Last week Poppy Jones began her three-week residency at West Dean College by giving a talk about her practice to full-time Visual Arts students and a number of guests. As an artist whose work focuses on different forms of printmaking, Poppy underlined her ongoing concern for the image, particularly via themes relating to history and representation, examining the make-up of images not only in terms of content but also materiality. A consistent thread in her practice is the desire to see images not only as potential conveyors of information but as material objects in themselves.
The morning talk began with Poppy making intriguing associations between distinct images, such as photographs of cabinets of taxidermy and individual film stills – notably frames taken from Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967) – whilst focusing on contextualising their inherent status as cultural artefacts. This interest in film, in particular, also conveyed a key concern for surface texture that can be associated with certain kinds of image, not only with regard to analogue technologies (celluloid scratches, dust motes and so on) but also the disruptions and discrepancies associated with the digital (pixelation, resolution, etc.). Building on these thoughts, Poppy’s practice of producing prints on surfaces other than paper, often on a large scale, was discussed; for example, enlargements being made to match the dimensions of museum cabinets. A use of monoprints was also talked about, particularly in relation to poppy’s Master’s studies at the Royal College of Art, where a deconstruction and examination of her practice led her to work with scale more playfully, as well as employing materials such as fabric, wood and paper as supports. A post-MA exhibition project, developed with a graphic designer, was entitled Statues Die Too, a reference to the 1953 essay film directed by Ghislain Cloquet, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais. That film’s focus on the representation and perception of African art and French colonialism no doubt tied in with the overall interest in the shifting power of images according to different contexts. Describing how the exhibition was staged in an unused garage space, after negotiations with local councils, Poppy stressed the importance of public exhibitions as points at which to step back and reflect on one’s work.
As well as talking about the use of props to elevate her works, often pinning them against walls or otherwise displacing them, Poppy began to outline her interest in putting images through different processes, superimposing layers and different types of technology such that the resultant image-object cannot be easily located in time. This blurring of technical boundaries and conventions also tied in with a practical dialogue between principles of abstraction and representation, where adjustments in the visibility of certain pictorial elements (for example, what was readable as a human figure, etc.) allowed images to hover between alternate states. part of this process involved the repeated recycling of images (including film stills) encouraging the image’s latent qualities to emerge, or for even fuller transformations to occur. Poppy briefly described this interest in terms of a ‘future archaeology’, linking to the notion of disrupting any obviously linear trajectory of the ‘progress’ of images and the power they contain, project or reflect. At this point, Poppy’s obvious interest in the cinematic image also began to transfer into modes of presentation, with prints being rendered on enormous silk sheets like cinema screens, as if ready to receive an additional projection of light. But at the same time as enlarging the image and embracing the grandeur of the cinema, the work was also engaged in taking things the other way, reducing scale and embracing portability through poster-editions, leaflets and broadsides that audiences were encouraged to take away.
A period working at the Woodmill Studios in South London (an artist-run set-up now sadly closed) meant that Poppy adapted to working without printmaking facilities, still focused on the various clashes of surfaces enacted through the outputs of different image-making technologies. A rich interest in the archival image was brought up, which was particularly pertinent given the West Dean residency’s focus on material found in the Edward James Cultural Archive, leading into discussions of “accidental cultural documentation” taking place through online images, particularly shopping and exchange sites (such as eBay), linking such phenomena with forms of clinical anthropology. These references were linked to a project based in the archives at the Horniman Museum, conducted at a time when it faced closure and was digitising its extensive collection of artefacts. For Poppy, this posed fascinating questions in relation to the image and its equivalent physical object, asking what would (actually) remain of culture when all that was left were digital repositories.
As the talk progressed, Poppy showed how her more recent work had incorporated aspects of collage, using analogue and digital prints (often rephotographed) on paper and fabric. She also showed us documentation of large-scale posters, a series of CMYK screenprints and a few risographs. A period spent teaching at the University of Falmouth coincided with a return to more formal qualities in her work, not only spurred by Cornwall’s associations with Modernist artists such as Ben Nicholson, but also a growing fascination for the work of Kurt Schwitters. The interest in ‘archived’ objects, as well as associations between structure of screen images (pixels, parsing processes, etc.) and the woven constructions of weaving, were also linked in with the current residency at West Dean (especially given the proximity of the residency space to the Tapestry and Textile workshop). The morning session came to a close with the students gathering around various examples of printed matter, arranging individual tutorials with Poppy for later in the week.