Jill Impey, The Art of Reflection            

by Julie Hoggarth, Brass Tacs 10.10.2019

In visual terms, Jill Impey’s art is a series of serene yet thought provoking installations: a full-sized elephant made of empire furniture, photographs of the River Severn in flood, slices of tree trunk. Visually they are gentle and engaging but they are not the art itself. In fact the visual elements generally form one stage of a process serving as a springboard for reflection on what is or has been, and a stimulus for those who encounter them to think and look with new eyes, and become part of the art. Once engaged, viewers are moved to respond actively or passively to a number of compelling themes, which run like currents through all of the work. Heritage and historical narratives is one such theme, nature, its paradoxical fragility and power, is another. The driving force of the work however is always the role of the observer who is both witness and participant. Jill Impey’s art is to hold up a mirror to the observer and to acknowledge their responses. It is in this way enigmatic and engaging in a very modern way.

There is an elephant, which stands over 2 meters high, made of furniture from the days of the British empire which embodies a complexity of metaphors about power and acquisition, our response to history, to nature and ultimately to ourselves. Typically however the outer structure is just one element of the work. In fact the real intention is to get people to open up to one another. Visitors are encouraged to sit inside the elephant and converse. The smallness of the space, the oddness, and being face to face with a fellow human naturally generates communication. Which then becomes part of the art.

Again, with Jill Impey, the acknowledgement of those who witness her art or engage with her participatory events, is the product. The words created by visitors to her workshops are recorded, printed and published in audio, visual and text form, as in beinghumanproject. In this, typically multi-staged work which involved workshops, recordings, photography and 3 exhibitions, the faces of teenagers commenting on artefacts in their local museum are magnified and ennobled on large TV screens which sit within museum spaces, but never blend in. They represent the voices of the unheard and are accordingly slightly jarring. The young people’s reflections on the artefacts and on heritage and their own place within history are equally disruptive – and valuable in giving voice to the voiceless. The participant commentaries become the artefacts and simultaneously creators. Besides the attention to detail, craftsmanship and curatorial care of the work, this multi-layered thinking and paradoxical focus on the engagee is what makes the work so relevant today.

Much of Jill Impey’s work ponders the grandiose narratives with which capitalism justifies itself, e.g.  the Tate and Lyle fortune wrenched from slavery and sugar or the horrific paradox of Victorian taxidermy, and it proposes a humane solution in the words of lesser-heard voices; particularly sections of society whose views are generally discounted as naïve or irrelevant, e.g. teenagers and the elderly.

Impey does not bellow, she is not in your face or strident. She is far more subtle. She guides us through layers of meaning, e.g. via a series of objects related to World War 1 in a recent manifestation of her Cabinet of Curiosity. For instance the white feathers presented to ‘cowards’ and the red poppies of Flanders fields are at one and the same time reminders of the horrors of war and are yet beautiful natural objects, symbols of regrowth and life, visually striking and ultimately stimuli for conversation, reflection and new artworks. Witnessing discussion, word pieces and visual responses to these items by inmates at a midlands prison brought home truly the narrowness of the voices we usually hear – via the media – and which shape our thinking. The Cabinet of Curiosity as with all her works, exposes the limitations and potentials of the way we live.

The depth of thought, which goes into Jill Impey’s participatory experiences, is belied by their seeming effortlessness. Every detail is considered and time is of no relevance in terms of preparation and delivery. If more time is needed, more time is given. If more work is needed, more work is done. Installations will often involve technical aspects, for instance projections, video screens, audio commentary, all of which are painstakingly researched and installed by the artist.

The artworks can appear fragile and transitory; the precarious elephant looks as though it could collapse at any moment, but this is very far from the truth as the work is designed to tour and endure. The Elephant in the Room has just returned to Powis Castle, along with a new audiovisual installation, after a four-year residency at Participate Contemporary Artspace in Shrewsbury. This illusory quality is for me the most characteristic feature of Jill Impey the artist and her work. Like no other artist she twists our perceptions of what art is, who it is for, who can be a part of it and how art can and should respect its audiences.

WATER CARBON NITROGEN PHOSPHORUS SULPHUR LUCK TIME LOCATION- video installation with shell, 2019

Artist Statement

Exploring the role of the artist revealing truths, through notions of shifting borders, boundaries and thresholds; my film installations look at the formation of human identity, in relation to place, culture, art, heritage and migration. Drawing on personal experience of displacement and difference, the work considers the abject, in relation to location, and in terms of reality and façade, inclusion and otherness, evolutionary development and the unquantifiable sublime.

