Having graduated from Edinburgh College of Art last year, Emily Dunlop has gone on to perform alongside Monster Chetwynd and display work at the RSA New Contemporaries in Edinburgh. Emily's multi-disciplinary practice has seen her move from painting, set design, screen printing and performance, never lingering in one for too long; allowing herself scope to develop new potentials across mediums. Emily's most recognisable work, shown in the ECA Degree Show 2018 was her installation entitled ' Protesting Plants' probing issues around environmental crises.
Emily answered our questions about her practice, exhibiting in a public gallery space and the humorous undertones of interactive art making.
Having first discovered your work at the ECA Degree Show last year and more recently at the RSA New Contemporaries, could you tell us, why plants? Is there an underlying commentary on environmental issues in your work?
Yes, I aim to engage the audience in reconsidering the way we view our actions in the world today. Our treatment of nature is immediately brought to the fore. I question mans negligence of nature and careless destruction of the environment. Combining the use of technology and organic forms such as plants, leads to humorous yet jarring installations. As objects of domesticated home or office life, pot plants have many associations. Pot plants have also been popular in many contemporary artworks in the past few years. I am aware of this, yet I feel in giving them a voice, in critically anthropomorphizing them I add an extra layer of play. They are not just displayed to view, but for touch. I decided to remove the terracotta pots and replace them with polythene grow bags. Immediately it removed associations of a stylish shop, and is more suited to the cybernetic experiment I wish to portray. The bags are made of recycled material, yet connote the plastic bags we use everyday for consumption.
However the installation was also born out of my interest in my Cybernetic art research in history of art and also my experience from working as a gardener. For myself, plants seem to generate a sense of proximity and touch. In the summer of 2017, I worked as a gardener in Bristol. Everyday, I would rip down ivy, cut grass and order the natural disorder of gardens. I found this a strange experience. The Cybernetic art and Ecological Art courses at university also inspired me. Cybernetics is the notion that all communication and control systems, whether they are animal or machine, technical or biological, can be described and comprehended using the same language and concepts. I am fascinated by the early interactive cybernetic art devices. They were designed to respond to changes in the world around them. This endowed them with a disconcerting and disturbingly life-like quality.
A lot of your work is interactive, how did you come about this direction in your practice?
In my second year of art school I was interested in technology and was painting large colourful glitch paintings. I was determined to paint yet could also feel myself become bored of the medium. It wasn’t communicating what I found so interesting about technology. In my third year I went to the Fine Art Academy in Munich on my Erasmus semester abroad. Here I studied under the artist Peter Kogler – and instead of merely painting techy glitches I stumbled across a kids invention kit at a technology convention called a makeymakey. I began making mad banana keyboards and didn’t look back.
The initial idea to use plants occurred to me when I was working at Ars Electronica (a new media art festival), as amongst all the industrial space full of new media art, many potted plants were pointlessly displayed for aesthetic reasons only. I wondered how an artwork directly using plants and incorporating the interactive touch board technology might be an intriguing place to begin my next interactive installation.
The installations work with the use of capacitive sensors on a touch board. These work by generating an electric field, that sense nearby objects and detect whether this field has been disrupted. As plants and fruit contain water, they are conductive and act as interfaces to the touch board technology. Over the course of my last year at art school, I refined my skills with coding and the use of the touch board so that the final installations were as effective as possible.
Your work has evolved over painting, printmaking, interactive art and into music and set design.
It was during your time at ECA that you formed 'Chlamydia the Band'. Could you tell us a little about how your band came to form? Performance seems to be a recurring theme, and an interesting one too. You performed alongside Monster Chetwynd in Turin last year too, how did this opportunity come about?
Chlamydia the Band was born out of the ECA performance group Chlamydia Collective. We started the band out of curiosity and fun. As the band developed, my collaborator Camille Biddell and I became aware of its power and command of an audience. We decided to showcase it at the degree show. Camille designed a rooftop inspired stage and we built it together. We engage the audience in an entertaining interaction and lead them through various hyperbolic renditions of our own personal life. Martin Creed, Lily Allen, Ross Sinclair and the girl punk band the Slits are all influences on the music we make. Reading the autobiographies of Viv Albertine (guitarist from the Slits), Patti Smith and Cosey Fanni Tutti has given a real insight into famous female performers lives, music and the times they were living in. It was much harder for female musicians fifty years ago. I rejoice at the ease of both Camille and I, two women, in forming a band. Monster Chetwynd is an Intermedia tutor at ECA and in project space and degree show she saw our band perform and was vocal on how much she enjoyed our energy. In October last year she called me up and asked if we would want to perform on her opening night of her solo show at the Sandretto Foundation in Turin and we obviously jumped at the opportunity. It was an amazing experience!
Thinking about performance and exhibitions, your work can't help but be humorous- with shrieks and shrills from potted plants- has your work by nature always been this way inclined?
Play and humour are important aspects of my art practice, as I like to make works that depend on audience participation and are enjoyable. Humour has only become to show itself in the interactive works and performance and I feel it is there to stay! I feel that humour can communicate a lot more. It is memorable and entertaining. I like the energy. The scream is a loud vocalization that expresses a wide range of human emotions. Screams express pleasure and fear. Screams can be used as a protective weapon. We scream as babies, thus screams can convey vulnerability and demand too. At the moment, my plants scream, but I also feel my voice does when performing with the band. It’s a sort of lyrical scream. As I shout lyrics I find it a powerful thing to do, to command attention.
How has your experience of exhibiting your work at the New Contemporaries been? As a recent graduate, how do you envision your practice moving forward?
I feel privileged to have been selected for the RSA New Contemporaries show. Being selected for RSA is clearly respected, and I feel it has helped me in gaining various other art related jobs since graduating. I was even asked back to take part in an informal artist talk at the RSA Promenade. However, RSA New Contemporaries show is not funded like many other opportunities in the arts. Having to invest money into preparing and delivering the artworks is expensive, which can be difficult for young artists. Especially when your work is not something you are able to sell. Even if RSA had contributed £30 to every artist to help with delivery fees it would be gratefully received. Exposure wise the RSA has been amazing though. I was even included in the Skinny, which was pretty exciting. But I have made quite an economic loss from contributing to the show. I hope in the future that young artists are financially supported with these opportunities. Looking forward I am constantly applying for opportunities all over. I have a number of performances and exhibitions coming up this year – most of which are with Chlamydia the Band! We enjoyed our shared room at degree show so much and continue to collaborate in writing new songs, recording them and working on exhibitions together. We are looking forward to a micro-residency with UK Young Artists in April 2019.
Opportunities such as showing your work at the RSA can act like springboards into new areas for showing your work and collaboration. Outwith your band, has collaboration played a part in your art practice before?
No, before the band and Chlamydia Collective I had no collaborated in my practice before. I want to promote an art that is sociable and communal, and demonstrate that the power of collaboration is much greater than that of the individual. Social practice is built on the idea that art making has become too disparate. Collaboration and skill-exchange become central. I consider the band to be a form of this. We have inserted live music into the gallery space, where people can all come together in a space and become part of a shared experience.
Thank you to Emily for allowing us to interview her and we look forward to seeing her work evolve over the years to come!
You can follow Emily's work on her website: https://www.emily-dunlop.com
Link to interview https://the2minreview.wixsite.com/2min/reviews/emilydunlop