Interview by Pippa Eason
Published November 2018
Juliet Fleming's practice seeks to question the female experience in the 21st century, often using repetitive symbols. These symbols are used to start dialogues around sexual pleasure, bodily autonomy, reproduction and the division of emotional/physical labour. Recently Fleming creates work with a homely, domestic quality to investigate key themes of stereotyping, particularly in gender roles and hierarchies within today’s society.’
I first met Juliet when I had an exhibition in Newcastle, at System Gallery. Her enigmatic spirit, among many other artists made me want to travel up north more. I had the immense pleasure of showing with Zoe Molloy at GOLDTAPPED, which left me with a certain curiosity.
Juliet! How’s it going? Firstly, i’ll keep this succinct and current, without a regimented format. Can I ask what your current projects are, how they’re going, where they originated, etc?
I think it’s going well. I am very fond of being positive, even if it is not going very well - best to think it is and then hopefully it will be, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve been spending the best part of the spring/summer writing funding applications for myself and GOLDTAPPED, some successful and others not so successful. For my personal artistic practice I’ve been slowly coming to the realisation that I love collaborating, probably quite a lot more than I like working on my own.
Myself and Sarah Joy Ford from Seize have been talking about collaborating for a long while. We met a few years ago at a skill-share between The School of the Damned 2016 and The NewBridge Project. We realised that we had an affinity for one another and new that we would love to work together at some point in the future. ‘The future’ is November - December 2018, when we are producing collaborative work as well as individual pieces for a duo show at Vane gallery in Newcastle, titled Hard Craft (opening on the 14th of November). We have been visiting each other in our respective cities, there is only so much you can do over the phone with long distance collaboration especially if it is very material based work.
Hard Craft draws on our interest in 20th/21st century feminist politics and crafts used as a method of expressing these politics, particularly ceramics, textiles and symbols - feminist or otherwise to embody these meanings. For me working closely with lots of different people is very important and if my practice overlaps, then it is wonderful to see others enjoying working together as much as I do.
Another collaboration that kind of come out of nowhere is with my partner James Pickering. I had always liked the idea of working with a partner but it had never actually come to fruition. James works in many different ways but mostly does large scale paintings, and one day just invited me to “do something” on this lovely plain yellow unstretched canvas pinned to the wall. A few weeks later by the time we had finished “doing something” we ended up with this:
To be honest it wasn’t easy, but enjoyable nonetheless. We made some canvas tapestries and slip cast ceramics to take to The Middlesbrough Art Weekender and The Manchester Contemporary this year, it was really exciting to show new work. Together we are TELEPHONE PONY.
Last but by no means least GOLDTAPPED. Stacey Davidson and I set up GT just over a year ago now. We wrote our first application together, the first was rejected but the second was successful with a good dollop of help from people at The NewBridge Project, Alphabetti Theatre and especially Matthew Pickering. Without them it would have been very difficult to continue and we don’t want to not pay our artists. Having said that I do think it is different when you are an emerging artist working with your friends to set up shows for yourselves. You need a foundation of experience and understanding which can be hard to find in paid work, so setting up something yourself is the logical step. GT came out of seeing a need for an emerging artist space in Newcastle reflecting the gender ratios that were being pumped out of art schools but plummeting thereafter. Women were studying Fine Art and then it felt like 90 percent of them were not becoming artists.
After our first 2 funded shows, scheduling was difficult so Stacey decided to focus on her own initiative iouae, which had been awarded a large scale project with Shelf in Whitley Bay and I decided to manage GT. I used mine and Stacey’s successful application as a template for the next series of shows and heard back at the beginning of July. GT started a new season with Bex Ilsley’s solo show boom & bust, followed with Blonde Ambition by Tulani Hlalo curated by Mia Cathcart and we're now onto No Cigar by Richard Hughes which opened this week. There are 1 more over the coming months, to keep an eye out!
Blonde Ambition, a solo exhibition by Tulani Hlalo, GOLDTAPPED, Newcastle, UK. Photos Amelia Read
So it seems your work has an interest in using the work of others to enhance ideas, and it really works! The work with Sarah-Joy Ford is multidimensional, and completely stunning. I particularly admire how you’re interested in working closely with other artists in your spaces. Could you explain for our readers what MILK collective, and GOLDTAPPED are, their ethos’ etc? I myself have shown at GOLDTAPPED with artist Zoe Molloy, and found just being in that space/area hugely enhanced my practice.
I guess I can’t really help but work with others. The way my brain works and how my practice works means I find it hard to buckle down in one place for long periods of time. I find it hard to articulate my thoughts in writing but I do love working and talking with others and finding synergies in our practices.
Much of the energy I gather for my practice is from conversing with others. When working for Newcastle University as a careers intern, we did a personality test to see how we worked together and with others. The test told us that people can be split into two categories, those that draw their energy from time alone “recharging” and those that recharge by spending time with others. I definitely fall in the latter.
MILK was my first opportunity after graduating for that to occur. MILK collective was the result of our university year raising more money than was needed for our degree show, along with a desire to create more opportunities for emerging artists in the region.
It continues to run, doing some really interesting projects.
It was in March/April 2017 when the GT space serendipitously fell in to our laps. The NewBridge Project’s City centre space was about to be demolished (it has now been replaced with a container park!) and our landlords moved us to another one of their buildings around the corner. We were able to watch the demolition of our old building from our windows, which for me was both heart-wrenching and cathartic. In the new building when we first walked through to the first floor there was an entrance space with 4 lifts - none of which worked - it was all dingy and was being used as a dumping ground for doors. I asked the director at the time, Charlie Gregory, if we built the gallery walls could we make a space? And luckily she said yes!
On our website it says:
“GOLDTAPPED is an artist led gallery based in The Newbridge Project, Newcastle upon Tyne. Our aim is to provide space for experimentation, development and support emerging artist practices. Our programme includes exhibitions, interviews, talks and workshops.”
Although not explicit, we try and work as a feminist gallery space, giving more opportunities to young emerging female artists. While this had always been in mine and Stacey’s minds when thinking of artists we wanted to show, we naturally chose more female artists.
It was those artists whose work we were the most responsive to. Proportional representation is an interesting concept but when art schools are churning out loads of fantastic female artists and only a fraction of them continuing to practice as artists. This was something I had noticed and when I ask others it seemed not just to be my year in my university but something more wide spread. It made me start to wonder what the missing link was. Hence the thought process behind starting GT.
Pippa Eason (you!) and Zoe Molloy were our 7th exhibition and our first with funding from the Arts Council. Stacey and I each picked an artist, Stacey chose you and I was like absobloodylutely. I chose Zoe, Stacey didn’t know her but loved the work I presented to her and she was sold. It was fresh and exciting, we also asked you both to run a workshop which was the first one we hosted. We realised as we were hosting emerging artists, the workshops could be fun and simple yet have a really strong impact on its participants.
I felt a distinct sense of relief when we got that funding. It meant we could do that workshop, and spend time with the people of Newcastle! It’s always great to add another dimension to an exhibition. So saying that, recharging by spending time with others is perhaps a means of performance- by travelling, spontaneously making a piece, etc. Performance is reoccurring in your practice, is there a way you would describe its relationship to your sculptural forms? How do the two intermingle?
You could say that, I had never really thought about it in that way. It’s an interesting concept that I should probably look into more! I recently attempted to rewrite my artist statement as I feel like I am starting a new chapter with The Collective Studio. I needed something that was more up to date and this was the result:
“Collaboration is a large part of what formulates my practice.
Working with others is an important part of how I produce work. I look for what I enjoy in their work and the possible connections to my own. I satisfy my creative interests through three identifiable strands: my personal artistic practice, my collaborative artistic practice and my curatorial practice. The core running themes that are often used within my personal practice and collaborative practice are triangles, in some form or another, and how I link these symbols to my understanding of feminist symbolism.
I predominantly work in ceramics though do enjoy working in a wide range of media, it is often that in collaboration we will work in ceramics as well as their chosen medium.
As large part of my curatorial practice I run a feminist gallery space looking to address the gender imbalance of practicing and showing artists, which arises after university education.”
I’m not sure it’s finished quite yet. I think I have a love/hate relationship with performance. What I define in my mind as performance isn't necessarily my favourite elements of my work and then other works, which I don’t identify as performance but others do, I find a lot more interesting.
I use the sculptures I make in my performances. I don’t think I would do a performance without some kind of prop, they are a safety net to draw the attention away from me. I have been told my personality gives off the impression that I’m a performer and maybe if it was am dram I would be, but contrary to popular belief I’m not fond of all eyes being on me. Social media is a way for me to perform without being in the room with the audience.
I do get a sense of pure confidence from you, and it definitely translates across all mediums. Social media is a performative space in many respects.
CLITS. Let’s talk about clits.
That is very flattering to be told, I’m not sure it’s true all the time, I guess it is aspirational to be purely confident in yourself and it is something to work towards but for everybody, including me, it’s an evolving process. My version of confident is very different now than it was 5 years ago and I’m sure I will feel the same way in 5 years. I know that I don’t feel confident all the time, and I can be taken over by all the adrenaline and butterflies but I think that only comes from pushing yourself to do things you want to do but are not used to doing yet. It takes time to get used to it and it becomes easier or at least thats what I tell myself.
Well since you asked, it is probably the most frequently used in my roster of symbols. It was a few years ago when I had a revelation that I didn’t know very much about the clitoris. This came around when it was top of The Guardian with large photos of 3D printed clitorises. I was so shocked that I had never known what it looked like but then less shocked when I realised no one else did either. It seems unless you google that kind of stuff, that you wouldn’t get the memo. I was so entranced by its shape and elegance and the fact you could plaster it everywhere and no one seemed to know what it was.
In terms of symbols I am now focusing on Yonic imagery or at least what I see as yonic imagery.
Yonic is anything that looks like the vulva and female genitalia - very much like phallic though comparably yonic is used less. There are many different symbols that seemingly hold gendered connotations and this interests me thoroughly, how a shape or sign or symbol holds meaning - but this can too be changed, reversed and repurposed.
Here is a combination of mine and Sarah Joy’s symbols that we will be using for Hard Craft.
The symbols for Hard Craft are gorgeous! They have a distinctly different feel to the works discussed previously. Will the yonic symbols be used in tapestries? As Sarah Joy works with beautiful elaborate textile works often.
Yeah I agree. We have combined some of the symbols we use, some more frequently than others and symbols we discovered in our research into the Suffragette movement. I’m hoping to work towards a dictionary of symbols for my individual practice and I am interested in the similarities and the layering of these symbols.
Yeah Sarah Joy’s textiles are incredible - I am in such awe of her work, it’s wonderful to be shown so many new skills and ways of working as well as to imparting new skills to others. Sarah Joy and I are working on several banners and ceramics together for Hard Craft. Much of this has been made collaboratively but with us both being in different cities, the conversations we have really help formulate how the works will look in their final stages. We will also be showing some new work from our individual practices which has been influenced by the research for this projects.
I’m really looking forward to seeing it all come together, this is definitely my biggest project to date, but I am hoping this will be fuel for more new things next year.
Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me, it has been wonderfully helpful to think about my practice as a whole, sometimes you can get so bogged down in the organising. It has been a real pleasure :)
You’re ambitious beyond belief. And it’s encouraging to hear artists be so inspired by one another, like yourself and Sarah Joy. I admire your work ethic, and your natural ability to connect people in different places. It has been a pleasure to learn more, and I’m delighted that Hard Craft is coming along nicely. You bring people together, and it’s necessary in the art world today.
Juliet Fleming b.1991 London, lives and works in Newcastle Upon Tyne, at The NewBridge Project artist studios. Juliet has studied at Newcastle University, BxNU Northumbria University and Oxford Brookes University. Juliet is currently on The Collective Studio: a 9 month development programme for early career artists at The Newbridge Project. Juliet is the Co-Founder and Director of GOLDTAPPED, and the Co-founder of MILK collective. Juliet works in fabric, ceramics, and performance.
If you like this why not read our interview with Nick Wood
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