Jacqueline Pennell

  1. Jacqueline Pennell – Press release
  2. Foreword, Mirror Mirror: Jacqueline Pennell – Rear Window
  3. The Other Site, Towards a Definition of Site-specificity – Jean-Paul Martinon
  4. From a Rear Window — Extract from a Journal – Peter Cross
  5. Mirror Mirror: Jacqueline Pennell – Rear Window

Mirror Mirror: Jacqueline Pennell – Rear Window

Rear Window Publications
1996 ISBN 0 9521040 6 7
© Peter Cross, Jean-Paul Martinon, Jacqueline Pennell

Could you describe the piece?

The viewer enters the piece at the beginning of a long corridor, at the end of which you see yourself reflected. As you walk down this corridor, you are walking towards yourself. The whole space is reflected by different means, the ceiling is repeated on the floor, the left wall is repeated upside-down onto the right wall. The space is then extended and divided in two, there is the real space and the space created. It is a very architectural piece, where the mirroring effects repeat the world outside.

What is this outside world which reflects itself inside?

I see my piece specifically relating to the studio complex that is adjacent to it. There are also the repeating units formed by this mirroring effect which bring an element of duplication within the piece itself.

So will the viewer be put in the position of the artist as he or she confronts a particular space, or does the piece relate to the self-reflexive space of the artist’s studio?

It is about searching for what the piece is about, which relates to the process of making. You walk down the corridor, and you notice that it is reflecting itself, but that this reflection is somehow not quite right, that the pipes are not identical, that the ceiling is different from the floor, until eventually, you are faced with your reflection in the mirror. You are not given any help.

So would the “real” be constituted by the other artist’s studio or by the estate that surrounds the space? What is the reality that reflects itself in that space?

I think the reality here is ultimately yourself. You are asked to enter the space and deal with yourself.

That experience is radically different form the one you experience when entering an artist’s studio?

There is a difference, because it is a different kind of space. In an artist’s studio, you are partly looking for the work and partly looking for leftover clues that would give you an idea of who the artist is.

So what sort of personal clues will you be leaving behind for people to find out about you?

I don’t think I’ll be leaving any, actually. This is a new space, which I am asking the viewer to find out how I responded to that space; and the corridor with its different sections provides the clue to this response.

Would the corridor then constitute a metaphor for an artist’s studio?

Perhaps, in the case of a large complex of studios where one goes from one artist’s studio to another, and where each section, each artist’s studio has a different identity with different kinds of works.

So would you say that each section of your corridor constitutes a studio, and the corridor is like a studio visit, from one section to another?

I don’t think it is an uplifting metaphor for a complex of studios. I don’t want to say with the corridor that all studios are the same, that there is no individual identity. Viewers often go to artist’s studios in order to get something out of them. Here I am not leaving anything for them to take, I am forcing them to confront themselves.

So the piece is more about the experience of the viewer in an artist’s studio, than the experience of the artist in his or her studio?

I just wanted to put the viewer on stage rather than to have him or her just looking at work in a neutral space. The viewer is the piece, as opposed to just being a witness to an artist’s work. In open studios, where the viewer is confronted by the work and also sometimes by the artist sitting in his or her studio, the viewer is much more self-conscious in the way he or she is looking at the work. This self-consciousness extends even to the way he or she walks into the studio, how he or she looks at the work. And this is different from the experience you would have when looking at an artist’s work in a gallery, where it does not matter how you look at the work, because the artist isn’t there and the space is supposed neutral.

What triggered the choice of that space?

It was a progression of ideas. It started off with the general idea of disclosure and concealment that the artist feels when showing work during the open studios. Then the idea moved towards the act of opening the studio, and that prompted us to have the idea of showing on an open roof top, where the notion of Open would be taken completely literally, and where an open space would counterbalance the traditional enclosed studio. The problem on a roof top is the impossibility of avoiding the view. So it was a question of asking the viewer to look at something other than the view. In order to do that, the idea was to screen off the view, leaving some small apertures set into a mirror. This would force the viewer to try to see the view, but at the same time, force him or her to confront his or her image in the mirrors.

Then the idea changed. I wanted to keep the view but disrupt the viewer’s senses by putting the mirrors on the floor and asking them to walk over the mirrors, which reflected the sky and the passing clouds. The idea there was not to deny anything, but to upset a certain balance.

There was also an element of performance. The viewer would come in and be confronted with his or her own image, an image, which could very easily break, an image which was constantly shifting, changing. The sense of movement brought a new element to the piece, which was later developed in the car park piece.

Would you say that by refusing the viewer any possibility of avoiding his or her presence, your piece criticises the act of giving something away, which seems to epitomise the idea of open studio? The artist works away in his or her studio towards a piece, which would later be metaphorically given away (or literally sold) to a member of the public for contemplation. In your piece, it seems that by refusing to give anything to the viewers, even by asking them to confront themselves, you are criticising the aim in the act of production, which is, ultimately, to give?

