Isabelle Gressel: developing an artist’s statement

Artist Isabelle Gressel writes on how the development of her practice during the course of our Lifeboat residency in 2014 was reflected in her artist’s statement.

This past year has been so full of surprises and developments, it is difficult to try to sum up the experience in one concise paragraph. One strand of slow change has been my artist statement and in hindsight, it sums up this year’s residency nicely.

Artist statements are a frustrating yet necessary challenge; trying to explain one’s practice clearly without pigeon-holing yourself is a nightmare at the best of times. Yet, once the initial hesitation at writing has been overcome, it can prove to be an enriching and vital part of your practice. It is one of the few places where in written form, you can present yourself wholly as you choose to be seen. The tortuous process of writing your statement is also self-educating. In presenting yourself, you have to consider how your practice can be viewed by those unfamiliar with it, what your overriding themes are as well as explain its relevancy within contemporary art

Over the past few years, I have been slowly changing my statement but never redoing it completely- it has been a matter of allowing it to morph and redevelop itself around the ideas that I had been working on. The artist statement is where I can reflect on how I’ve progressed and give an insight to where I’ll be developing next.

Below you’ll find two artist statements, the first being written at the start of the Lifeboat residency, and the latter at the tail end of it. They seem a fitting illustration of how the residency allowed me to develop of the past year.

Summer 2012

Our everyday lives are structured by rituals composed of journeys to and from work, household chores, greetings and social expectations. To function in a society and place oneself within it, we construct (whether consciously or not) an elaborate labyrinth of facts that solidify our identity. We observe others, and try to perceive ourselves as others perceive us. A distinction occurs between our public behaviour and our private behaviour. We continually make decisions on how to behave and place ourselves in our daily routines.

My aim is to create works that question these routines and explores the manner in which we observe and choose to react to a situation. To do so, I create projects or interventions where the viewer interacts with a situation. The situations take elements of the everyday (a pavement, a gift, a clock, balloons) that have been stretched into a new narrative, a new structure (a set of instructions, a change in the space). Using various strategies such as humour, tactility or narrative, the viewer is able to become engaged with the work. And as the viewer reacts, their perception of themselves, of others and their environment can subtly shift and thus be questioned.

In this initial statement, there is a sense of ‘we’, that I am part of the work as much as the public is. With works such as ‘Walking Across London in a Cloud of Balloons’ where I was physically in that Balloon Cloud, this was literally the case. However, during the residency, my practice has changed my position into one of an observer and collector of information. I specifically targeted this theme in the work ‘E2 Pelican Crossing’ where I observed pedestrians walking across a pelican crossing. A distance has been created between myself and the viewer and clarifying this in the next statement was essential.

In December 2012, a photographer made the observation that the projects I was working on were less interactive than the previous. It hadn’t been a conscious choice, but upon reflection, I realised it to be true. As I focused on becoming more distant from the viewer, the works were also starting to create a parallel distance with the viewer (a position I was not keen on). It was a helpful observation as it made me reconsider my choices of how much I wished the viewer to become physically engaged with the works. This helped me direct the realisation of pieces such as ‘Daily Navigations from the Home’ (a tactile sculptural work) and ‘A Modicum of Recognition’ (a motion-detecting light piece) where the physicality of the viewer is key.

Finally, though the first statement had a larger focus on the differences between private and public behaviour, and it is a subject I still find interesting, but my practice during the residency shifted away from this and has focused on circularity and repetition in daily life.

The changes in my practice (that of my position, the engagement of the viewer and the themes of the work) meant that I had to re-work my statement to reflect them.

Winter 2013/14

My practice is centralised around human behaviour with each other and our city environments. Through playful sculptures, video and performative installations, I explore the dialogue between the rhythms of everyday life and the personal narratives that unfold through them.

Daily life is structured by circular rituals such as waking, meals, work, socialising and sleeping. These patterns often dissolve into unmemorable repetitive actions, allowing only the singular out of ordinary events to be remembered.

I strive to collect and scrutinise the seemingly mundane patterns of our lives. And then to distil them to create works that investigate our understanding of repetitive actions and the unique poetic differences within our routines that demonstrate our conscious and unconscious need for individualisation. Through interaction with the pieces, the viewer is invited to consider their perception of others, themselves and their environment.

I also create playful text based works that push the limits of context and understanding. Through innovative presentation and narrative, the reader/viewer must decide for themselves where the truth in the work lies (if there is one).

You will notice some phrases remain in all three, and some paragraphs are completely changed. They may appear to be almost identical yet all the minute changes were made through careful consideration. Thus I feel my artist statements are a good illustration of my concerns changing over the past twelve months.

One element I feel I need to work on incorporating in my next statement is the notion of narrative fiction that re-opens through the collection of data. Statements highlight the difficulty in trying to address all the issues in an artistic practice and should indeed only be an introduction for a reader rather than a distillation. I feel my current statement is slightly clumsy in its reference to text based work and needs to be worked on. All the more reason to start formulating my next statement!

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