artist jesse darling doesn’t like interviews
But their art speaks plenty.
This article originally appeared in The Radical Issue, no. 350, Spring 2018.
You can mine online channels -- a continuously flashing (difficult to look at) website, Twitter and Instagram -- for clues as to what artist Jesse Darling is thinking about work/life/digital life (same thing)/what’s lol/what’s interesting/irking.
Currently in Berlin, Jesse can be freewheeling and philosophical with communication on their own terms. For example: “Only slightly offended by this highly gendered reading. I didn’t think of those fetus sculps as ‘babies’, but as units of coiled potential & futurity, like bombs or cells or fists,” Jesse wrote under a scanned review. A response to their Armes Blanches (History Is Other People) show at Galerie Sultana in Paris last year, in which the critic mistook Jesse’s -- it must be said, really cute -- sculptures of embryonic expectations for something more literally antenatal.
Jesse is cautious about giving out words -- with their tendency to want to pin.you.down. The artist is not into phone interviews or generally answering many questions. Their art denies easy definition, resisting our drive to name, and rejecting the damage done by representation. Spanning sculpture, film, drawing, performance, installation, sound and poetry, (see, can't help but categorise) it has its own language, and makes use of alternative modes of communication.
“I have to feel something in my body and then I try to use my body to put that in the world somehow. And then it’s about looking to see if the work speaks back to me. I know it when I see it.”
How did learning the dialect of art -- at CSM and Slade -- change how Jesse thought? “I had to rehabilitate ‘the idea of the artist’ for myself in some kind of story about being an alienated contemporary version of the shaman or storyteller or traveling preacher. Being a maker of objects and conjectures from the white European tradition I have to acknowledge that I’m probably more of a snake oil salesman, but in my defence I do really believe in the cure; it’s not cynical that way.”
The language of Jesse’s sculptures is fragility, precariousness -- things might fall apart, people and culture are perishable, but there’s no dread in it. More a radical acceptance that sits alongside a challenge to structures, quasi-secular rituals and norms. For the title of a joint exhibition with Phoebe Collings-James in 2016, the two artists invented a new word, “Atrophilia”, to mean “a desire for collapse or stasis”. It’s all stories -- some loud some quiet, often unsettling, often funny -- because that’s what we use. As Jesse says of the narrative impulse, “I give in to it nowadays because what else have we got, after all?”
Jesse’s approach to starting a new piece of work is physical. “I have to feel something in my body and then I try to use my body to put that in the world somehow. And then it’s about looking to see if the work speaks back to me. I know it when I see it.” Which makes sense, as their work explores the body, as it passes through systems -- cultural, political, technological, symbolic -- and how that imprints various meanings. So, what does it all mean? “It only confirms the strangeness of the species in pursuing activities where there is no discernible gain, only a sort of ritual compulsion which historically codes as faith practice,” they say. “I think my best works have taught me that dumb intuition is more eloquent than clever ideas.”
Photography Maxwell Tomlinson