Our new series featuring young artists is not remotely predicated on non-accrued age, although some of the artists are barely older than the century itself, more Paul Weller's the "about the young idea," new voices, new thinking or the re-interpretation of old ideas in art. We love to see it. What interests us is what interests them.
Gemma Moore M.F.A. has just completed her studies in a Fine Art Masters at the Birmingham School of Art. Gemma's installation Our Distraught System (2022) featured at In Real Life at the historical Margaret Street building. Our Distraught System (2022) is a representation of the societal system that sometimes fails to support women when they face issues such as having their perception and experiences of various public spaces (i.e. streets in cities) impeded by either literal or psychological fear of violent behaviour.
We caught up with Gemma to talk about her work so far, her plans for the future and oh so much else...
Outsideleft: First a little bit of background, you're originally from Herefordshire...? What drew you to Birmingham... What drew you to this course at this time?Gemma Moore: I am currently living near the border of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Wales – it is a beautiful place to live. It is so peaceful, calm and quiet – yet, it can be rurally isolating. I previously graduated from the Hereford College of Arts with a First-Class Honours Degree in Fine Art, and upon completing my studies in Hereford I not only wanted to explore a different part of the country but I also had made a lot of art-based connections in Birmingham during my Degree and it just made sense for me to contemplate pursuing a Masters in Fine Art there, at the Birmingham School of Art. I also really liked how Birmingham seems to be connected with the artworld and being in the city always made me feel closer to it. It was also at the start of my Master's Degree that I started a job that was based in London, and the connections between the two cities are great.
I was drawn to Birmingham for many reasons... it is a culturally diverse city which I find really exciting - I love the idea of finding ways in which art can be a vehicle to exchange cultural ideas, thoughts, opinions and values, and this idea has characterised my practice throughout the past year. I have noticed how the making and talking about art often transgresses all cultural barriers and boundaries which for me has enabled me collaborate with other students from all over the world which has been amazing.
I was drawn to the Masters in Fine Art at Birmingham City University because I knew that I wanted to do a Masters immediately after my undergraduate degree because I am passionate about education and art. I would like to lecture Fine Art in the future, and so a Masters qualification was essential. I knew that I would really enjoy the commitment and academic engagement of a Masters in a new art school environment.
Outsideleft: The impact of your work I saw at the show on Margaret Street is immediate, lasting and immense, in parts as instructively violent as the violence it confronts? Can you talk about that?
Gemma Moore: Yes of course. It is interesting that you were impacted by my work that I exhibited at the Birmingham School of Art’s show In Real Life (2022) at Margaret Street. I found it so rewarding that you engaged with the work and appreciated what it was aiming to communicate. As an artist that is possibly one of the most important aspects of researching, making and then exhibiting; when members of the public not only understand but also engage with works because one purpose of art is to stimulate conversation to enable social change where it is needed. So thank you.
My installation was titled Our Distraught System (2022) and it was a representation of the societal system that sometimes fails to support women when they face issues such as having their perception and experiences of various public spaces (i.e. streets in cities) impeded by either literal or psychological fear of violent behaviour. The installation was a wooden sculpture of a box, that had been deliberately damaged on the outside. The exterior of the box was painted black but this layer had been peeled and stripped away to reveal various colours that had been layered previously. The box was later roughly split in half, and during the installation process I placed a variety of wires and a series of small, black irregular jagged wooden pieces that suggested how the box had been broken. The box was not neatly and precisely cut in half. It was cut with an overriding sense of hostility which is representation of how some women feel when moving from place to place in urban areas in cities.
The mass of coloured wires referenced how women’s experiences of the street could be damaged to due technological ramifications, for example, the incel culture or other radical groups that are situated online and can influence many people’s fundamental thinking, values and emotions and perception of women’s usage of public space.
The broken pieces of wood articulated the physicality of the box being broken and how shards of the box became engulfed by the influx of technological influence. Strung in between the two boxes were strings of fishing wire that contained names and various sentences and phraseology associated with the issue of male violence against women. The process of making and developing the long strings of names and sentences were references to the making of friendship bracelets which is associated with trust, honesty and stereotypically young girls’ behaviour. However, in this context the process was used to highlight with a sense of irony the lack of these values when it comes to addressing the larger issues that affect women’s lives when considering safety, or the lack of when contemplating public spaces.
