Friday 30 January 2015
Jacqui Shelton and I met volunteering the NEW 11 opening at ACCA in Melbourne, bonding over our anxiety at dropping trays full of empty glassware as we pushed through the hip art crowd gathered for the exhibition. We became great friends. Fast-forward almost 4 years and we both found ourselves in New York, Jacqui on a 3-month artist residency at the NARS Foundation, and me on a 12-month working visa. We’ve spent many days here sitting in cafes, nursing cups of coffee and discussing art and our practices, our ideas, inspirations, concerns, and struggles. One Friday afternoon I travelled with Jacqui to her studio in Sunset Park to see what she had been working on.
The NARS Foundation is located in a large warehouse near the water, up a few flights of stairs and through a heavy fire door. Jacqui’s studio is a large space with a high ceiling and large windows, and as we enter the afternoon sun is streaming in and creating a beautiful dappled effect on the walls and floor. We sit down with peanut butter bagels (“I love peanut butter!”) to discuss Jacqui’s current artistic project and thoughts on her creative process.
About to jump straight into her Masters degree upon returning to Melbourne at the end of March, Jacqui practice is currently focusing on the very relevant concepts of contemporary working practices, capitalist structures of labour and investigating productivity.
Participating in a residency program for the very purpose of focusing on your artistic practice, in a new environment and away from the stresses of regular life, can be a liberating and inspiring experience. But on the other hand, sometimes residencies require artists to resolve an idea or project, produce a body of work or mount an exhibition within a specific time frame, which can produce its own stresses. Jacqui has found that being too focused on outcomes can have the effect of stifling her creative process. She is actively working on pursuing an idea and exploring possible outcomes without expectations of a resolution or finished product.
Interestingly, the binary between work and leisure can also be seen as represented by the concept of inside versus outside. These days, inside equals work, office jobs, productivity, while outside equals leisure, fun, play. Some artists enjoy working inside, in the studio, but Jacqui finds the space uninspiring for brainstorming and the development of ideas, preferring to go outside. She doesn’t see herself as a studio artist, in that most of her works are conceived and created outside of the studio, allowing them to refer to broader contexts outside of the white cube. For Jacqui, the studio is where she writes and edits her works on a laptop – a more traditional form of work.
“I spend most of the time in the studio thinking, planning, trialling and of course the usual admin work, but I can find long periods in there stifling. I need to balance it with physical activity, working in a different environment, and will often do a lot of my reading outside.”
For a long time inspired by Francis Alÿs, Jacqui has recently been exploring the action of walking as a conscious resistance to both laziness and productivity. A handwritten copy of Alÿs’ 1992 manifesto to walking, ‘As Long as I’m Walking’ is pinned to a wall of her studio. For Alÿs, walking is a form of social resistance, a freedom from art and production, the idea that an action does not have to have an outcome or, to use the title of his important work, “Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing”. However, this is not to devalue the ‘nothing’, for meaningless actions themselves have meaning in the very process of undertaking them.
Meaningless repetitive actions recur in Jacqui’s works. In a recent video work, filmed on the roof of the Bushwick brownstone that she is living in, Jacqui performs a slow, choreographed dance based on the act of shivering. Signifying both an unconscious reaction to the cold and an allegorically frantic, anxious movement, shivering here is symbolic of the needling urge for productivity.
“I wanted to begin to act against productivity by taking the first step of slowing down my own production. But still I found myself in a cold environment and felt I was constantly moving to keep warm as I adapted! I reflected on this conversation between the slowing of my creative output and heightened activity of my body by developing choreography around a “slow-mo shiver”.
With a busy year ahead, no doubt the quest to slow down will be a tricky one.