Tique | art paper asks six questions to an artist about their work and inspiration.
This week: Jonny Briggs.
Lives in London
How do you describe your own art practice?
This changes each time I say it. In a confined sentence:
The constructed reality of the family, through the constructed reality of photography.
In a longer, scattered mess of thoughts:
I make photographs, objects, tapestries and films that look at my relationship with my parents, and seek to strip back my layers of conditioning, to blur boundaries between adult/child, self/other, self/environment, past/present, natural/artificial, real/fake, inside/outside, love/resentment in role reversals of the family photograph that look back to my childhood, through adult eyes. The suspension of disbelief takes me back to the childhood mindset, where anything becomes possible. I had a difficult relationship with my Father throughout my childhood and adolescence, so I think a lot of it involves making up for lost time, attempting to give the past a new shape.
I try to surprise myself as much as possible in the making process, and never to settle too much with its visual vocabulary. I don’t want to make the same thing again and again. I value how the art work can be an opportunity to strike up a conversation with myself. Like ventriloquist and dummy, an opportunity to speak through an object, and say the un-sayable.
What was your first experience with art?
I went to a strict school, I was very well behaved. The art classes often focused on direct representation and the way things looked, rather than concepts. When I was 15 I discovered contemporary artists, Tate Modern, Sarah Lucas, Tony Oursler. It opened my mind as to what art could be. I loved it – I found it liberating, energizing. For my GCSE projects I started making collages out of different shades of tobacco, created sculptures from matches and set them alight, spray painted expletives on to bubble wrap. I started to use art as a pressure gauge, an opportunity to express myself, to rebel through my work without being punished.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
I get lots of ideas when I drink lots of coffee and sit in quiet solitude with next to no other visual or audio stimulation. I can hear myself then, and often sketch ideas out. Spark different possibilities and see how they link. Going back to my childhood family home can also inspire me – it gives me fire in my belly. Something to kick against, bounce off of, transgress.
What do you need in order to create your work?
Quietness and time. I take a long while investing in my ideas, giving them the time and patience to grow. Curators I’ve worked with have been so patient, letting me arrange and re-arrange the works in each space, to see what works and what doesn’t. I can think quite deeply about the smallest of decisions, that feel like they change everything.
What are you working on at the moment?
So many things. I like to work on fragments of different pieces, all ticking away at the same time. A few pieces I’m working on at the moment:
An 8 part ellipsoid mask with my Mother’s face, that locks around my hands (previously scanned in 3d to their exact proportions), forcing them in to prayer position. This will be pushed from 8 angles around my hands by different family members.
A spherical wooden mask, with my dad’s nose on the front, and the indentation of my nose on the other side, in reference to Pinocchio. I’m interested in the question of what’s a truth and what’s a lie in the story, and the question of what it means to be a real boy in the context of a father / son relationship.
A child’s wooden rocking chair, with my father’s chin emerging from the seat, all CNC milled from wood.
I’m preparing for Format festival in Derby UK, Photo London at Somerset House, and a show at The Rothko Centre in Latvia at the moment.
What work or artist has most recently surprised you?
Almost always my students at University of the Arts London. I’m head of 3rd year BA Photography at London College of Communication, and co-curate their degree show with our course director Beverley Carruthers. I love it there – it feeds my mind, challenges me, and constantly surprises me. The students have such fresh ideas, and their works are regularly in flux and in a state of experimentation. Each tutorial I can’t wait to see what each student has been made and is thinking about. It’s energizing.