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The following is an extract from a conversation between curator Guy Haywood and artist Jesse Wine to accompany the exhibition Sludgy Portrait of Himself at the Museum of Cambridge, which is on show until 5 February 2017. To read the full interview click ‘Download full interview’.
GH: Jesse, we are here in the old bar at the Museum of Cambridge surrounded by beer bottles, tobacco pipes, pub signs and old hoovers. These displays are dense and brimming with objects that all have their own very particular histories – a long way from the neutrality that we are used to in white walled art galleries. How have you found working with an environment like this and presenting your work in such a different context?
JW: I think the great thing about this museum is that it provides an opportunity to fit artworks into a ‘scene’, and a lot of the time in art that is what artists are trying to generate – this sense of scene. Here it is overbearing in a way, because this is such a particular scene,
the building is so old and has so much defined history, it is undeniable and you can’t get away from it. I think that is both really challenging but also really generous.
When I’m in here I’m not thinking ‘I want to clear the spaces and make them white, let’s get a concrete floor in here’, because I’m actually thinking about the ways in which the spiritual home of art is more in the studio or where it ends up, in a collectors home say, than in the gallery. The gallery is this purgatory moment. No work stays in the gallery forever, probably more like the inside of a crate, or on a wall above someone’s couch, or in the studio are the most likely environments. So in a way this place is really good for contemporary art, because it lends itself as more of a natural habitat. I think we’ve seen it with a few things here, you hang something and you’re like, ‘wow’, that just works.
GH: When we first started talking about this project you said that you’d been interested for a while in creating a sound-driven experience, which is what you’ve done here, what is it that drew you to making a work in this format?
JW: Originally I wasn’t imagining it would include dialogue when I’d been going over the idea in my head and seeking the right opportunity to do it. Like the gesture of putting Barbara [Hepworth’s Group of Three Magic Stones] in this case for example. I think doing this type of project in a gallery or a contemporary art museum would be really tough, in terms of ascertaining that level of control over the viewer. In this museum it’s much easier to take control of the viewer because you are naturally moving from room to room, and the rooms are quite small so there is a greater opportunity to control the way in which people behave and move through the space physically. But also the museum is made up of a series of semi-functional rooms that are easy to write into any story about life, because you can imagine any of these scenes happening in any room so easily. The museum became the best place that I had been offered to do a show of this nature that I have been longing to make. And as with making any art show there are really great moments, like for example I didn’t realise there was a church across the street, and once in a while the bells ring.
GH: When we’ve been discussing your new work and some of the work in the Kettle’s Yard collection, we talked about your interests in modernist sculpture and also surrealism, in fact we’ve been describing this whole show as a surrealist gesture.
JW: I think it is definitely a massive surrealist gesture.
None of what you’re seeing in the context that it’s being presented is real, or at least its true meaning is skewed.
I mean, that tone is actually set not by me, but the story of Joseph Hempsell, because the story is at least to me untrue. I don’t believe in ghosts, and so to start with something fictional is actually really liberating because you can generate total freedom from that.
To continue reading the full interview click ‘Download full interview’. For exhibition opening times click here.