• 19.jun.—18.jul.2021 / Solo Exhibition
  • Vernissage: 17.JUL.2024, 12:27

Sebastian Jefford

Natural Gas

LR Liebaert Projects Sebastian Jefford2
  • Vernissage: 17.JUL.2024, 12:27
  • Open: zondag 14:00—18:00
  • Closed: maandag tot zaterdag
  • Minister Liebaertlaan 1B, 8500 Kortrijk

About the artists

Sebastian Jefford (born 1990, Swansea, Wales) stud­ied at University of West of England and Royal Academy Schools, and lives and works in Berlin. He makes work that falls some­where in between sculp­ture, instal­la­tion and painting.

Sebastian Jefford in conversation with Mike Oehler

MO: I want­ed to ask you about the Medieval. Following your work, there has often been some sort of sub­tle nod toward it, or a mate­r­i­al sen­si­bil­i­ty that seems to sug­gest ideas of what I would call a European Medieval of the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion. Yet here in these new Flower works you use imagery very direct­ly that seems to either be from or at least depict the Middle Ages.

SJ: Yes that is absolute­ly true, I’m no his­to­ri­an. This idea of a European Medieval of the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion’, as you so suc­cinct­ly put it, is some­thing in which I’ve found very fer­tile ground for some time. I find this kind of image’ of a his­tor­i­cal peri­od that sprouts from the gap between fact and error par­tic­u­lar­ly nour­ish­ing. Even when I was work­ing with the imagery here, I was sure that it was all from the Middle Ages, but I went back after­wards and checked the dates and they’re all from 1500 onwards. Yet in my head they seemed to embody this peri­od entirely.

MO: So the Medieval for you is a man shit­ting and a pig eat­ing his excre­ment? Tell me more.

SJ: Laughs
I’m not sure I’d go that far. But it does artic­u­late a very human rela­tion­ship to ani­mals and the nat­ur­al world. That image is from a series of prints by Pieter Janz Quast in which he depict­ed each of the five sens­es, this one com­ing from De Reuk’ (The Smell). In my head the European Medieval is this time of an almost com­i­cal­ly bru­tal mate­ri­al­i­ty – a time of mud, rain, shit, damp, blood, moss, sweat, piss, boils, mead, wind (of earth and body) – it cap­tures an idea of sen­so­r­i­al over­drive or some­thing. A time before plas­tic, a time of mud. Now we have mud with micro plas­tics. Mud+.

MO: Right. This idea of Mud+ describes pret­ty well the odd mate­ri­al­i­ty of the Flower pieces – at least they look like flow­ers to me. Seeing them up close the bat­tle between the text, images and the sur­face becomes very pro­nounced – or maybe its not a bat­tle as such but I think what I mean is the image and the sur­face are very much fused. The image seems to be in the ground, and it becomes impos­si­ble to ignore all these pro­tru­sions that come from the sur­face, what look like wires and finger/​footprints, some­times even fos­sils, embed­ded in what seems to be some­where between clay and leather? There’s a lot to say about them. They’re con­fus­ing, in a gen­er­a­tive way I mean.

SJ: On a very base mate­r­i­al lev­el, when I look at a screen I’m look­ing at a pane of glass encased in met­al hid­ing a more com­pli­cat­ed mess of wires and oth­er parts, while at the same time star­ing into this deep abyss of the inter­net. But this word ground’ as you say, as in the ground we stand on, that mate­ri­als are extract­ed from, that real­ly chimes with how I think of these works. In some ways it seems to me this is where every­thing comes from, pro­trudes from. I’m struck by the way tech­nol­o­gy is often designed to look as though it came from the air or from space – always a sleek exte­ri­or hid­ing a more man­gled innards, as though to dis­tract from the fact that every­thing down to the microchips is mined from the earth. The image world runs on oil. Server farms, black box­es in deserts and waste­lands are pow­ered and cooled by fos­sil fuels – which are essen­tial­ly dinosaurs and plants, com­pressed. The image as dirty, as a pol­lu­tant, both mate­ri­al­ly and polit­i­cal­ly is very inter­est­ing to me — per­haps The Cloud’, is more of a swamp than one might think. It’s an attempt to re-mate­ri­alise the dema­te­ri­alised.

