WhyTheFace? at The Central St Martins Degree Show 19-23rd June

WhyTheFace? my graduating project is finished and ready to be seen. After 10 weeks of work, today is the final day of installing the Central St Martins Degree Show. The official Private View takes place on Tuesday 18th June, and it is open to the general public Wednesday – Saturday 19-21 June from 12-8pm and on Sunday 22 June 12-6pm. Please do pop into the show to see it. Or you can click on the Vimeo link below to see an excerpt from the stop frame clay animation, with a sequence expressing fear.

What’s it all about?

WhyTheFace? is a study of what emotions look like and feel like. A personal taxonomy inspired by Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking publication The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals in which he defined six emotions as fundamental to human evolution and universally understood, whether you live in Pinner or Papual New Guinea: Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Fear, Anger and Disgust.

This exploration is both figurative and abstract. 

An animated stop-motion portrait of William Pryor, Darwin’s Great Great Grandson, is interspersed with abstracted versions of the same emotions. Some of these gestural interpretations have been fired and are placed in the installation. 

The portrait of Pryor, whose expression was changed over 200 times during the shooting of the film is left as raw clay, kept damp under a glass dome in suspended animation ready to be brought back to life. Condensation on the inside of the glass begs the question: Is he still breathing? 

A cluster of fired specimens on the shelf capture other examples of the six emotions. 

The work is a response to emerging scientific evidence that young toddlers are arriving in nursery with a delayed understanding of the facial expressions of emotions. This is linked to too much time spent on flat screen devices rather than in-the-flesh interactions with their care-givers.  

The installation’s specimen shelf includes a ceramic ‘brain’ representing Digital Dementia, where the right side of the brain associated with mood control and empathy is underdeveloped, in comparison with the left.

Viewers are invited to enter my world. Both as a maker-space where I have created this work, but also as conceptual field. 

The installation is designed to evoke a whispered message from Charles Darwin on the importance of empathy and understanding emotions. In today’s fast-paced, digitally obsessed world, the viewer is given permission to slow down and stare at the flesh of emotions. In this oneiric space they might catch a glimpse of themselves mirroring the expressions on display, emotional contagion – a shared experience of empathy. 

Be Careful What You Wish For

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Primordial figure with belly of despair where viewers can whisper a magic incantation to wake the golem. Sculpture evokes marionettes that can be breathed into life, like a voodoo cult figure.

Faced with the startling rise of political extremism around the world I have become particularly inspired by the myth of the Golem: a powerful mythical being, made by man out of the earth, and breathed into life by magic, usually to protect a community from attack.

Over the last year, this archetypal character has resonated perfectly with my feelings of disorientation as I no longer recognise our political landscape. It has felt as though only a  superhuman force will be able to sort this mess out for me. Reaching for the clay I have been experimenting with how I could make a golem, and what that would feel like.

As an archetype, the Golem represents Man’s enduring desire to ‘play god’: to create powerful beings or entities out of inanimate objects in order to protect us or fix an intractable problem. But while the myth is intrinsically hopeful in outlook it is also deeply troubling as it highlights humankind’s propensity towards ‘hubris’, an arrogant miscalculation of the unintended consequences of our creations. A warning looms: Be careful what you wish for.

I have been relishing the fact that the golem archetype is intrinsically linked to my chosen discipline of sculpting figuratively in clay, and plays to my propensity towards political activism. Having generated the work featured in this post earlier this year, I am currently returning to the shadow puppet as the focus of my month-long residency in Bermondsey with Collective Matter – the wonderful ceramic studio led by Katie Spragg and Eva Masterman. Seizing the opportunity of dedicated studio space and large kiln, I am producing a human scale golem marionette that will hopefully be exhibited in the Potting Shed gallery space curated by Collective Matter at Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer, in the coming months.  Watch this space.

 

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Golem Shadow Puppets

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Figurative gestural sculpting

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Skeletal body parts

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Golem chest

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Golem sculpture with interchangeable heads

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Mask head

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Rear View

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The Bigger Picture: ShareHaUs

At the end of last term, we were set an interdisciplinary academic unit called The Bigger Picture, in which I was teamed up with four students from other programmes: 2 Graphic Designers, 1 Architect and a Product Designer. In commemoration of  500 years of Thomas More’s Utopia, we were asked to come up with a response to two questions, one set by the course, and a second formulated by ourselves in response to a series of 6 keynote speeches by external experts from diverse backgrounds:

How can my individual area of design practice help to realise a different tomorrow?

 and

How can Flexible Space be used to bring Positive Change to a Community?

 

Over a 4 week period we were required to prepare a group presentation our ideas, live, including an engaging interactive element. Plus write an individual essay. For our interactive element, we gave each of our 50-stong audience a small ball of clay, and asked them to hold it behind their backs and then gave them 60 seconds to model an elephant without looking, just by touch. The result was a highly energized audience and a herd of delightfully wonky mini elephants. It was an exercise in the importance and pleasure of making things by hand.

Rather than me paraphrase my essay click here to have a read.  bigger-picture-group-6-team-5-joanna-pearl

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