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Learning in-and-within relation (after Édouard Glissant)

Jade Montserrat, Learning in-and-within relation (after Édouard Glissant), Performance, 2021. Photographer, Diane Muldowney ©

From 22nd April 2021 at 5pm.

Hanover Project presents Learning in-and-within relation (after Édouard Glissant); a newly commissioned participatory performance and installation by artist Jade Montserrat articulated here in a film by Danny Lyons.

Learning in-and-within relation (after Édouard Glissant) was realised by Montserrat and a group of eighteen BA and MA Fine Art students on 15 April 2021. Montserrat worked remotely engaging students via videocall. During the performance participants formulated texts in response to Montserrat reading aloud works by Jamaica Kincaid and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. This film documents the performance during which these texts were drawn with charcoal onto the walls of Hanover Project.

The performance extends Montserrat’s premise that drawing is a mode of being or operating and asserts that there is a connection between ourselves and the earth: this line, or connection, like our communications with one another, is drawing. Undertaking this performance, Montserrat sought to visualize together with this group of participants exchanges of energy, lines, communications, and with that, reconsider the stewarding of our spaces.

Jade Montserrat is an artist based in the North of England, who works at the intersection of art and activism through drawing, painting, performance, film, installation, sculpture, print and text. 

Jade Montserrat, Learning in-and-within relation (after Édouard Glissant), Performance, 2021. Film, Danny Lyons ©

Andy Broadey Interview with Jade Montserrat

Andy: Can you give us a brief outline of the Commission you’re doing at Hanover project, how it came about and how it relates to your wider relationship to UCLan?

Jade: The relationship began when I met Alan Rice on the occasion of the Memorial for Stuart Hall. I explained that I had grown up in Scarborough and Alan invited me to make work for a conference about black artists in the North of England and, then he invited me to propose for the Stuart Hall Foundation sponsored scholarship for PhD candidacy, so now I’m attached to the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at UCLan. If I remember correctly, Seuli, a diversity officer in the school and such a warm lovely person was eager to get me to do a project. I thought, I wonder how I fit into that aspect of the University; how I speak to that? So, it’s a bit tricky but in the interim I think that she maybe got in touch with David Mackintosh and then you invited me to make work at Hanover Project. I remember in the first conversations I had really wanted to make wall hangings, but they would probably require a two- or three-year projection so we worked out between us how best to use Hanover Project for the exhibition. The work stems from previous projects. The recital element comes from ‘No Need for Clothing’ (2017), which Evan Ifekoya and a collective called Network 11 invited me to make at Spike Island in response to Lubaina Himid’s exhibition there. The wall drawings happened after at the Cooper Gallery for Two Night Stands (2017) at the invitation of Sophia Howard and Linda Morris. This week we will be making the wall drawing work by proxy, which is something I first really sort of seriously attempted to confront at Outpost for their W.O.OSE  sessions (2019). There has been attempts and shifts but I think that this is the most sort of promising artwork that can be made out of a dialogue around well, workshopping, making the texts that then become text panels that I will be viewing remotely as eighteen students make the work. 

Andy: Hanover Project is attached to the Department of Fine Art at UCLan and you made a very deliberate decision to work with students. How have you responded to the context of the art school gallery?

Jade: Well, the Cooper Gallery is another gallery attached to Dundee University. So, this has always been a work embedded in a learning context. And it’s an appropriate context for me to experiment with this new method of working, but also to make very clear that the work is about establishing a relationship with pedagogies and also the art school contact speaks to what’s written on the walls. At this present moment we are debating what cultures we identify with and what histories are prioritized in the national curriculum. But what happens then when you get to an art school, for instance, the histories that I’m addressing now are from my experience, they were absent until now, until the past decade or so when I’ve had the good fortune to meet people invested in revealing these histories.

Andy: That’s a really brilliant answer. I mean just personally, it is a time of reconsideration, isn’t it? I’ve looked at some of my lectures and thought it is all a bit white and male. And what I found is its always so enriching going and finding new artists from different countries is always a good experience It’s a new habit of mine and I’m really glad of it. 

Jade: I’m really pleased that you said that because I’m not absent from your experience either, like I’m conditioned in so many ways and I’m as much, but without judgement, a culprit of this too, but I’m also really wanting to ensure that we can hold both things. There are contradictions in the texts that I use on the wall and what that is attempting is to say is you can hold this and that. They might appear not to fit together or correspond but we can hold both things – like I can hold and interrogate at the same time. I suppose it’s also about a certain disobedience, maybe. And I think that that’s the point of University education – to meet with your peers to learn and to interrogate that learning as well together, the whole framework. I’m looking for the disobedient, the unruly. And the charcoal is great. It’s got a history in an art school as well. Drawing is a foundation within the art school. It makes sense that this work would be adapted and developed in this context on Thursday.