The audience expects too much. A work of art is not only about giving information away, it is about interacting with that work, whether it be a single object or a more complex piece. Art asks for the participation of the viewer, and my piece asks the viewer to participate in that tension between the act of receiving and the act of taking.

You have a studio in East London. How different is your practice here from your studio practice?

The studio is a working space, where the objects that I make could go into any space, but eventually, they have to find a space, which is particular to them. The studio is a place where I plan pieces for specific spaces. I am constantly aware of the context in which my piece will be sited. I cannot think of a piece just like that. My studio is a working space where I set things up for other spaces. Studios are places to think. I don’t think the work can be finalised in that space. It needs a final dimension.

So your studio seems to be a working space for research and experiment? Would any of these characteristics be transposed to your piece for the car park?

Studio research and thinking are being transposed in this piece by the act of going towards the mirror, therefore towards yourself. It traces the journey towards your own image, trying to get close enough to be able to look at yourself.

So the progression towards the mirror is about this progression towards the piece as it is being made or being viewed?

Yes, the act of passing the various sections in the corridor towards the mirror constitutes a metaphor for the work in studios, where you start working on certain ideas, and then abandon them until your reach a certain point. This point is when you know that there is something right, where you know that you have explored every aspect of the piece you are working on, where you know that things are starting to fall into place. However, the closer you get, the more dangerous it is, the more awkward it is, the more uncomfortable it gets, and that is when you know that you’ve explored everything, that the piece is nearly finished. In this piece, when you reach the mirror, you think that you’ve explored everything in the work, but at the same time, it becomes awkward because you are confronted with yourself.

You’ve opened your studios in the past. What did you show then and how different was it from the work you are doing for this year’s Open Studios?

I always find it quite difficult to open my studio, because for me showing work in a studio is about pretending. It is about setting up different things together and pretending that they have a unity. To open a studio is to choose particular pieces that you want to show in the context of the open studios. It is not an exhibition, because the choice is not dictated by circumstances, it is a showcase. Nothing is really definite, unless you completely change your studio, but then it stops being an open studio. I’ve got to the point of only showing documentation of work, because within the context of my own practice, it is the only thing that makes sense.

Some time ago, when I was concentrating on objects as such, I didn’t mind opening my studio and showing the work. But lately, I’ve being doing more pieces for specific spaces, and therefore the only thing I can show is the recoding of these pieces. I’ve tried to install specific pieces in my studio, but they never referred to the studio itself as a space. Once I did a light piece in the dark. It was easy, because the studio was darkened and by being darkened, it could have been any space, so it worked. Therefore the works that I have shown in Open Studios have always been separate pieces without a home.

Could you comment on the title, Mirror Mirror?

“Mirror, Mirror…”  As an artist, you have to compete, whether you like it or not, whether you want to or not. When I say compete, it is not only with other artists, but also with the area you are working in.

Nineteenth century sculpture always has a pedestal. With you work, it is the viewer who ends up on a pedestal. The viewer is presented with an absence, which the viewer is invited to fill. This is one the tensions of your work. Every time I’ve seen you work, I’ve always felt that you are giving an option to participate in it. The mirror is there in a way to ask who ultimately is in control of the piece, the viewer, or the artist. There is an element of narcissism in the viewers, wanting to have their prejudices confirmed and their preconceptions ratified by what they see. But there is also an anxiety in the artist, wanting to make an object of real beauty and uniqueness. The two go together.

I set up situations that I can control. Once they are finalised, I am no longer in control, it is the viewer who has to bring in that element of being in control. I am always aware of keeping a sense of something existing somewhere else. I am conscious of not producing a piece to be complete in itself.

You said earlier that for this piece, there is very little there, but in fact, that isn’t true. There is a lot of work, and this is the contradiction, because a lot of work has gone into the piece, and yet at the same time you could say that there isn’t anything there.

Can we say that to take down a show is to reveal it all?

Perhaps to reveal the artifice. I would love to smash the mirror at the end of the show before the kids on the estate do… When I make work, it is about a particular time. I always think of my work as within a particular duration. It is very exciting to do work that has a life span of its own, a life span that you already know. When you work in theatre, you work towards a certain performance, which has a limited life span. It would be ideal to keep the piece on the site, so you could go back to it, but in a way, I prefer to take the show down.

How do you see the notion of site-specificity? As an addition of something onto a space or as a way an artist can deal with a space?

I don’t think it is adding to a space, it is about finding a relationship between you and the space. I’ve never been interested in creating environments within a space or exploring particular historical aspects of the space. The car park in this piece has very little importance in a way, it is more about the studios that have been built within it, hence the importance of walking through the studios before entering the car park. The installation is not about the car park’s history or function, but it is about directing the viewer’s attention towards a certain characteristic of the space, it is about setting them up to react in a particular way to what is presented to them.

Would you say that this constitutes the work of any artist who has to respond to a particular site? Is there a generic way to respond to a site?

