Flesh and bone – LURVE Magazine

Phoebe Collings-James broke into the cultural psyche like an erotic sucker punch, with raw, sexually charged etchings depicting bestial sex and light-box illuminated photographs of hairy anuses. While her work occasionally employs pornography, her current focus has switched from the perfunctory act of sex to meaty underbelly of flesh and bone. Born in Leytonstone, London, Collings-James graduated from Goldsmiths in 2009 and has shown her multi-disciplinary work encompassing video installations, sculpture and painting on an international stage. We caught up with her as she prepares for her forthcoming solo show in Mexico City.

What was your experience of Goldsmiths? Art schools have been getting a bad rap for churning out homogenised graduates. Did you feel creatively unrestricted?

My experience of Goldsmiths wasn’t completely positive but on the whole I’m really pleased I went there. I definitely felt that there were trends or ways of fashionable thinking but I don’t think that it was any different 10, or 30 or 50 years ago and the only way you can form your own way of thinking is if you’re exposed to that and then break out of it. In the creative fields most people are dong the same thing. Exceptions are rare but I don’t think that anyone who has something particularly special or wonderful to tell the world will be down trodden in art school. They might get pissed off there though.

What drives you to produce your work?

An instinct.

Who inspired you in your formative years?

I always remember loving Louise Bourgeois because the work was ugly. I remember when ‘Mamam’, the spider, was in the Tate years ago and thinking it was horrific but monumental. You just wanted to stand and look at it even though it was an eyesore.

Another big influence was seeing Rebecca Horn’s retrospective in 2005 when I was 16 or 17 and having a sense of the breadth of her work. She makes a lot of kinetic sculptures as well as performance and poems and it gave me a sense of how an artist could work across different mediums. How work can move beyond a painting or a photograph.

Your work blurs the line between the erotic and the grotesque? Can you expand on how one affects the other?

It’s not an either or situation. The erotic is a bit more grotesque and I think that’s what stops it from being pornography and titillating and removes it from a purely functioning, sexual imagery.

Your earlier work employed pornographic imagery. What’s your relationship with porn now?

I am not pro or anti porn. I think it’s complex and there are a lot of elements of pornography, in terms of people making it and the people consuming it, that are very dangerous. It dehumanises us and it can be dangerous for teenagers to watch. But on the other hand it’s liberating. It’s too difficult a subject to have an all-encompassing view on it.

Porn in its essence – the idea of making something for someone else to get off on – I’m completely for. Using it and making it. But quite often the references that I’ve used in the past have been from films that seem to really disengage us from our sexuality. I’ve always found it interesting that when I’ve asked men and women about what they do after watching porn, they usually want to turn it off immediately. There’s a sense it has a mechanical function that isn’t in keeping with how we really have sex.

In my work I’m talking about sexuality and sometimes use pornographic references but essentially the two aren’t that linked.

How has your work evolved?

It’s less surface and superficial. When I made ‘Windows to the soul’, the anuses, I was really concerned at the time with how I saw other people’s bodies and how other people saw mine. I was concerned by the fact I waxed my arsehole, how bizarre it was that I had various different women every month remove all the hair from my arse! Those things were deeply concerning me at the time. Now I’m more concerned with less of the surface and more with the deeper meaning.

You mentioned taking inspiration from George Bataille?

Bataille’s general ideas towards what humans find seductive and pleasurable have been relevant to a lot of the work I make. One of the books that I always go back to is Visions of Excess. He talks about extreme seductiveness is at the boundary of horror and even though we don’t want to be too close to it, it’s what gets us going.

What are you working on at the moment?

Starting from last year I’d begun to move away from graphic depictions of sexuality. What I found was that the further I got away from using porn, the closer I got to having work that was really sexually charged. By thinking more about the materials I was working with and by using suggestion more than depiction.

I started making a series of paintings called ‘Flesh Tint’ which I first started showing last year. They’re quite vulgar and even though first off they look as though they’d have a lot in common with a ‘60s minimalist style, they’re actually quite dense. The title refers to the colour of paint. I’m interested in these colours that we appropriate and have a deep reflection on the linguistics of our society and how they reflect our views on race and the body. I think they act as signifiers for where things stand. 

Phoebe Collings-James will be showing Blood on the Leaves, Blood on the Roots, at Preteen Gallery in Mexico City. 



Comments are closed.