BODIES OF WORK:
Achtung Baby! depicts either bunkers or other elements of warfare within a mocking narriative of resistance when combined with, as in these paintings; kitsch ceramic animal ornaments, toy soldiers with their faces covered with neon stars, a judges wig (appropriated from the cover of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta – Iolanthe, a life-size model of an ice-cream (that I came upon during one summer at a pop-up ice-cream vendor in Victoria station), a drawing of a head of a Bichon Frise dog (resembling a moon with a face), fearful deers, and two odd-looking wild beasts - an alarmed tiger and a confused bear (appropriated from Victorian cut-outs).
Viewing the redundant fortifications as anthropomorphic symbols of the melancholic-self as a queer teenager during Thatcher’s homophobic 1980’s, the bunkers represent loss of freedom, fear, isolation and uncertain future. I am interested in the concept of WW11 camouflage, in particular it’s limitations and often absurdity. The unlikely pairing of an over-sized kitsch ceramic ornament or a plastic icecream display cone placed casually on top of an eroding WW11 German bunker playfully emphasizes this failure whilst symbolically undermining oppression and control.
BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
Between A Rock And A Hard Place is a series of digital collages, prints and paintings. I combine and/or substitute images symbolic of weaponry and warfare; such as bunkers, fighter aircraft, bombs and missiles - with kitsch, amusing or unrealistic images of ceramic ornaments, animals, toys, the artificial phallus, or foliage, to playfully build a humorous narrative that undermines and ridicules oppression and control.
I work from images that I photograph myself; such as the bunkers I re-visit and re-document on my frequent returns to Guernsey, or interesting objects that I feel have relevant poignant and/or kitsch qualities – and/or existing images which I appropriate and re-work (and reference); such as the photographs of bunkers taken by the French War Theorist, Paul Virilio for 'Bunker Archeology'. In my paintings I use different types of paint and different methods of paint application such as spray paint, watercolour, acrylic, oil and household paint to achieve different surface qualities and textures.
Although my work is not about making LGBTQ Art or Art with a clear LGBTQ subject, my own experience of being a young LGBTQ person growing up in Guernsey is present within my work through analogy and metaphor. In this wider sense I have always viewed the bunker as ‘a symbol of the self' because I feel there is a parallel between growing up pre-acceptance of homosexuality and gender diversity with that of the isolated bunker being widely viewed as a blot upon the landscape scattered amongst dwellings; their architectural brutalism stripped bare and their solitude making them stand out.
I am interested in the concept of camouflage, with reference to the Occupation of the Channel Islands during WW11, and in particular, its limitations; that the bunkers as architecture-of-war, such as the MIRUS Battery with their huge guns, were artificially camouflaged, crudely and therefore largely unsuccessfully, sometimes even as houses in order to blend in with the rest of the residential landscape. Over time through natural erosion their decomposition back into the landscape (especially considering the concrete was made by the sand from the beaches) can be viewed as a poetic metaphor of the triumph of nature, and man as aggressor's failure and defeat. In an LGBTQ context this is journey towards acceptance and equality.
Coast paintings feature the domestic and redundant-military architectural landscape of Guernsey’s west coast where I played and explored as a child. Views up the beach from the waters edge at low tide evoke memories of stolen glances away from the innocence of rock pool adventures. Beyond the foreground of sand and seaweed debris; the outcome of a recently violent storm… (an allusion to it’s dark historical past or a hermetically-sealed present?), massive blocks of granite- to keep out the sea, and steel-reinforced concrete anti-tank walls- to keep out a no-longer-existent enemy, partially conceal domestic and military buildings. Our view-point is that of the enemy from the approach of the sea, a first encounter maybe from out of the ‘no-where-ness’ of the oceans abyss, to ‘some-where’, a periphery, a no-mans land of appearing and disappearing land that is the beach. Generally devoid of human activity, the buildings themselves become anthropomorphic. From the idea of ‘homelike’ (belonging to the home) is the development of something withdrawn from the eyes of strangers, something concealed, secret… ‘heimlich’ now easily becomes ‘unheimlich’- unhomely as the notion of something hidden and dangerous. Within this eerie stillness, an atmosphere of subtle melancholy, these beholders of secrets, meet our gaze to dare or implore us to venture further (a warning or a cry for help?) Yet the barrier of the wall as well as the paintings lack of illusionistic depth prevents us from entering into them- an emotional as well as a physical boundary. This mutilated space with its dramatic positioning is still, however, unable to command the dominant presence of the buildings beyond. These paintings imply a passing of time, of a knowing based on observation, study and experience… a sense of familiarity that threatens to reveal something unbearably disturbing. These paintings convey a sense of moral as well as ecological decay.
