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Issue 11: Artist Stephanie Jones
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Q&A with Stephanie jones
Artist Stephanie Jones, March 2013 Vhcle Magazine Issue 11, Art
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Stephanie Jones is an Australian artist who makes drawings and objects. Her work is concerned with the domestic, as both a physical and psychological space. Recent works, such as Sugar Town and The Shadow of Love series, deal with the decorative surface, drawing on a range of sources including wrought-iron gates and fencing, interior architectural mouldings, textile designs and patterned wallpapers.
Jones is fascinated by the idea that surfaces are not ‘flat’. In other words, the way that the ornamental (ie everything traditionally considered superficial, trivial, and in particular, feminine) operates as a site of metaphoric ‘depth’: “Jones makes real the affects associated with and contained in domestic materials so that what is frequently derided as sentiment emerges with all the power of affect-impelled involuntary memory.” (Anna Gibbs, University of Western Sydney, Sugar Town: Stephanie Jones, 2012)
The Shadow of Love series began in 2004 and is inspired by Pliny the Elder’s tale commonly known as ‘The Origin of Drawing’. Pliny (23-79AD) told of a maiden who, upon learning of her lover’s impending departure to the battlefield, inscribed his silhouette on the wall of her home. The story was widely depicted in 18th century romantic painting and in recent times has become a highly theorized allegory of representation and memorialization:
Sugar Town (dog days), 2010, colour pencil on textured wallpaper, mounted on MDF, detail from installation
“For it is the nameless daughter of Butades who instituted the entire iconography of drawing, an iconography that has to do with love on the verge of separation, loss and mourning – the love of Echo for Narcissus. When the daughter of Butades learned that her lover would have to leave on the following day, she took up a stylus in order to trace the outline of his silhouette on the wall, as though this shadowy outline of him would draw him, draw him back to her one day.” (David Farrell Krell, The Purest of Bastards: Works of Mourning, Art and Affirmation in the Thought of Jacques Derrida, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. p.51)
“The silhouette stands not merely at the threshold of modernity, but at the very threshold of visual representation itself. It is a representational practice, a representational form, which dates back to the mythic moment when the Corinthian maiden traced the shadow of her imminently departing lover on the wall, outline left to stand as a melancholic memorial object. With examples ranging from the petroglyphs of prehistoric cave dwellers in the Paleolithic era to
the projections and installations of multimedia artists in the present … the shadow – stilled and arrested as silhouette – has fundamentally structured a history of visual representation.” (Lisa Saltzman, Making Memory Matter: Strategies of Remembrance in Contemporary Art, University of Chicago Press, 2006. p.55)
The Shadow of Love series explores a topography of emotional themes, literally mapping them onto the surface of the domestic. In Jones’s wallpaper drawings, silhouetted figures are rendered into the ‘negative’ spaces of the low-relief surface. Using the simple method of coloring-in with pencils, Jones transforms a familiar and perhaps ‘artless’ method into a precise and exacting exercise of control and endurance, purely by way of the exaggerated scale at which the rendering is carried out. These works are a major investment of the artist’s time, and Jones finds the repetitive and lengthy nature of the process to be on the one hand tranquilly therapeutic, and on the other, a test of her patience and perseverance. She feels that the process produces a ‘space of practice’, through which she can inscribe and project her own experiences.
What is the story behind the idea of using Butades' biscuits (royal icing on Arnotts biscuits) as part of your Shadow of Love series?
Butades' Biscuits was made specifically for a themed exhibition in 2009 called ‘The Country Show’, organised by local Canberra artists Julie Cuerden-Clifford and Waratah Lahy. The exhibition was a celebration of the traditional Australian agricultural show (I think in America you call them county fairs), and artists were invited to make artworks that could be entered into a 'category' just like in real country shows, eg handicrafts and folk arts, cooking and cake decorating, food and produce, livestock and pets, wood chopping, side show alley, etc. This was the second Country Show that Julie and Waratah organised, and they've recently completed a third version at the Bega Regional Gallery on the far south coast of New South Wales. This time round they took the project even further, and had a stall at The Bega Show, promoting the exhibition and hosting a button badge workshop.
Butades' Biscuits grew out of a number of things. I have been experimenting with cake decorating techniques in my art practice since the mid-1990s, at first making small wall pieces out of fondant and royal icing (frosting) and later producing larger scale works and ephemeral installations with icing, sweets and bubblegum tape. In 2004, during my Masters degree at the ANU School of Art, I began The Shadow of Love series of drawings on wallpaper. This series was inspired by the ancient Roman story commonly known as 'The Origin of Drawing', as told by Pliny the Elder: a Corinthian maiden (the daughter of the potter Butades) learns of her lover's imminent departure and traces the outline of his shadow onto the wall of her home. This tale resonated strongly with my thesis topic The Housing of Loss, where I was researching images of loss and mourning in the context of domestic space. So, when thinking about work for The Country Show, I realized there had been a connection all along between my recent interest in the silhouette and some of my very early icing works, where I imitated the look of cameos. One such piece from 1996 was called Wild at Heart, where I iced rawhide biscuits with cameos of different dog breeds (once again, this was made for a thematic exhibition, that time in an old pet store). Basically, the iced silhouettes on biscuits just seemed so obvious, bringing together a whole lot of my interests and references in a simple, light-hearted way.
I do consider them part of
The Shadow of Love series, though more as a kind of complement (side dish?) to the major drawing works.
What is the art scene like in Australia?
That's really hard to answer! I've been practising as an artist for over 20 years, but I've primarily shown in artist-run and non-commercial art spaces, and I don't live in a large city, so I can really only speak from this 'peripheral' experience. I don't believe there's any singular 'scene' or 'art world', but multiple ones that intersect at many levels - internationally, nationally and locally. Even the local 'scene' that I know best consists of many diverse artist types, and we all engage with the 'art world' in very different ways, with very different outcomes or levels of 'success'. But all the artists I know are hard-working and dedicated. And we all struggle, regardless of our respective profiles or positions. I suspect it's much the same all over the (western) world.
Favorite drink?
Tea. I drink about six cups a day - weak, milky, no sugar, preferably loose leaf.
Angel, 2008, from The Shadow of Love series, colour pencil on textured wallpaper, mounted on ragboard, 50.5 x 40.5cm
Sugar, 2008, from The Shadow of Love series, colour pencil on textured wallpaper, mounted on ragboard, 50.5 x 40.5cm
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