My practice strives to make manifest the interconnectivity between humans, nature and wellbeing. I have a participatory process, based in research, encouraging engagement through the handling and creative interpretation of historic artefacts, contemporary artworks and natural found objects, that often relate to a social and sensory archaeology of place and time. This process culminates in filmed and recorded interviews and collaborative artworks. In exhibition these recordings are often juxtaposed with audiovisual installations and representations of natural phenomena in heritage or unusual exhibition spaces, and re-activated by residencies or workshops. My gently inclusive workshops bring together diverse individuals in expressive creative activity, within stimulating curated environments, to draw, print, respond through words, photography, film and sound recording. In some of my work I assume a prerformative persona, using costume and props to heighten thematic links and investment in the experience. I am a Reiki and Shiatsu practitioner, with a holistic approach to wellbeing and self-development.

Work 

2012- present: Artist in film, installation and participatory practice

2015-present: Co-Director & founder ofParticipate Contemporary Artspace CIC

2014- present: member of re:collect, contemporary artists working in heritage contexts

2012-2014, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery, Contemporary Artist Professional Development Programme (Arts Council Funded): selected as one of 8 regional artists to develop and advocate contemporary art and interpretive projects in heritage contexts 

2003-2015, Shrewsbury College:

2014- July 2015, Course Leader & Lecturer UAL AB L3/4 Foundation Diploma in Art & Design 

2012- 2014, Course Leader & Lecturer UAL AB L3 Extended Diploma in Art & Design 

2003-2012, Course Leader & Lecturer BTEC Extended Diploma in Art & Design yr1 

2009-2012, Lecturer BTEC Extended Diploma in Art & Design yr2,

Specialism: printmaking, photography, digital video, painting, drawing and computers in art & design, delivering and embedding contextual influences, professional practice, ideas and concepts, with a particular emphasis on inclusion and equality and diversity. Pop up Art School in the Darwin Centre 2013,14 & 15; residential trips to: Liverpool, London, Glasgow, Amsterdam and Paris. Left July 2015 to develop art practice

2010 – 2012, PGCE Mentor, Shrewsbury College

2001-2003, Leicester Adult Education College: ESOL, Printmaking, Painting & Drawing

2002, St. Pauls Secondary School, Leicester, GCSE Art & Design, February – Exam, supported teaching

2001-2003, Leicester Print Workshop: Printmaking workshops 

1995-96, Brighton School of English, Barcelona: ESL teacher

1986-2002, Fingerprints (Bradford) Ltd. T/A PINKFISH: Design & Print co-operative: Founding Member & Director: developing graphic and textile design for print and embroidery for ethical and environmental fashion and gift items and fine art prints. Day to day co-management and running of a retail outlet in Leeds; national and international sales , including visits to Japan, Spain and the Isles of Scilly.

Qualifications

Bronze & Silver Arts Award Training 2017

Iatsu (Shiatsu) and Reiki, Level 2 practitioner 2016 & 2017

Masters in Fine Art with Merit, Staffordshire University 2008-2010

PGCE, University of Wales, 2006

City & Guilds 7307 Further and Adult Education Teachers Certificate, 2002, Leicester College

TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Bradford College, 1995

BTech Hons. 2:1- Textile Design, Science & Technology, Bradford University, 1981-85 with Industrial placement

Funded Projects:

2017- 2018 The Beat of The Butterflies’ Wings, Tour of Midlands, ACE: Intergenerational project focusing on the importance of self-expression on wellbeing, & reflecting on the words of Wilfred Owen

2018, An Undertaking…..re:collect collaboration, St. Chads Church, Shrewsbury, Mentored project, ACE 

 2016- 2017, The Beat of The Butterflies’ Wings, ACE : Intergenerational project exploring and sharing  thoughts and experiences of war & peace through creative expressive processes, interpreting stimuli from a travelling collection of contemporary artworks.

2014-2016, Curiosity, re:collect interventions, ACE: re:collect site responsive exhibition with a touring Cabinet of Curiosity

2012-2014, beinghuman, cultural identity project, ACE : project involving young people in a contemporary art and heritage context. in partnership with Wolverhampton Art Gallery, The New Art Gallery Walsall and the new Museum & Art Gallery in Shrewsbury 

Commissions:

2019-20 The Elephant in the Room, film & Installation for National Trust Powis Castle

2018-19, Cinderloo 1821, film and schools workshops, Heritage Lottery Funded, Telford

Exhibitions:

2019, Scaffolds of Nature, Participate Contemporary Artspace, Shrewsbury  

2019, Encounters, VAN Gallery, Shrewsbury

2019, You, me and those who came before, Participate Contemporary Artspace, Shrewsbury 