MO: They do feel dirty, or scuffed. As though they’ve been dragged along the floor, or real­ly used, worn out.

SJ: Exactly, I want them to feel like they’ve been han­dled again and again and again. The petals being attached by the jack­et fas­ten­ers sug­gests that maybe parts had to be replaced after too much wear and tear. To come back to the image again, I’m try­ing to reac­quaint it with its phys­i­cal ori­gins some­how – to drag it through the mud, to age it, dete­ri­o­rate it. I like to think of the dig­i­tal image as being like a coin, through it’s cir­cu­la­tion it acquires a lay­er of grease and filth that comes from the thumb­ing, swip­ing and fum­bling of all the human hands it passed through before it got to me. Saying that, I would nev­er put a coin in my mouth yet my con­sump­tion of images is unfath­omable, I’m a total glut­ton.

MO: Right, I can see how this cir­cu­lar shape of the pieces touch­es on this – but I want­ed to ask you where is this flower shape com­ing from? It seems real­ly spe­cif­ic but also ambigu­ous. Flowers play a part in so many cul­tures all the over the world but for so many dif­fer­ent, maybe con­flict­ing rea­sons. In Western art too, the flower has been an inex­haustible sub­ject for many artists. Is this some­thing you’re try­ing to tap into here?

SJ: No, it became a bit more spe­cif­ic than that for me. I came across this shape by acci­dent – I was just lay­ing out these pan­els on the floor and then there it was – a flower, flat­tened, squashed. It remind­ed me of the way peo­ple pre­serve flow­ers, by flat­ten­ing them in between the pages of a heavy book. I read lat­er on that in the Victorian era of the UK and America Flower Pressing’ was a pop­u­lar pas­time. People would press them between the pages of heavy books, in order to arrange them into ide­alised pas­toral scenes. There is some­thing odd in the idea that you have to kill some­thing in order to pre­serve it, that in order for the flower to become the ulti­mate image of flower-ness you lit­er­al­ly have to crush the life out it, dry it out. This seemed to say so much about what an image does and is. As I made more of the flower works I also want­ed them to direct­ly ref­er­ence the buffer­ing sign, that dread­ed spin­ning wheel that attempts to hold our gaze to dis­tract us from the momen­tary break down of data trans­fer. Once that wheel appears it seems to make the image and its infra­struc­ture feel very heavy, very phys­i­cal again.

MO: And they sit on these roof struc­tures, which imme­di­ate­ly make me think of hous­es, but they’re very skin­ny struc­tures, with no entry or exit point. Even if you want­ed to get inside you’d have to crawl under­neath.

SJ: I had read that one of the fastest grow­ing demands of archi­tec­ture is for data cen­tres, places that house the machines where our mem­o­ries, desires, con­ver­sa­tions and data trails are stored, the back­stage of every­day life. Many of these build­ings are lack­ing in archi­tec­tur­al qual­i­ties and to a degree are not designed for peo­ple. These build­ings are often found at the periph­eries, in deserts, waste­lands or hid­den away some­where. I want­ed to accen­tu­ate this idea of a non-human archi­tec­ture to an absurd degree by mak­ing a struc­ture that is at once imme­di­ate­ly recog­nis­able as archi­tec­tur­al but at the same time not an inhab­it­able space: a house for images. It also strikes me as inter­est­ing that this gigan­tic petro-depen­dent infra­struc­ture has to be hid­den away, as though to not taint the idea of the image-world as ephemer­al, part of the air itself.

MO: It reminds me of what you said ear­li­er about images run­ning on a fuel of com­pressed plants and dinosaurs. Maybe in these pieces they are some­how return­ing to their orig­i­nal form, a kind of cycli­cal rean­i­ma­tion. There is always this ques­tion of time in the work, or of where dif­fer­ent scales of time might rub up against one anoth­er. Is this con­tin­ued use of the cir­cu­lar shape in the work some­thing to do with this, or is that too direct?

Liebaert Projects Sebastian Jefford6
Follow him on instagram
Website Sebastian Jefford