You graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Chelsea and then went on to do an MFA in Sculpture at the Slade. Would you like to tell me a little bit more about your background and important choice you made to become an artist?
When I studied for my BA at Chelsea, I firmly thought of myself as a painter, making very large-scale photo-realist images of airport runways… Slightly strange subject of interest to follow I realise, but I’ve always been fascinated by technology and the way in which it shapes our lives, so at that point I’d thought (largely through habit) that painting was the best way to explore those ideas. It was only at the end of my time at Chelsea that I began to experiment with sculpture.
In the intervening years between my BA and MA, the painting became redundant, eventually falling away entirely and leaving me with a practice that was firmly sculptural. In 2014 I began my MA at the Slade, and it was thanks to the great tutoring there that I was encouraged to develop the sculptural side of my practice whilst still developing the image making through CGI (instead of painting). In those two years of MA my practice developed to become what it is today so I think applying to that course was one the most important decision I’ve made in becoming an artist.
Please tell me how do you see the works in that you are showing at Century Club.
It’s interesting as the works at the Century club are all wall-based which is somewhat of a departure from the larger scale sculptures I usually make, but it’s been great to work on a different scale, and in two dimensions. At the club, I’ve made work using laser cut steel and rubber, you’ll see the steel remains fixed and the rubber becomes limp, so it’s really a study of how two different materials can behave in two very different ways. It’s a simple comparison but I think goes beyond the purely aesthetic, the way in which these two materials hold up against each other touch ideas that influence my practice as a whole - particularly notions around purpose and functionality.
Your practice is quite high-tech - both in terms of presentation and how you make the works. When I read your statement on your website, I get the impression you are, in effect, referring to The Technological Singularity. Please tell how the availability of new technology has influenced your practice and, perhaps from a more philosophical perspective, how you reflect upon artificial intelligence?
Absolutely, it’s a concept that pulls together a lot of the ideas that interest me. It’s only in recent years that I’ve fully admitted a love of sci-fi, but beyond that, I think the notion of a technological singularity is becoming something that people are talking about more and more and is something that looks to be a not so distant reality. For a lot of people, it’s a threat, which is where those ideas of purpose and function come in… if the machines take all our jobs are we just left on the sideline twiddling our thumbs…
But for me, there’s also great potential in embracing technology as it allows creativity to flourish in other ways. Ultimately a machine is an object made to do a job better than a person, so it’s interesting to see how my role as an artist sits within this framework. As you say, this new technology has been crucial to the production of my own work – be it using CGI technology to create large fantasy machine landscapes or using a laser cutter to perfectly cut shapes out of metal – and in the process of working like this I’m handing a lot of the making over to technology, so in some ways the machine becomes a co-conspirator, and I like that.
You are a member of Bomb Factory in North London. Is it more than a studio complex? Could you please tell me a little more about it and the benefits of working from there?
I moved into the Bomb factory before I even finished my MA at the Slade – an available studio space had come up and so I wanted to snap it up as soon as possible. Coming out of an institution like art school one of the biggest benefits is having a group of people around you that working towards similar goals and at the Bomb Factory that’s the same. I’ve spent time in the past working on my own (largely from home) and it’s very easy to become quite isolated – particularly when your chosen career is something as undirected as an artist.
At the studio there’s a huge amount of contact with other artists, be I through scheduled events or just day-to-day contact and for me, this interaction is really important in keeping a momentum to my practice.
You were recently included in Aestetica Magazine’s future 100 publication, as well as Bloomberg New Contemporaries last year. How important are these for emerging artist and what has your experience been?
It’s a tricky one, as on the one hand, you want to focus solely on your practice without external influence pulling or pushing it in a particular direction, but at the same time, for me, you make art to share with a wider audience – both the work itself and the ideas behind it. So I guess being included in this kind of things is a great way of doing that and I do enjoy it when people have seen my work and want to engage with it. I suppose problem comes when being included in those things becomes the main objective, so I always think that as long as I’m making work that I enjoy and am interested in, it’s more likely others will feel the same.
You recently had a solo exhibition at Castor Projects in South London called ‘Time and Attendance’ could you please tell me a little about the exhibition, how would you describe it to someone who did not see it?
Time and attendance was predominately a show of video work. Alongside the sculptures, I use CGI to make animated videos of endless machine landscapes (think Hieronymus Bosch mixed with Blade Runner) that look like they’re busy doing something but are actually kind of pointless – they’re sort of funny and depressing at the same time.
In fact, that’s where the name came from, I liked the idea of clocking in and out and so wanted to make some work that looked at the idea of doing a job for the sake of doing a job. As long as you clocked your hours the result of the work doesn’t matter
Over the past few years you have done some large outdoor sculptures could you please tell me a little about these projects and their challenges and success?
Outdoor sculpture, and in particular public sculpture has always been something that’s really interested me – It can be a bit of a dirty word as often an original idea gets plowed over by a committee and the result is less than inspiring. My Dad is an urban designer and jokes about a lot of outdoor sculpture being ‘a turd in the plaza’ so I always have that ringing in my ear whenever I go to propose or develop that kind of work!
It’s still something that I feel like I’m a bit of a rookie with, but so far I’ve really enjoyed the process. The great thing about outdoor sculpture is you’re not limited by space. And so seeing as I make work that takes industry and it’s history as another factor it can be a wonderful opportunity to push the work to the next level - it feels fitting.
Finally, do you have any forthcoming exhibitions or projects that we can look forward to?
Currently developing new work sculptural and video work with an aim to show at some point next year and also in the early stages of planning a new Public sculpture in Manchester to celebrate the life of James Prescott Joule… So will be very interested to see how that pans out.
Jack graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 2016 and was selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the ICA the same year.
Maria Stenfors has more than 20 years of experience from the art world. She worked at several galleries in Stockholm and London, as well as an independent art advisor, prior to running her own eponymous contemporary art gallery in King’s Cross between 2010 and 2016. She is now an independent consultant alongside working in a gallery.