It is really interesting how you talk about the piece, i.e. Our Distraught System (2022) did, in its various aesthetic qualities, look or communicate a sense of ‘instructively violent as the violence it confronts’. This was suggested by how the box had been cut in a seeming aggressive manner because there were sharp edges and some cuts of wood were a lot deeper than others. Therefore, the work did communicate a sense of violence and tension but I feel that this was appropriate because it is a mere reflection of the type of violence the work is trying to communicate. Also, the work needed to communicate a strong sense of fear, because I during my Masters studies I spent a large amount of time making art that fundamentally represented not only the type of violence that takes place in the street but also the fear of it happening. This line of inquiry led me to making a large series ‘Mental Maps’ which were a collection of collages, paintings and digital works that aimed to represent those moments when one chooses to deviate their route in a city due to the fear of violence or because of associating the space with violence. In many ways the quality of how the paint was stripped and peeled away reflected the qualities of my original Mental Map making, which I thought was an interesting subliminal link. The Mental Map series have been exhibited as part of the Ludlow Art Society’s Summer Exhibition, Hereford Courtyard and Hereford’s Apple Store Gallery earlier this year.
Outsideleft: And do you think, well, when I think of somewhat isolated market towns, where people converge... Does that impact your work?
Gemma Moore: Definitely. I think people’s movement through public space is really interesting and this is what I have become increasingly intrigued by since studying in a much larger city because there are so many more variants of routes people can take and use to reach the same destination. This became interesting to me because where I am currently living is surrounded by small, rural, quiet market towns.
This is another reason why I wanted to study in a much larger city, because previously when studying in smaller cities and towns I became interested in how people moved through public space and why people did choose particular routes and pathways. It was at this point I became interested in the idea of safety and what people to do enable themselves to feel safe. At the start of my Masters there was an evening option module and this always involved walking from one campus to another, walking right through the city centre, New Street. It was during this time that everything I thought about navigating the street and the movement of people became very real and suddenly this heightened my interest in the topic of the street and the perception of it from a woman’s perspective. This, of course, had been marred by the recent attacks and deaths of Sabina Nessa, Sarah Everard and many other women that lingered in my mind and stained my perception of where or which street would be safer to use. It was these very real experiences, theoretical arguments, interests and links to psycho-geography, the Dérive, the Flaneur and The Situationist International Movement in the 1960s... these all informed by academic thinking around the subject and also many books including Laura Bate’s Men Who Hate Women and Fix the System, Not the Women... and in particular Leslie Kern’s Feminist City which introduced me to the idea of cities being like living collages, that would be in a constant state of flux, trying to constantly update to accurately represent the realities of the lack of safety women experience and feel whilst navigating in cities.
Outsideleft: And some pieces were collaborative with a male colleague. I am sure that they abhor violence. But as we have seen in some high profile horrific events race and class are meaningful too. A couple of months ago, I was listening to the MP Jess Phillips at bookshop in Bearwood talking about her conversations with her boys. I wonder about male commitment to the nuances of your project. Male violence in general is a male problem that becomes a societal one, a problem for women. It's hard to imagine we tolerate cities where women are not safe to walk around after dark. That's where we begin right, with men? And not to excuse men, but if you are not valued to begin with, perhaps it is difficult to value anything...
Gemma Moore: Yes, one of my works exhibited at the show at the Birmingham School of Art was a collaborative piece, it was titled Ideology Reformation (2022). My friend Daniel Onyeke and I both realised that we were dealing with similar themes and decided to collaborate. Daniel at the time seemed to be investigating some of the causes behind why men can become violent towards women and looking into substance abuse; whereas my work dealt with the representation of this but from a woman’s perspective and how this behaviour affects the way in which the street is perceived.
During the making time, I was fascinated by how we were able to make work together that investigated similar interests, yet we were able to completely cross cut all cultural and ethnic boundaries... since we were passionate about the same issue, but understood it from different perspectives, but when situated and presented together, our views and perspectives were complimentary. I was fascinated by how our work not only dealt with gender but also race too, in a sophisticated way. I have always found the links between gender and race intriguing and it is a topic that I remember writing about in my dissertation for my degree, however this was looking at gender representation in another context.
