quite know how it is all going to come together. I find that my work tends to merge in the very last moment when I bring all the elements to the space and I am able to play around. Right now I have just been making the puzzle pieces and will put them together in the next two weeks. When the studios are stripped down I will have that space to play around with. What comes first for me is the process and materials rather than the concept, this comes more at the end. Once I start to set it up and arrange it, my piece starts to speak for itself. I am quite happy for the materials to lead me in a certain direction. The body is always the centre of my work, which is always a constant.
How have your tutors or technicians added/assisted or influenced you in your final show?
Sarah in metal has been so great, she is bursting full with ideas. I show her one of my sculptures and she starts to play around and grabs different bits of metal that she suggests I can use. She is so full of energy and gives me so many ideas, she walked me round the college the other week and was showing me different platforms and plinth like structures which was helpful to get ideas. Sarah is very helpful with pinpointing what is possible and what I could do instead of what I am thinking.
My tutors are always really good, my current tutor Ian is quite institutional, so he is really good practically about different materials I can use and processes. He has been really good at directing me with what I can do next. Just giving me new ideas with structures I can make and how it would be possible.
Do you have an artist influence?
Eva Hesse is a big influence for me just in terms of how she moved from painting to object making and these hanging sculptures she has done. It is very bodily in the same way that my work is, I really like using her as a reference when I make work. Karla Black, who is a contemporary artist, she uses PVC and pastel colours, which I use as well and integrate into my work. It is really nice seeing her work and how that can influence mine and what I can take from it.
What are you plans after you leave Wimbledon?
Ideally I want to keep making my work, but I think I will have to compromise because I don’t know how I will have access to workshops like the ones here. I am excited by the thought of compromise because it will make me look at ways I can make work happen, so it will change my direction in the way I use materials and looking at what’s possible when not having a studio. Ideally I would like a studio, but I am going to see what happens. I haven’t got a definitive plan just yet.
I will think about applying for prizes as there are so many out there for artists. I want to keep in contact with everyone from my course, keep that network and community.
Do you have a show must-see?
I like to sneak peek into the Sculpture studios every now and again as my work is sculptural, I like to see what they get up to. There is a girl called Keira, I really like her work and she uses a lot of concrete and big bricks, I am excited to see her work, her studio space is just filled with lots of materials, she really looks like she is hands on all the time.
On my course I share a space with my friend Sinead, in our studio we overlap, we don’t have a space that is just ours. Right now it is hard to see what our work would look like isolated, I am also excited to see hers.
You can see Joanna’s work and her show must-see’s at Wimbledon’s Summer Show 14-23 June (closed Sunday 17 June).