10 Questions: Declan Jenkins

By Anna Savitskaya - Sunday, August 13, 2017
10 Questions: Declan Jenkins

This autumn British contemporary artist Declan Jenkins is going to show his first solo exhibition, I sing of armoires…, taking place from 6 – 29 September 2017 at Sims Reed Gallery, London. Jenkins, known primarily for his woodcut prints and performative poems, will showcase an exciting new series of a dozen monumental hand-coloured woodcuts.

10 questions: Declan Jenkins

This autumn British contemporary artist Declan Jenkins is going to show his first solo exhibition, I sing of armoires…, taking place from 6 – 29 September 2017 at Sims Reed Gallery, London. Jenkins, known primarily for his woodcut prints and performative poems, will showcase an exciting new series of a dozen monumental hand-coloured woodcuts.

Jenkins (b.1984) lives and works in London, having completed his postgraduate diploma in Fine Art at the Royal Academy Schools in 2015. He produces large-scale woodcut prints that explore the consciousness of being an artist, creating expressive carvings and handmade prints that hover between writing and diagram. Over the last few years, he has made work across a plethora of media including performance, poetry, video, installation, and sculpture.

1. When and how did you decide to become an artist?

I studied archaeology and ancient history in my early 20s, but when I discovered I was too fidgety to become a historian and needed to be in my body more, and I enjoyed making things I leaned towards the idea of going to art school. I had a ‘what to do with my life’ crisis and with no clear path the notion that art, as a fluid and indeterminate occupation, could enable me to continually rewrite my existence was extremely attractive-the rest was history.

2. Why did you choose woodcut prints as your favourite medium? What are the editions of the prints?

Please also tell us about other media you are working with: performance, poetry, video, installation, and sculpture.

Woodcut is a medium that appeals to my graphic and sculptural sensibilities, I enjoy its direct and irreversible nature. There is this vital friction between the material which is laborious to carve and my intention which is trying to shape it. The printing process is something I do by hand and can be extremely physical, sometimes it actually feels like I am having a fight with the paper ink and block. So there is this sort of performative energy that it gives off. And with the printing, there is always the softness of the grain, the beauty of accidental marks or abrasions which bring a whole new layer to the work. I like the relinquishing of control and how you get a very interesting surface in a completely automatic and uncreative manner.

The woodcut also resonates with words as well as images and so the medium is a good vehicle for my text-based pieces; concrete poetry is an obvious influence here. I think of the word as a sort of actor and the print as a stage, its meaning is enacted or reflected through how it’s positioned spatially in relation to other words, whether it rises or falls, recedes or protrudes.

The edition number varies but tends to be quite small, as the printing process is exacting and laborious. I prefer small editions as they are more intimate, being only one of a few. Some of my prints are also ‘unique’ and in that sense are very close to monoprints or paintings.

Having said all this I still think of myself as a fundamentally post-medium artist which might sound paradoxical. In a sense I think of my prints as metamorphic forms that can simultaneously reference and embody aspects of painting, poetry and performance. I inhabit a condition of continual in-between-ness and this is reflected in how I use media. I never feel completely grounded in one approach or medium but am more like a ventriloquist speaking through the medium but always slightly outside it. Perhaps it is the realisation that as subjects we are never entirely situated within an action or experience, and that we do not inhabit an exclusive or static identity. 

My poems are a way of performing my identity as an artist. Sometimes they are ekphrastic and describe or mirror spatial aspects of imaginary artworks. They are not written to be published only read aloud existing for the duration of a recital. There are confessional, lyrical facets as well as absurd noise making and masochistic humour. The poems tend to revolve around the trope of constructing and deconstructing a mythical, artistic self or biography. 

I have experimented with sculpture, video, and installation but am not currently working in these domains although I may soon return to them. A lot of these works were done as experiments and collaborations at art school to enable me to begin making, failing and discovering.

Discomfort Cabinet III (yellow) 110 x 84 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

Discomfort Cabinet I (red) 120 x 84 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

Coromandel (chequered screen) 168 x 130 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

3. What inspires you?

The painter Bernard Buffet once said “I don’t believe in inspiration, I just keep working” I like this attitude as there is much mystification attached to where the work comes from or the alchemical powers of the artist. I tend to think not in terms of inspiration but energy. I will focus all my energy on a particular work or idea and whatever bleeds into my consciousness from my peripheral vision, any of this can influence or ‘inspire’ me. It doesn’t matter so much what that might be only that it is channeled purposefully into the work so that it might have some of the vitality and dynamism of life. 