Andy: I’m really struck by the way you talk about contradiction being embedded within the very source material of the work – jarring seems like an appropriate word. When things jar it is productive. It’s quite energetic; they reverberate. You talk in your statement about energy. I’m wondering how that awareness translates into the production of the work and the relationship between making in the work and working with people to make the work?

Jade: I’ve been attempting to make a project since about 2013 that’s called ‘Winning Wimbledon’. The idea that most of us won’t win Wimbledon, ever. And it is these collage books that actually I started at Norwich. When you are watching Wimbledon you are seeing the competition, you are watching and the gladiatorial aspect but there is also this jarring as well. You want somebody to win but this is the antithesis of what I’m attempting to do in the work. For example, what I was trying to do with ‘No Need for Clothing’ (2017) was to open it out so people could be in dialogue in that awkward space where I’d be unclothed and yeah people could speak with me. I’m trying to figure out certain ethics of working but also putting my labour on display and in terms of the vulnerability and the fragility of the situation. The space is energized or activated in that way, not just by the drawings but by the warmth and by the material itself.

Andy: I’m interested in your use of certain words like awkwardness and unruliness, and also vulnerability. These are all not necessarily positive terms; you know to be vulnerable or feel awkward can be difficult. But these seem central to the way you talk about the practice. I think, and this is me interpreting, an experience of awkwardness can be a good experience of art. Not simply the experience of feeling awkward, which is always awkward, but because awkwardness can be a point of initiation for a situation-to-come. Perhaps awkwardness is necessary to that? 

Jade: There’s a lot there about display. What or who is considered an object and one’s own subjectivity and ownership. All of these dynamics relate to the work. But also, the work is in response to coming to terms with our environment, my environment, observing other people’s environment. Noticing from my perspective that relationships are the hardest thing I think that people are working out and how we address our needs to one another and speak to and with one another.

Andy: And there is the sense of what is being produced, what the awkwardness might bring into being. As in, you know just to be really obvious, despite what the Sewell Report says, we clearly live in a country which is deeply institutionally racist and has a very ugly history in terms of the rest of the world and how you move forward with that is perhaps through awkwardness.

Jade: Thank you. Yeah, it’s a challenge and there are going to be fluctuations around who has capacity when, who can rise to that challenge when and it is dependent on lots of things and actually. If I speak for myself, I can begin owning my vulnerability recognizing it, observing it, and also when I need to speak to and about say the Sewell Report with others, I can potentially feel more confident about my position when I’ve recognized the awkwardness not just about the position, but about speaking about it. And then I can recognize my capacities and so the work helps with that because it calls for me to be making a lot of measurements all the time, and starting from myself, I can measure how or when I can respond to something like the Sewell Report, and I recognize that thanks to writers like Audrey Lorde or Toni Morrison and so many of my peers as well, who are speaking out of knowing those works but also generating new languages around how we can speak to the injustices. And some that is non-verbal, and it’s about understanding ourselves, oneself maybe?

Andy: One thing I’ve been struck by working with you, is a desire to avoid a kind of critique, I think, this is my impression, a kind of critique that is about negativity, about combatively pointing out all the things that are wrong, which is a very familiar model. Western histories of critical practice are often about isolating the problem and exposing it, whereas you seem to be taking a different tack with your approach, which is an approach to participation, which seems to speak to this idea of energy that you’ve engaged with.

Jade: I also love playing tennis. The reason I’m saying that is that for me personally the way I feel about the anticipation of playing tennis is the same as how I feel about painting, which is what I’m ultimately working towards. I would really like to be a studio-based artist that works on paintings all day, every day. And in the interim, I am attempting to sort of carve out for myself the conditions that will enable me to do that. It’s a financial consideration and concerns working conditions and the devaluing of artists in this country. For example, the children’s laureate, Cressida Cowell asked for the earmarking of £100 million each year for primary school libraries on the radio this morning. Most of the schools where kids are on free school meals have a depleted library. There seemed to be a connection between scarcity and access to resources. I don’t want a world whereby when a kid says that they want to be an artist it’s off limits because it’s a class-based access job. It’s bullshit because the drawing, like one’s reading, is important to one’s health. Most the money is earmarked for sports, because it corresponds with health but it’s so it’s such a stupidly confined narrow understanding of what health is.

Andy: There seems to be a continuity in your response between the question of energy, the anticipation of playing tennis, the practice of painting and the benefits of reading. Is it possible to name it?

Jade: Oh, so that’s joy. The good thing about tennis or the painting and with singing as well is I can feel that same joy, losing myself in a moment. And meditation will do it, yoga will do it for me and yeah, so clean fun. 

Andy: And are we going to generate some of those kinds of qualities on Thursday?

Jade: I hope so. I think that would be fantastic. 

Jade Montserrat, Learning in-and-within relation (after Édouard Glissant), Performance, 2021. Photographer, Diane Muldowney ©

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