EM:16 Jane Smith

Jane doesn't sit during our interview so neither do I, she's got an energy you can't help but bounce off. You instantly feel at home, which makes it especially warming when she says she thinks Surface of a home from home as well. As she talks of communities being pulled down only to build themselves back up again and using negativity to build something positive, you do feel a little more chipper, a little stronger, a bit ready to do something.

Have you felt much of a difference creating for a ‘graduate show’ as opposed to creating as a student

I’ve just finished my Masters [and] I was by myself a lot of the time because I was the only person doing that particular MA. I had my own show and I was up in the metal workshops, down in the plaster workshops, then in the studios, all to myself, no one else around so it was really nice to come into the residency and have other people. It’s marvellous to go, ‘what do you think of this?’ These guys are great because they’re giving loads of input and that’s why my work has changed so much. I was interviewed for the project and I came up with this idea that I wanted to work around [Sneinton] market and have feedback from the people of the markets. I found this book, ‘A Walk Through Town’, so I started researching and it’s all stories from the markets, people from the market, and all the backgrounds and this area. There’s actually clay underneath [the market] and it used to be a brickwork. Well I’d started working on a little idea of my own of casting bricks with plaster hands inside because I work in fragmentation, the whole idea of wholeness and fragmentation, and I thought I could do something with that. I decided to make the bricks here; I decided if I’m going to be here in a residency, I’ve got to do it here. I’d rather be here making it.

With the name Pulse, how do you relate it?

We all sat down in the first meeting and came up with three words, mine were fragmentation and wholeness and body but then I was thinking I’m working with the idea of community and there’s a pulse in community. Pulse is absolutely ideal for me because the whole concept of my work is community all coming together and the hands that built that community, that are still building this community, because the fragments are still there. This market has been taken down a few times and built up a few times; that’s the idea of the wall, it’s not to keep people out, it’s to remind people it may be knocked down but it’ll always be rebuilt and there’s part of the people inside there.

When did you get into sculpting?

I came to Derby 27 years ago from Belfast, I’d done my foundation art at Ulster University and then I worked in the YMCA for a year doing art for them, designing logos, that kind of thing and then I came to Derby. My university tutor kept contacting me saying “there’s a new course starting at Derby, a HND in jewelry design, and I think you’d be perfect for it” so I came and did jewelry design and I was taught to be a jeweler. I did that, and when I finished, life happened, you have to get out there, get a job, so I got a job in a jewelry shop, became a manager of the jewelry shop, worked there for quite a few years. Then I had my little girl and I started working in a gym as a personal trainer, but the shifts were just… I didn’t see my family, I didn’t see my husband, I didn’t see my daughter, what’s that all about? Where’s your life going? So my husband said why don’t you go back to uni? Then I went to my Dr. and he said, ‘you need to change your job, this job is killing you, it’s getting you low, you just need to get out there, go back to uni.’ Everyone’s telling me to go back. So I went for a look around the Derby University degree show and I thought okay, bit different. Fine art, I thought paintings, you’ve got that thing in your head. I had a chat with Carl Robinson and he took my email and when I got home I had an email from him saying come in for an interview, come for a chat, so I went for a chat and by half seven that night I was in on the second year. I was like oh god, going back to uni then! I started in year 2 which was quite amazing because it was full on, head down, hit the ground running and for my degree show I won the Derbyshire foundation community award. I discussed with my tutors perhaps doing the MA and they had a little chat, yhup, we think you’d be ready to do the MA so the same day they said yeah, we’ll deal with the paperwork but you’re in. That was an experience because they’d never dealt with a 3-Dimensional artist before, it’s always been 2-Dimensional. They were going you’re a pioneer! It was a bit tough sometimes.

Were they really supportive or were there growing pains?

They were supportive, it was new for everybody. The tutors and me, we were in the same boat because obviously, they weren’t set up for this but y’know, we did it and it’s laid the basis for other people doing 3-dimensional work at Derby which is good. They did talk to me and say how can we fix this? how can we help other sculptors?

We’ve talked about it already, with this sense of community and building it up, but what should people expect from your work on opening night? Will your work continue to express community to the audience?

I like to think so, I worked at a residency in Derby Arboretum, with Artcore, last Summer and it was 175 years since the opening of the arboretum; they asked artists to put in proposals in so I put one in and I based mine around the fountain that’s in the middle and they took it on. That was community based, I was doing a lot of workshops, almost everyday. I was going into the park and kidnapping people because I was inviting them to draw on this massive 8 metres of material. They were drawing on it, doing tags on it, they could do anything, write in their own language, they could just stamp their hand. It was open to everybody. Then I ripped it all up into shreds and made a spiral out of copper and wrapped it round. I got asked, “when you wrapped it, did you have it set out how they were going to go?” and I was like “No, I mixed them all up,” they said “oh I love that”. That was the idea, communities are mixed up, we’re not all the same, we’re so diverse. There’s so many different elements that everybody is overlapping and that’s beautiful.

Is that where fragmentation comes into it, because that’s a word you mentioned earlier you relate to your work, but we’ve mainly talked about bringing things together?

I think I do, I think because of coming from Belfast; Belfast has the most lovely people you’ll ever meet in your life, beautiful people but the society is fractured. It’s such a beautiful country and such a beautiful place but the people are broken and although we kind of look at it from the outside, things are still happening there. My family all still live there but I live here and it’s something that sticks with you. I always think being born in 1966, you will always be known as a child of the troubles, because they started in 1969, and you carry that. I wouldn’t say it’s a cross, it’s not a stigma either, it used to be, but now I carry it more with a sense of pride. Yes I am a product of that but look where I am. That’s why I like getting into community things and getting amongst the people because I like to say look it doesn’t matter, what religion, what colour, what creed, it’s about community. It’s about you and that’s what makes the world stronger.

Why did you apply for this residency, was their something about Surface for you?

I think it’s something I like about Surface to be honest, it’s the diversity of Surface and it’s where it is. I think it’s sort of on the cusp of really getting somewhere and I think having something like Surface attached to your name is a big bonus to you. I’m dead proud, I think because you put so much into it, you put a bit of you into it. It’s your art, it’s such a personal and private thing and you’re laying yourself out there, laying yourself bare but… It’s okay because it’s warm and soft in here and it’s okay. It is like a home from home for art. It’s starting to really get up there, it’ll be nice to be up there.

How do you like sharing a space?

It’s marvelous, I love talking to people, and I can talk. Do you know what’s lovely as well? Seeing everyone’s work progress and change, it’s gone one way and then it’s gone another, that’s the beauty of a place like this.  And that’s good, that should be happening! As an artist, you never should stick to, I am making this and it’ll only be this way, if you’re doing that, what are you doing art for? You need that bit of risk. You need that element of surprise.

Written by Lucinda Martin for Surface Gallery

Image by Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill