Chantelle Exley’s You or Your Memory was displayed earlier this year as part of York St. John’s True North exhibition, an end of year show that celebrated the next generation of contemporary talent in the North, showcasing work from our fine art, graphic design, product design and interior design. Exley discusses her practice and future plans as an emerging artist.
A: What is it about the concept of family that influences your practice and how personal is your exploration of this notion?
CE: I think family fascinates me so much and inspires my practice because it is something that every single one of us has, even if the meaning of family differs for each person. Furthermore, the notion of family has this universal element that we all can comprehend and relate to, despite specific meanings being subjective to each person. This is why it is such a relevant concept, specifically as a contemporary artist, as we live in a time where couples are more open to divorce and re-marrying; the notion of family is no longer a simple child-mother-father structure.
As I am exploring a subject that is relatable to us all as human beings, I use my own understanding of the concept as a specific reference and sense of inspiration. I use images of my own family as almost a kind of photo-therapy, working through my own questions that surround my parents and grandparents, particularly my biological father who I never knew which as a result effects my identity and heritage.
Despite these personal questions, I like to keep the identities quite anonymous – the people in the photographs are never named and quite often visually distorted through my intentional collaging. This is intentional to ensure that people don’t just experience the work, but ask questions about who the individuals are and what are their stories.
A: Could you describe the role that memory plays in the conceptualisation of your pieces?
CE: Memory has a massively significant conceptual role within my work, through a reconstruction of images that belong to my family’s archive. Inducing the sense of nostalgia that occurs when delving into personal narratives has a distinct significance in my work.
This means that my photo albums, which make up the fundamental core of my practice, are installed into a constructed environment / installation to further enhance the sense of recurring memories. My photographs attempt to help a viewer revisit a place in their mind that is no longer a fully reachable. These fragments or glimpses of past experiences are what I consider to be memories, which is really what my pieces aim to capture.
A: How do you think that your works reflect a musing on the future of photography?
CE: As my work aims to directly induce a sense of nostalgia, I think that it subconsciously draws upon the difference between the physical nature of photography. At present, if someone referred to putting together a photo album, generally people would think it was digitally – through platforms like Facebook or Instagram. This is not a negative thing however, it is just a sentiment drawn upon in my work through the presence of physical, fragile and unique images.
As technology develops, it will be interesting to see how the presentation of images continues to change. With regards to my practice, I am interested in exploring how I can work with creating a deep, emotional trigger through images that belong to this detached, digital age. How can social media create a nostalgia for younger generations in the same way that photo albums do for people of an older generation?
A: How do think that collage pushes the boundaries of image-making?
CE: I think that collage is a reminder of the physicality of photographs, which relates back to the contrast between the past and present. In addition to drawing on the fragility of physical photographs, using collage gives me a control over the narratives within the images. It is frequently discussed in photography theory that the single image only provides a certain amount of context and this can easily differ from the reality of that moment. My practice allows a further sense of creation – dictating frames of moments that are fictionalised through the altering of faces and the cutting up of real frames.
A: How do you begin a work, and how does the process develop from start to finish?
CE: Despite my work holding a number of discourses, my actual making process is quite simple – it’s largely through my aesthetic judgment and impulse. Some of the images fit together perfectly and form a new coherent image whereas others don’t quite make sense or fit.
Working instinctually adds to the therapeutic nature; being able to create my own narratives helps me to work through personal questions I have regarding my family and as a result my identity through not knowing my biological father. Furthermore, the subconscious knowledge of when a specific collage is “completed” is sort of like a question more resolved.
A: Do you believe that your curatorial practices and personal artwork affect or influence each other?
CE: To a degree I would say they relate, although my work is about delving into lost experiences, I aim to make this viewing in itself an experience which I think is often a job of a curator, whilst the artist is focused fundamentally with creating the work.
Yet for me my work doesn’t end when the photo album is finished, the continuation of the work into its exhibited space is equally important to me. With regards to You or Your Memory, the living room space was equally important, not only because the collage continued into it, but because it held a sensory experience of its own.
A: What is distinctive about the repetition of certain images, in terms of interpreting memory and relationships or otherwise?
CE: The repetition of images is massively significant in my work; in You or Your Memory it is actually the same 18 original photographs that are cut up and reconstructed throughout the photo-album and in the photographs that are within the walls. This is intentional to draw upon the repetition of faces and poses that are so common within family albums, and so that the viewer begins to feel a familiarity with the faces (despite the identity of the people only known to me.)
A: Who are you most influenced by?
CE: I am influenced by a wide range of artists, from Tracey Emin’s personal, confessional nature, to the John Stezaker, whose photo collages. I also love the work of Sally Mann and her family photographs series; I love how she captured her children in their domestic environment, which initiated a whole new realm of photography critique which has massively influenced my practice.
A: What does the forthcoming year have in store for you?
CE: Over the next twelve months I hope to gain further experience within the creative industries through internships and hopefully some curatorial work in preparation for my Masters in Curation and Critical theory in the following September.
1. Courtesy of Chantelle Exley.