2018  The First Casualty of War, Tile museum, Ironbridge, & Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury

2018, An Undertaking…..re:collect collaboration, St. Chads Church, Shrewsbury

2017-18 The Beat of The Butterflies’ Wings tour, Library of Birmingham , HMP Leicester, Attingham Park 

2017 The Beat of the Butterflies Wings’  (as Part of the Big Draw 2017)Participate Contemporary Artspace

2017,Eden………..Participate Contemporary Artspace, Open exhibition

2016-2017, The Beat of The Butterflies’ Wings, Community Gallery, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery 

2016, Migration….Qube, Open Exhibition, Oswestry

2016, Eden………..Participate Contemporary Artspace, Open exhibition

2016, The Nature of War , re:collect  at Participate Contemporary Artspace  & St Chad’s Church 

2015-16, re:collect, Curiosity Tour: Unitarian Church, Shrewsbury; Powis Castle; Wrexham Museum 

2015: The Elephant in the Room Conversations ……. Powis Castle

2015 The Elephant in the Room Conversations tour…… Participate Contemporary Artspace,Shrewsbury

2015, The First Casualty of War is Truth, re:collect group exhibition, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery

2015, Grand Opening, group show…Participate Contemporary Artspace, Shrewsbury

2015, re:collect, Cabinet of Curiosity Tour, Wenlock Poetry Festival

2014/15, Curiosity re:collect interventions..Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery

2014, beinghumanproject 2014,…The New Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery

2013,  beinghumanproject2012, …Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery

2013,  beinghumanproject2012, …The New Art Gallery, Walsall 

2012, Object Lessons, re:collect group exhibition, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery

2012, 7 on the Severn and Wye…Mid Wales Art Gallery, Powys

2012, beinghumanproject2012…Wolverhampton Art Gallery

2011, Being Human…Exhibition Space ,School of Art, Shrewsbury College of Arts & Technology

2011, Qube Open ….Qube Gallery, Oswestry

2011, KinoCafe……Short Film Night, The Ironworks, Oswestry

2010, MA Fine Art … Staffordshire University

Workshops, Talks, Residencies & Presentations

2017-2018, The Beat of The Butterflies’ Wings, Tour PCA, Library of Birmingham, Attingham Hall, HMP Leicester, resedencies and workshops 

2016-2017, The Beat of The Butterflies’ Wings, community workshops & Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery 

2016-17, Unitarian Church, Shrewsbury, Scour Mills, Redditch, Participate Contemporary Artspace, a range of Object analysis and printmaking workshops, (monotype, drypoint etching and colograph) 

2016 Age UK, re:collect Cabinet of Curiosity, pilot reminiscence project, Shrewsbury

2016 re:collect Cabinet of Curiosity, Museums for Health & Wellbeing Conference, Manchester

2015, The Elephant in the Room Conversations at Powis Castle-workshops, talks & tours

2015, Severn Fields Project, Arts for Health , print workshop for staff and service users

2015, re:collect, Cabinet of Curiosity Tour: workshops; Powis Castle; Wrexham Museum 

2015, The First Casualty of War is Truth, re:collect group exhibition, talks, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery

2015, Curiosity re:collect interventions, workshops, talks & tours at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery

2013, New Curators Group Exhibition: Migration, at Shrewsbury Museum & Art   

Gallery, workshop involving Foundation Degree, students from the Art School

Shrewsbury College

2013, re:collect, Object Lessons exhibition, 2 half day workshops, with Foundation Art & Design from Shrewsbury College of Arts & Technology at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery 

2013, Arts Café, The Hive, Shrewsbury, Object Lessons presentation

2012, Being Human Project 2012- 6 workshops in Galleries & Museums around the West Midlands involving young people with the Gallery/Museum collections

2012, Talk – New Curators group at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery 

Community & Wellbeing Workshops:  Shropshire Council DBS

2019, Creative Conversations, creative media workshops for over 55’s, The Redwoods Centre & Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Shrewsbury

2018Creatures of the Mappa Mundi, commuity quilting and discussion workshops, in Hereford for Yinke Shonibare Studio and Meadow Arts 

2018, Summer Art School, Bronze & Silver Arts Award, Participate Contemporary Artspace

2018  IceAge Cave painting & Sound  workshops, for Meadow Arts , Hive Worcester

2017, Summer Art School, Bronze Arts Award, Participate Contemporary Artspace

2016, Summer, Practitioner plus, sessional paid work for NCS The Challenge, Birmingham

2015-present: Director of Participate Contemporary Artspace, community projects & exhibitions

2014- present Reiki and Iatsu (sister therapy to Acupressure) Practitioner

2011- 2013 Sectional Assistant, First Shrewsbury Explorer Group, Supporting Camps, Urban Hikes, Adventure Activities, and a D of E bronze Award, Film Project