Just by choosing to work on a site, you have chosen to highlight whatever is there. Jackie has had to deal with a very particular architecture, 1970s popular housing. She could have gone into a particular aspect of that architecture, but instead she has chosen not to respond to that, she has chosen to highlight another dimension of the car park, its change of use.

I think that to respond to a site is to reveal what is there, whether it be social, cultural, or aesthetic. When one enters the space, what is important is the relationship between the artist and the space and therefore also the relationship between the viewer and the space. It has to have some kind of interaction that creates something else out of the space.

Since Duchamp brought the ready-made into the gallery space and transformed it into an art object, would you say that to work on a site is to transform the site into an art site?

When you look at a ready-made in a gallery space, your relationship to the object is different from the one you had before it became an art object. I think the same is true of a site. When work is being done to a site, the relationship you have with that space will change, but it still is that site, in the same way that the object still remains its essence.

If a section of your installation is taken away from the site and is put in a gallery space, how do you think that section would survive in the gallery space?

It would be like a souvenir. In fact, it would not make any sense if it were not shown alongside documentation of the project. It would be a relic; it could not exist on its own. It would have another layer of meaning. The act of removing it would be to transpose it into another piece.

Then if a site-specific piece only works within a particular space, what would be the difference between the work of architects and the work of site-specific artists for you? 

Architects and interior designers create spaces in response to particular requirements from the commissioner who ordered the building or the room to be built. Even if they work for their own pleasure, the criteria that they would follow would be very different from those of an artist. Architects generally tend to work towards creating a space to enable the activities for which it was designed to take place. This is not the case for site-specific pieces, which tend to enter into a relationship with the space, in order to experience something unexpected or to be questioned.

So how would you see the difference between, for example, a room like the Galleries des Glaces in Versailles, which was designed for particular political and aesthetic reasons and which received a particular conceptual dimension, and a site-specific piece?

A contemporary artist deals with a space that has been through a period of entropy, a space which has ceased to have the function it originally had. Like the car park, which is no longer a car part, which will be again a car park, but in a different context. Site-specific work is like a transaction with space. It does not aim to transform it into something else, it is always in balance, there is always a time element, whereas the Salle des Glaces in Versailles was designed for a particular historical and political function. In addition to that, a site-specific work is made for a particular amount of time, there is an element of death in it, there is an element of nullity at either end of the artwork, whereas everything else was created for history.

Would you then say that all site-specific work is in essence ephemeral?

No, it is not in essence ephemeral, because I could buy this car part and keep the piece there for ever. Like the earthworks, like Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field, which is not an ephemeral piece, site-specific pieces can be made to last or can survive beyond their showing experience.

Site-specific pieces are closer to the work that was produced before art became a commodity, when they were located specifically. I am referring here to frescoes and altar pieces which were made with a particular locality, for a particular church and following the directions of a particular story. There is an essential characteristic in site-specific works which forbids any kind of second rebirth, not unlike frescoes in sixteenth century churches which you could only have experienced by going to a church service.

If you take, for example, Richard Wilson’s oil piece at the Saatchi Collection, it exists on two levels. You can experience the piece at the Saatchi Collection as a piece made for that space; on another level, you can experience that piece as having been brought from somewhere else.

Richard Wilson’s piece worked better at the original Matt’s Gallery because there, you had that sense of anticipation, which does not exist at the Saatchi Collection. The act of going to Matt’s Gallery, the act of walking up the stairs towards the piece and then arriving in that space where suddenly all your sense of orientation was challenged and was unique: that is lost at the Saatchi Collection.

Would you say that the “build-up,” that sense of anticipation is important in site-specific pieces?

Yes, the sense of anticipation comes from the fact that the piece is ephemeral, you have only a very limited period of time to actually see it, and this does not exists in objects shown in galleries and later in museums.

Would it be possible for you to imagine making a piece about the open studio in a gallery space?

It could only be a narrative about the notion of the open studio, it would have to be an environment. I don’t think it would work as well because the whole search for a particular building has brought up a unique vision about the studio, which ended up in a car part. The gallery space is a supposedly neutral habitat where things would have to be brought in.

One last question. There are a lot of grilles and fences in the space separating one part of the car park from the other, thus enclosing the viewer within a corridor. Was there any desire there to draw the attention of the viewer to the ivory tower in which the artist locks him or herself up to work? These grilles are reminiscent of a prison in a way.

More like animals in cages… pacing up and down… desperate for another life!

Jacqueline Pennell Jacqueline Pennell Jacqueline Pennell
Jacqueline Pennell

Jacqueline Pennell, Mirror Mirror, installation view, mixed media, Sarah Lane Studios Car Park, 1996, Photo: Rear Window

Jacqueline Pennell

Jacqueline Pennell, Mirror Mirror, installation view, mixed media, Sarah Lane Studios Car Park, 1996, Photo: Rear Window

Jacqueline Pennell

Jacqueline Pennell facing Mirror Mirror, Sarah Lane Studios Car Park, 1995, Photo: Rear Window