Anka Dabrowska and Jeni Snell
My name is Ellie Phillips, I would like to let you know about a forthcoming joint installation ‘blockhouse’ by Anka Dabrowska and Jeni Snell at Jealous Gallery, London. Anka Dabrowska’s work has been previously written about by Rebecca Geldard for Guardian Guide, and has been reviewed in Time Out. Anka has exhibited with Seven Seven Gallery, and at the 4x4 show at Sartorial Contemporary Art. Jeni Snell has recently completed an installation at the Delfina Foundation and has previously exhibited in Kay Saatchi and Catriona Warren’s Anticipation exhibition at Ultra Lounge, Selfridges and at Whitechapel gallery in group show Iceberg Enters Obelisk. The installation will be Anka and Jeni’s first collaborative project since their joint drawing show in the Baltic Centre in 2005.
Jeni will be presenting an ongoing installation called MIRUS which is a modular assemblage of flat interlocking plywood pieces which Jeni describes as “like giant Playplax pieces”. Playplax was a late-1960’s child’s-building-toy which evoked the imagination of a nation to construct fabulous fantasy cities. Jeni made MIRUS as an adult-sized version of this. In its recent incarnation at the Delfina Foundation visitors to the gallery were invited to ‘revert back into a state of play’ by building and decorating the structure with an array of paint, foam, tape and mark-making implements using imagery associated with military buildings. Desert camouflage netting was also used to transform the gallery space into a series of improvised tunnels and dens. This brought together the contrasting ideologies of child’s play and military warfare to reference Jeni’s personal experience of play amongst redundant military buildings in Guernsey as well as the stark reality of children today playing in war zones during current conflict. Exploring the themes of children’s games such as ‘building and construction’, ‘hide and seek’ and through activities like ‘drawing, painting, tracing and colouring-in’, the work aims to explore the potentiality of play as a political gesture.
Anka reinscribes the Eastern Bloc architecture, street signs, shop fronts and military paraphernalia of her past in Warsaw onto found packaging such as paper bags and champagne boxes collected in London. Her delicate line drawings and cardboard architectural models combine unlikely sites and sources; communist and consumerist, private and public, past and present, memory and archive.
Both artists will also be producing a limited edition screenprint print to coincide with the show, made and published by the Jealous Print Studio.
MIRUS is an installation project named after the German gun battery on which the school the artist attended as a child was built. The installation comprises of modular assemblage pieces of flat plywood that can be built to achieve various formations due to their interlocking parts. Jeni describes this as “like giant Playplax pieces”. Playplax was a late-1960’s child’s-building-toy which evoked the imagination of a nation to construct fabulous fantasy cities. Jeni made MIRUS as an adult-sized version of this. In its recent incarnation at the Delfina Foundation visitors to the gallery were invited to revert back into ‘a state of play’ by building and decorating the structure with an array of paint, foam, tape and mark-making implements using imagery associated with military buildings (such as natural/ artificial camouflage, natural decay and erosion- moulds, mosses, rust, military stenciling and graffiti ) in conjunction with using desert camouflage netting (bought second-hand from the British MOD, so bringing it’s ‘mystery’ history to the work) to transform the gallery space into a series of improvised tunnels and dens to bring together the contrasting ideologies of child’s play and military warfare. MIRUS references Jeni’s personal experience of play amongst redundant military buildings in Guernsey as well as the reality of children today playing in war zones during current conflict. Exploring the themes of children’s games such as ‘building and construction’, ‘hide and seek’ and activities like ‘drawing, painting, tracing and colouring-in’, the work aims to explore the potentiality of play as a political
MI-R-US Delfina, Installation-performance, 2008.
