Phoebe Collings-James Interview
Violence, Sexuality, Desire and Beauty
Phoebe Collings-James is one of those people that will make you feel a little insecure about your life for all she has achieved. At only 23 she has already shown in London, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Berlin, Milan, Beirut, Mexico and New York. Mixing everything from sculpture, performance, illustration, mixed media installation, photography and video, her work explores the most raw of subjects - violence, desire, sexuality and beauty. Thought provoking and erotic, Phoebe is quickly becoming one Britain's of the most exciting young artists.
Megan Christiansen: Can you tell us about growing up in East London?
Phoebe Collings-James: When I was little it was great because we lived near big forests where my sister and I would play. East London itself, Hackney in particular has changed a lot. I wasn’t supposed to go to Hackney on my own when I was a teenager, which is funny now that I end up spending so much time there. It was a bus ride away from my house and my mum always tried to scare us into thinking it was too dangerous. I remember getting stuck in Hackney Wick once, we had to walk home through the industrial estates and freaked ourselves out so much it felt like a scene from To Live and Die in L.A!
MC: What were your first memories of art?
PCJ: My aunty had a drawing in her house that I always loved, I thought she had made it. It wasn't until I was about 19 that I realized it was a Egon Schiele poster. I don’t know if I have ever told her I was so embarrassed.
MC: You work across so many different mediums, how would you define or describe yourself as an artist?
PCJ: I wouldn’t want to. Its too definite.
MC: For you does the idea define the medium you will use or do you experiment with mediums to develop an idea?
PCJ: The idea and medium often come at the same time, it is quite fluid. It’s rare that I think of a concept and then have to figure out which medium would work best.
MC: Can you tell us about the sexual nature of your work? What kind of commentaries are you trying to make about sexuality and society?
PCJ: The main principle I am trying to explore is openness.
MC: I was just wondering about the perception and meaning of your ideas. If a man was to present the ideas you do, would they mean something different or be received differently by the public?
PCJ: Artist is not a gendered term and gender is not my focus. If any other artist were to have made the work the way it is received would have potential to shift. Because although it is not about me I think the work I make is very personal. I am what defines my work and I am not defined by my sex.
MC: You are good friends with Karley Sciortino from Slutever aren't you? I interviewed her the other day for the site. In terms of ideas of sexuality, what about Karley do you identify with? How do you inspire each other?
PCJ: Karley is amazing. I like eating bagels with her and watching six feet under and talking about all the important things in life! Those are probably the staples of most great friendships. As a writer I think she is able to write in the language of our times in a way that is articulate, funny and extremely engaging. Which is no mean feet. She constantly challenges the way I think about desire and taboos. I often feel like there is a massive gap between my desires and reality. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think Karley's limits are guided as much as most by the judgments and expectations of others.
MC: Also can you tell us a little bit about the Tit Prints video you both did for Purple? How did the idea for it come about?
PCJ: We were sitting on Karley's sofa in New York watching a documentary on Brigid Berlin and I think the conversation went something like 'we should make tit prints', 'Totally', 'And we should film it'... so the next day we walked to Duane Reade, bought some kids craft paint and made it.
MC: Do you intend to disturb or shock people with your work?
PCJ: There are times when I disturb myself slightly. Trawling through photos of arseholes on the Internet for hours on end is not that fun. And when I was editing Sortir un Oeil the sound of crushing eggs made me so nauseous I had to work with the sound turned down. But that is just part of the process and not the main experience I want the viewer to have. I think my work is quite intentionally full of contradictions in that sense.
MC: You work with a lot of youtube clips and found materials. Where does this fascination with re-appropriation of found material come from?
PCJ: It has only been with the Broken Heart’s Requiem piece that it had a solid context within the work. I watch a lot of online videos so that is probably why I keep coming to them. When you re-appropriate anything it gives you the opportunity to create something new which has direct relevance to the past, present and future. It really depends on what you are doing but I like the idea of re-working things. I don’t think art has to be finite, I often put videos online and then re-work them and put new versions up later, I enjoy that in other people’s work too. I went to see Kenneth Anger talk once and he spoke about film cans that got lost for decades and then found and re-chopped.
MC: What kind of person are you trying to reach through your art?
PCJ: Hopefully any kind of person. The aspects of my work that are explicit are only so because they exist in a public realm. All of the subject matter I deal with are common to most people. Eggs, beetroot, meat, flesh, arse holes. We all have them, many of us eat them. We reproduce, we excrete, we love, we die... I am not aiming to appeal to an elite. These things are quite basic. Depending on your relationship to the art world you may experience it on a different level, there might be a different understanding of its theoretical references. But I hope it is something most people have the ability to connect with if they want to.
MC: Why is sound so important in your work?
PCJ: Because sound can give an immediate and acute sensation unlike any other. Sound waves travel through the mind and body.
MC: What kind of music are you influenced by? What are you listening to at the moment?
PCJ: At the moment I am listening to Black Cow by Steely Dan.
MC: You are still so young but have exhibited all over the world. Do you feel like your youth is an advantage? Whether in coming up with new ideas or just no being jaded by the art world...
PCJ: I think it would be strange if I hadn’t! Limitlessness is essential. You know, you are talking to me from New Zealand and people will be able to view this in most countries around the world. Everything is new which is a bit scary when I think about it but mostly its all really exciting.
MC: Finally, what's coming up for you this year?
PCJ: Looking forward to spring, this weather is just too cold. I am going to do a performance in Marrakesh for the biennale next month which I am really excited about. Then off to New York to do a residency with the Still House Group. I've been making new work with resin and glitter so lots more of that too I imagine...
splitting of the phallus, making of the god 2011 pcj 1
Sortir un Oeuf 2011