An Interview with Naomi Ellis

10 July 2018

Naomi Ellis is part of the new guard of artists. Using film, projection and digital technologies, Naomi's work makes us question our surroundings, culture and the possibilities of the internet age - as well as its drawbacks. Ahead of her teaching a Young Curators workshop on Digital Media here at The Lightbox, we had a chat with her to find out more about her work, goals and inspirations.

Tell us a bit about yourself and the type of work you create.

My own art practise spans across media often incorporating digital projections, sculpture and socially engaged projects. Utilizing sites and objects that are both embodied and virtual, I engage with the connective threads between materiality and the digital experience.

Investigating how interfaces of screen-based technologies are reshaping our perceptions of Place, my work explores the morphing (and collapse of) technological and geographical proximities within the Internet age. Much of my work stems from a longing to return to the physical whilst being immersed in a world saturated with virtual information.

I am interested in how the encounters we have with surfaces shape our culture, generating contact, connectivity, and communication. I have a body of moving image work made by digitally projected images onto clay that have been distorted through the touch of my hands. I also use a DIY vacuum forming machine to manipulate images on plastic resulting in sculptural works. 

 
Three Clay Fragments Still 1 © Naomi Ellis

Why did you want to make art using digital media – what do you think it offers beyond traditional media such as painting or sculpture?

I see digital media as just as much a material as more traditional mediums such as painting or sculpture. I find it exciting playing with the overlap between digital media such as projections and physical materials. I think experimenting with the layers between digital and physical media opens up exciting possibilities for new ways of thinking around art making.


Coloured floor fabric © Naomi Ellis

You previously studied in Kyoto – how do you think that experience of living in Japan has influenced your work?

Living in Japan for 6 months was a very formative time. I was studying in an art school called Kyoto Seika in the north of Kyoto. They had a completely different approach to art education than what I was used to Central Saint Martins. CSM taught the approach of coming up with a concept first and then choosing a material to communicate it with. It was also quite theory-heavy.  

In my experience of studying at Kyoto Seika it was the other way around - you started with a material with the aim of mastering some level of craftsmanship first. The material led the way. I initally found this approach quite frustrating as I wanted to experiment more but I learnt a lot about the power of making and getting to know the properties of the materials you are working with.

Sometimes when I was in Japan it would feel like I was stepping into the past and then the next moment would feel as if I’d time travelled into the future. The old and the new co-exist in a really harmonious way. I would walk down one street where there would be a beautifully maintained ancient temple, and then around the corner would be hi-tech vending machine surrounded by flashing neon lights and holographic visuals. Japan pays attention to aesthetics and in a very particular and considered way. The book In Praise of Shadows talks a lot about this.


Your moving image work “The Tourist Administrator of Pitcairn Island” (acquired by The Ingram Collection) shows an image projected onto clay, and hands interacting with it. What is the story behind this image and the distorting effect of the moving clay?

The work narrates a dialogue between myself and Melva, the tourist administrator of Pitcairn Island. It is a conversation between two women - artist and remote islander - and provides a moment of exchange across borders.

I hoped to reflect upon ideas to do with a search for a utopia through the screen, with "the island" - a glowing landscape somewhere in the ether. The critical narrative of connectedness (and/or its lack) functions to reveal that the production is contingent on exchange and technological limits. The artist's role is put into question, whilst highlighting what is taken for granted in the Western digital climate (data costs and labour’s demands on time).

The distorting effect of the moving clay was an attempt to physically interact with this digital image and try to access this place that seemed so remote to me. I was interested in how the clay created shadows which looked like gaps or ruptures in the image. I was also referencing the artist sculpting in the studio and questioning the role of the artist in present day - how we interact with the world and engage with communities digitally.

 


Dancers and blue rock © Naomi Ellis

Are there any artists who influence/inspire you?

There are a lot of women artists who I admire including - Pippilotti Rist, Helen Marten, Camille Henrot, Shana Moulton, Laure Provoust, Hito Steyerl, Mariko Mori, Tauba Auerbach and many more! I’m also inspired by many of my contemporaries who I studied with and share studios with.


Floor © Naomi Ellis 

We can’t wait for your Young Curators New Digital Media workshop! What are you looking forward to sharing with/teaching participants?

I’m looking forward to opening up a space to experiment with new approaches to art-making. I want to encourage participants to question what can constitute as artwork and broaden their understanding of the different possibilities of making with new media.

We’ll be focussing on process and experimenting with using digital projections onto different surfaces to create film works. We are planning to do a pop-up exhibition at the end of the second day using projections, objects, papers and other material outcomes from the project.

We will also be producing a showreel of video experiments made over the course of the workshop. I’m really looking forward to the ideas that they come up with!


Naomi Ellis is leading a two day Young Curators workshop on Digital Media, Tues 31 July and Wed 1 August 2018 | 10.30am – 4.00pm
£25 for both sessions, lunch not included | 13 - 18 years

Find out more and book

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