JOANNA PALMER INTERVIEW
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
BY MARTA DE LA PARRA PRIETO
TRANSLATE BY VANESSA MÚRIAS
"The gloss, the red, the pout. With Palmer’s videos on lips, the famous line from Deliverance is the only thing that comes to mind: “You got a purty mouth." Palmer's work takes the perfect, pretty lips -the kind of lips men stare at while fantasizing about fellatio- and uses them as a template for humor, art history, and philosophy. Along with her stitched underwear and printed tees, Palmer's glossy lips reject the viewer's voyeuristic gaze. She's beaten the viewer to the punch, Palmer knows she is on display and manipulates that platform to spread her messages about philosophy and feminism. All eyes may be on her, but she's the one in control."
Furusho von Puttkammer, former Galeria das Minas´ intervieweé
GdM: When you set yourself within the art system, you identified as a visual artist, what does being a visual artist entail for you? What roles do text-based art and new media art play within in it?
JRP: : on reading this, I had a little flutter of anxiety that I am self limiting and self censoring by defining myself as a visual artist. However, I now understand that, for my own sanity, I must define myself somehow…Though my work often aims to stimulate all 5 senses, evidently, sight is the primary one.
My work with text harks back to my own obsessive fixation with language and communication. As a child, I was always fascinated with the biggest, most difficult to pronounce words. I was even toying with studying modern languages at university, but art school won. Text allows me to do one main thing – communicate. To me, all art is communicative in some sense. This can be excessively complex, or in my own text work, more straightforward and often playful text work. I circle back to it often as it allows me a direct journey into meaning.
New media art has a slightly less articulate journey for me. I have pretty much always worked with lens based media in my art career, but the progression into new media art felt very natural for me. The aesthetics of new media art are ones that give me that pit of your tummy excitement. The weighty nature of screens, the presence of fragments, articles, glitches, and the faint hum of the CRT tubes thrill me. With video art, it can be easy to be seduced by the seamlessness of the new technologies we have available. However, to me, particularly with the CRT screens I use, they act like a portion of the body. The viewer is much more aware of their physical presence and must move their own body to interact with them. Essentially, new media art allows me to force my viewer into interacting a certain way.
GdM: When we think of your work, the first image that comes to mind may be a film still from Milk, or Fruity Pops- Strawberry, or A Moment on the lips, a Lifetime on the Hips, or ORIFICE, or TELL ME A SECRET, or maybe one from SWEET NOTHINGS. Not only all these pieces have in common (your) garnet lips moving, but also their deep commitment to feminism. Firstly, we would love to hear more about those pieces. Also, we would very much like to learn more about how installation art, video art, and feminism work in your practice.
JRP: These pieces were born out of, again, my obsession with communication. I was playing around with still images of my mouth in a series, a bit like a flick book. The lipstick was incidental – it’s something I spend too much money on. I’d worked with video before but not in such a dedicated sense that these mouth orientated videos developed. Thus, this snowballed into lip reading experiments. I screened these videos both via social media, and with a live audience, instructing them to read my lips. The audience consistently responded with wonder and delight at the perfection of the garnet lips. as this was a focal point of engagement, I decided to capitalise off that. To create an image of feminine perfection is quite challenging – the mouth is young, wet, receiving, silent, and aroused. The viewer wants to indulge in the scopophilic pleasure of viewing this mouth. Making this image of myself felt initially quite embarrassing, but through study and exposure I began to realise I was embarrassed because I was made to feel ashamed of a feminine body that had the potential to feel and show pleasure. These mouths unashamedly indulge in their acts of expulsion, gratification, and speech.
I struggled with the notion of taking my own video art seriously. I knew (to my own shame) that I frequently disengage with video art in galleries etc if it doesn’t immediately draw me in, particularly if the video is projected. In my ever questioning way, I think it is to do with the work being tangible, and projected video being made of light, not tangible in the same sense. To refer back to your previous question regarding new media art, this is where I feel the presence of the physical screen makes the viewer engage in a different manner. Due to the bodily nature of my work, I feel these screens act as a sort of stand in for a body part, like a head or a face.
GdM: The feminist struggle is vital in your processes. Thus, your work is always a political practice, and appealing and confronting the views is a crucial strategy. Even though it feels like this questioning approach is always present in your artwork, it is taken literally on Sweet Nothings. In this case, you urged the audience to participate. Please, tell us a bit about this experience and the reasons behind it.
JRP: A polling booth. In my experience of voting, I have always voted in my former primary school, in the assembly hall. The section for voting is not particularly private for such an important act, anyone tall enough to peer over could have a look at your voting card. I wanted to force my audience to not only engage, but act upon it. It was a way for me to combine my fascination with language, text, power, and femininity, and quite literally take control of a representation of my body and how to behave towards it. The viewer is made to watch me, view me, and attempt to understand me. this experience was honestly pretty daunting for me. I had to learn to see a sort of split in self – myself as myself, and as my performative, on screen self. As you have noted, this questioning is ever present. Due to the lipreading context, I felt that I had to push myself beyond the bounds of my anxiety and put this work to a live audience. as I have previously said, art to me is a communicative strategy. To force my audience into engaging with my work and having to participate in the form of answering written questions, I wielded a power I felt I did not previously have. As my work is heavily influenced by gaze theories, I felt I could turn it on its head by being the consumable feminine image, recipient of the gaze, but holder of the power and the answers.