I wanted to work with a collaborator of another gender because it felt ridiculous not to - I wanted to make artwork that would enable viewers to gain a deeper understanding into an issue that inevitably amalgamates genders in a complex way, and therefore working with Daniel was important to me because there was an exchange of ideas, emotions and explorations about the idea. In this sense I feel like we were, through the image we made, trying to ingrain a sense of re-valuing our relationships with each other. I felt like this was enhanced by the angle of the image too – it feels like as a viewer one is ‘looking up’ to us which felt empowering because it felt like there was a chance our ideas could be listened to and therefore, valued.
We hoped that through our collaboration we could cause a new and more critical conversation about how substance abuse, male violence and women’s street perception could be interlinked. it was during the making of Ideology Reformation (2022) we were able to literally engage with the public because we deliberately did not ask a member of our class cohort to help us with photographing us with our signs – instead we took this opportunity to engage with the public and also to tell them about what we were doing. In this sense, the making of this image did feel quite performative, because as we walked around Birmingham, we asked members of the public who seemed interested to help, and this way we also disseminated our project aims and ideas.
We are really hoping that Ideology Reformation (2022) will make another appearance in another public space to raise awareness of the issue.
Outsideleft: The rules of attraction now. More lightly, how do they work. I am old what do I know? People like me are part of the problem I think. Because we were not observant and active enough over the recent decades. My generation are the people that brought us here.
Gemma Moore: Yet because one of visual art’s aims is to help to stimulate conversation to potentially bring around social change. Hence why I am so grateful for an opportunity to discuss the work here; it is another way more people can read and understand the work and its aims. I feel that strong visual art, particularly conceptual art, does have the power to make the wider public re-think their thoughts on some issues that are currently characterising our world today... particularly violence against women.
Outsideleft: I know you're taking some time and then working in the field of dementia which is so very important. I have a friend who worked with Worcester University, a centre for excellence in dementia study, who adapts homes to enable people and families living with dementia, to stay in their own homes for longer... This is a crisis.
Gemma Moore: Yes, that is correct. In the immediate future I would like to rest, pursue causal creative work, re-connect with various projects that I want to engage with in my local area and also apply for other creative opportunities in the West Midlands. In 2024, my hope is to embark on a PhD at Worcester University, that will enable me to research the links between contemporary Fine Art drawing and painting practices to further understand how this can help alleviate the symptoms associated with dementia. This has been inspired by a previous project that I engaged with in my local area whereby I had a fantastic opportunity to facilitate drawing sessions in a local Meeting Centre, and I found this project deeply rewarding because I was finding ways of re-channelling my passion for contemporary art in a health care setting which I found so exciting... what made this research intriguing was that through the sessions I could see a different in behaviour. I feel that doing a PhD in this research area would really help this health condition that is increasingly affecting many people’s lives and their families. I want to use this PhD as a way of proving how Fine Art can be taken seriously in an academic research setting to improve people’s quality of life.
Outsideleft: Where does Gemma Moore's art go next?
Gemma Moore: My plan currently is to look for creative work in both my locality (Herefordshire) and in the West Midlands. I am particularly looking for opportunities that are socially engaged, and connects with my passions of performative artwork, social collaboration and also more traditional Fine Art practices including abstract drawing and painting. I am also going to spend some time reflecting on my past experiences on my Masters and contemplating on where my practice is right now and how it can be taken further to reach wider audiences and be used a vehicle for social change. Seeking the potential of my work. During this time, I would also like to travel, because during the time of my Masters I have made some really amazing International friends who have invited me to visit their home countries which I am really excited about. I feel that travel is going to inform my art practice.
I would also like to establish a studio space where I can think, chew and disseminate my work... and I'd like to gain some experience in lecturing and working within a Higher Education environment as this is something I would like to do in the future too.
Main Image Gemma Moore's Our Distraught System (2022) at the MFA show, In Real Life, Birmingham School of Art, 2022
Gemma's website is here.