I have known Melissa Jordan since I was 16. I was impressed with her creativity and her commitment to and love of art. She was always making interesting objects - I remember intricate books made of perspex and threads, each with many layers. Melissa went on to gain a distinction in MA Sculpture from the Royal College of Art and is now a professional artist. Her work reminds me of hidden stories, often with sinister or mysterious undertones. Her sculptures have been exhibited in London, New York and Berlin.
I am really honoured to have Melissa take part in this second interview for the we are stardust explores... blog series. The series will see me interview artists and scientists, asking each of them exactly the same questions to the worlds of science and art, their similarities, difference, how they intersect and can learn and benefit from each other. In this interview, Melissa tells us about how being an artist affects the way she sees, explores and interacts with the world. I loved hearing about how her childhood past times seem to link directly with her current artwork. So sit down, grab a cup of tea and have a read...
"Being an artist effects every day of my life whether I'm making that day or not. It makes me look at things more intensely and think about how I'm looking."
- Melissa Jordan
Melissa, we are stardust is for those with loyal hearts, sophisticated minds and wild natures. As such, please tell us:
- Your favourite piece of wilderness - Around where my grandma still lives - a small hamlet not far from Dawlish Warren. Driving there, the lanes are plant-moulded to tunnel like forms. It's like the landscape is taking you in, densely.
- Three things you love learning about - Materials, tribal decorations, forensics.
- What love means to you - Warmth and excitement, support; not wanting to live without the person or thing.
What did you spend most of your time doing when you were little and what did you want to be when you grew up?
I used to wake up around 6am every day with my sister and brother. Invariably, the day started the same. We liked the re-runs of Mr Benn, I Love Lucy and a medical education program about the body where all the cells were characters. But our favourite Betamax tapes were Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson videos (Bad and Thriller). The most over-watched film we had was David Lean's Great Expectations. The moment I first did my own French plait really stuck with me; I was 6 and I could perfect my own hair and look. In the front room which housed the books and the TV my parents left me the black octagonal table. Here I used to make art and take over the floor with rolls of paper. I guess it was sort of my first studio.
Why did you decide to become an artist?
I decided I wanted to be an artist when I was six. Looking back, I think this was because I thought I was great at drawing and making. There wasn't a lot of planning about what this might mean longer-term. The first thing I made that I was really proud of was a flat, paper robot with many internal layers and moving parts which were circular, made from drawing around the inside of sellotape. He had a bed-like envelope and there was a special catch made from brass fastener pin to fix him in.
Going to museums confirmed for me that art gave you the greatest feelings, like being dwarfed by the buildings and totally immersed in another place or time. I could go to and spend ages looking at just one image like the Sickert at the Fitzwilliam Museum (The Garden of Love). This image to me was luminous, calming but strangely curious.
As I grew older I realised that art was a way to take time to yourself and soak yourself in your own world. This way I could express ideas but also just take time to decipher what a piece of material or drawing could be or mean to me. It gives you a focus, even if you made up the focus point yourself. Being an arist has been about identifying the boundaries and expressing through the language you're learning.
What does your work explore? What are you looking for/hoping to find? Why is it important? What methods do you use to do your work and why?
My work focuses on the investigation of photographic images and their potential to be transformed through visual alteration and context.
The series Interface are clay works made by rolling images of female faces out with wet clay; the damp paper is stretched as the form is rolled. The clay acts as a blank skin between the paper, akin to a worn fresco where the surface and image become inseparable. For the work, the piece can be the physical sculptures but can also return to their pictorial form; become images again. I think the possibilities of work and image is something I'm continually exploring. The first time I thought about this was during my art history class at sixth form. We were looking at Laocoon and his Sons and how the unearthing of it arose at the time of print (etchings) as transportable goods. It was the first artwork that was truly circulated through images.
I wanted to explore how these female faces that feel so commonly circulated, could become something else. This series is a reconsideration of the perfect faces we encounter persistently throughout the internet and advertising.
Recent works Vowels are faces seen through small holes. These faces are undergoing a close investigation which separates the face into just three identifying features and a new skin. There is a question about what is the subject and what is the substance of these photographs. As images, they play on many films that explore the face through masks such as Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In or Bogart in Dark Passage, faces that are about to make a revelation to the viewer. This is the character’s transitional moment. These faces lack the dimensionally of a human face, they are missing their noses, cheeks, their structure. All of the Vowels pieces are made through processes that inevitably lead to variation like a recipe with different results.
I'm interested in how the physicality of photographs can question the flatness of images or the way we experience images in our internet-based daily lives.
Tell us about something life changing you discovered through your work
Before I got my first SLR camera at age 16 I went on a sixth form college trip to Florence. The entire trip, I was desperate to take photographs and frame what I was seeing for the first time. I wanted to have these to reference later. At the time, I'd never been somewhere that seemed so colourful and exotic as Italy. The following year I got my camera and took my Photography A Level. The darkroom again encapsulated the magic of making and also the sense of controlling and playing with the outcomes of your own work. I loved going there.
Being an artist affects every day, whether I'm making that day or not. It makes me look at things more intensely. For example, I think I often attribute importance or a sense of 'moment' in photographs I take on holiday. Once I have a photo, say a picture of a worn out saddle in Berlin, I take it back to the studio and I can abstract further or reform it. Looking and making is about exploring and solutions for showing a different way of seeing.
Are you an artist? How does your work transform the way you explore and see the world? Let me know in the comments.
- Read the we are stardust explores...interview with plant scientist Dr Jessica Royles
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