4. What are your current interests in relation to your artistic practice? 

I have been reading some books by Arthur Young, an American inventor, and new age philosopher. He spent 19 years working on perfecting the design of Bell’s first helicopter and then devoted the rest of his life to what he called ‘process philosophy’, a ridiculously ambitious attempt to reconcile the phenomenology of mind with hard science. I have been thinking about his idea of the psycopter, a sort of fantasy helicopter that would allow the user to rise above the physical constraints of moving around the earth on two legs and the metaphysical constraints of everyday life. It is the dream of a complete experience of freedom and perhaps this is what I am trying to pursue through the vehicle of the artwork. I like this notion of the object being a means to access a new reality rather than a piece of capital relying on the financial system for its legitimacy.

5. What do you dislike about the art world?

That so much of it is still preoccupied with the past, the dreams of moribund ideologies. I’m not sure anyone has had a new idea in the last 50 years, for all the changes that art has undergone.

6. What contemporary artist do you admire or follow?

I recently discovered the work of Susan Rothenberg, a post-minimal American painter. She made this amazing series of horse paintings. The horse is the sole subject of the series and is explored in exhaustive fashion: from the front or sideways, running across one painting onto another etc...it was a device for reintroducing figuration when Frank Stella was the king of New York. It was also a cipher for her own body (interestingly she dabbled in performance as a student). In its earliest iterations, it is a silhouette, a shadow, a way of marking space or creating movement. Mostly monochromatic the grounds are enlivened by the overpainting, the soft brushwork has this soft organic feel that recalls cave painting. The brushstrokes make the action of the hand visible and emit this shimmering, tremulous vibration. She said that painting should include a figure, a ground and something else. The notion of a third term is something I have been thinking of, a sensation or idea that the mechanism of a work can give rise to.

Discomfort Cabinet II 70 x 140 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

Man and Matrix (2 heads) 120 x 84 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

Sic Infit 25 x 20 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

7. Tell us about your most recent work/ exhibition?

I have recently been collaborating with India Mackie on a performance as part of the Royal Academy Summer Show. It is called Cantilever Kiss; we are chained up to these steel A-frames and then perform this mid air plank with our heads meeting in a kiss, forming a temporary human bridge. We hold the kiss until one of us gives into the discomfort. Then we do it again until one of us decides to stop, unchain and walk out. The kiss itself is like an asphyxiation as it becomes difficult to breathe through the exertion. I saw that someone wrote on Facebook that the piece was a metaphor for marriage! The spectacle is in the discomfort and awkwardness of the act, a sort of disruptive ritual offering that we are giving to the viewers.

8. What was a key moment in your career?

Making performance art. The utter vulnerability of exposing myself to an audience without the filter of character or role. The realisation that all my suffering could fuel a spectacle over which I could exercise ownership, in a positive and empowering way. Performance taught me that fear can be an energy you can embrace and harness. I think a certain amount of fear helps sharpens the mind and challenges us to create new things.

9. What was a recent exhibition you liked and why?

I loved the Giacometti show at the Tate Modern. He is the kind of artist you remember looking at while at school, and someone you forget about while being immersed in ‘the contemporary’ at art college. However, he is incredibly contemporary when he says “All the art of the past rises up before me, the art of all ages and all civilizations, everything becomes simultaneous, as if space had replaced time”. This is the transtemporal bubble that the internet presents us with, an infinite supply of images decoupled from their cultural contexts or provenances, free floating signs, infinitely reconfigurable and universally available...I was particularly struck by how aspects of his work contained the seeds of later art movements and trends. Especially the polygons which prefigure minimalism’s reductive self-sufficient forms. And Hands Holding the Void- what a miraculous sculpture! I felt his cages actually bore quite a close relationship with some work I am currently making that depicts figures trapped in these furniture like space-frames, their positions reflecting unspoken power relations.

The Arm 125 x 85 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

Ego Drums 130 x 84 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

Infinite Gun 55 x 85 cm. Woodcut. Courtesy Sims Reed Gallery

10. What are your upcoming plans?

I would like to make a Gesamtkunstwerk which could bring together the disparate strands of my practice. Perhaps a live work or installation or both. Something risky, something ambitious. I do not have a set of prepared plans but live reactively according to circumstance and opportunity. I think more and more people will have to accommodate themselves to this type of lifestyle with the extinction of traditional jobs and the continual replacement of man by machine. I am interested in using art as a means of exploring new forms of leisure, in the ancient Greek sense of scholé, the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and beauty. There is a lot of talk of moving to other countries and other cities, but I am more interested in following the internal logic of my practice wherever that may lead.

Anna is a graduate of Moscow’s Photo Academy, with a previous background in intellectual property rights. In 2012 she founded the company Perspectiva Art, dealing in art consultancy, curatorship, and the coordination of exhibitions. During the bilateral year between Russia and The Netherlands in 2013, Perspectiva Art organized a tour for a Dutch artist across Russia, as well as putting together several exhibitions in the Netherlands, curated by Anna. Since October 2014, Anna has taken an active role in the development and management of ArtDependence Magazine. Anna interviews curators and artists, in addition to reviewing books and events, and collaborating with museums and art fairs.

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