Originally from London, Jemima Burrill is an artist and curator, whose personal practice incorporates photography, video, drawing and performance. Having first studied Visual Anthropology and Linguistics in Manchester, Burrill later studied in the sculpture departments at both the Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art. As an artist, Burrill is represented by Galerie Houg, Paris. She also acts as the main curator at London’s Now Gallery – a public art space located on the Greenwich Peninsula.
The Net Gallery spoke to Burrill about Now Gallery’s latest exhibition – a dramatic installation by French architect and artist Emmanuelle Moureaux – its connection to the gallery’s wider programme and how, on a personal level, she has been affected by the current lockdown situation.
Richard Unwin: When did you personally first become aware of Emmanuelle Moureaux’s work, and how did the plan to commission an installation from her for NOW Gallery develop?
Jemima Burrill: I had Emmanuelle Moureaux on my radar for a while. I saw her work first on Instagram and was struck by the way she uses colour in such a vivid, varied way. I thought it would work well for NOW Gallery as colour has been successful in the space before, with the wonderful Camille Walala. With all our exhibitions, we get three artists or designers to present an idea, and then we chose the design that is going to work best in the gallery. With Emmanuelle, she lives in Japan and so presented her idea for the exhibition from there. It was a fully formed concept with 168,000 numbers contained in 100 colours. It was very clear what she wanted to do and how she was connecting it to the Meridian – thinking about past, present and future. Even with her 3D model, it wasn’t until the numbers started going up that we were aware of what the impact was going to be in the space. The installation was a big challenge, but working with Emmanuelle and her technicians was a great pleasure: their attention to detail and dedication to making a truly remarkable piece of art was a pleasure to be involved with.
RU: How would you say that Moureaux’s practice – and the installation she has created – connects to Now Gallery’s wider programme and the types of work and projects you like to engage with?
RU: The open-plan layout of Now Gallery and the high ceiling means you’re able to show some very dramatic, large-scale installations like Emmanuelle’s. Does the gallery present particular challenges for a curator, as well as the benefits of space and volume?
JB: I arrived to work at Greenwich Peninsula before the gallery had been built. It appeared before my eyes, this extraordinary glass fronted space designed by Marks Barfield, of London Eye fame. Although I had seen the plans it was not quite what I expected and it was certainly no white box. It has a busy interior and the ceiling height makes it a magnificent space, but also a tricky one to negotiate and fill effectively. My original idea was to have a designer, a fashion designer and an artist fill the space with an unprecedented installation, once I saw the gallery built, this felt like the perfect option. The gallery gives an out of the ordinary space to creatives to experiment and it is always exciting to see what they come up with, which uses the dimensions and unorthodox nature of the space in a courageous and interesting way.
JB: That is an interesting question. I started life as an artist and went to Chelsea and The Royal College, where I studied for 6 years, and this definitely cemented my love of art, film and performance. But I also love making other things happen and I organised exhibitions when I was in college and straight after. Working with people makes me happy, but I also value my time in my studio making work. I have an alter ego – @megaphonewoman – who keeps me drawing and this part of me I am sure feeds into being a curator, as curating feeds into my art practice. NOW Gallery has given me the opportunity to work with some amazing people and to work on Greenwich Peninsula which, with the Thames all around it, is an inspiring place to be.
RU: How are you finding the experience of lockdown and how has it affected your practice and ability to work?
JB: As an extrovert, I am not one of those people that lockdown suits particularly well. I love people and enjoy working with a really varied bunch of talented individuals, from my colleagues at NOW Gallery to the artists we commission. Yes we are on Zoom, but for me it is the smell of people, the shake of a hand, the body language and the chattering over the tea making that makes me happy. It is also those moments in between meetings which somehow are the most productive. Plus I like asking people’s opinion, I value other’s input in an informal way, and this is somehow not suited to Zoom. On the upside, being confined is perfect for making art work, so I am busy on a series of water colours of bottles of many shapes and sizes of varying degrees of fullness, which keeps my occupied and happy.
RU: You’re clearly someone who has thought about and worked with the idea of, or ideas around, space throughout your career. Has the current situation changed the way you view space, or stirred-up new new ways of thinking about it?
JB: That is a hard, interesting question. My mother was an architect, so yes space and how we live in it is a constant preoccupation. Most of my artwork stems back to the idea of being ‘contained’. My mother also wrote a book called ‘Tomorrow’s Office’ which looks at, among other things, how to work at home effectively. She was always way ahead of her time. I am not sure how Covid or this situation has changed my view of space, but it has certainly made me realise that – like with your scan – it is important to work out how the public can see art in other ways moving forward. That could be through digital talks, Instagram Q&As, producing colouring sheets for children or streaming films and podcasts. NOW Gallery is a public art space and we want our audience to benefit from a digital programme that keeps them in touch with what we do.