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 - Unsolved crimes and forensics, materials, tribal decoration.
- 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 twin sister and younger 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 (Once Upon a Time - Life). But our favourite Betamax tapes were Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson videos (Bad and Thriller) which our dad had taped for us. The most over-watched film we had was David Lean's Great Expectations. Outside school we would do things like gymnastics, swimming, music. Gymnastics was great but I never felt anything was as creative as making your own things. 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. Hair-styling was a creative act for me and one I really enjoyed.
With my Granny and Grandad we used to make pancakes and lots of omelette soufflés for dinner - we saw them nearly every school day. Watching a soufflé rise seemed like magic after whisking it madly. My grandad also had a big Betamax collection classic Disney, Bond, Westerns, he had a radio from WW1 and an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire in his garage. When he was younger, he had made a TV from scratch that was green with a very thick glass screen which made the image prone to distortion. He also introduced us to Ren and Stimpy.
Over the summer holidays our Mum would make scrapbooks with us and chalk drawings on black sugar paper; the inspiration would be what books mum was reading to us. I especially remember drawing lots of fantasy sweets I would have liked to try. And in the summer I loved making reliefs of mermaids in the sand with seaweed for hair and seashells - an activity lead by our Grandma where we all got involved. My Grandpa's father was an artist and a brass musician but had died young. When we went to the zoo, my Grandpa would stay back with me so I could draw all the animals.
Objects fascinated me. For example, my Mum had tins housing collection of buttons, left over ribbon and obscure sewing bits that I liked sorting through. Jewellery was a big thing in the family for my Mum, Grandma and Aunty Margaret. Seeing their collections made me want to make things because there seemed to be so many possibilities; I feel like this looking at found jewellery in museums now. Jewellery is a form of expression that I still love. Both of my grandfathers had those places where they went to mend things, lots of tools and old glue, tapes, strange tools. I also collected stickers and objects that could be art - natural and found objects. School I found fun but apart from art, my other favourite lesson was history.
We were raised with lots of music around us; my Dad also plays classical piano and so we always had a piano in the house. Music, live and recorded, infiltrated the whole house - our kitchen cassettes were mix-tapes our Dad made. I still like working to background music and find it less distracting than silence.
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 where he slept and there was a special catch made from brass fastener pin to fix him in. Most things I made were characters with lives beyond their obvious two dimensional status.
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 Cambridge (The Garden of Love). This image to me was luminous, calming but strange and slightly voyeuristic. The tall totem pole in the museum of Anthropology and Archaeology museum was particularly haunting.
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. When you leave the place where you've been making and show it to an audience you get another set of meanings or feedback. Learning how you see things and what other people see - those possible connections inform you. It's not just about the audience/artist's perspectives or background but also about the nature and sometimes the ambiguity of visual expression. Being an arist has been about identifying the boundaries and expressing through the language you're learning.
The only artist I really knew of was my Grandpa's father. As I grew up, my friend Mel's Mum was an artist and she let me borrow books from her library on artists. We used to swap new materials and techniques.
I think I wanted to be expressive and also feel special. Making and inventing ways to make things made me feel like I had a skill nobody had.
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.
Interface is typical of my methods which tie the materiality and physicality to the images I'm exploring. When I started using liquid on the surface of the pages I was re-photographing, the liquid gave more light reflection and enabled me to take photos when there was less light. This extended my working day and the outcomes. The overall effect is other-worldly images.
Although the original sources I use are often second-hand, many images I pick have a contemporary magazine editorial feeling that I want to tap into. For example, images of females that remind me of how in beauty shoots the face is truncated or shown close-up, surrounded by artful smears of the best lipstick or foundation. Make up is about enhancing that final layer but it’s also about covering up. These photo series are about surface and enhancing that final sheen; about glossiness as the language of aspiration.
Recent works Vowels are faces seen through small holes, peep holes. These faces are undergoing a close investigation which separates the face into just three identifying features and a new skin. Again the faces are taken from magazine sources. These explore the intimacy of stranger's faces. Eerie, distant and familiar, 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. Without these boundaries the faces are pulled apart. 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.
Video from One Image Story is an online curatorial project created by Maria Kapajeva; a collection of two-minute stories told by the artists themselves about one image that has been chosen through discussion with them:
How do you feel when you do your work?
Depending on the day and work; I feel happiest when I'm in my studio. Focussed, at times frustrated, at times excited. A normal day in the studio would begin a bit later than an average working day and sometimes finishes later. The light is best first thing at my space but I also get a lot out of the pre-dusk time. When I'm there I put on some music or a podcast and begin with flicking through my recent works, a magazine or book. This is my way of relaxing and taking my mind through a visual trip before I pick what I'm going to finish or begin. Often the flicking stage results in ideas. There's always several series on the go simultaneously, this way I don't have any excuse to get stuck; I can come back to it later without feeling like I'm wasting time.
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. Abstraction plays an important part in my practice still. 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 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. 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 our saddle in Berlin, I take it back to the studio and I can abstract further or reform it. The result tends to be my abstraction, highlighting the qualities I saw in the saddle; as a means to express this it has been be emphasised. Looking and making is about exploring and solutions for showing a different way of seeing. It's a great feeling to make a piece of work, show it to others and feel it is unlike anything else they might see that day or again.
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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