The Unspeakable Freedom Device | Q&A with Jennet Thomas

Ahead of Jennet Thomas’ talk and screening of THE UNSPEAKABLE FREEDOM DEVICE, we asked her few questions about her work and practice…

Please tell us about the piece you are screening at Chelsea in March – it seems to address both some quite serious political ideas while also being quite surreal and almost touches on sci-fi.

The idea for this work started with my reaction to the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, the cult-like status of her image, and the fateful changes she brought on. As I was developing this idea I was approached by the Grundy Gallery, in Blackpool, to make a big film/installation work. It was a great co-incidence- via the Gallery I could get access to the fabulous Blackpool Winter Gardens as a location, the very place where those key Conservative Party Conferences happened when Thatcher rose to power! So thereby came the structure of the work- it would be a pilgrimage to the Winter Gardens, involving a Thatcher Cult.

But my work is never just about one theme – it isn’t even ‘about’ stuff, rather I construct parallel worlds in which you can glimpse reflections of things in our world, inside a kind of machine of play. Everything I am working on now seems to move toward Sci-Fi and the absurd, probably because I am fascinated by the way our increasingly intimate relationship with technology is changing the nature of our reality, and how this is entangled with ideology.

Trailer for THE UNSPEAKABLE FREEDOM DEVICE…

You work on Wimbledon’s Print and Time-based Media course, can you tell us about how you balance your teaching and your own artistic practice? Does one feed into the other?

Everyone at UAL is aware that staff workloads are sometimes insane- even if you are part time. So no, it’s not easy balancing the two.  A brief Sabbatical helped. Working with our Print and Time Based Media students is great, and inspiring, and can definitely connect both ways with my artistic practise. It’s the systemically self-defeating bureaucratic structures and flawed power relations that the institution propagates – that generate so much needless stress that makes the balance hard.

I understand you are also taking part in Acts Re-Acts 3 at Wimbledon Space, can you tell us a bit more about your work for that?

It is a new work that will contain live performance (including a fairly deranged monologue) video animation, costume… it slightly touches upon my inappropriate moan above- it’s called ‘Enhanced Monitoring Event’ and is inspired by a spectacularly opaque power point presentation that was so incomprehensibly stacked with management-speak that it reached a delicious level of absurdity, and number of my colleagues suggested it was a bit like one of my films. It’s a work in progress.

The Unspeakabke Freedom Device

Image: Jennet Thomas

Acts Re-Acts looks at performance from both a fine art and a theatrical perspective and considers where and how they intersect, is this something you have considered in your own work before?

I don’t believe that there are – or should be – clearly defining perspectives or disciplinary ‘territories’ between creative arenas, I don’t think that is how interesting culture works. It’s something that obsesses the academic world, and those that have a stake in maintaining ‘territories’ through funding structures. My work has been crossing over various territories for decades now- it often doesn’t sit comfortably in the ‘artists film’ territory as I have long been interested in spoken word, televisual forms, and, yes, aspects of experimental theatre. Only recently have these aspects been sucked into the monstrous digestive system of the Fine Art world and become a bit trendy.

Thanks Jennet!

Jennet’s talk and screening will take place on 2nd March, see below for more information and this event and Jennet’s work…

2nd March, 18:00 – 20:00, Lecture Theatre, Chelsea College of Arts, London, SW1P 4JU

No booking required.

Details of THE UNSPEAKABLE FREEOM DEVICE book can be found at the Book Works website

For more information about Jennet Thomas please visit her blog.

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