Playground/Battlefield Artist Talks (Part I): Jeni Snell in conversation with Pr. Barry Curtis, Emeritus Professor at Middlesex University, Fellow of the London Consortium & Visiting Tutor at the Royal College of Art.
Thursday 13 November, 19:00 – 20:00
Inspired by her experience of growing up and playing amidst redundant military buildings in the Island of Guernsey, Jeni Snell's architectural installations bring about the state of play to an adult audience, within a gallery context. Weaving together two contrasting realities, that of childhood innocence and the architecture of war, Jeni's work aims to break down pre-conceived notions of gender and sexuality to prompt us to consider the impact that our early environment has upon the formation of our identity.
Jeni Snell's MI-R-US (installation-performance) is a multi-piece wooden structure, which uses the tactile language of modular construction games such as Playplax. Join the artist and take part in an imaginary nation-building exercise: every evening, Jeni invites you to revert into a state of play and add your mark to the fabulous MI-R-US edifice.
FORTRESS - Inflatable bunker
Fortress - inflatable bunker is a soft sculpture that presents the viewer an opportunity to ‘take part in art’ or to be ‘physically engaged with an artwork’. Reverting into a state of play we are re-united with an important part of ourselves which so often becomes lost along with our youth. Fortress prompts our re-consideration of space, place and the effect that our environment has on how we perceive and interact within.
In isolation as an independent sculptural form Fortress is ever-so-slightly in perpetual motion due to the air-inlet that keeps it blown up. The audible humming of the motor and the inflatable’s exaggerated proportions gives it an appealingly comical character that becomes highlighted when activated by the viewer. Reclining, sitting, or jumping inside Fortress provides a visual-spectacle for the onlooker as well as the all-important inner-spectacle for those participating.
Referencing military inflatable decoys whilst using the accessible language of the bouncy castle, Fortress is a playful yet political work that undermines the inherent meaning of the represented object of military aggression. The air-filled form, swollen with sexual connotation, contributes to make impotent the objects of war and in doing so stand in resistance to the use of weaponry and oppression. This work contributes to the debate of happiness as a tool for protest.
This work was inspired by the artist growing up in Guernsey, the Channel Islands, which was the only British territory to be occupied by Germany during the Second World War. Long since de-militarised, these redundant fortifications still dominate the Island’s coastal landscape. The experience of going to a school built on top of a bunker brought the opposing dynamics of childhood innocence and the architecture of war together in the playground. Fortress is modelled on an existing redundant WWII German Battery Command Post.
Feedback from visitor Jim Shieff.
“Just wanted to say again how much I enjoyed leaping about on your exhibit ‘Fortress’ – and how great its artistic impact was on me. ‘Fortress’ is now for me the definition of the word ‘tactile’. When I first saw it, I thought immediately of the opening of the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and straight away I wanted to feel and touch ‘Fortress’ and play war-games on it. The way it quietly twitches seems to be a sort of come-on message to the spectator. I see you were born in Guernsey, so I expect you grew up with a lot of military architecture around. At my primary school in Lancaster in the 1950’s, there was a mouldy, decaying bomb shelter in the field next to the playground. It was out of bounds during the day, but they couldn’t stop us going there after school. I have memories of it, happy but also disturbing. ‘Fortress’ manages to counterpoint the carnage of war with the joy of active play and so combines the tragic and the comic, as does life itself. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s so true that ‘you don’t stop playing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop playing’”.
The Juliet Gomperts Trust University of the Arts London - Artist and Collectors Bursery Kim Grierson
FORTRESS SARTORIAL GRAFFITI EVENT
Jeni invites visitors to Graffiti her inflatable bunker at Sartorial Contemporary Art. This audience-interactive event will take her inflatable bunker to a new point of conclusion that explores the more illicit relationships between community and environment, in this case young people and derelict buildings; graffiti, illegal parties, sex and drugs. Jeni is interested in the re-animation of redundant military buildings and urban architectural space. The Fortress Sartorial graffiti event aims to prompt our reconsideration of space, place and the effect that our environment has on us and consequently how we perceive and interact with it.