Amy Jackson is a Conceptual Artist and a Responsible Investment Specialist who focuses on three distinct areas: social inclusion, elitism and environmental responsibility. Amy blends concepts and philosophical ideas to create immersive experiences that ask people to stop, think and question. Her recent virtual Solo Exhibition #IRL explores themes such as mental health and our need for routine and ritual, and the existential doubt that has arisen from our relationship with the online world. Amy also shares her creative process with us and her visions within art.
I try to express difficult environmental concepts through my art, in the hope that this could influence the actions of others.
Tell us, who is Amy Jackson? And how would you describe your relationship with art?
I describe myself as a conceptual artist and a Responsible Investment Specialist (two very different things)! I studied Fine Art at The Ruskin at The University of Oxford and since returned to formalise my experience in Responsible Investment by studying Sustainable Finance at The Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.
Conceptual art as you already know is art where the idea behind the work is more important than the finished art object. It actually emerged as an art movement in the 1960s and the term usually refers to art made from the mid-1960s until the mid-1970s so I’m already sounding out of date here but we can use this until someone finds a better way to describe me.
Responsible investment or sustainable finance, is any investment strategy which seeks to consider financial, environmental and social return. Specifically, by understanding the interplay between environmental and social risk or opportunity and potential financial losses or gains. It would be remiss of me to describe who I am without including this.
I try to blend concepts, philosophical ideas or statements to create immersive experiences that can sit in traditional galleries and unconventional spaces. My relationship with art is tricky, I often hate the fact I need to make it but it is just the way my mind works. Sometimes it feels like a compulsive need to express ideas, respond to challenges in the world or protest for change.
Your work focuses on three distinct areas: social inclusion, breaking down barriers of elitism within the art world and environmental responsibility.
You recently hosted a virtual Solo Exhibition where all profits went to MIND Charity. What were your inspirations and aims for this exhibition? Could you talk us through a couple of your exhibits and their meanings? (I love the cleaning squares piece)
(Thank you, that’s also my favourite piece)! I started Cleaning Squares in 2005, on a daily basis, dice were rolled to determine time and location. Wearing a gas mask and cleaning overalls, I would clean and label a perfect square. The work originally explored mental health but the work suddenly felt bizarrely prophetic as the world stood together, shaken by the global pandemic.
Earlier this year, I was also working on another project which also began to feel very timely. #iamnotarobot seeks to comment on the strange dystopia we find ourselves in, the inequalities which run deep and the lack of reality of it all. When the lockdown was announced it felt urgent these pieces were exhibited alongside new works which responded to the current situation.
My relationship with art is tricky, I often hate the fact I need to make it but it is just the way my mind works.
I called Carole, the Creative Director of Boathouse Studios Gallery, (who I had literally shown Cleaning Squares and #iamnotarobot to in a restaurant before the pandemic was announced) and asked if we could put on a show in as little as two weeks in the gallery under the constraints of (and responding to) the lockdown.
The Solo Exhibition #IRL brought together Cleaning Squares, reimagined for 2020, a series of happenings, #iamnotarobot and a new piece called Portraits in Various Resolutions. Abiding by the restrictions, I set off on foot on the day of the show, installed, performed a live tour of the show, from the eyes of the viewer and presented a panel discussion to empty chairs.
Growing up with a father with mental illnesses, much of my work explores this theme and many of my pieces have been donated or sold to mental health institutions. Mind Charity felt not only most relevant to the work but an important cause which I hoped could support those who may desperately need help during and following the pandemic.
Figure 1. Cleaning Squares 2005, Beacon Hill, Leeds
Figure 2. Cleaning Squares 2020, Tate Britain, London.
Cleaning Squares comments upon the paradoxical human effort to implement rituals, routines and rules, the way in which these systems consume and engulf us, whilst their absence leads to anxiety. Disaster can and will often strike. Ironically, cleaning squares for little gain was once a tale of futility. Yet as Julie Scrase, a friend and artist, pointed out – on seeing the piece reimagined, she found herself feeling the futility in 2020 was about wishing I would clean more.
Figure 3. #iamnotarobot, (Left: #iamnotarobot – existential doubt, Right: #iamnotarobot – minor inconveniences), 2020
As throwaway as a meme but equally deliberate enough to get lost in, #iamnotarobot highlights the nonsense, determines what makes us human and tries to make sense of the world’s most impossible questions. Online presence had already become a new currency, yet the absurdity of it all became increasingly enigmatic as we found ourselves visible purely from behind a screen.
Regarding social inclusion, what role does the art world have in this? And what would you say hinders social inclusion within society?
This is a very big question but I will try my best to answer this. Social inclusion is about enabling all people and communities to participate. Social exclusion is the phenomena where people don’t have a voice or a stake in their own society. It is caused by various socioeconomic factors including age, race, health (or lack of it), financial hardship and poor education.
In that respect, social inclusion is hindered due to inequalities. The art world has various roles to play. First of all, art seeks to highlight complex issues to a broader audience in order to inspire change but it can also create social inclusion through activities and participatory art which engages new communities who otherwise may not have had access to the arts.
I try to blend concepts, philosophical ideas or statements to create immersive experiences that can sit in traditional galleries and unconventional spaces
How have you found elitism in the art world? And how do you seek to break down these barriers with your art?