GdM: A Bildungsroman: Virtual Girlhood makes it clear, mass and social media are a frequent setting for your reflections on issues regarding womanhood and identity, accentuating sex rights and policies in the spotlight within those identities. Am I mistaken?
JRP: You are entirely correct. I am in my early 20s, so I have grown up online. My identity and perception of self as well as others has been shaped by mass media, particularly the media we consume online. We sit in our bedrooms, with our digital devices, in our intimate space, asking and telling the internet our most intimate thoughts. It is a duality of anonymity and total candor. As girls, we are unconsciously taught to repeatedly self analyse and strive for a perfection that does not exist. In this work, I wanted to highlight the intensity of this. The Google search results I included in it are entirely unedited, which is to me, truly saddening and a perfect example of how the social norms around girlhood and sexuality are in flux and need to be challenged. The internet has brought us a platform of never seen before freedom and opportunity, but this is not without limits. I would not neglect to mention the privilege I have in the sense that I have in being able to access this. However, as we know all too well, representations of feminine bodies, particularly in a so called sexual sense are censored and removed, time after time. This work revealed the dark underbelly of these girlhood anxieties and oppressive policies that still rule us today.
GdM: “Daily Bread”, shows that both the audiences and mass and social media are relevant agents in your work. Why?
JRP: This work, as with some of my other text work, is a rather tongue in cheek piece. I myself am guilty of endless, mindless scrolling, and feeling that delightful dopamine hit from Instagram likes. While this seems innocuous at first, it is increasingly evident the effect this kind of engagement is having on us as social media users. As Instagram has been trialling removing likes, I feel this work is even more relevant now, as we will have to grapple with this shift in our perception of so called success online.
GdM: Your work as a text-based artist has lead you to less digital areas too. Namely, with you “What would your mother think?” you visited embroidery while sharing your personal experience with online harassment.
JRP: I’ve always enjoyed working with textiles, especially embroidery. As we know, mediums like this are often thought of with derisiveness and disregard for them as “female” art forms. At the time, I was reading The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker, and felt deeply inspired to hone my skills in embroidery and spend the hours poring over the book and tiny stitches. It was catharsis for me. The focus required and time it took allowed me to shed the disgust and shame I felt from the harassment, and make something visceral from it. Most recently, I worked heavily with textiles in my Degree Show exhibition Once Bitten, Twice Shy. The usage of weighty red velvet is a stimulating sensory element that invites the viewer to stroke the material and be cognizant of its many connotations; like a seedy bar, or a luxuriant theatre stage curtain. In essence, the use of textiles is another element to explore my delight with text, as well as video.
GdM: Tell us about your influences.
JRP: I am deeply inspired by a lot of theory, particularly the psychoanalytic approach. Theorists such as Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, and Hélène Cixous, to name a few. Michele White has also been of significant influence to me, with her seminal theories about webcams, voyeurism, and feminine bodies. I have a love hate relationship with the infamous Sigmund Freud. However, his theories of oral fixation and sexuality have been something I have come back to time and time again as I feel they are rich in material for inspiration. To put it succinctly, I am always yearning to understand more of these complex theories, and I find that through artmaking, I am able to work through them, sift out the important pieces, and make work that is communicative and didactic.
GdM: I will like to lay emphasis on your female influences.
JRP: if I had to pick one main female influence, I’d pick Juno Calypso. I went as far to write my thesis on her photographic work. Her hyperfeminine images of indulgent opulence were the first time I’d seen a feminine body represented in such a celebratory manner. It is vital to me that these images are taken by the artist herself, not by a man, or using a model. In a similar vein, the work of Maja Malou Lyse’s unabashed but sensitive portrayals of factual feminine sexuality and didactic pieces are both very inspiring to me, as well as very necessary and accessible via social media. Pipilotti Rist’s sensory overloading, surreal and bodily video works have influenced me for quite some time now, as a young female artist working with her own body too. Finally, the work of Laure Prouvost has influenced me since seeing her Turner Prize winning work in 2013 in Londonderry. The tenderness of her text work, with a speculative but gentle tone never fails to inspire me.
GdM: A show.
JRP: Félix González-Torres exhibition at the MAC in 2015 is an exhibition that changed me as an artist and as a person. I had never experienced such a sensitive, participatory, and evocative exhibition in my life until that point, and I still recall it fondly.
GdM: Something to read.
JRP: Female Fetishism – A new look, by Lorraine Gamman and Merja Makinen.
GdM: Something to listen to.
GdM: Something to watch.
GdM: Unquestionably, you are a feminist. How do art and feminism work together for you? Do you believe art can be an effective tool for the feminist struggle? How? Why? We would love to hear more about your thoughts on this.
JRP: to me, they need each other. As a young female artist in the west, I am aware that I am much more privileged than many other women in other areas of the world. I feel it would be irresponsible of me to neglect the feminist struggle that allowed me to have the freedom I have as a woman and an artist. As I have alluded to before, art is a communicative strategy for me. The ability to provoke even just one viewer into considering things differently always motivates me to persist.
GdM: Lastly, tell us a secret, upcoming projects.
JRP: I’ve been adjusting to post graduate life, and have recently acquired a studio in Belfast. I intend to get back to some parts of my practice I have neglected, such as writing, and lens based work. I have been playing around with a lot of light orientated, liminal, sensory pieces recently. Time will tell…
Images courtesy of the artist.