Birmingham-based artist Jonathon Harris has a practice he describes as inter-medial. Working across sculpture, installation, writing, and still and moving image, his artistic concerns are centred upon our increasingly digital lives.
Fresh from a recent curatorial intervention at artist-led space Stryx, Harris is about to undertake his first large-scale curatorial project for the 2017 edition of Fringe Arts Bath titled Diegetic Life: Ghosts of the Putative. The ambitious exhibition takes as its starting point, identities that are specifically constructed for screen-based dissemination. Works for Harris’ exhibition will be selected via an open call. Anneka French finds out more.
Is the curatorial project an extension of your artistic practice?
In a word, yes. I’m trying to place ideas I’ve been working with as an artist into a wider context and, for me, that entails a necessary expansion of my artistic practice into curating. I see curating as a way to encompass a plurality of perspectives more effectively than as a solo artist making a single artwork. This has arisen, in part, from researching Jean Baudrillard’s ideas about hyper-reality. I’m interested in what happens to visual art, which has developed in much less visually-saturated times, now that we live in this visual hyper-reality and see more images per day than some of our ancestors saw throughout their entire lives. I was recently asked to stage a ‘curatorial intervention’ as part of #sorrynotsorry at Stryx and, in that process, I found a parallel with the way component parts are brought together in an installation piece – perhaps for the first time, I began to think concretely about the exhibition-as-artwork.
Diegetic Life: Ghosts of the Putative is your most ambitious curated project. What drew you to working with Fringe Arts Bath?
I’ve been involved with the West Midlands for enough time that it has a pleasantly familiar feel but there’s always the danger of that quite quickly becoming hermetic. So I’m keen to work outside the region partly because it’s outside of my comfort zone. My experience has been that the West Midlands is supportive of artists and many people here have been generous in sharing the benefit of their experience. Now, I want to take that knowledge and experience elsewhere to see how it sits in other contexts but also be able to bring something back to my peer network here. Establishing a solid base for ones’ practice is valuable, but so is having dialogue with other parts of the country too.
Fringe Arts Bath are friendly towards the type of high concept programming that I think my exhibition fits into – that can be seen in exhibitions they’ve previously programmed. The organisation tends to take over a mixture of art venues and other kinds of sites across the city. I’m awaiting confirmation of where my exhibition will be held but also looking forward to the possibility of working with a non-standard space. The festival offers lot of support to early-career curators which I was keen to make use of and, of course, Bath is a beautiful city in which to work!
How did you arrive at the subject of the exhibition?
It has largely grown out of my artistic practice. I’m slightly obsessed with surveillance culture – how, as a society, we have been entirely complicit with the exponential growth of public surveillance over the past few decades, and also the ways that process might have primed us to be enthusiastic about the way we now conduct a ‘social media surveillance’ of our own lives. I have exhibited work which played with the dynamics of surveillance at both Friction Arts and mac birmingham’s Cannon Hill Art School. Those works were about protest, politics and civil freedoms – topics which, for me, very much underpin some of the issues that are thrown up by the concept of hyper-reality. In the early 1980s, Baudrillard described hyper-reality as the point at which we can no longer reliably tell the difference between reality and fiction – a quick glance at what’s going on with politics suggests that we’ve now very much reached that point. My first degree was a film degree and I find documentary film theory helpful in getting a handle on this hyper-reality situation. ‘Diegetic’ refers to the narratives we create when we make images and videos. I’ve always thought that ‘putative’ is an ugly word but in this context it refers to the actual reality that is there before we start making images and creating narratives about our lives. This exhibition questions whether there is any difference any more between the reality of our lives and the narratives we create about our lives, or whether we are so far into the hyper-reality that we can no longer tell the difference.
What kind of artworks are you hoping to show?
I’m selecting via an open call and I’d like to have works in the show from both new media practices and more traditional art media. The ideas around the show feel very digital but the approach to them doesn’t have to be. An ideal scenario for me would be a counterpoint in the exhibition between still works and ones that either move or have a sense of movement, so I would definitely encourage submissions that use sound or performance. Even though there is an obviously political way to think about this exhibition, I’m also quite interested in more personal, perhaps more subtle, observations on the exhibition’s themes as much as works which have a statement to make.
How can artists apply to be part of the project?
Submissions are welcome in any medium that respond to the ideas outlined above about diegetic/screen-based life. The official call for artists can be found here and artists should email their proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 27 March 2017.
The exhibition opens with the festival preview, from 6pm on 26 May 2017, and will then be open daily from 11am to 6pm until 12 June.