Elitism is rife everywhere and the art world is sadly no exception. What’s interesting about exclusivity in art is that there are two sides to the coin. Let’s first talk about the viewer. Many people perceive the art world as elitist insofar as it’s often self referential or requires formal training in Fine Art to understand it. So there’s a belief it is intellectually elite or as Dani Di Placido put it in Forbes, “Impenetrable”.
It is important to me that my work is relevant and understood by people who are not just academics or artists. However, this doesn’t make my work better than pieces which are harder to understand. Art is a bit like physics, just because an idea or a theory is easier to grasp, it doesn’t necessarily mean the physicist who discovered it is more or less impressive. What makes a good physicist is one who finds new truths, challenges the status quo and isn’t afraid to change direction.
The second issue is around the challenge of being an artist when you’re not rich. Having wealthy connections in art is useful to help sell work, get in front of galleries and schmooze curators. Yet, what really makes the difference is being able to afford to make work in the first place. Being an artist is incredibly challenging, risky and frankly expensive. In practice, this means a lot of rubbish art made by people with more money and connections than talent makes it into circulation. Yet, the best artists have come from adversity and some of the greatest works had humble beginnings. People that know about art can usually spot the difference.
I guess there are bigger fish to fry than fixing elitism in the art world but ensuring I can explain my work to people from all backgrounds and working with themes that are relevant to society certainly helps with the first issue. I am also committed to elevating other artists within my practice. For Kensington + Chelsea Art Week 2020, I will invite under-represented artists to collaborate on my piece Little Voices and will specifically select artists who do not have gallery representation and are not yet well known within the space.
Figure 4. Cleaning Squares (performance), 2020, performance at #IRL, photo credit Neil Bailey
Tell us more about your Pop Up Immersive Dining Experience ‘Everything But The Ham’! How do you decide on which causes to support? And how have you found these dinners in getting people (and strangers) to converse and connect?
My husband is from the Gaza Strip and he has a real talent for cooking traditional Palestinan food. He had always dreamed of having his own restaurant but this was something we knew we couldn’t afford. To get around this, we decided to create pop up supper clubs in different venues across London.
Each month, I would choose an issue which is not widely understood or under reported and think of a way to reveal difficult truths through a fun, interactive and immersive dining experience. In doing this, it became a great way for people to make new friends, exchange debate and learn about critical societal causes which are usually off the radar.
How do you practise environmental responsibility with your own art? And how do you think we as artists and creatives can contribute towards global environmental sustainability?
I am quite lucky that the industry experience I have is in sustainability and responsible investment. So knowing what is environmentally responsible is quite instinctive for me but I still always try to quantify the impact of the work I am making. I don’t like the idea of doing anything without understanding what impact it is having on the world around me. This applies to the way I live my life in every aspect and making art is just one part of that puzzle.
What makes a good physicist is one who finds new truths, challenges the status quo and isn’t afraid to change direction.
It is impossible to do anything without having an environmental footprint but knowing (and communicating) what that impact is and what the trade-offs are is critical. Valuable art usually has a very low impact when we consider its longevity. Throw-away products and commodities are usually more damaging due to the simple fact that they do not stand the test of time.
Art also has the power to impact ideas, opinions and behaviours. I try to express difficult environmental concepts through my art, in the hope that this could influence the actions of others. The idea that artists and creatives can use their skills to help drive change is incredibly important and arguably significantly more material than the footprint of the work itself.
Figure 6. Journey, (installation) 2007, (In collaboration with Nat Gillespie). 7 stone 3 pounds of string and video
Walk us through your creative process from initial inspiration to execution and creation.
It is usually as simple as an idea. Sometimes I have a dream and wake up in the morning thinking, “I actually have to do that”! (Of course, sometimes dreams are also nonsense). On other occasions, I may just be working or chatting to friends and a new project crops into my head. A starting point can be anything from a frustration with the world or even just a joke. Critically, I can’t really go anywhere without a notebook.
In order to get to the bottom of an idea, I just start making stuff, writing things, or mocking things up (either in my head or on paper) until something starts working. A really important part of execution for me is talking to other artists, friends, colleagues (and anyone who will listen) whilst I am developing the concept. The best way to make good work is to keep trying, seek criticism, explore what is working and to know when to stop.
How do you feel when you create art?
Frustrated! Art is exhausting, time consuming and draining. It’s not an exact science, so you can’t just finish the spreadsheet and check the numbers add up. You often end up striving towards an impossible perfection and find yourself tirelessly unable to truly finish anything.
Plus documenting it, writing about it, posting it to social media, organising the exhibition, marketing yourself (the list goes on), are also critical parts of the job these days. It’s annoying to give time to these things, when you wish you could just focus on making the work better.
Figure 7. One Minute, (detail) 2007, Box Ladder, Modern Art Oxford
What are your hopes and dreams as an artist?
I just hope I can make work which is good. I’d like people in the real world and the art world to understand it, engage with it and maybe even like it. I also hope I can make a difference somehow. If my work can help people to stop, think, question business-as-usual and consider doing something about it, then I guess that would be a true measure of success.
What can we look out for?
Lots! I am currently curating a show After Greed Became Form, in my virtual gallery the White Rectangle, organising Little Voices for the Kensington + Chelsea Art Week 2020 and preparing a new Solo Exhibition – Fifty Shades of Grey (and Navy). I usually post updates over my Instagram Feed so keep an eye out there if you’d like to keep up-to-date.
To view more of Amy’s work:
Saatchi Art: www.saatchiart.com/AmyJackson